What do you do if you feel like it’s become ‘mum’s job’ to take care of the baby at night? Sleep consultant Judy Clark, of BabyWinkz, shares her advice for getting dads involved equally during the nighttime – and helps mums to let go of control.
While at risk of generalising here, in my experience there’s usually one parent who handles the bulk of the nighttime responsibilities – and that parent, in a typical heterosexual relationship, is almost always Mum!
But before you go accusing me of rampant sexism, I’d just like to point out that there’s a specific reason why this happens… and it probably isn’t what you think.
Lazy dad, or fearful father?
As a sleep consultant, I don’t get called into situations where everyone is sleeping soundly through the night, both parents are playing an equal part, and where baby’s not relying on any external props to fall asleep. Anyone who calls me that situation either has too much money or has mixed me up with a dream interpreter.
The parents who contact me are the ones having issues getting their babies to sleep, and that’s almost always because baby’s got into the habit of using an external prop to get to sleep when they wake in the night. And the most common prop I see, by far, is nursing – which pretty much cuts Dad out of the equation.
Now, this is a problem for a couple of reasons. Obviously, if an older baby is waking up six times a night and searching for Mum come to nurse them back to sleep, that’s exhausting for both mother and baby. But there’s another person who’s missing out in this scenario, and that’s Dad.
Who’s job is it anyway?
It might be hard to imagine if you’re currently reading this in the middle of the night with a baby hanging off your breast, listening to your husband snoring contentedly from the other room, but it’s true.
The vast majority of dads want to be great father’s. They want to have an active role in bringing up their kids, and they love feeling like they’re succeeding in that role. But because mums are the one’s with the magical breast milk, Dad often feels powerless to help out in the sleep department.
With little left to do as Mum feeds the baby, most dads, while sympathetic, assume that they might as well roll over and go back to sleep.
Nighttime parent wars
Understandably, a sleeping dad can conjure up some hostility from a sleep deprived mum, who feels like she’s doing more than the lion’s share of the work. On the other side, dads tend to get defensiveness and feel attacked for a situation that is out of their control.
But here’s the good news for both of you… if you’ve decided to give sleep training a try, the best results usually come when Dad takes the lead!
Yep, that’s right! Put your feet up, Mum. Dad’s going to be taking centre stage with this one. Why? Because Dad doesn’t produce milk – and baby knows it!
So, when it comes to breaking the association between nursing and falling asleep, baby tends to learn quicker and respond better when Dad comes into the room during the first few nights of learning to fall asleep independently.
Mum, let go of those reins!
Here’s a funny thing: whenever I drop tell a couple I’m working with that Dad should take the lead at night, Mum immediately let’s out a big woop-woop of joy and teases Dad about how he’s going to love getting up six times a night.
And it’s all good… except night one, as soon as baby starts to cry, Mum shoots out of bed and goes straight to baby’s room. Or even more commonly, mums will stand in the doorway instructing the dads on the “right way” to settle baby back sleep, correcting him every step of the way.
I have literally sent full-grown women to their rooms in this scenario. If Dad’s going to get involved, he and his baby have to find their own rhythm, and Mum needs to know when to let go of control. And as much as they always say they’ll have no problem letting their husbands take the wheel, when it comes down to it many women have trouble stepping back.
The key point is this: Dad might actually be the solution to your baby’s sleep issues, but you’re going to have to let him take over, completely and without jumping in.
Take heart though. Most of my clients see dramatic improvements in their baby’s sleep in just a couple of nights, so you won’t have to control yourself for long. After that, you and your partner will have the evenings back to yourselves, and your whole family can get back to sleeping through the night.
About Judy Clark: Judy is a Sleep Therapist, Sleep Expert, and Sleep Doula. Trained and certified in the Sleep Sense Method and based in the UK, Judy helps parents all over the world get a good night’s sleep. For out more at www.babywinkz.com.