I may be over generalising here, but in my experience there’s usually one parent who handles bedtime routine and night wakings the most.
That parent is more often than not, the mother.
I’m going to catch you in that thought already bubbling up in your mind regarding stereotyping and sexism and just point out that there’s actually a reason for this.
Being a Sleep Consultant, I don’t get approached by families where both parents are contributing equally, their child isn’t relying on external sleep props, and everyone is sleeping soundly. Anyone who were to call a Sleep Consultant in that situation either has money to burn or has mistaken us for dream interpreters.
No, usually I’m approached by families who are having significant difficulties getting their little one to sleep, and it’s almost always because there’s a sleep prop involved. A sleep prop is an unhelpful sleep association which causes a child to rely upon an external soother to fall asleep at bedtime, and to help them resettle when they wake in the night.
The most common prop I see – without a doubt – is breastfeeding. Which … pretty much excludes Dad from the situation, huh?
Feeding to sleep is an issue for a few reasons. Obviously, night wakings are the biggest issue here. If bub is waking 4, 5, even 6 times a night looking for Mum to nurse her back to sleep this becomes exhausting for both Mum and bub.
However, it’s important to note that there is another person who often suffers in this scenario, and that’s Dad. If you’re currently reading this as a Mum who has been up countless times in the night last night and out of bed before 6:00am the concept of Dad being the one who is suffering might be a difficult one to accept, but it’s true.
Dads just want to be Dads! They want to be involved in raising their children just as much as you do, and they love to feel wanted and needed by their children and to feel as though they are succeeding in meeting those needs. However with Mum being the one with the magical milk machines attached to her – the only thing that bub seems to settle with – this can leave Dads feeling helpless.
What do you do in the middle of the night when you’re not wanted or needed? Well, you go back to sleep (and often snoring), of course!
This can often cause some resentment to build in a sleep deprived Mum who feels like she’s doing more than her share, and some defensiveness from Dad who feels like he’s being attacked for something he has no control over.
Okay, but here’s some good news … if you’ve decided to give it a go at implementing a structured sleep plan, it can often go better if Dad takes the lead.
Yep! Sit back, kick your feet up, and relax Mum – Dad can bear the brunt with this one. Why? Because Dad can’t breastfeed, and baby knows it. So when it comes to breaking the association between feeding and falling to sleep, babies tend to learn faster and respond better when Dad is the one to respond to their calls in the middle of the night.
Here’s the funny thing, though. When first hearing this Mum’s will often chuckle and tease Dad about how much fun he’s going to have tending to bub in the middle of the night while she sleeps soundly, but then on night one when that first waking happens … there’s Mum! Standing in the doorway directing Dad on which is the best way to settle bub and correcting him every step of the way.
I have literally had to send grown women to their rooms in order to achieve success with sleep programs before.
If Dad is going to get involved with solving the sleep difficulties, it’s important for him and bub to find their own rhythm and Mum needs to respect this and leave them to work it out for themselves. As much as most women tell me they’ll have no problem with this and they’ll enjoy the extra sleep, the scenario ends up looking the complete opposite in reality.
So remember this – Dad just might be the magical solution to your baby’s sleep difficulties … but you’re going to have to let him take over in order for him to work his magic. If this is a difficult pill to swallow, just remind yourself that it usually only takes a few nights for bub to adjust to the sleep routine (so you won’t have to control yourself for too long!).
After that, you and your spouse will have the evenings back to yourselves and your whole family can enjoy the benefits of getting a solid night of sleep each night.