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Teaching your baby to sleep can be hard on a couple because you're both likely to be sleep-deprived at the same time. This means you're not at your best during the delicate negotiations of deciding who does what to get your baby to sleep.
So how do you share the job – and preserve your relationship – when you both need to be alert enough to work the next day?
For working parents of newborns: Creating a nighttime plan
Select a bedtime routine that works for both of you. Assuming neither of you wants to be solely responsible for the bedtime routine every night, make sure the activities you choose to help your baby wind down – a warm bath, book, or lullaby – are things you both want to do.
Work with each other's strengths. Does your partner need to get up earlier for work? Then it may make more sense for you to handle your baby's midnight wake-ups and for your partner to feed the baby before work.
Can he fall back to sleep easily while it takes you lots of tossing and turning before you fade? Then getting up in the middle of the night may be better for him to handle while you get up early with your baby.
"Talk about what your personal sleep needs are, and try to accommodate each other's sleep cycle," says Barbara Nusbaum, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan. "If one of you is a morning person and the other a night person, take shifts. Try to work with each other's strengths and weaknesses."
Make sure it's understood that midnight duty is not just for moms. Even if you're nursing, it doesn't necessarily mean you should get stuck with the middle of the night shift. When you need to be at work the next day, pump your breast milk ahead of time so your partner can use it to bottle-feed the baby when it's his turn to be on call.
Take turns. Some couples switch off nights, and others alternate taking care of the baby in the course of one night. On weekends, many couples give each other a chance to sleep in on one of those days. The point is, find a way to share the load.
For working parents of babies 4 months and older: How to tackle sleep training
Discuss what sleep training method is best for your family before putting it into action. Ask friends and relatives what sleep training methods worked for them. Read up on each one to see which is the best fit for your family. Having a plan you both agree on will help you feel more capable – and less likely to argue – even when you're overtired.
Agree not to talk about it after midnight. Plan how you want to handle the baby's night wakings before going to bed – not in the middle of the night when patience runs thin and tempers can start to flare. "At 1:30 in the morning is not the time to make a new decision or come up with a new philosophy," says Jodi Zisser, a therapist in New York City who works with many new parents. "At that point, you just need to get through the moment. You can discuss it as a couple the following day."
Accept that you won't get enough sleep. "You will never get enough sleep, so normalize it," says Nusbaum. This is your new reality and you might as well try to embrace it.
Be kind to each other. This is hard for everyone with a young baby. "Don't think you're doing something wrong," says Nusbaum. "Nobody is doing it better than you." So cut each other a break whenever possible. And forgive each other in advance for any tense interactions that might occur at 2 a.m. when you're not at your best – you can hug it out in the morning.
Take comfort from knowing you're both in this together. And if all else fails, there's always coffee.
Tips from our site parents on teaming up for night duty
Sleep when the baby sleeps
"Once he is down for the night,we go to bed. If he wakes up I will feed him, and if he is fighting going back to sleep my husband takes him."
Let your partner choose how he wants to be involved, not whether.
"I ask him, 'Do you want to do the dishes or get the baby to sleep?' He usually picks the baby."
— A our site member
"I work three 12-hour days per week, and on nights when both my husband and I work, I take anything before 4 a.m., and he takes anything after. If it's a rough night, we alternate turns."
"With our baby getting up every other hour to feed, it gave the other parent a good two- or three-hour until it was their turn. As time went on and our baby slept longer, we still continued taking turns. Now that our baby is only getting up two to three times at night (sometimes only once when we're lucky), we take turns giving each other more sleep. One night I may get up the few times for our baby to eat and be changed, other times my partner does. That way, we each have a few nights of a solid six to seven hours of sleep."
"My husband and I have been on shifts since the beginning. I'm on call [for night wakings] from 10 p.m. to 3 p.m., and he's on call thereafter so we both can sleep. It works because it gives me a chance to pump around 1 or 2 a.m."
"We do one week on, one week off, which gives the other person an entire week to catch up on sleep and means we never have to argue about whose turn it is. We both work full-time and earn comparable incomes, so I think it's only fair to split duties 50/50."
Coordinate and communicate
"We agreed to let her cry for 10 minutes. Being on the same page about that made it easier for us to get through those times – and made it feel like a joint success when she stopped crying and went to sleep."
— A our site member
"I breastfeed her at 9:30 p.m., and he picks her up and transfers her to the bassinet. Then at 4:30 a.m. when she wakes up, he changes her and hands her to me to breastfeed. She then sleeps until 7 or 8 o'clock. We both work full-time, and he is a huge help."
"We both work, but we made an agreement before our son was born that my husband would be the one who gets up most at night. I'm a horrible sleeper, and it takes me forever to fall asleep whereas he is out as soon as his head hits the pillow. However, we also agreed that I would change the majority of the diapers because he doesn't deal well with body fluids."
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