Should fathers help with night feeds? See the pros and cons of both parents waking up for middle of the night feedings, even if one parent stays home.
Those middle of the night wake ups were the worst. The constant crying, the inability to soothe the baby back to sleep, scrambling to zip those pajamas all while the baby was shrieking, then several more minutes of breastfeeding and burping… it was getting too much.
Sleep deprivation during the newborn months, already the challenge that it is, brought out the worst in me during nighttime feedings. It was the time of the day (or night) when I least enjoyed being a mom.
My husband shouldered half of that burden. He changed diapers while I breastfed, and we’d take turns soothing the baby.
When we were both out on maternity and paternity leave, the decision for him to wake up at nights was a no-brainer. After all, we’d both be home the next day doing nearly the same tasks.
But with him returning to work before I did, would he continue waking up in the middle of the night with me?
Should fathers help with night feeds?
Middle of the night wake ups are unique to each family. With work the next day, dads have work tasks that are more difficult to manage when sleep-deprived. Meanwhile, moms are home with the baby, with no time-specific duties or even people to interact with (heck, we wouldn’t even need to get dressed).
Should dads help with night feeds then, even with work looming the next day?
In our case, he did. Here’s why:
For both pregnancies (with my singleton and later, my twins), I couldn’t do it all by myself. Physical exhaustion aside, sleep deprivation was a huge challenge. Having my husband’s support and a sense of teamwork did wonders for my morale.
As much as I acknowledge the benefits of breastfeeding, I still didn’t like that I was the only one that can do so. Knowing this, my husband helped me as much as he could so that whatever burdens crop up don’t always fall on me.
I feel like we’re working as a team when he wakes up with me for nighttime feedings. Every little bit helps, from re-swaddling, to changing diapers, to burping the babies. Doing night duty alone can feel so isolating that every bit of support helps.
2. Staying home with the baby is hard
It’s easy for stay-at-home parents to feel unappreciated because they were “just at home.”
And I get it. One of the biggest reasons your husband doesn’t help with the baby at night is because he works. He needs to be at work by a certain time while mom stays home with the baby (and could potentially rest at home).
Or perhaps the baby cries with dad at night, leaving both of you feeling defeated and even more sleep-deprived. And maybe you’re simply arguing over night feeds so much, you’ve decided to take the task on your own.
Still, I’m betting there are tons of parents who agree that caring for babies can be harder than paid work. It’s no joke when they say parenting can be one of the most difficult and stressful responsibilities. Parenting—even if unpaid—is still a job.
For dad to be able to sleep through the night signals that his job is more important than mom’s. In some cases, this is true—you’d want your pilot or surgeon to function on a full night of sleep.
But in many cases, caring for the baby is just as difficult, if not more so, than our day jobs.
3. Dads are more involved with child care
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Dads are more likely to be involved in the baby’s care when he participates in nighttime duties. He knows that the baby prefers the pacifier, or that he needs a special kind of swaddle to fall asleep.
Both parents are on the same team, doing the same work.
It’s nice to have an equal “co-worker” who can brainstorm how to soothe a fussy baby in the middle of the night, or pull his weight with washing baby bottles and pump parts. Moms don’t feel like they have to delegate instructions because dads know just as much about what the baby needs.
When it doesn’t always work
With all the benefits of dads waking up for middle of the night feedings, moms feel less resentful and isolated. But is there ever a time when dads don’t need to wake up at nights?
Each family is different, from their schedules to their preferences. Maybe mom can function much better with five hours of sleep than dad (who needs a full eight), or dad’s job is too challenging for him to be sleep deprived (like the pilot or surgeon we mentioned earlier).
Other moms also feel no need nor resentment should dad help with the baby at night or not. “I have to get up anyway—why wake my husband if he doesn’t have to?” is a common reason moms don’t mind when their husbands never wake up with the baby.
Some families also have a clear understanding about sharing night time feeds. Dad focuses on bringing in income while mom is the main caregiver.
And finally, other couples customize and learned how to share night feeds. Many parents take turns—mom does the feedings one night while dad does the next. Some take shifts—dad handles the 9pm to 3am shift, while mom does the 3am to 9am shift.
Sharing night feed duties doesn’t always have to be both parents waking up each time the baby cries.
How to get dad to help with the baby at night
Feeling tired and resentful because your husband doesn’t help with the baby at night? Here are a few ways to manage:
- Communicate. Find a good opportunity where you and your partner are both calm and in a good mood. Then discuss your feelings and needs, focusing on how you feel without attacking him or his character.
- Be explicit with what you need. Once you’ve addressed your feelings, be clear about what it is you want from your partner. Give a few ideas, then see if he has any, but don’t leave it up to him to guess what you need.
- Find a schedule that works for both of you. Dads can help beyond waking up every time the baby cries, too. You can take turns getting up or take shifts.
- Come up with alternative ways to help. If your partner simply can’t wake up, find other ways he can help. He can take over bath times and handle meals so you get a break.
If you’re exhausted while your partner sleeps through the night, or you wonder how to get dad to help with baby at night, consider a change in strategy.
No one should feel under-appreciated or harbor resentment. Both should feel like they’re part of a team, whether they wake up for feedings, go to work, or stay home with the baby.
p.s. Do you struggle with getting your newborn to sleep? His awake time just might be affecting how well he sleeps or not. Join my newsletter and get my handout—at no cost to you—and discover one mistake you may be making with your baby’s awake time.
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Get more tips:
- How to Start Night Weaning and End Middle-of-the-Night Feedings
- How to Survive the First Few Weeks with a Newborn and Toddler
- When Does Breastfeeding Finally Stop Hurting?
- What to Do When Your Baby Wants to Nurse Constantly
- How to Get Your Baby to Adjust Using a Newborn Schedule
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