Midnight baby

Dear Mr. Dad: Our son is eight days old and he seems to cry and get fussy a lot between the hours of 3:30am and 6am. Since my husband has to be up early in the morning to get ready for work, I feel guilty about asking him to tend to the baby at night. But I get so exhausted myself, that sometimes I just have to ask. He has a physically demanding job and works 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. What should I do?

A: Let’s start with the easy part first. It’s perfectly normal for newborns to be fussy and up at all hours of the night—an eight-day old baby who sleeps through the night would be extremely rare. For the first few months of life, babies are on pretty much the same schedule they were on before they were born: sleeping all day and up all night. This makes perfect sense: when you’re awake and walking around during the day, you’re rocking your unborn baby to sleep. When you get home and lie down, the fetus wakes up.

There’s no way to force your baby to sleep through the night, just as there’s no way to rush any other developmental milestones like walking and talking. But the good news is that this situation is likely temporary. Chance are, in a few months he will snap into a parent-friendly routine all by himself, and you and your husband will finally be able to… sleep like a baby (or at least like babies are supposed to sleep)! Of course, to an exhausted parent, a couple months of sleep deprivation is going to seem like an eternity.

Okay, now for the tougher part of your question. Should you recruit your husband to help with the baby? Absolutely. Tired and run-down moms are more prone to depression and illness. Even in families where dad is the primary breadwinner and mom is the primary caretaker, both parents should be involved in childcare to the best of their ability and availability. The key is to negotiate with your husband and come up with a solution that’s workable for both of you. One solution I strongly recommend is that you and your husband do the nighttime duties in shifts: you might handle the 3am feedings while letting him sleep, and he’ll take the 7am feeding and let you sleep. Do NOT get up at the same time. While you might appreciate the company, if you’re both up at the same time, you’re both going to exhausted. Doing it in shifts, though, will allow both of you to get at least some sleep.

Another approach is to try to unload some of your daytime baby duties so you can rest. Sometimes a brief catnap can be very refreshing and re-energizing. Is there a family member or a friend who could lend a hand once in a while? I’m sure there are all sorts of people who’ve offered to help with the baby. And, don’t rule out an occasional babysitter. Though your son may be too young to be left alone with a sitter for very long, hiring a mother’s helper to watch the baby while you nap is an excellent investment.

These solutions should help tide you over until your son’s sleep cycle becomes a little less erratic. A few years from now, when you look back at your son’s baby years, all those sleepless nights you’re racking up now will be a dim memory.