Tired New Dads A Safety Risk: Study

Updated January 23, 2012 14:53:14

A construction worker stands on a roof on a cosntruction site in north-west Sydney. A construction worker stands on a roof on a cosntruction site in north-west Sydney. Photo: The study found new dads were more likely to pose a safety risk at work (Michael Janda: ABC News)

>Map: Australia

Fathers of new babies are often so tired they pose a safety risk at work and on the road, a new study has found.

The research found fathers of newborns were 36 per cent more likely to have a near miss at work, and 26 per cent more likely to have a near miss on the road.

Southern Cross University's Dr Gary Mellor led the study of 241 fathers, mostly from the Gold Coast, and says the study is groundbreaking because new dads are a "notoriously hard group of people" to get hold of.

He says many of those surveyed battled to find a work-family balance.

"They were displaying a lot of conflict in that they were trying to put family first," he said.

"They don't want to be that distant sole provider that their father was."

Despite this, Dr Mellor says the fathers in the study worked an average of 49 hours a week.

The majority of men involved in the research were employed as office workers or in construction and trade, and Dr Mellor says each workplace has its own set of risks.

"In an office it might be that you fall down some stairs, or you trip over cords, but it's also about the decisions you make," he said.

"On a construction site it's working with heavy equipment, cranes, nail guns."

Cutting corners

He says the study found the men's attitudes to safety changed the more tired they became.

"The survey was completed once by the fathers at six weeks and then again at 12 weeks and we found that while fatigue was increasing, the way fathers thought about safety at work changed," he said.

Dr Mellor says he came up with the idea for the study at a barbecue just after he and his partner had their second child.

"I was telling the guys how tired I was and how I had nearly run off the road," he said.

"The guys at the barbecue then told me similar stories and I checked the research and not much had been done about sleep deprivation in fathers and how that affected their safety at work or to and from work."

He says parental leave may need to be rethought to help new dads cope.

"Most of the men in the study had time off at the birth but perhaps parental leave for fathers should be taken later in the baby's life rather than the first two weeks. This is when fathers are most fatigued and it would allow them time to overcome it," he said.

"Or perhaps parental leave could be taken over a period of time with fathers taking a long weekend or two over the first months of the birth."

Dr Mellor says employers could also make changes so that new dads are not doing dangerous jobs.

The research has been published in the American Journal of Men's Health.

Topics: parenting, family-and-children, community-and-society, babies---newborns, research, men, australia, southport-4215, qld

First posted January 23, 2012 12:39:43

Comments (50)

Comments for this story are closed.

  • ABC (Moderator):

    23 Jan 2012 12:54:11pm

    Tell us your experiences of going to work when you have a newborn at home.

    Alert moderator

  • Erebus Nuada:

    23 Jan 2012 1:04:28pm

    As a Dad, I think this study should have come about much sooner. Thankfully, when my son was born (6 years ago now), I worked for a company that gave me flexable Paternal Leave. I was able to have 2 weeks off from the birth of my son, Then was able to take a 4 day weekend per fortnight for 16 weeks after that. It really helped with fatigue. Unfortunately there are few employers like this out there and financially, aside from the 2 weeks, the rest of the leave was unpaid, so it was tight, budget wise, but worth it.

    New dads get a raw deal when it comes to child birth, sure there are those blokes that are exactly like their own, distant fathers, but most of us want to be more involved. We'd be happy to work less hours if we could afford it, and spend more time with our new families. Unfortunately, in an age where having a child means a woman is often off work, unpaid for over 12 months, no-one can afford not to work as much as they can.

    Alert moderator

    • Erebus Nuada:

      23 Jan 2012 3:06:45pm

      I just want to add that I often still feel asleep at work (mostly during breaks, thankfully), and did have 3 near misses and one at fault accident while driving due to tiredness while my son was a new-born. So even with good breaks from work, a new born can seriously mess up your sleeping patterns, and I applaud all mothers for bearing the brunt of this.

      Alert moderator

  • New Dad:

    23 Jan 2012 1:06:14pm

    I thought I knew what "tired" was until we had our first kid. I live in the country and travel into town for work. Those first few months were full of near misses on the road and plenty of mistakes at work.

