Saturday, April 21, 2007

Should dads get up too?

I'm going to switch gears a bit today and talk about an infamous struggle for new parents; sleepless nights. (If you are about to be a new parent, get ready and read on)

My daughter, who is now 19 months, spent the first 5-6 months of her life sleeping no more than 4 hours at any given time. Don't get me wrong, we were very lucky in that she was an absolutely healthy, happy baby. It's just that she had a constant cycle of sleep, eat, poop, and sleep again. This, of course, meant that my wife spent those first 6 months like a zombie, never being able to get a decent, restful night. I would occasionally chip in on the weekends and help where I could, but since my daughter was breast fed, there were some areas were I was, well, unqualified.

This leads me to a common topic of discussion, which I have had with a couple of other dads-to-be, on the type of involvement that a dad should expect to have during those sleepless nights.

The most obvious conclusion, which is what my wife and I thought before our daughter was born is that there are two main obstacles that will limit how much a dad can help. One is work. The other is breasts.

From a work perspective, we thought that there was no point in me being a zombie too, since I would not be able to perform my "9-to-5" duties. Therefore, I seldom, if ever got up in the middle of a week night to help out. From an anatomical perspective, my daughter was 100% breast fed until she was 6 months old, so there was not much I could do on that front. There was breast milk in a bottle of course, but there is only so much milk a mom can pump.

My perspective on this has changed dramatically after 19 months. If and when baby number 2 comes along I think I would like to do a couple of things differently. First, my job doesn't call for operating heavy machinery or doing dangerous tasks, so next time around I will get up with my wife at least once a night (yes, even during weekdays). Even if you do not feed the baby, as a dad there is a lot you can do, including burping, walking, rocking, and changing diapers (yes your wife is doing all of that too, while you are asleep). Secondly, I would introduce some portion of formula feeding after a couple of months. I would encourage parents to seriously discuss the breast milk versus formula topic before their child is born. For all of the advantages of breast milk (there are many) formula fed babies typically sleep longer and formula feeding gives dad a chance to give mom a break.

If nothing else, getting up will show much needed moral support during this zombie phase (yes, it is a phase and it does end). After you get the hang of it and your baby reaches 4-5 months, I would encourage parents to read a book called "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child". My wife an I are raving fans, since the sleep training discussed in the book helped us get our child to sleep continuously for about 10-12 hours every night!

Hope this helps.