When my kids were born, arguably the most difficult thing to adjust to was the lack of sleep. I love my bed. Always have. So being dragged from it relentlessly, night after night, was hard. But the baby night shift is unavoidable with a newborn – so I found a few ways to make it easier.
It wasn’t so bad with my first baby. He decided from five or six weeks old that he was definitely his mother’s son and would sleep for a solid eight hours at night, thank you very much. But my daughter was another matter. A waking nightmare.
Apparently, if you breastfeed, the night shift tends to be easier. I know mums who say they can pretty much do it without waking up properly. They take the baby into bed with them, pop a boob into its mouth and nod off while it gets on with suppertime. When the little indicator on its eyeballs reaches ‘full’, it’s back to bed and straight off to Dreamland for all involved. Lucky them.
If you’re bottle-feeding, a bit more effort is required. But either way, I guarantee there’ll be the occasional night when your little darling refuses to sleep and bawls her head off unless you’re cuddling her. Here’s how I coped.
1Buy a bottle warmer
If your baby is formula-fed and refuses to drink milk at anything below body temperature, a bottle warmer will make the baby night shift easier. Who wants to mess around with pans of hot water at 1am? And 3am. And 5am… When you’re up several times a night, every night, you’re grateful for anything that makes it easier.
2Fill a flask
Once you accept your nights will be disturbed on a regular basis for some time to come, it makes sense to be prepared. I’d find myself on the sofa, baby finally nodding in my arms, craving a cuppa. The most accomplished banshee would have nothing on my daughter’s wailing if I tried to put her down, but I couldn’t face the night tea-less.
If you don’t already have a thermos, get one. At bedtime, fill it with your drink of choice and keep it handy when you settle in for the night shift.
There’s comfort to be had from having something good to put in your mouth as you watch the hours roll by through the night. Whether it’s chocolate, cake or fruit, stash some snacks alongside your flask.
I’d argue that 4am with a fretful newborn isn’t the time to worry about losing that baby weight, so go with whatever you really enjoy. I used to give a lot of business to the pick ‘n’ mix counter at my local supermarket.
4Lay on some entertainment
When you’re pinned beneath a tiny, fretful human, you need something to take your mind off things. A good box set, a captivating book or your favourite music go a long way to making a sleepless night more bearable.
Preparation is key, though. If your little one is settling, it’s galling to see their eyes snap open when they hear the Netflix jingle because you forgot to turn the sound down. Here’s a tip – before bedtime, check the volume on the television. If you want to use headphones with your phone or iPad, make sure they’re nearby or already connected. Check your devices are charged, too, or at least have a charging cable ready (and a portable charging unit, if there’s no power socket handy).
I didn’t read very often on the night shift because I found it difficult to juggle a book and a baby. Now I’ve got a Kindle, which is easily manageable with one hand; I wish I’d had one then.
Houses can get surprisingly cold at night, something we don’t really consider when we’re tucked up beneath our duvets. Few of us leave the heating on round the clock, so if you’re up at 3am you’re likely to feel the temperature dropping.
Have a blanket or two ready to wrap around yourself or throw over your legs at night. If you think your baby is cold and want to snuggle him with you, make sure his space is well-ventilated so he can breathe easily. Don’t let him get over-heated.
6Accept the inevitable
At first, when we had a rough night, I’d stress about when I’d be able to go back to bed. I’d watch the minutes tick by, thinking about the sleep I was missing. I’d worry about the next day and whether I’d have the energy to do all I felt I had to do.
There’s a pretty good chance my daughter (let’s be honest, it was mostly her) picked up on how I was feeling. It probably made her even more fretful and made those nights harder.
Then I realised there was nothing I could do, so I might as well embrace it. I’d assume that once I was out of bed, that was it for the night. I might as well make sure I was prepared (see all the above) and get comfy on the sofa. I’m not saying it made the baby night shift enjoyable, but it was certainly easier to handle.