It’s 3:30 in the morning and it’s happening again. You have just barely fallen back to sleep. This is the third time since collapsing into bed at 11:45. You stare at the monitor, hold your breath and silently beg your little angel. “Please. Just do it. I know you can do it. Suck on that pacifier, close those gorgeous eyes and go back to sleep. PLEASE.” The begging is unsuccessful…again. You’re lifting your one thousand pound legs off the side of the bed when you hear it. It’s a familiar sound, but you know it simply cannot be. “Is that? Are you kidding me? No. Can that really be f*#cking snoring?”
Your exhaustion immediately turns to rage. A kind of anger you were not capable of prior to the measly four hours of sleep a night that is your new reality. And so you very rationally think, “If the baby isn’t sleeping, and I’m not sleeping, well dammit it all, nobody’s sleeping.” Those legs that felt so heavy moments ago become weightless as they fly across the covers and kick your snoring partner awake.
The picture painted here, or some version of it, has likely felt familiar to every parent at one point or another. If I’ve said it to one family, I’ve said it to one hundred, decision making in the middle of the night is never a good idea. Avoid those ugly, bleary eyed, middle of the night arguments with some proactive daytime discussions.
Prior to nightfall, plan out who will respond when.
What makes sense logistically? If both parents work, perhaps splitting the night in half is the answer. One parent responds to all wake-ups prior to two o’clock and the other parent responds for the remainder of the night. If only one parent works, it might make most sense for the non-working parent to attend to baby’s needs during the work week. While the other parent is designated the responder on weekends. The key here, is that the plan is created together, in advance and is mutually agreed upon.
Discuss what needs to happen when. Many of those middle of the night arguments occur because partners disagree over why their baby woke in the first place. Map out appropriate feeding times. Share with one another what non-feeding soothing strategies have been successful: swaddling, rocking, bouncing, swaying, etc. State whether it’s expected that baby is going to spend the whole night in one location or a hybrid of multiple locations. If the latter is the case, decide together, what those safe and appropriate locations are. Such as a crib for the first part of the night and a bassinet for the remainder of the night.
Keep a log with daily feedings and diapering patterns to help with planning. This will eliminate unnecessarily waking your partner in the night with questions. A newborn’s needs will vary greatly from that of an infants and a toddler’s needs will be different still. Remember to adjust your plan as your family grows and changes.
To assume that one parent over another will be responsible for all nighttime duties is a recipe for familial stress and resentment. If it seems impossible to create a mutually agreed upon plan, perhaps it’s best to seek help from an unbiased, well rested third party, ahem, such as a professional sleep consultant.
Kristen relies on her many years of experience, as well as her education and background, to create individualized sleep or specified parenting support for every family she works with. She enjoys living in a small town north of Boston with her husband, son and daughter.
Joanna is an educator, holistic health counselor and mother of two young children. She has 15 years of teaching experience with children from infancy to 18 yrs of age, focusing the last 4 years consulting schools and young families.