    Additionally with the way house prices/rent and the cost of living is these days I can tell you there are plenty of mothers back at work with no sleep too!

    Alert moderator

  • stephen70:

    23 Jan 2012 1:06:36pm

    We have a 2 year old and a 3 and a half month old at our house. Newborns are exhausting for everyone (especially mums) but if your workplace allows, work in a team environment where tasks are shared; this minimises unchecked errors. This is of particular importance in high risk work environments such as building and automotive jobs, but applies everywhere.

    Have a cat nap in your lunch break. You might get a bit of a ribbing from your mates but it'll pay off in your ability to perform at work as the day wears on and then, once your home dealing with family.

    ... and good luck.

    Alert moderator

  • starman:

    23 Jan 2012 1:08:55pm

    I would pass on some experiences, being the father of three sons, but that whole period of my working life is a blur.

    Alert moderator

    • ty:

      23 Jan 2012 3:13:54pm

      Same here but I'm not sure if it was the effects of sleep deprivation, all the coffee or massive increase of the intake of whiskey.

      In my experience they get better once they hit 30 (years of age).

      Alert moderator

  • warlock15:

    23 Jan 2012 1:31:27pm

    My husband woke me up the night I came home from hospital with a very premature bay and said "the baby's crying". He promptly went back to sleep and never woke up again to the sound of a baby crying. That's how it was 30 years ago and I would never have woken him up to attend to the baby because he had to go to work the next day. With both parents working to pay mortgages it must be very hard sharing the night shift these days.

    Alert moderator

  • Budovski:

    23 Jan 2012 1:35:25pm

    Well with such pitiful leave entitlements for new fathers most of us have no choice but to stay up late helping at home and working at the same time.

    Virtually no employers offer any part time work or reduced hours during the first few months of fatherhood and its almost as though if you don't come back to work one week after the baby is born you are not a 'real aussie'.

    Alert moderator

    • apygmius:

      23 Jan 2012 4:05:00pm

      I agree. I would like my husband to work reduced hours to assist me with our newborn and 3 year old but he is reluctant to ask his employer because noone else in his workplace has this arrangement. He believes it is not the "done thing" in his trade.

      Alert moderator

  • carlo:

    23 Jan 2012 1:37:52pm

    we have a 5 month old and on Saturday I back the car into a pole - i also commute 3 hours on some days, which on top of dad duties can be very demanding, i think that sometimes the car drives itself to the train station.

    Alert moderator

  • pacifist:

    23 Jan 2012 1:48:58pm

    I would suggest that parents consider co-sleeping (either with the baby in bed or in a cot next to the bed) as it often results in better sleep for everyone. Breastfeeding mums can more easily respond to the baby's need to eat before it leads to crying out or screaming, and if baby is in bed or right next to it, mum doesn't even have to get up. Dads who aren't super-light sleepers can sleep through the whole thing.

    Babies are evolved to expect to sleep right next to their mothers, not isolated in a cot in another room, so it's best for bub as well.

    I second the comments calling for better paternal and maternal leave arrangements - this would make it much easier for new parents and probably reduce sleep-deprived dads (and mums) taking unnecessary risks at work and during the daily commute.

    Alert moderator

    • Help101:

      23 Jan 2012 2:53:43pm

      Except that having baby in bed with can cause the death of your baby.

      Health practioners do not recommend this as there are cases where a persons baby had died after a parent has rolled onto the baby and suffocated them.

      Particularly where the parent has had alcohol, drugs or most importantly is sleep deprived.

      Alert moderator

      • Viking:

        23 Jan 2012 5:01:03pm

        The key words there are "where the parent has had alcohol, drugs".

        We had both our kids in the bed until they were about 9 months old and it saved the life of my daughter who had several instances of stopping breathing in her sleep. Babies make they're own space in the bed by kicking you over to the edge anyway.

        Alert moderator

    • Alpal:

      23 Jan 2012 2:54:27pm

      Mate, you're having a bubble.

      Sleeping in the same bed? Much higher risk of SIDS. Don't give me this tripe about how it's "natural" or "they've done it for generations". Yes they did, and for generations children died as a result.

      Dunno bout you, but I'd rather be tired and bugger up at work than kill my child.

