The first months with a new baby can bring with it a rollercoaster of sleepless nights. In an ideal world there are two parents around to share the load.
In reality, even in a two-parent home, getting up to resettle the baby through the night usually falls to one person. And in heterosexual couples the load usually falls to, you guessed it – Mum.
We spoke to our Sleep School baby sleep expert Jo Ryan to find out what couples can do to help each other through the early days of managing their baby’s sleep.
Listen to Jo Ryan on Feed Play Love:
How do mums end up holding the baby?
As the mum, it may seem like it’s easier just to do it all. You’re already up with the baby to breastfeed anyway. And if it feels like your baby just settles back to sleep more easily for you than for your partner, this isn’t your imagination.
“Your baby will always be calmer with you, the mother, because you’re the one that breastfeeds,” Jo confirms. “They’ll smell you and they know you. Babies are so smart about that.”
“But they know their dads too, and they know their dad’s voices as soon as they’re born.”
Dads can resettle their babies too. And they’re good at it!
“Rather than send [dad] back to bed in the middle of the night, after you’ve fed the baby, get him to settle the baby.” Jo says.
“The vibration from their chest is really comforting, and babies really like that. And it gives dads a really nice role to do. And a bit of bonding time with the babies.”
And practice makes perfect too – the more often your partner steps in to soothe and settle your baby, the better he will become at it.
Set the tone early
Jo points out that setting up a pattern of shared care early on will influence how things play out later.
Often, with mums caring for their baby at home and dads going to out-of-home work, the lopsided division of labour starts early on. Before you know it, a pattern has been formed and it stays that way for years to come.
Jo says, “I see toddlers who are having a bit of sleep disturbance at bedtime and the mum says to me, ‘I’m the only one that can put them to bed’. And that makes it really difficult because you’re then chained to that kind of role and you can’t leave, and no one else can do it.”
So while it might feel counter-intuitive, the trick is for dads to get involved in resettling their babies to sleep from the beginning.
Talk about baby care before your baby is born
Communicating about how you’ll share the care can’t be done too early. Even before your baby’s born, discuss how you’ll manage baby care, “So that there’s an understanding of how it’s going to work.” Jo explains.
“I think as women, we do tend to say … ‘I know how to do it and I can’t bear listening to him try to settle the baby because the baby is screaming.’ So we tend to take over a bit.” says Jo.
Stepping back a bit may take some conscious effort, but Jo suggests that this can be the ticket to success. “Sometimes we need to let go a bit of the control that we have over that situation and that we want it to go a certain way … and let them find a way that they can do it, that’s comfortable to them.”
Practice breeds confidence
In the short term, getting into a rhythm of dad resettling the baby in the night will give you a chance to sleep. In the longer term, it makes it easier for your baby to be settled by either parent. Sharing the care early on also gives dads a chance to gain confidence. Jo points out, “As the children grow, if dads haven’t been involved from the beginning, then there’s a lack of confidence in their ability to cope with other things when they’re older.”
And as far as the argument that dads go out to work and are too tired when they come home to settle the baby through the night? In Jo’s words: “don’t even!”.
“It’s not like you’re sitting at home with your feet up and sleeping all day. Having a baby at home is exhausting, as anyone who’s had a baby at home will tell you.”
“It’s harder than any job you can do.”
Having trouble getting your baby to sleep? Jo Ryan is one of our Sleep School experts. can help. Click to find out more about Sleep School or to book a one-on-one session with Jo today.