Baby Wakes Up at Night

You can’t blame exhausted parents for trying – they want their 8 hours of sleep back! So they read every book on the market and scour the online resources. “Rock your baby, don’t nurse her,” “Walk your baby till she falls asleep and then gently lay her in her crib,” “Sing to your baby while patting his back until he drifts off,” “Don’t pick her up again, just talk to her,” “let her cry 10 minutes before you come to her and then don’t pick her up,” and so on and so on. Many people offer advice about how to get a baby to sleep through the night because somewhere, for some baby, this advice actually worked at least once. However many, if not most, babies will defy your get-him-to-sleep strategies and continue waking up several times a night for—brace yourself—several years.

Why aren’t people aware of this fact? Because the popular culture suggests that if parents just do it right, their babies will be sleeping through the night by 4 – 6 months of age. Feeling embarrassed and inadequate, most parents with wakeful 8 month-olds or 2 year-olds simply don’t tell the truth to anyone. “Is your baby sleeping through the night?” the mom at the Moms & Babes group asks.  “Oh, yes. He sleeps quite nicely,” lies the other mom for fear of admitting what a failure she is at this tender stage of the game. Her lie only goes into the large pile in the sky that makes other normal parents feel guilty and ashamed. She should have answered, “Gosh no! Babies aren’t supposed to sleep through the night! Yours doesn’t, does he?”

Why Do Babies Wake Up?
Infants need things in the night. Their little bellies empty every couple of hours and for the first year or so, they actually get hungry in the night. In addition, when babies cycle into light sleep, they “realize” that they are alone; they crave warm body contact and cry out for it. In the second year of life, nursing babies suckle for the same reason—no longer just out of hunger (because their tummies have grown and can hold more food), but now out of longing for physical contact. Some babies are sensitive to the sensations of their own bodies and will wake with discomfort from a wet or dirty diaper.

All of this waking has been programmed into babies for their survival. If you were a paraplegic without a wheelchair or other equipment, unable to speak the local language and unable to get yourself from point A to point B,would you want to be left alone for 8 hours at a time? Probably not. You would want to know there was someone near by who could meet your needs. Have you ever been stuck in a dentist’s chair or other restraining medical device for 15 minutes without someone in the room? Did you feel a twinge of the panic of helplessness in that situation? What if you needed something? What if you wanted to tell someone something?

Babies are in that position until they become toddlers. They are helpless. To top it all off, they are like foreigners—unable to speak the local language. They open their mouths but they cannot put their needs and wishes into words; they can just make noise.  For all these reasons, babies are programmed to be distressed about finding themselves alone. It just isn’t safe for them to be alone. There are serious survival issues going on. They wake up for contact to in order to assure that they will be looked after. This is not something that we want to program babies out of any more than we would want to program adults out of their scream response when faced with life-threatening danger.

Training Babies to Sleep Through the Night
Nonetheless, removing survival instincts can be accomplished, if we only persevere long enough. By ignoring a baby’s cries consistently, the baby will learn that no one will come and there is no point in crying anymore. If this experience only occurs at night, the baby learns that there is no point waking up at night. For parents, this translates into a baby who sleeps through the night. If it happens both day AND night, the baby goes into a hopeless depression (as seen in “failure to thrive” syndromes), since he “realizes” that he has been abandoned and there is no further hope of getting his needs met (and therefore no further reason to keep trying to bring help through crying). Fortunately, for most babies, the “abandonment” experience is happening only at night. However, the newly subdued baby has still learned that there is no point in crying. This will not lead to hopeless depression. In fact, in babies who are now enjoying a better night’s sleep, we may even see improved daytime mood.

Here is the problem however: if a baby quickly catches on to the idea that crying at night is a waste of time, there is minimal suffering on the baby’s part. However, if the baby has the “not-so-good sleep genes” that cause him to put up a royal battle, screaming for weeks or months  before he finally submits to the new regime, then it could be that the child is truly suffering. What this does to his long term development is simply not known. Some say it does nothing. Others say that it causes trauma. More research is required before we will know the truth.

