Who does the overnights after one parent returns to work? 

You don’t need to be told that the lack of sleep is really, really, really rough in these early days with Baby. It’s hard for you, and it’s hard for your partner. It’s hard when both you and your partner are home immediately after birth, it’s hard when one of you is back to work, and it’s hard when both of you are back to work. It’s just hard!

At least in the early days when both of you are home, you’re in the thick of it together and you can try your best to sleep when Baby sleeps. But things can get a little trickier when one or both of you return to work. You’re still in this together, but just what should shape which one of you gets up with Baby and which one of you tries to catch a few more winks?

  • If one of you is still home with Baby, keep in mind that just because that person isn’t heading to the workplace the next day, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be working hard at home with your little one. When one parent goes back to work, resist the urge to have that partner stop helping with overnights. Just because that parent is heading to work, that doesn’t mean the partner at home won’t have plenty to do. It’s takes energy, attention, and concentration to do a good job in the workplace, and it takes just the same to care for a newborn. Certainly, this probably means that neither of you will be terribly well rested in these early days, but it’s better that you split the difference than have one partner – the one caring for your little one – be the one who is getting the least sleep all the time.
  • If mom is nursing, then she’ll still be plenty busy overnight. The other partner should help by at least tackling overnight diaper duty. Nursing takes a lot out of mom to begin with, both in terms of time and energy. A great habit that can help mom squeeze in just a little bit of extra shut eye (or maybe a few more minutes of quiet rest, or even just time enough to get a glass of water or go to the bathroom) is to have the other partner tackle all the overnight diaper changes. When baby wakes, that partner can tackle the diaper change (and the onesie and pajama change in the case of especially potent loads) before handing Baby off to mom for milk.
  • If Baby is formula-fed, partners should decide in clear terms just how you’ll both split the workload. If baby is having formula, you have a lot more options in terms of who can feed and care for baby overnight. You might trade one night on, the next night off, switching that way. You might switch off for each feeding, so each partner tackles every other feeding. You might even decide to operate in shifts – one of you feeds baby before 1 a.m., the other after 1 a.m. Splitting the workload in this way can do wonders for helping you both feel like you’re getting at least somewhat regular rest.  
  • If one of you has a big day the next day – an especially early start in the morning, a long drive, an important meeting – then you may want to have the other tackle the overnight that comes prior. Certainly, you can’t catch up on a huge sleep debt in just one evening, but this sort of a schedule can help ensure that for when there’s something important happening the next day that you really need to get your rest for, you can at least try your best to get some of the rest you need. Certainly, if mom is nursing and has a big day, you’ll have to talk about what that means for the overnight. Will mom still feed baby, and her partner will tackle the diapers and rocking and putting Baby back down to sleep? Or will the partner tackle the overnight with bottles of pumped breastmilk? Maybe mom will nurse for any feedings before midnight, and then let her partner handle everything in the morning hours. Again, this is an instance where you and your partner will want to clearly communicate with each other and decide on an overnight plan ahead of time.  

As you may be able to tell, when it comes to figuring all of this out, communication is key. You’ll want to be certain that both of you are clear on who is doing what, what sort of habits you want to establish, and what seems to be working. And when things aren’t working or something needs to change, you’ll already have nice, open lines of communication that will allow you to talk things through and figure out just what you can do differently. A lot of couples find that – much as this is a tough, intense period of parenthood –  tackling these issues helps them grow as partners and as parents.  

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