      Sleeping in different beds in the same room is much more sensible, and actually reduces the risk of SIDS compared to having bub in a cot in a different room. But unless you sleep like the dead it's pretty tough on those who have to go to work the next day. I'm not a super light sleeper, but I'll happily tell you there is no chance of me sleeping through a hungry infant's cries at a distance of 2 metres. Maybe some can, good luck to them.

      Our bub is in the cot next to her mum. I'm in the bedroom with the two year old on a mattress on the floor. Not ideal, but no one will die and I'm getting some semblance of rest.

      Alert moderator

    • hairy nosed wombat:

      23 Jan 2012 3:27:30pm

      Do not sleep with a baby in the bed - this is literally killing many babies a year in this country. It is very dangerous and a completely unnecessary risk to your child.

      Alert moderator

    • Troll No. 47:

      23 Jan 2012 4:06:49pm

      Pacifist, please don't give advice out to people on babies and parenting again. Co-sleeping is one of the leading causes of SIDS in Australia.

      Alert moderator

    • Paul:

      23 Jan 2012 4:10:49pm

      I just wanted to say we co-sleep with our baby who has just turned one. Mostly mama sleeps with her, but sometimes i do to.

      i tend to sleep in another room though.

      We cant imagine doing it any other way.

      also having a smaller mattress next our bed works really well too.

      Alert moderator

  • sleepy:

    23 Jan 2012 1:52:40pm

    My kids, 5 and 8, started sleeping through most nights years ago -- but I still feel tired all the time. I reckon the extreme sleep disruption when they were babies has mucked me up long term. I work in an intellectual profession and I feel I have never regained the mental sharpness I had before my first wass born. It also got me started on a heavy coffee habit I have only just broken recently. (Much easier than anticipated btw.)

    To this day I think the best sound in the world is a child laughing, but the absolute worst is a child crying. I must have gotten the wrong end of the evolutionary stick because that noise doesn't activate my caring instincts at all -- it just makes me think "make it stop, make it stop".

    Alert moderator

  • Thor:

    23 Jan 2012 2:11:24pm

    I used to take my baby for a walk in a sling at night time so his mother could get enough sleep to do the next breast feed. If it hadn't happened to me I wouldn't have believed it was possible but I feel asleep walking! Fortunately I woke before I hit the ground. But that was areal eye opener for me that it was even possible.

    Alert moderator

  • Clinton:

    23 Jan 2012 2:44:03pm

    I am a first time dad and 7 weeks in it is a challenge. The guilt is huge with time at work and you feel bad about being at work.

    This is my most stressful time in life ever.

    But worth it.

    Alert moderator

  • Mississauga Dad:

    23 Jan 2012 2:48:15pm

    First fathers are criticised for not spending enough time and effort in raising their children and for putting their career first. Now that fathers are spending more time with our children we are criticised for being a danger to the public because we do.

    Alert moderator

  • Unbeliever:

    23 Jan 2012 2:50:34pm

    Yeah, I must admit the lack of sleep, helping with the newborn, cooking, cleaning, entertaining people (read serving them) over to see the newborn, and having to carry on working caused me to fall asleep whilst at the wheel.

    Luckily it was rush hour, and luckily I was stopped at the lights.

    A hell of a fright though.

    Alert moderator

    • hairy nosed wombat:

      23 Jan 2012 3:38:55pm

      I fell asleep at the wheel twice, just on the short drive to and from work - with the kids in the car.

      Mind you, my Mrs is rostered to work 72 hours straight this week as an obstetrician, so tired dads probably aren't the greatest risk to babies out there.

      Alert moderator

  • Mr Junge:

    23 Jan 2012 2:53:03pm

    Sounds familiar - ran on autopilot for quite a while - backed the car through the driveway gate (opened one, left the other one in place), drove the car through red lights once - that was a near miss, dropped and broke a few things in the kitchen trying to help getting bottles ready, and just plain forgot some pretty simple things.

    Had a reasonable employer, but thankful I don't operate machinery or have a long drive to work.

