The Joys of Sleep Deprivation

Dear Mr. Dad: Our son is three weeks old and my wife is exhausted from breastfeeding. I have to be out of the house early in the morning to make it to work, but I do help her out between 2am and 4 am. But when I try to get a little sleep before or after those hours, or if I’m too slow to wake up, she’ll say to our son things like “Daddy doesn’t care.” This hurts my feelings because I’m doing as much as I can, and I do have to put in an 8-hour day in the office. How do I handle this situation?

A: This probably won’t make you feel much better, but there are plenty of new parents out there who can totally relate to your dilemma. Fact is, being tired, sleep-deprived, and overwhelmed is a normal part of being a new parent.

I’m sure that everyone you knew tried to warn you that becoming a dad would turn your life upside down, right? And I’m sure you tried to prepare yourself for all the changes. But there’s a difference between watching a tornado on TV and having one blow the roof off your house. Now that your baby is actually here, it’s pretty obvious that nothing could have fully prepped you for the daily (and nightly) challenges of living with a newborn.

Try to think about this from your wife’s perspective. Giving birth was just the beginning of a series of major changes in her life: physical, emotional, and psychological. While trying to take care of your son around the clock and dealing with all the adjustments of being a new mom, there’s a good chance that she’s experiencing symptoms of what’s generally called “baby blues,” feelings of sadness, loneliness, vulnerability, and questioning her ability to be a good mom. And the fact that she’s breastfeeding on demand—and is experiencing the exhaustion that goes along with it—just makes things worse.

Your wife probably doesn’t mean to snap at you. In some irrational way, she may actually believe that you aren’t pulling your weight. After all, you spend most of your day in the company of adults, while she is housebound with a baby.

Ask yourself this: Are you really doing as much as you reasonably can to help your wife through this difficult time, or could you do more? Obviously, since you have a full time job, she can’t expect you to stay up at night taking care of the baby—someone has to put food on the table. On the other hand, maybe you can take over from your wife as soon as you come home, giving her some much-needed “me” time, and you a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your baby.

One of these evenings, after your baby goes to sleep, sit down with your wife and try to come up with an equitable plan to share the parenting duties. Do not forget to let her know that you understand her frustrations, and that you’ll do your best to shoulder your fair share of “daddy” responsibilities. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to let the housework and cooking slide for a while. Stock your freezer with pizza and other easily prepared meals so the new mom can focus on the baby and herself.

Finally, keep in mind that as your son gets older and starts sleeping through the night (and as your wife regains her strength), things will get easier.

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