Tired Parents
Even if parents do not want their babies to feel abandoned, it is not clear that responding to their every cry at night is the action of choice. After all, tired parents also pose a risk for babies. Tired parents have less patience with their children and are therefore more likely to engage in poor parenting techniques like snapping at the kids (including the baby), yelling or speaking in a harmful way. Fatigue causes more daytime errors including driving more dangerously, forgetting to turn off electric elements and putting the baby down in unsafe locations “just for a moment.” Exhausted parents can even dose off during the day when they need to be alert. Therefore, it is essential that parents find a way to balance their own needs for sleep with their babies’ needs for night-time wakings. This is especially important because night-time waking happens, as stated earlier, in the majority of homes—not the minority. And, it continues for the early years of childhood in many homes. Therefore a coping strategy is badly needed!

Here are some strategies that parents have found to be helpful. Not all will be practical for your own situation, therefore simply choose any that might fit into your own lifestyle:

  • Keep the baby in bed with you and DON’T get out of bed the entire night (see Dr. Sears’ books on attachment parenting for details of co-sleeping techniques and strategies). Although you’ll still be waking in the night to tend to the baby’s needs, you’ll need to expend less energy doing so.
  • Keep toddlers on a small crib-size mattress on the floor near your bed. At first, they can start in your bed and when they fall asleep, you can gently place them on the floor mattress beside you.
  • Have the baby or toddler sleep on a large mattress on the floor in her own room. When you wake up, go to the child’s bed and sleep there the rest of the night.
  • Tend to the baby in his crib when he cries at night. In the daytime, hire a daily baby-sitter and take a nap for a couple of hours. If the baby is in play group or daycare and you are at home, take your nap during those hours.
  • Alternate “baby duty” with your spouse. Whoever tends to the baby at night, gets a one or two hour evening nap the next day while the sleeping spouse takes responsibility for house & childcare.
  • Alternate night-time shifts with your spouse so that neither of you gets completely exhausted. For example, one answers cries until 2 a.m. and one answers cries after 2 a.m.
  • Use weekends to catch up on sleep. One spouse sleeps in late on Saturday; the other sleeps in late on Sunday.

As you can see, all of these strategies address the problem of night-time waking by assuming it is going to happen, parents are going to be tired and they will need to make up the sleep somehow. This approach is more in line with reality than trying to get babies and young children to stay asleep all night long. But here’s the good news: once kids are around 4 years old, there are effective strategies that can be used to really keep them in their beds throughout the night. By the time a child is this age, he can speak and walk; he is no longer totally helpless. He is familiar with his world and is achieving a level of competence. No harm will be done now by insisting that he stay in his own bed. So just hang in there. Sleep is coming. That is, until your child turns 15. Then you’ll be up at night again—waiting for him to come home. Sigh.

Your Child’s Experience of Divorce

With the prevalence of divorce and separation, as well as re-marriage, it’s possible that a child will experience more than one set of parent figures. There’s their biological parents, their mom’s new spouse, their dad’s new spouse, and if their biological parents have re-married more than once, there’s also their parent’s ex-spouses. It is also possible that the child has been in the care of other parent-figures and care-givers as well (especially during times of marital instability and transition) such as grandparents, aunts and uncles and others. Sometimes the child is looked after by a variety of people all at once. What should be done to help minimize confusion for the child?

Consider the following:

Decide Who is Going to Take the Primary Parenting Role
A parent or a couple must take a bigger parenting role compared to others. Think of a family as an organization: how do you think it will fare if it’s an absolute democracy? Who will coordinate everyone’s efforts? How will tasks get delegated? Similarly, in a family, there needs to be a “headquarters” where decisions are made. The decision-making process between divorced parents is a matter that is decided in court. Once the legalities are settled, the process for making major decisions regarding the children should be straightforward. However, when a child lives in two or more households, there are daily smaller decisions that will be made by individual caretakers. For instance, in one household bedtime might be anytime while in the other household bedtime might be 9 p.m. sharp. When the child stays at Grandma’s for the weekend, bedtime may be 10 p.m. give or take twenty minutes. How does a child negotiate all these various rules and routines?