    Alert moderator

  • Mr Mum:

    23 Jan 2012 3:13:23pm

    Sleep deprivation is a killer not just for mums, but also for dads. It is important that dads be around for up to 6 weeks after the birth (eg following a caesarian). However, as a Mr Mum part time since our son was 10 months old or so, I have given a lot of thought as to how life could be better managed by employers and parents. In an age where women are seeking equal career opportunities and equal pay, child bearing has obvious consequences. If there were provisions for fathers to take paid paternity leave at say 6-12 months of age, then dads could take a career break to raise kids while mum went back to work. Many men are still the breadwinners and if they could take paid time off, then I think many would do so. This would also open up more opportunities in the workplace, as well as making a massive difference to the father/child attachment in their early development.

    Alert moderator

  • sleepy:

    23 Jan 2012 3:15:32pm

    In response to Pacifist - whatever works is fine! There is no magic formula. Similarly every baby is different - it used to drive us nuts to meet parents who had babies sleep peacefully when ours wouldn't (turned out to be quite bad reflux in each of our babies).

    In response to the article - I think it does highlight the price of our modern society. The pressure on both parents to work is pretty strong but the reality is that even getting one parent (of whichever sex) to work can be a massive job unless there is extended family support or bought help. The guilt about this is not confined to the mother and I think it's very easy for the Dad to attempt an impossible workload to try and keep everybody happy - what else can you do?

    Alert moderator

  • eric:

    23 Jan 2012 3:16:42pm

    As first time parents 19 years ago we discussed this very real danger. As a carpenter we figured it better that i sleep through the night than cut all my fingers off the next day or fall off the roof. Better we dealt with my wifes' sleep deprivation than me not return home at all.

    Alert moderator

  • JD:

    23 Jan 2012 3:19:56pm

    10&1/2yrs in the Army Reserve, on some exercises, being in weapon's pit for days, probed and attacked by an enemy in the dark, constant interruptions to sleep, made to pack up and get out at dawn. being chased and harrassed for kms by the enemy. stopping to turn and fight. and it was all an exercise!

    I should've had my three youngest Girls first, the constant demand, three different ages, the different needs because of three individual temper -ances.made the exercises look like ' a walk in the park'.

    Wouldn't have missed it for the world!

    Oh, and my Ex slept like a dead log, heard nothing.

    Alert moderator

  • Si:

    23 Jan 2012 3:20:51pm

    It's not just when the babies are newly minted. It's whenever the child gets sick as well. Kids mainly start vomiting between midnight and 3am, and there's usually a lot of cleaning to do. So even if Dad doesn't end up with the same bug, he's worn out the next few days for work (longer if you have multiple children and it's contagious). Not just tired, but worrying about the child as well. Same goes for working mums too, I suppose. How many workplaces will understand?

    Alert moderator

  • Backwash:

    23 Jan 2012 3:26:49pm

    The memory is still very strong 10 years on. We both worked - my partner part time then full time after 2 years; I did the night feeding/changing; I had to teach myself to go straight back to sleep afterwards - Striongly recommend learning this skill. Desite all this, as a father, I believe emotionally, physically and on all levels it is tougher for mothers.

    Alert moderator

  • Andrew:

    23 Jan 2012 3:37:43pm

    My wife is about to give birth to our third child - others are 5 and 3 years of age

    with babies - we divide up the night - she goes to bed at about 8.30pm and gets some good rest

    i take responsibility for babies needs until 1am (this includes the 11pm feed from an expressed bottle) and any settling required up to 1am feed (by wife)

    seems to work ok - but yes - young fathers do burn the candle at both ends but it largely also depends on the mother - some are more "demanding" than others

    I friend admitted once that his wife expects him to get up from bed at all hours, walk to the nursery, pick up baby and take her to the mother for feeding in bed

    dividing up the night into shifts works ok

    Alert moderator

    • Jitter:

      23 Jan 2012 4:00:35pm

      Definitely shifts, worked great for us.

      Plus being an avid Premier League fan being up at night was too much of a drain ;-)

      Alert moderator

  • stilltiredafteralltheseyears:

    23 Jan 2012 3:39:41pm

    Ha ha, I'm reminded of dear husband coming home every lunch break to 'help' with our first newborn. He would come in say Hi and go straight to sleep. At least HE felt refreshed. Oh, he did make me a sandwich on one of those days... then went to sleep. Nothing's changed 10 years later, sigh.

