Baby joy? Actually it could put you off having another, say scientists

Parents can experience a slump after initial excitement, researchers say

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After the new baby cards have been taken down and that first rush of excitement is over, first-time parents can feel unhappy. This decline in life satisfaction can even make us less likely to have a second child – according to research carried out in Germany.

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We all know that lack of sleep, having less time alone with your partner and financial pressures can put a big strain on new parents – but now researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock say they’ve measured the effect of these stresses.

What does the research reveal?

Analysing responses from mums and dads to a national survey that gets them to rate their own life satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10, the researchers found that happiness increases immediate before and after the birth of a first child. But soon after the initial joy, parents experience a decline in self-reported happiness equivalent to an average 1.4 units on the scale of 1 to 10.

Of parents whose happiness declined more than average, by 3 units, only 58 out of 100 went on to have a second child within 10 years. And among those who reported no decline in their happiness, 66 out of 10 had a second child in that time.

Interestingly, the decline in happiness was even greater than that felt by people who suffered unemployment, divorce or bereavement – partly because of the initial high levels of happiness and then sharp decline.

What do the experts say?

“There are great expectations, happiness goes up and it may stay up immediately after birth. But for a large number of parents, there is a dramatic drop in happiness,” Professor Mikko Myrskylä, of the Max Planck Institute said. “The majority experience some decline in happiness.”

“There is more or less a taboo regarding the wellbeing of new parents,” he added. “The medical profession is starting to acknowledge this and postpartum depression is getting more and more attention but it’s still something that compared to many other events in life, is thought of as something that can be and should be only experienced positively.”

Vivien Waterfield, from the charity Home-Start UK that offers supports to new parents urged those needing support to ask for it. “The birth of a child, especially the first, is a huge change in people’s lives and can mean new pressures for parents,” she said. “In the first few weeks and months it is really important that parents who need extra support get it. But, it’s also important that parents know there is help out there and that it’s OK to ask for it.”

How did you feel after becoming a mum? Let us know in the comments below.

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