Before I had my own child, I thought I knew a fair amount about babies. I had been a nanny in Manhattan during college, and even traveled with the family for whom I worked to the Hamptons where I did solo overnight duty with three children under five on several occasions. However, it turned out that by joining that family when their youngest daughter was eight months old, I had bypassed some key learnings about infants.Years later, I became an expectant mother myself and started to tune in to all things parenting. “Up all night” and “sleep-deprived” are two of the frequent terms I had heard in association with new parenthood from my co-workers and college friends. Babies have their days and nights confused, was my conclusion.
When my own first child was about to arrive, I steeled myself to pull all-nighters. It turned out that was unnecessary.
For the first couple months of Julian’s life, here’s what nighttime looked like:
When we got ready for bed, we would also ready him for what we hoped would be his longest stretch of sleep. His routine included a dry diaper, a snug swaddle, and a long breastfeeding session. Then we would all sleep.
After about three hours, he would wake. My husband Ryan would change his diaper, re-swaddle him, and hand him back to me. I would nurse him for about 30 minutes while Ryan did his best to sleep, knowing that he’d have to wake up shortly. When I was done feeding, I’d nudge Ryan who would then soothe his son back to sleep while I fell asleep myself. (Our soothing method was learned from the must-have book The Happiest Baby on the Block.) The whole procedure took just under an hour.
After about three hours of sleep, he would wake again. If the time on the clock was before 6 am, we considered it nighttime and would repeat the going-back-to-sleep ritual. If the two sleeping sessions had carried us into the normal-people-waking hours part of the day, we called it morning and would get up.
So, in summary, between 11 pm and 6 am, on a good night, we were only up for one hour of the night.
To me, this was a revelation, and a pleasant surprise.
Moms who require more sleep may feel that they’ve pulled an all-nighter, and certainly there are babies who sleep shorter segments, but going in, I would have felt less anxiety had I known that I would be facing interrupted sleep, not complete deprivation of sleep.
Here are a few tips for dealing with interrupted sleep:
- Set up your bedroom for quick changes. You might have a perfectly lovely nursery with a storage spot for everything, but for a few months it may be easier to set up a temporary changing pad, stack of diapers, burp cloths and clean swaddling blankets in your own bedroom.
- Create an aid station next to your bed. Nursing made me very hungry and thirsty, so a banana and water would be on hand. In the early days when I’d be awake for a while, I’d want my smart phone to cruise Facebook.
- Take notes. It’s easy to lose track of time in the darkness of the night. Write down when the baby woke up, how long or how much you fed him, and what was in his diaper. You might feel less crazy when you look back on your records in the morning and see how you had it all under control. A baby journal like this can help.
- Make a plan. Every duo operates differently, so while 50/50 may not be the model for you, it’s important to plan together. Whether dividing the chores or the hours of the night, those agreements are best made in daylight. An elbow jab in the back will only be translated as, “It’s your turn” to someone who has been educated on that code. We know one couple that divides up the hours from 10 to 2 as Daddy time and anything after 2am as Mommy time.
- Forgive immediately. Never hold grudges for what happens in the middle of the night. Snappy remarks and ignored pleas for help only intensify when sleep is lacking.