    Alert moderator

  • Greymalkin:

    23 Jan 2012 3:41:11pm

    It was incredibly stressful.

    All that time hoping the bunny boiler wouldn't find out where I had moved to after skipping town when I found she was preggers.

    Couldn't even really enjoy having a beer at the pub for the first two months till I figured out the dozy shiela wouldn't think to look out of state for me.

    Alert moderator

  • MarkatPalmBeach:

    23 Jan 2012 3:49:13pm

    Our first child was a mission, awake most nights for the 10 months, with my wife suffering from postnatal depression which we jumped on straight away. Working as a chef, you're tired at the end of the day, then it's time to help look after the baby. When it's all said and done, you have a little person in your life 24/7 and work around that.

    Any new dad's reading what I have written, if your partner/wife develops postnatal depression, deal with it and support her as much as you can, as it comes good in the end...

    Alert moderator

  • Mummydearest:

    23 Jan 2012 3:54:14pm

    A new born baby doesn't only cause sleep deprevation to fathers but to a entire household. No study has been done on the effects on the other children in the household.

    When I had a baby 3 years ago 1 of my daughters worked nightshift and the other had a long commute. As a mother I could not allow my baby to have controlled crying as it affected 3 others so I tended to sleep very lightly.

    I did all in my power to allow others to sleep and believe it took a massive toll on my health.

    Alert moderator

  • Ceelly:

    23 Jan 2012 3:55:20pm

    Don't think it is recognised how difficult it is to work and have young children who often don't sleep. Even more so if you have a special needs child. Most families with young children I know who parents work are very stressed.. But because they work they have to pay their own way as well as compete at work with their child-less peers. Because it is their choice to have children. But working and raising kids is stressful under such circumstances I do not believe you do the best job. Our society main concern should be to raise the next generation not maintain our GDP. Children should be treated as a luxury purchase.

    Alert moderator

  • Baby Boomer:

    23 Jan 2012 3:59:41pm

    I am 62 now and raised 2 children, and did my bit with the duties of fatherhood. At the time no body studied the effects of what babies had on my work, we just did our job and got on with it. Some fathers complained about being tired because the baby kept them awake but I cannot recall any fathers asking for pity or special priveleges from employers for this reason, it would be considered too unmanly. My suggestion for the current crop of fathers who see this as an issue they might exploit is to just toughen up. Raising a family is your own personal individual choice, so don't make it anybody elses.

    Alert moderator

    • Gen Y Dad:

      23 Jan 2012 4:57:19pm

      As a son of a baby boomer and also a distant father, I'm pretty sure that there are many more duties involved with fatherhood nowadays compared to the 60's, 70's and 80's.

      For starters, it's not just about trying to be a good Dad, but also a good husband. Gone are the days where only the wife would cook, clean and look after the kids like back in the baby boomer generation. Sure you may have done your duties of fatherhood, but what about the cooking, cleaning and so forth?

      You guys had it easy, even if you had to scrimp and save and live poor like most of you claimed to have done. At least you could afford to live off a single income.

      Alert moderator

  • om:

    23 Jan 2012 4:03:20pm

    Was a first time dad at 45 and second child at 47. l think I have done OK but certainly did not have the stamina I had in my 20s. Its not easy for both parents and there are large chunks of my life in those early days that I have no memory of.

    But I would not have missed it for the world. My kids at 12 and 9 are our treasures.

    Alert moderator

  • belzie:

    23 Jan 2012 4:06:23pm

    By the time we had our third baby, i was so tired i started bringing him into bed.

    The whole family reaped enormous benefits and i just wished i'd done it with the others!

    Alert moderator

  • Working mum:

    23 Jan 2012 4:15:41pm

    It is great to read of so many dads doing work, baby care and home duties. I am not surprised they are getting so tired. Maybe it is a generational change. I have a 7yo. My husband also struggled with it all but not through lack of sleep. I was (am) always on night duty. I think it was more about having to juggle unfamiliar housework with a baby who not surprisingly was not interested in his timetable. I still came home from work and did heaps of home duties. I realize now that I was perpetually tired for about 12 months. More paternal carer leave is needed - and more experience with housework before baby comes along.