Communicate that Different Households May have Different Rules
When dealing with many parents — and many households — it’s helpful if an attitude of “let’s agree to differ” is in place. What is most harmful for the child is conflict between caregivers – not different routines. Therefore, each household will live according to its own values and priorities without attempting to impose their standards in the other homes. Moreover, the child should be told that each parent has his and her way of doing things and the child needs to comply with the rules of each household, just as a child in high school must comply with the various rules of each of 10 teachers that he might have.

Encourage Time with Everyone
Having many caring parents can be a blessing to a child. Helping the child access support and love from each caregiver is a gift. Therefore, unless there is some strong reason for the child to NOT have generous access to all parents, the ideal is to foster freeflowing communication. For instance, a child at house A should ideally be allowed to phone a parent in house B if he or she wants to. The child should never be made to feel that there is something wrong with a caregiver. If the law has established that visitation and communication is safe with an individual parent, then such visitation and communication should be encouraged and supported. Making a child feel that a caregiver is dangerous can cause mental disturbance to the child who must be in that person’s care. Putting the child’s emotional needs above all other considerations can guide a parent’s behavior in the right direction.

Financial Matters
Children’s mental health is at greatest risk after divorce when their parents are in conflict. Hopefully legal processes establish reasonable and safe procedures for the financial support of a child. However, some people behave badly after divorce and do not fulfill their legal responsibilities. In such cases, parents may fight their battles in court. Parents may also have to make alternate arrangements for financial support. Whatever has to happen is, in all cases, an adult matter. Children cannot solve these difficulties and therefore they shouldn’t be dragged into them. The adults will have to work these things out between themselves. The more children can be sheltered from the bad behavior of their parents, the better. A child is a product of both his mother and father. When he learns that one parent is irresponsible or disgusting, his own self-concept is harmed, The general rule is, “the less said, the better.” Going on and on about how there isn’t any money because a parent is too selfish to give it has the potential to seriously harm the emotional well-being of a child. Even though everything is true, and even though a parent is being badly hurt, there can be no justification for hurting the child. Again, putting the child’s emotional needs above all other considerations can guide a parent’s behavior in the right direction.

Fear of Strangers

Around 5 or 6 months of age, many babies begin to develop a fear of strangers. This fear tends to peak in intensity between 8 and 10 months and then gradually diminishes by around 15 or 16 months. However, some toddlers remain somewhat afraid of strangers and some may appear shy all the way through childhood. The amount of fear of strangers that a baby or child experiences depends mostly on that youngster’s genes. A child with loving parents and patient caretakers can be very fearful of strangers just because he or she is a fearful child in general. On the other hand, a child may be extremely friendly to everyone even during the peak “stranger anxiety” phase simply because he or she has inherited an extroverted, people-loving, confident nature.

Stranger Anxiety
Many psychologists see “stranger anxiety” as a positive developmental stage in infants. It indicates that the baby can distinguish between primary caregivers like Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Nanny and so on – and actual strangers or non-family members. This is an important skill for intimate bonding later on. The ability to really care who hugs you is healthy and a precursor for strong intimate relationships in adulthood. However, a baby needn’t demonstrate terror of strangers in order to indicate his ability to distinguish loved ones from strangers; showing a preference for loved ones is enough of an indication that Baby knows the difference. If your baby cries hard when being handed over to a stranger, however, try to see it as a positive sign, even though it is temporarily upsetting for that stranger.

Sometimes the “stranger” is Grandma or Grandpa. If the baby doesn’t see relatives on a regular basis, he or she may consider these people to be strangers. This can be insulting or hurtful for relatives. However, your job is to do what is best for the baby – not for the adult. Therefore, don’t force an upset baby to stay in the arms of a stranger just to try to make the stranger feel better. Rather, take the baby back to your own arms and tell the other person, “Baby likes to look at you from here – he’s very attached to Mommy right now. In a few months he’ll be asking for YOU to pick him up!” If the other person doesn’t like this reality, don’t worry – he or she will get over it eventually. Meanwhile, you have taught your baby that you will respond to his or her cries and meet his or her needs. This helps the baby develop trust in the environment. When the baby has lots of trust, he or she will have an easier time trusting people appropriately.

