Study sheds new light on how babies are parented

Study sheds new light on how babies are parented

Media Release — 30 June 2009

A groundbreaking study of how babies’ days are spent has found there is little difference between how much time the babies of working mothers are held, cuddled and read to compared to the babies of full time stay at home mothers.

And babies who are breastfed are held and read to more, but sleep for less time and cry more than non-breastfed babies.

These were among many findings of a unique new study of how babies’ time is spent, conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The findings are from the Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children – the largest-ever ongoing study of Australian families.

As part of the study, the parents of 3,000 babies aged 3 to 14 months kept diaries on how their babies’ time was spent.

The Institute’s Director, Professor Alan Hayes, said the study provided valuable insights.

“Looking at the differences in parenting practices that are apparent even at this very early age will provide important information for early childhood professionals, the maternal and child health profession, and for families,” Professor Hayes said.

“Given the pressures on Australian parents today, this study presents encouraging signs that they appear to try and manage the responsibilities of work and raising families in a way that does not negatively impact on children.”

Institute Research Fellow Dr Jennifer Baxter said the findings indicated that babies of working mothers did not miss out on activities that were considered to be beneficial – in particular being hugged or cuddled, and being read or talked to.

“Australian women are increasingly needing or wanting to work while having their children, and there is much debate over the impact this has on very young children,” Dr Baxter said.

“This study shows that the babies of mothers who work full time spend almost the same amount of time each day being held, cuddled, read to or talked to as babies of mothers who didn’t work.

“And while babies spent less time with their mother if she was in paid work, this time appeared to be made up by the babies’ fathers and with other relatives such as grandparents.”

Dr Baxter said that the study showed significant differences between breastfed babies and non-breastfed babies in how they spent their days.

“Breastfed babies spent more of their day being held, read to, and sung or talked to than non-breastfed babies, however, this is probably not surprising.

“Given the close physical proximity of mothers and their breastfed babies, many of these activities probably occur as an extension of breastfeeding.

“The study also finds that breastfed babies sleep less and cry more,” she said.

Dr Baxter said the study also showed an interesting finding in relation to young and Indigenous mothers that breastfed.

“While Indigenous and younger mothers were less likely to breastfeed, those that did breastfed their babies for longer periods than non-Indigenous and older mothers,” she said.

The studies findings include:

  • Babies of mothers who were full time employed slept 39 minutes less a day than babies of mothers not in paid employment.
  • Babies of full time employed mothers spent 83 minutes less a day with their mothers than babies of mothers not employed.
  • Fathers of babies whose mother worked full time spent 81 more minutes alone with their babies than other fathers.
  • Babies of mothers who worked full time spent 41 minutes more a day in childcare and 43 minutes more with grandparents or other relatives than babies whose mothers didn’t work.
  • Breastfed babies were held, cuddled, comforted or soothed for 32 minutes a day more than non-breastfed babies.
  • Breastfed babies were read to, talked to or sung to for 27 minutes more a day than nonbreastfed babies.
  • Breastfed babies slept 40 minutes less than non-breastfed babies.
  • Breastfed babies spent 5 minutes more a day crying than non-breastfed babies.
  • Indigenous mothers breastfed 48 minutes longer than non-Indigenous mothers.
  • Mothers with a university degree read to their babies 22 minutes more than mothers without a university education.
  • Babies of mothers who smoked were held, cuddled, comforted or soothed for 18 minutes less a day than non-smoking mothers.

Breastfeeding and infants’ time use, AIFS Research Paper No. 43

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