How to Split Nighttime Duties with a Newborn (Even When Dad is Working)

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:

  1. Newborn babies sleep all the time (somewhere in the range of 16-20 hours per day)
  2. 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).

The Dad Problem

Let’s just get the big issue out of the way first…

Dads don’t have boobs.split-nighttime-duties-newborn-small

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.  🙂


About Eric and Tiffany Matthews

We're Eric and Tiffany, the parents behind Cynical Parent. We're just normal parents who are navigating parenthood with both eyes wide open (probably because there's a kid yelling nearby). And of course, we're pretty cynical. Don't believe everything you read or hear, whether it's on the internet, or from a close family or friend (or even from us!). Every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Sometimes you just need to try and see for yourself. :)

14 comments

  1. In every scenario presented in this article the mother’s job is always harder. This dude must not have been around during the day while his child was a newborn; it’s nearly impossible to nap when the baby does, especially with newborn anxiety (constantly waking up hearing the baby’s cry even if the baby is sound asleep). So mom doesn’t have the “luxury” of day time naps. She absolutely doesn’t have the time if he’s expecting her to clean the house and cook daily (as indicated by the “bonus” help he so generously suggests). However, he does get the luxury of clocking out for 30-60 mins a day for a lunch break, something the mother doesn’t get.
    Taking care of a newborn is a full time job that doesn’t stop after 8 hours, her job is exponentially harder. Gtfo with this 1950’s logic, it’s ridiculous. Split the work legitimately equally between the two parents. As the author stated, it won’t last forever, he will have the chance to get a full night’s sleep when the mother does.

    • Ben,

      I’m sorry you feel this way; although this article was written from a dad’s perspective, my husband and I both felt it was reasonable and realistic for many couples (understanding that everyone’s situation is different). Based on your comments, I get the feeling you did not read the entire article, but instead decided to draw conclusions without considering the entire context.

      However, I will still address some of your comments.

      “In every scenario presented in this article the mother’s job is always harder.”

      Interesting; I wonder if that’s because it’s based in reality. If you were to try to argue that the mother’s job ISN’T harder, I think you’d find 99.9% of moms disagreeing with you. I’m not saying I am happy that the mother’s job is harder, but you’d be silly to ignore reality.

      “This dude must not have been around during the day while his child was a newborn;”

      You may come from a well-off family where you have plenty of money and don’t need to work to provide for your family, but in our family and I would guess most others, someone needs to work in order for the family to continue to thrive. Or are you suggesting that the mother returns to work immediately following the pregnancy?

      My husband is well aware of the fact that it’s not easy to nap when the baby does, but as a mother, let me tell you – when you’re tired, you find the time in those first few weeks/months. It’s not definitely not easy, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t nap at least once on a daily basis when our daughter was a newborn.

      “She absolutely doesn’t have the time if he’s expecting her to clean the house and cook daily”

      Now I think you may be projecting; this article never said or implied that he EXPECTED me to clean and cook daily.

      “Taking care of a newborn is a full time job that doesn’t stop after 8 hours, her job is exponentially harder.”

      Agreed, it is a harder job, especially in those first few months. My husband understands and appreciates that, and he did (and does) everything he can to help me.

      “Split the work legitimately equally between the two parents.”

      I see, so if we are splitting the work equally, I suppose you’re then also saying women need to go to work and earn a paycheck right after giving birth? That’s insensitive of you.

      “Gtfo with this 1950’s logic,”

      This is reality, my friend, not “1950’s logic”. One day when you have a partner who loves you and you both care about raising a family in the best way possible, you will understand the reality of the situation. Until then, keep ranting.

      • Lol! Love that you immediately begin insulting me.
        I absolutely read the entire article. I am married and have a 6 year old. I grew up dirt poor with my mother doing all she could to provide for me, unfortunately I have never been “well off”, in fact, I’d wager that my wife and I aren’t anywhere near as financially secure as you were when your baby was born. Every conclusion you jumped to about me was wrong. Sorry I hurt your (or your husband’s) feelings with my comments but I am not sorry for making them. Maybe my thoughts and experiences are coming from a younger perspective, my generation values true equality between men and women and this article, however well intentioned, is definitely catering to the man in the relationship, making sure he gets enough sleep, etc.
        My wife was rarely able to nap when my son was a newborn.
        My comment about splitting work legitimately equally was implying that just because he has a paying job to get to the next day he doesn’t deserve to get more sleep than his wife or do less work with the baby. This is unfair in my opinion.