Just the Right Amount of Fear
As the baby grows, you will want him to be appropriately fearful of strangers. In other words, you don’t want your preschooler running up to strange men in the park and playing with them. You want them to feel appropriate levels of comfort with known people and appropriate levels of discomfort with unknown people. It can be tricky to teach children to have “just the right amount” of fear and not to have excessive, paranoid or insecure feelings that make them uncomfortable all the time. Here are some tips on how to “stranger proof” your child without terrorizing him or her:

  • tell your child that most adults are very nice and that it is safe to say “hello” to people who say “hello” to them. However, tell them that they don’t need to talk to adults who they don’t know beyond returning a greeting.
  • tell your child to come straight to you or their caregiver if an adult seems to want to talk to them. Just tell them that you or the caregiver needs to meet the adult first.
  • tell your child never to go anywhere with an adult they don’t know but DO NOT tell them about how adults can hurt and kill children and so on. Instead, provide adequate supervision for your very young child; do not leave small children out of your sight for even a moment.
  • when your child is a little older and is ready to go to school, explain that adults don’t need to talk to children and if an adult tries to talk to them, they should not answer, but instead quickly get themselves to a safe adult (one they know!).

As stated earlier, some children are afraid of strangers because they have a fearful nature. They just don’t like meeting new people. When introduced to an adult by their parents, they hide behind Mom’s skirt and suck their thumb (if they’re little) or stare silently (if they’re older). If your child is like this, you might try a treatment of Bach Flower Therapy. The remedies “Mimulus” and “Cerato” can be helpful. A Bach Flower Practitioner can recommend a specific mixture of remedies best suited for your child. These harmless preparations can help ease fear of people out of the child’s system over time. Social skills groups can also build up a skill repetoire that helps children feel more confident in social situations. If the fear is interfering with the child’s life, a trip to a child psychologist can help reduce anxiety and build healthy coping patterns that will serve the child well throughout life.

New Baby – Interfering In-laws

Parents-in-law can be wonderful assets in one’s family life but sometimes they can present tremendous challenge. Often,  it’s a little of both! And when one’s in-laws become the grandparents of one’s new baby, one’s relationship with them often takes on a new curve. Focus is diverted away from the adult children, to the new baby instead. But what does one do when in-laws are a bit too helpful or too opinionated, too needy or too intrusive?

If you have an interfering in-law, consider the following:

Start with Understanding
Babies are exciting! And if this is the first grandchild, you can especially understand the enthusiasm of your in-laws. In fact, you’d probably be disappointed if they showed no interest whatsoever in your new child. Moreover, if this is a first grandchild, keep in mind that your in-laws don’t yet know where to put themselves, don’t know the boundaries, don’t yet know the place of the grandparent. Even if this is not the first grandchild, your in-laws may not, for some reason, know how to behave appropriately. (In many cases, there are obvious reasons why they don’t know). You can, in a gentle and respectful way, begin to set boundaries in a way that your in-laws might be able to benefit from. For instance, you can say “Oh, thanks Mom – but we prefer to give the baby her bath ourselves.” Even if Mom-in-law is upset by this, you’ve done nothing wrong. You’re not responsible for her upset, unless you’ve abused her by being insulting, loud or harsh. Being quietly persistent with your wishes can set the boundaries over time.

Be One With Your Spouse in Planning How to Draw the Line
What if your in-laws are the stubborn type? They contradict your guidance, make major decisions without consulting you, and usurps what you feel is your role in child-rearing? Your spouse may be able to help. In some cases, your spouse is actually your best ally in negotiating boundaries. MAKE SURE YOU TREAT HIM OR HER LIKE AN ALLY rather than someone who is on the enemy team. Let your spouse know that you want to enjoy his or her parents  and have them actively in your family’s life. Ask for your spouse’s help in making the relationship workable and positive.