    Alert moderator

  • Remote:

    23 Jan 2012 4:22:42pm

    My job at the time involved long hours of travel by myself in remote areas.

    I feel that I probably owe the Department of Roads for a lot of little white posts, but they did serve their purpose and woke me up before I hit something bigger.

    Alert moderator

  • don:

    23 Jan 2012 4:30:14pm

    Even when new Dads take some leave its not so much a rest but a chance to do lots of work projects around the house not necessarily helping and getting involved with a new child. The result is that the new fathers are even more tired when they return to work.

    Alert moderator

  • Anthony:

    23 Jan 2012 4:36:33pm

    Finally.. some discussion about modern dads etc. From what I can remember, all my dad had to do was bring home a regular income and 'keep the peace'. My brief has been some what more comprehensive. Understanding, sensitive guy, capable in the kitchen and around the house, succesful in the workplace, attentive dad... the list goes on.

    How things have changed in one generation for my family. My wife has a solid career and works as hard as I do. I live in a house that's about 90 years old. It occurred to me the other day that my wife and I work more hours per week than any of the other four families that have owned my home since it was built.


    Alert moderator

  • Hardtimesareoverfinally:

    23 Jan 2012 4:38:06pm

    I'm through that really, really, really hard period now... working was very difficult during this time. From my point of view as a dad my typical working day was get up (already tired) at 5am, help out with the kids, then hurry to get ready for work, 7.30am commence stressful drive to work in peak hour traffic, then straight into doing your job the best you could (you were always tired and cranky), at the end of the day be pushed for time to leave the office to get home as soon as you could to help again (that would be after another 1hr drive in heavy traffic), walk in the front door and bang!- no time to roll the sleeves up, yuo were straight into job number 2 (helping with feeding, bathing kids, cooking dinner, etc), then after all this non-stop work, finally when the kids were settled in bed you could start the washing up, iron your clothes for work tomorrow, pack lunch for work tomorrow, etc. The REALITY (though you get told to do otherwise) is you rarely had any time to "relax" in a working day. Lunch was about as good as it got for 30mins, and I felt more like sleeping than eating lunch! By the time your work day was over (that is the whole day, not just the time at work) you'd be so exhausted you would literally collapse into bed, because that was the best (only) thing you could do. Then, of course, you'd typically have a broken night's sleep because you'd be up to help out with kids (2 little ones at the time) feeding, sick, etc during the night. The weekend was just as busy- up early without fail, help with kids all day, but alongside this, you'd be trying to find time to do all those other "dad" jobs you couldn't do during the week (mowing, fixing this and that around the house, helping wife with shopping, etc). Anyway after 2 hectic years of this routine I became so tired and my body was under such stress, it's possibly the reason I got cancer. That's when it got really really tough, but luckily I had sick leave, so I could stay at home for a few months, so that cut work out of the picture, thankfully. My wife did a great job duing that period I was very sick. We battled on. The kids are growing up a bit more now and my health is improved - so we're through the really hard bit I hope. I learnt the hard way that you just can't do it all. So to new dads, be happy to let work slide a bit if need be or if you can do that. I think a lot employers and other people you work with will be understanding. Work might pays the bills, but it's really one the less important things in life.

    Alert moderator

  • Gran:

    23 Jan 2012 4:43:05pm

    My son and his partner welcomed their first child just six weeks ago. My son works a split shift in hospitality, starting around mid-morning and often not finishing his second shift until midnight. As he's in a supervisory position, he often misses out on the break between shifts. I have no idea how he stays awake day after day.

    Alert moderator

  • Mik:

    23 Jan 2012 4:44:29pm

    Try it with twins... I'm not sold on the value of extra parental leave though - after 6 weeks of parental leave and accumulated vacation that were spent running on 'twin time' (with refreshers every night) it took me months to get back to working properly on 'real world time'.

    Mind you, 4 years later it's still not over - now we're trying sleeping without nappies and their knees and elbows are bonier...

    Alert moderator

  • Canberra II:

    23 Jan 2012 4:44:49pm

    All Dad's get tired and Mums.

    Alert moderator

Comments for this story are closed.

Source : http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-01-23/tired-new-dads-a-safety-risk-study/3788008