Undoubtedly the single greatest challenge of raising a newborn child is something you’ve likely taken for granted your entire life: how to manage sleep.
And no, not managing sleep for the baby: the baby will sleep whenever it feels like sleeping.
Before becoming a new parent, you commonly hear two seemingly contradictory things:
- Newborn babies sleep all the time (somewhere in the range of 16-20 hours per day)
- As a parent of a newborn, you will get very little sleep
“What the f**k?” you think to yourself. If the baby is sleeping 16-20 hours per day, surely I can find my usual 6-8 hours of sleep in there somewhere, right?
Here’s the part where experienced parents laugh at you.
I thought the same thing when my daughter was born. I knew sleep was going to be rough in the beginning, but with the baby sleeping most of the day, I thought for sure there would be some way to still get something close to my normal amount of sleep.
Ha…I was so wrong.
I’m not going to get into the exact details of why I didn’t sleep much, because it’s irrelevant for the topic of this post. Every kid is different, and I can guarantee your experience will be at least somewhat different from mine.
But…we can all agree that nighttime sleep will never be the same while a newborn is in the house. So, with that in mind, I want to discuss some strategies around how to tackle these nighttime duties in your average two-parent home.
It won’t be easy, but here it goes…
Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to make a disclaimer: This article is written from the perspective of a dad, and it’s meant to apply to a “traditional” parenting setting. That is, one where there’s a mom and a dad, and the dad is working while mom cares for the newborn (regardless of whether she normally works or not – this assumes she’s taking some reasonable amount of time for maternity leave). I know there are many many situations that don’t fit this one: single moms, two moms and no dad, two dads and no mom, dads who are unemployed, moms who go back to work immediately after having a baby, etc. I’m writing this post from my own first hand experience, which happens to be the “traditional” arrangement. If you’re looking for advice for some other parenting configuration, just understand that I won’t be directly addressing it here (although I’m sure there will be at least a few good takeaways that you can apply to your own specific situation).
Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to make a disclaimer:
This article is written from the perspective of a dad, and it’s meant to apply to a “traditional” parenting setting. That is, one where there’s a mom and a dad, and the dad is working while mom cares for the newborn (regardless of whether she normally works or not – this assumes she’s taking some reasonable amount of time for maternity leave).
I know there are many many situations that don’t fit this one: single moms, two moms and no dad, two dads and no mom, dads who are unemployed, moms who go back to work immediately after having a baby, etc.
I’m writing this post from my own first hand experience, which happens to be the “traditional” arrangement. If you’re looking for advice for some other parenting configuration, just understand that I won’t be directly addressing it here (although I’m sure there will be at least a few good takeaways that you can apply to your own specific situation).
The Dad Problem
Let’s just get the big issue out of the way first…
Dads don’t have boobs.
Okay, fine, that’s not the biggest problem, although it can be one of them. If you’re a mother who is exclusively breastfeeding, it’s difficult to get dad involved with the feeding.
However, as I quickly learned, there are many other ways to help out: burping the baby during and after each feeding, changing diapers, changing clothes, etc. There is lots to be done that doesn’t involve being equipped with milk-producing breasts.
And in my case, we eventually moved away from exclusively breastfeeding, and started occasionally bottle-feeding breast pumped milk. This is a prime spot for dad to get involved with the feeding.
So what’s the problem?
Newborn babies eat often, which includes multiple times during the night. And feeding aside, sometimes newborn babies just don’t want to sleep.
And although dad may be on paternity leave, it generally doesn’t extend beyond a few weeks, at which point your newborn is still, well, a newborn. So herein lies the real problem:
How can we split up nighttime duties if dad needs to go to work? Should he still be expected to help out at night?
After all, he can’t nap during the day when the baby is napping, like mom sometimes can. It’s a difficult situation, especially when dad wants to stay involved and not leave mom feeling overburdened. There are some ways around this problem, however.
Strategies for Splitting Nighttime Duties with a Newborn
It would tough to expect both mom and dad to evenly split nighttime duties with a newborn when dad has to work a full day and likely needs some reasonable amount of sleep. But that shouldn’t render him useless (even though he might feel useless as a first time dad).
Here are some strategies and ideas for how to split nighttime duties (or at least, ease the burden) with a newborn at home that I think can work for a lot of parents:
1) Split the weekday nights and weekend nights (with “bonus” help during the week)
This is probably the most practical strategy that works for most couples where dad has to work a normal “9 to 5” job during the week. Sunday-Thursday night, mom handles the feedings at night while dad gets enough sleep so he can work during the day.
In exchange, dad takes the night feedings on Friday and Saturday nights (assuming you are okay with bottle-feeding your baby).
The “bonus” help comes during the weekday evenings: Dad takes care of whatever chores mom couldn’t do during the day. Whether that’s doing dishes, laundry, etc…dad takes care of them when he gets home from work.
It’s a relatively fair trade-off (given the circumstances) that allows dad to not go to work feeling like a zombie.
2) Split every night.
This one can get tricky, but if you do it right, it works.
It’s reasonable to expect that, even though he has to work, dad is still not going to get the sleep he had before the baby is born. I think we can all get on board with that premise.
Splitting every night works something like this (and you can tweak this schedule to fit your own personal situation):
- After dinner, mom sleeps from 8:30-11:30 PM while dad watches the baby (and bottle feeding, if necessary during that time)
- Dad sleeps from 11:30 PM – 4:30 AM
- Dad watches and feeds the baby from 4:30 AM – 6:30 AM while mom sleeps (and then dad proceeds to get ready / go to work)
It’s not going to be enjoyable for everyone, but it’s a schedule gives dad a solid 5 hours of sleep (which is enough to be functional at work with a little bit of coffee).
It also gives mom 5 hours of sleep – granted, it’s not 5 hours of continuous sleep, and 5 hours isn’t a lot, but mom has the ability to take naps during the day while the baby naps (which dad can’t do).
3) Alternating Days
This one won’t be as appealing to working dads, but it’s an option. Basically, mom and dad take turns handling the late night work, alternating days so that each gets a full night’s sleep every other day (one person handles 3 nights while the other handles 4).
I think this can work if you make it similar to strategy #1 above where two of dad’s nights are Friday and Saturday (i.e. nights where he doesn’t work the next day), and one night during the week.
If you truly alternate nights and dad potentially has at least two week nights for his responsibility, he could run into some sleep trouble if your child isn’t quick to go back to sleep after feedings. Our daughter was pretty difficult early on and wouldn’t let you put her down in the middle of the night (wide awake between 2-4 AM).
While this option does seem to be the most “fair,” I do think it could place unnecessary stress on a couple when one of you has to work a normal workday. I’m all for equality when it comes to raising a newborn, but I also think it’s important to keep in mind that one person has the luxury of a mid-day nap, while the other doesn’t (and if he does, he may find himself without a job before long).
So, which is the best option?
Well, I can’t exactly make that decision for you, but’s a decision that needs to be made. Sleep is extremely important, so you and your spouse must find a way to each get a reasonable amount of sleep each day.
In my opinion, however, option 2 allows you to get on a consistent schedule where every day is the same. Once you’ve got a rhythm going, it’s not so bad.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a life sentence – eventually, your child will begin sleeping longer and longer at night, waking up less frequently for feedings (and eventually, not waking up at all at night). It’s a pretty stressful time that all parents go through, but it is manageable if you come up with a plan and stick to it.
But as any parent will tell you…plans are often foolish. Just when you think you’ve found something that works, your kid will surprise you and throw off the plan completely. 🙂