Your spouse knows your in-laws a lot more than you do. He or she will know how to approach them without creating further complications. Let your spouse deliver strong messages if he or she is willing to, so that you can stay out of it and maintain a good relationship with your in-laws. However, sometimes spouses cannot stand up to their parents or do not know how to properly support their partner. If your spouse will not draw the line, don’t despair: draw it yourself. Again, remaining respectful is the key. However, in the case of “difficult” in-laws, expect a more negative response. They will have to comply (because, after all, your baby is YOUR baby and YOUR kids are YOUR kids and YOUR home is YOUR home), but they might put up a big fuss. They can go ahead and do that if they want to and you can’t stop them. Again, their reaction is not your responsibility. Only YOUR behavior is your responsibility. As long as you have remained respectful, you have done nothing wrong. Be careful to NEVER raise your voice to them, never swear or use harsh language, never insult them. Suppose, for instance, that they want to feed your 4 month-old baby some solid food while you want the baby to be at least 8 months-old before starting solids. You see your father-in-law putting a spoonful of mashed food into your baby’s mouth! You go up to the man and say, quietly but firmly, “Dad. I believe I told you that I don’t want to give Jason food yet.  Doctor’ s orders!” You then remove the baby and resolve to yourself to stay in the same room with the baby and the father-in-law until the child reaches the ready-to-eat food stage.

Use the Parent Card
It’s possible that the reason why your in-laws are extremely hands-on with their child is because they feel they are the more experienced ones when it comes to parenting — and they are! Communicate with them that, while you appreciate their presence and their help, you also want to learn the thrills and frustrations of parenting first hand.

Their advice is welcome, but this is your family; you may do things differently than they did. Ask them to give you and your spouse a chance, and assure them that you both will do the best that you can because you love your child and your family.

Assure Them That You’re not Taking their Rights as Grandparents
If your in-laws express concern that you are preventing them from developing a relationship with their grandchild, explain to them that they are always welcome to bond with their grandkids. But when it comes to particular issues, you and your spouse will be the in the lead role, and them in the supporting role. Clarify that this doesn’t mean they are not needed, and that they their role is not critical. In fact, let them know just how loved, important and needed they really are.

Compliment your In-laws
Let your in-laws know how much you appreciate them. Be generous with praise (“You’re so great with the children. No wonder they love you so much!”). Express gratitude freely (“Thank you SO MUCH for babysitting. You are the BEST!”). Buy the occasional gift (“I picked up some of your favorite chocolate for you.”) Let them overhear you speaking well of them (“Grandma & Grandpa are very hands-on – we’re so lucky.”). Do whatever you can to make them feel loved and valued – this is usually the easiest and surest way to gain their cooperation and reduce conflict.

Don’t Blame your Spouse
Hopefully your spouse loves his or her parents. If you have complaints about your in-laws, try to share them with your friends or therapist rather than your spouse. Your spouse can’t help who his parents are. It’s hard enough having difficult in-laws – don’t make your life even more miserable by fighting with your partner about them. Keep your marriage strong by keeping your complaints as rare as possible. If necessary, arrange for a couple’s session with a professional therapist in order to address difficult in-law issues without hurting your relationship.

Child Prefers Nanny Over Mom

Two working parents, erectile two kids, drug one nanny – that’s how it is for increasing numbers of families. And just as common as this scenario is becoming, is the common conflicts inherent in having someone else be a primary caretaker for one’s babies.

Women who work inside or outside of the home need all kinds of help. Who is making dinner while Mom is at work? Who is cleaning the house, changing the linen, washing the sink full of dishes? If Mom manages to hold a full time job, do the grocery shopping, the clothing shopping, the family’s needs and appointments – that’s amazing enough. Who is looking after the baby while she does all this?

The other woman.