        • Fair enough. 🙂 Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and when it comes to parenthood, there are definitely a lot of different opinions on a lot of different topics. Something is only “unfair” if one of the people involved feels it’s unfair (the concept of “fairness” is subjective).

          It’s up to every couple and family to figure out what works best for them – to simply say that one way of doing something is wrong just because it doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for everyone. But I do respect your opinion.

  2. Interesting suggestions. I love that its from the dads perspective.

    My husband and I do a different version of # 2. (We both equally share the household chores anyway) Each parent sleeps through one feeding at night. It’s really hard for me to get up for the 12am/1am feeding after a long battle of getting our colicy baby to bed; 7-10pm are her “witching hours.” For my husband, he has a really hard time with the 5am/6am feeding when he gets up at 7.

    He takes the 12/1am feeding, I take the 3am feeding, (I’m so engorged by missing the 12/1am feeding, I still have to pump after the 3am feeding), and I take the 5/6am feeding and just stay up. It’s nice having some quiet to start my day.

    Just keep in mind that moms will get super engorged in the beginning or will suffer from lower milk supply later by cutting out feedings. Or mom can get up and pump throughout the night which is much quicker than a full nursing session.

    • That’s a great approach, thanks for sharing Melissa! It does sound similar to what we used to do. And good point too re: milk supply.

  3. How bout mom does it all, she gets 3 months off!!!

    • Maybe mom wants to get some sleep too. I don’t know what your experience has been like, but going to work and doing a regular job is a hell of a lot easier than caring for a newborn 24/7 while sleep deprived.

  4. I’m now a stay at home mom, therefore I get up with my baby every night. (We thought about having my husband do Friday and Saturday nights but it’s just easier for me to feed her). I have severe anxiety yet I slept when she slept and still do at 7 months old with only 2 short naps a day and I don’t feel bad about it. However with the chores…. the things I don’t get done during the day I just do once my husband gets home ( rather than making him do it like suggested here) that way he gets his time with our baby as well; and that time consists of playtime which can help him relax from his hard day at work. I understand splitting duties equally if both parents work, I just don’t find it fair for moms who are home.

  5. My husband and I are in the thick of this and definitely trying to better balance things while I am exclusively bfeeding. I found this article really insightful and now I have some concrete ideas of how to better split things. I did find the use of the word “help” to be a bit irritating, tbh…when it comes to the husband doing household chores upon getting home. It’s his house too! He’s not “helping” (that to me insinuates that the chores are primarily the mom’s job), he’s just picking up that part of the work. Both parents are working full time during this stressful time just in a diff way…the mom at caring for baby, dad at work (if that is your family arrangement..I also acknowledge there are many others.) So to me it’s a toss up in general who does the housework. Despite what people say I have barely had a moment free…and I have an older child too which complicates things :). Just sharing my POV. Oh, and to the guy who says how bout mom does it all because she “gets” 3
    months off as if it’s some earned vacation…I’m going to take that comment as a joke considering how insensitive and misguided it is. I work full time and am currently on leave. I spent the first six weeks recovering from a c section, which is major abdominal surgery. Then after that my days have been a foggy mess of a seemingly unending pile of diapers, crying, barfing, etc etc…there’s barely time to do ANYthing else. Going to work would be 100% easier. I HAVE DONE BOTH. When my leave ends I will return to a very demanding job that basically requires me to be on 24/7. IT IS EASIER. So, please get a clue. Cynical parents – thx for this article!

  6. Huibrie Pretorius

    My husband and I happen to also be in this ‘traditional’ household setup. And we’ve started with something like you suggested in #1 with baby #1. It all sounds great when you have one baby. But now we’re on baby #3. My husband has gotten more and more involved with household chores and caring for our kiddos as our family grew.
    My big boys, 3 and 5 don’t nap though, they do have rest time, but I can hardly ever nap then. Also made this pregnancy way more exhausting. Rest time doesn’t necessarily coincide with baby’s nap – he’s 8 weeks now. I mostly use whatever time I can find during rest time to do dinner prep as the little guy has his fussy time starting around 5pm through dinner and all the bedtime routines. I try to only let my husband do one diaper change during the night after I fed baby since he went back to work. He works more like 8 to 7 and brings work home too. But by 8pm I’m at the same time so exhausted and in need of some downtime.

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