Handing Over Nighttime Parenting (to dad)

Hi everyone!

A lot has been going on here and I need to catch up on posts. I want to tell you about our move to Haarlem and share a nice veggie curry recipe with you, but right now I am more excited about another change in our lives: N. took over the nighttime parenting. I want to share our experience with you because I feel it can help other families as well, especially those with breastfeeding babies.

The wonderful world of breastfeeding and cuddles

Let me start from, well, the start. When I got pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby and I would do whatever I could to establish a strong breastfeeding relationship from day one. I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t have latching issues or mastitis or flat nipples or poor supply or intolerable pain. Yes, I did get cracked nipples and the first month was a bit challenging, but Loulou was a nursing champ from the start. So she kept on breastfeeding. We didn’t offer the bottle to her early on, because we didn’t want her to get nipple confusion. But by the time we felt safe enough to offer it, she had a mind of her own and always refused it, no matter who gave it to her.

I was a bit frustrated I couldn’t be away from her for more than a couple of hours, but oh well… And months went by and I just kept breastfeeding her during day and night. And we were co-sleeping as it wouldn’t be so practical to get up every two hours and go to her own room/bed to feed her, right? And after all, I work from home, so even if I didn’t get much (any) sleep, I could always nap during the day. Except I didn’t.


How much attachment is too much?

Loulou’s personality started to shine the older she got and it is clear by now that we have in our hands a spirited, determined child. Determined not to let mama go. Her attachment to me is very sweet and I love the fact that when I am around she feels secure enough to explore around her and be open to strangers. And I do love the cuddles and kisses that I get (usually when she is tired and sleepy). And I do love the fact that just my smell (the smell of milk) calms her down when she is frustrated.

But as N. works at least 9 hours a day, he didn’t get to spend much time with her (if any, some days) and her attachment to me started to feel like a burden at times. In March and April many relatives visited us and Loulou wouldn’t stay with any of them unless I was around, somewhere she could see me. Then she would happily play with anyone. But this meant that I had absolutely no time alone, apart from the time she naps, which is when I can do some work. N. tried to help out and spend time with her at least during the weekends, so that I could have a few minutes for myself. But as he didn’t spend much time with her during the week, he was unfamiliar with her queues or her quirks. He was not confident, she could sense it and everyone got frustrated. I couldn’t stand to listen to her crying so I was too quick to intervene and often deprived him of chances to learn. It was stressful for all of us. Until…

Letting it go

…until at some point a couple of dear friends told us that the dad took over nighttime parenting. And their life got better. We figured that it could be the solution to our problems. Loulou was super-attached to me and me only during day and night. In fact N. joked that she had more interest in light switches than him (which is not true but it makes for a good joke). There was no one else who could comfort her or make her feel safe, because all these feelings were associated with breastfeeding.It was time to let go of that precious exclusive mama-baby relationship and let papa in. In fact the timing seemed great, as we just moved to a new house, where Loulou had her own room. But how would we do it?

Back to our friends. These are people whose judgment we trust and whose parenting practices are really close to ours. They are a vegetarian family and their son is a tiny bit older than Loulou and breastfed. So how on earth did they manage to get their little kiddo to sleep without a boob in his mouth? Loulou has been sleeping that way since she was born and the couple of times that we tried to change that, all hell broke loose. Our friends’ advice was to be kind but firm. Let me make something clear here: they did not let their baby cry alone. So no CIO (“cry it out”). The father was there to comfort the child. The mom breastfed the baby in another room and then the dad took the baby to bed. They told us the first days were rough, but the dad kept going back to the baby and finally the little man figured out that he can actually fall asleep without mama.

So we decided to try it out.

And it works. In fact N. told me that he really enjoys the process and it is very fulfilling to be able to comfort Loulou and help her drift off. He feels more connected to her as well. I am really glad to hear that, because the first days were filled with Loulou crying and scratching and kicking for half an hour, before she fell asleep. Today it took just 15 minutes for N. to put her to bed (that’s less than I needed with breastfeeding) and he even put her down to nap, which is a first. You can clearly see that he has gained major confidence in taking care of her. And I feel very confident and secure now, that if I am out for a day, he can take great care of her and meet all her needs, both physical and emotional, as well as I do.

How to do it

Meh… I am pretty sure there isn’t really a recipe, as every baby is truly different. But I do think that the general advice of being firm but kind works. I feel it’s important that you don’t go back and forth. By the time they turn one, babies do not only have needs, but also wants. This means they have preferences. And those smart little cuddly fellows will try to have things the way they want. And if they don’t, they get angry, like you or I would get. I really do not believe that babies are manipulative villains spending the night making evil plots. I do think however that they like things the way they do. They have strong preferences. And if for some reason these preferences cause issues to your family, then I feel it’s healthy to introduce a new routine that is more suited to your family’s needs (not just your baby’s). But in order to help them transition in a new routine, you need to show them that this is the way things are and there is just no other option. For example, if the dad is trying to put the baby to bed and you hear the baby cry, hold tight mama and don’t go in the room. This shows that you don’t trust your partner and it also sends your baby the message that you feel he/she needs you, to be comforted. So the baby gets the message too that “dad isn’t good enough”. Now, if you see that the baby cries inconsolably and this thing takes forever and the dad is also not yet ready, then you might need to try at a later time.

What happens to breastfeeding?

I was a bit worried about jeopardizing breastfeeding as Loulou would drink 3-4 times every night and I was afraid my supply would go down. However she still drinks really well during the day and A LOT when she wakes up. There is still plenty of demand, hence plenty of supply. If you are worried though, I guess you could express/pump some milk before you go to bed, to make sure your breasts won’t explode while you sleep 🙂

I am really interested to read your stories about how you managed to disassociate breastfeeding from sleep, if you chose to do so, so please leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

3 responses to “Handing Over Nighttime Parenting (to dad)

  1. First breastfeed, then change the diaper (which usually works out anyways, because they poop in the middle of the feed). After that distraction, it’s just a matter of getting the baby to go to sleep.
    We do swaddle, book/sing, and then just wait for sleep to come. I think if you time it right, they go to sleep easily – babies get tired, just like we do.
    That’s not to say that for the first four months or so we weren’t putting Tova to sleep in her carseat, but that’s a different story.
    What I just wrote is what worked for Shlomo then and works for Tova now (thank G-d).

    • Sounds like a great routine and I am glad it is easier now than it was when they were 4 months. But 4 months are tricky for almost everyone, sleep regression and all… 🙂 Loulou has been an escape artist from all sorts of swaddling from the start, so that never worked for us. Singing is what helps her drift off with daddy.

      • Escape artist – LOL. that’s the term we started using. The trick is to put the hand straight by their side and wrap quickly and tightly. After a few months one hand out is okay, as long as they don’t pull out the pacifier or hit themselves in the face.

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