Parents and Caretakers
Sometimes, of course, there is a Dad who is on paternity leave or has dedicated himself to the home management side of things while Mom is the chief breadwinner. In these cases, a bit of role reversal can save the family from seeking hired help. However, this scenario is restricted to the lucky minority of families; most families require two incomes in order to live a reasonably comfortable middle class lifestyle. Women are working in order to help pay the mortgage – not in order to buy that extra yacht!

The nanny is an essential part of this equation. Her services are required for both childcare and house cleaning tasks. So it should be simple: need help, hire someone.

However, parents are hiring another mother. This woman will hold the baby, feed her, entertain her, change her, walk her, teach her and engage in every other activity involved in childcare. Naturally parents are looking for a nanny who will adore their child or children, someone who will, in her own way, actually love them.

But what happens if they find such a person? Children looked after by doting nannies come to love the nanny in return. Sometimes, it is obvious that the nanny — who has spent so many quality time hours with the child — has become the child’s most significant caregiver, the one to whom the child turns for comfort.

Nanny Jealousy
When a child awakens from a weekend nap, calling out his nanny’s name, a Mom can be devastated. When, at the end of a day Mom returns home looking forward to being with her baby, only to find that her baby doesn’t want to be handed over to her, it can wreak havoc with her self-confidence in addition to wounding her to the core. Nonetheless, a mother might console herself with the knowledge that her child is in very good hands and has formed a very healthy attachment to this mother substitute. She realizes that she doesn’t want this nanny to be a cold, rejecting or harsh type of person from who her child recoils. That would be disastrous! Even though it hurts, many good mothers are happy that their child loves the nanny, knowing that this is the best scenario under the circumstances.

And yet, as the nanny develops increasing levels of intimacy with one’s child, it is common to feel a nagging conflict. Why does the nanny and this baby have their own little jokes, their own little stories and routines? How is it that the child has a whole life apart from Mom at such a young age? Mom can feel like an outsider to her child’s life. While appreciative of the nanny’s diligence, she can be resentful of the intrusion into her territory. This is, after all, her child.

Nanny Heartbreak
While some moms hope that their nanny will stay with their family for a lifetime (like the nannies in the old movies), many feel an urgency to reclaim their child as soon as possible. More often than not, nannies leave the family after a few short years, either because they have chosen to or because parents have let them go.

Sometimes Moms feel betrayed. “I thought this person loved my child as much as I do. Why does she suddenly think she has to change jobs for more money or change careers or go back to her home country?” The fact that many nannies have families of their own waiting for them in far off countries doesn’t soothe the hurt. Moms know their very attached youngsters will suffer intense pangs of abandonment.

Even if the Mom has decided to break off the bond and return her family to its rightful place in her own bosom, she must steel herself to handle her child’s pain. In addition, sometimes nanny’s disappear quite suddenly without an opportunity to slowly wean the child from the relationship. The trauma to the child can be akin to the experience of losing one’s mother — the last sort of thing one wants for one’s child.

Practical Solutions
Nannies who look after babies from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. will, by virtue of the sheer hours of contact, form a mother-like bond with a child. In these cases, parents should endeavour to go nanny-less on evenings and weekends so that they can increase their own hours of real childcare. Feeding, bathing and settling one’s baby helps to build a strong connection. On weekends, keep the baby close to you physically as you go about your tasks and activities. If possible, introduce the child to a playgroup around the age of two, if only to lesson the intensity of the nanny-child bond.

Obviously, if the nanny is only a part-time helper, a parent will have even more opportunity to build the significant attachment relationship with their child. Use nannies to help do household chores and involve yourself directly in childcare as much as possible.

Your own attitude toward the nanny can help as well. This person is NOT a relative. She is a caring care-giver. Try not to develop a sister-like camaraderie with your hired help. Your more business-like attitude will be somewhat contagious to your child. Ideally, the child should know who her REAL mother is and feel the strongest attachment to her. Another trick is to hire a nanny to take care of your newborn and let this person go when the child is around 8 months old (the age of attachment). Start with a new caregiver – your baby will take some time to get used to the new rhythms of this person. Again, let the nanny go after 9 months when your baby is about 14 months-old and bring in a third nanny to take the child through to the time the child starts playgroup. Although the child loses the stability and the benefits of the establishment of a secure bond (a primary task during this developmental period) in this process, she also loses the trauma of separation and loss. Unfortunately, it is hard to know for sure which loss causes less harm.

Some lucky people are able to withdraw from the workforce for a few years in order to be their child’s only caretaker. This removes the nanny dilemma completely as hired help can then be employed to do housework only. A careful review of your financial situation may allow you to consider this option if you are willing to slow down some of your financial goals.

The nanny problem is a very real one for today’s mothers. Imperfect but “good enough” solutions can get moms and babies through the nanny years.

New Life with a New Baby

Now that there is a baby in the picture, your life will never be the same. The freedom and carefree days of youth are behind and the days of responsibility have taken their place. No matter how eager one has been to start a family or how mature or ready one is for this happy time, there will still be many challenging adjustments. Understanding and accepting the challenges of new parenting can make the adjustment to parenthood easier and less stressful.

Sleep, Mood and Functioning
Part of what makes new parenthood difficult is sleep deprivation and/or interruption. A baby needs 24 hour care; it does not “shut down” for the night – at least not at first. Parents may have their sleep interrupted every couple of hours. What is the result of this on mood and functioning? Sleep research indicates that insufficient or poor quality sleep can lower mood, increase irritability and lead to making more errors. Bleary-eyed parents have increased feelings of stress along with their exhaustion. While this is all so normal, it is not so pleasant.

Some couples find helpful solutions for this sleep crunch. For instance, in some homes, only the mother handles night-time parenting while the father gets uninterrupted sleep. The mother then takes one or more naps in the daytime while Dad is at work. This can work out well as long as the baby is a good daytime sleeper and Mom is willing to use daytime hours for sleeping or as long as their is a good babysitter available and Mom is willing to use daytime hours for sleeping. Some moms seem to think that they should get all their errands and household tasks done while a baby sleeps. This is fine as long as the mother has slept well in the evening; it is not fine if she only had a few hours of nightime sleep or constantly interrupted sleep.

Some couples hire a baby nurse for the evening care of the infant for a few weeks after birth. Of course, this doesn’t work well if the mother wants to nurse the infant. Some couples supplement nursing with bottle-feeding during the night so that Mom and Dad can give each other relief as one sleeps and the other does baby care.

Any system is fine as long as both mother and father end up having a decent amount of rest. Realistically, sleep will not look much like pre-baby sleep for weeks, often months and sometimes years after a baby is born. However, minimizing sleep loss is a reasonable goal.

Endless Responsibility
Another change that occurs is that a young couple cannot as easily and spontaneously go out and have fun. A babysitter must be arranged or the baby and all its paraphernalia (diaper bag, stroller, car seat and so on) must be packed. This slows things down, sometimes to a halt. It is important not to allow the baby to make a parent housebound. This can increase isolation and depressed mood. Although it is necessary to plan better and take longer, being active is better for everyone’s mental health.

New Marital Challenges
Division of labor normally has to be renegotiated after the birth of a baby. Finding a respectful way to divide tasks is essential. Husband and wife have to reduce self-centered ways of functioning and be prepared to give to each other and their baby. Both mothers and fathers have a lot to learn in the first year of childcare. They must be supportive of each other as this learning occurs and trust each other’s love for their child. When the marital adjustment to life with a baby doesn’t go smoothly, accessing professional help early can prevent suffering and marital trauma (unhappy periods that haunt the rest of the marriage). Usually a professional counselor can help young couples find healthy ways to take care of themselves, each other and their infant.

Coming Out Happier and Stronger
Parenthood can enhance a marriage when it is done consciously with a focus on increasing love all around. Reading parenting books, joining online communities, taking parenting classes and so on can help provide more options than one would have thought of on one’s own. Other people have gone down this road before – tap their collective wisdom to make your own parenting journey as healthy and happy as it can be.