How did you split up nighttime newborn duties?
June 25, 2009 8:38 PM   Subscribe

How did you split up nighttime newborn duties?

My wife and I are expecting a baby in the next week or so. We have talked a lot about how to split up infant duties but want to make sure we have a plan that we can agree on now and that will work.

We'd like to hear some people's experiences on how to split up the workload. We're mainly wondering what has worked for people on weeknights when the father works and the mother does not.

Some details:
-I will be working 40 hours a week (8-5, 9-6, computer engineering, office job)
-We are lucky that the mother does not have to work for the foreseeable future
-Mother is going to breastfeed (or try to, we have bottles ready just in case)
-No relatives live nearby to help
-I have always slept a lot (8 hours or so) and have no idea how I will function on a lot less sleep but realize I may only get half of that
-Baby is going to be sleeping in a bassinet for the first few months in our bedroom

How did you split up the duties? What worked and what didn't?
posted by wolfkult to Human Relations (39 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
father works and the mother does not

Caring for a newborn child is work. Unpaid, sure, but work all the same and harder work than computer engineering. I've done both. My son didn't sleep for more than three hours at a stretch until he was over a year old, and had serious sleep issues well into his grade school years (he is autistic).

So you split up the nights as evenly as possible, because yes you have to get up for work in the morning, but she has to get up with the baby in the morning too. You'll both be zombies for months.

And you know what? It's totally worth it.
posted by Lokheed at 8:49 PM on June 25, 2009 [13 favorites]

We didn't breastfeed, but when my wife had time off, she pretty much took most of the nights, with new dad pitching in as frequently as possible. Once we both went back to work, we would trade nights. This seem to work very well for us, especially since our son didn't really sleep an entire night for the first year....

Congratulations, good luck, and I'm sure you will figure a good plan!
posted by snoelle at 9:01 PM on June 25, 2009

You sound a lot like us, 17 years ago.

Our son woke up twice a night for the first 6 weeks. By 7 weeks, he slept through. The first time he woke up, usually, I'd get him, change his diaper, go sit in the living room and breastfeed him. The second time, his daddy would get up, do the diaper thing, and bring him to me in bed. I don't remember who put him back, but it was probably me. (He was in a bassinet in his own room, but close by.)

It seems like my husband was able to go to bed just a little earlier and make up for most the lost sleep, so he could get 8 hours in 9. I was able to get enough by going to bed earlier and sleeping later, more like 8 hours in 10. We were both a little bit groggy, but functional. I always heard that you should nap when the baby naps, but not being a napper, that didn't work for me.

One thing I did that I think helped him sleep through the night was that at night, I turned minimal lights on and kept everything quiet. During the day when I put him down for a nap, I pulled the blinds in his room but left the door open and didn't turn off the radio or otherwise limit noise. My mom totally laughed at me for this and told me that you can't teach a baby the difference between day and night, but it worked for us.

Oh, and I know you didn't ask this, but breastfeeding isn't hard, most of the time. (I thought it was easier than bottles.) Also, babies are fun. They come with their own interesting personalities already built in. They didn't teach us this in Lamaze class.
posted by zinfandel at 9:02 PM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I did mornings, she did nights. Worked well for us, and still does.
posted by rodgerd at 9:08 PM on June 25, 2009

I was breastfeeding my babies so the rule was simple. If they woke up hungry, I got up, nursed on one side, changed the diaper, nursed the other side. (My first born was prone to falling asleep on the breast and I didn't want to wake up by changing him at the end. On the other hand, with a crying baby I wanted to get some milk into him first.) Once the baby was done nursing, I put the little one back in the crib to sleep and I went to bed. If the baby did not go to sleep then it became Daddy's problem. However long it took to get the baby to sleep, he dealt with it.

So, my husband learned to sleep through the "I'm hungry" cries since he knew I would take care of it. I could tolerate being up for the amount of time it took to nurse and change a baby since I knew I would be able to go back to sleep as soon as I finished. Worked for us.
posted by metahawk at 9:20 PM on June 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

We've been very lucky with our 3 month old--she's slept through the night from day one, but we had to wake her to feed at the beginning. Some sleepytime tips that have worked for us:

-Swaddle! We like the kiddopotamus (makes it fool proof)-available at Toys-r-us.
-Sleep Sheep. Our baby likes the whale sounds option.

In terms of splitting night time duties (I'm on mat leave and breastfeeding and the hubby works 50 or so hours per week), hubby gets up, changes baby and brings her to me to feed (usually in bed--easy to do lying down). I stay up and feed while he snoozes. Makes it easier for him to get some sleep while still helping me out. I also highly recommend purchasing a pump. I pump every morning so hubby can do a feed when he gets home at night to give me a break.

Breastfeeding hurts like a bitch at first but stick with it! It gets better! And best of luck--it really is all worth it.
posted by Go Banana at 9:21 PM on June 25, 2009

Every one of your details matches ours. Our son was born three months ago (but it feels like three years, subjectively!). Your wife will be bearing the brunt of the work. Nursing, holding, changing diapers. Like me, you'll be at work for most of that. But on the other hand, she can "relax" at home all day while you have to keep a schedule outside the house, so you need your sleep too.

So you should think of it as a tag team; as soon as you get home, do all you can to help. You can breastfeed, of course, but you can do diaper duty and holding/rocking/soothing. If your kid is anything like mine, s/he'll need a LOT of holding. There are times when the kid will be unhappy for hours on end unless he's being held.

It's the little things that make it hard. Your wife won't be able to take a shower, for example. She'll even have to rush trips to the bathroom when the kid wants to be held. When you're home it'll make a huge difference for her.

As for night time, well...enjoy your last days of 8-hour sleeps. That will be over soon. The kid will want to be fed every 2 or 3 hours. Read that last sentence and let it sink in :) He'll also cry if there's a dirty diaper. If he's crying, it's basically one of the two.

I'm a pretty deep sleeper, but whenever I hear him crying I get up and change him. Sometimes my wife beats me to it, sometimes she's out of it herself. One of you will wake up eventually, if the kid is close enough. But we never worked out a "system". I don't think it would work, anyway. Just do all you can when you can. You and your wife should take power naps whenever possible.

But don't despair! At three months, my son is now--amazingly to us--only waking up once a night, and the other night he slept for a full 7 hours. All three of us did! You'll be sleep deprived for a few months but keep at it and your sleep deprivation will gradually taper off to manageable levels. I'm even able to go out for drinks tonight with some friends...wonders never cease.

Bottom line, you're gonna love the kid more than you know. And that'll make up for the sleep loss. Congratulations!
posted by zardoz at 9:21 PM on June 25, 2009

If your going to breastfeed then apart from changing daipers (nappies in English) there isn't a a lot for the male partner to do. Bottles is different. Babies wake every 2-3-4 hours for a feed.

It's REALLY hard working 40 hrs a week as a programmer and not getting enough sleep. Make sure your boss is aware of the situation. I was taking an hour off to doze in the car. B aware that you WILL go insane.
posted by mattoxic at 9:26 PM on June 25, 2009

My husband went to bed a little early, and I stayed up a little later because the babies tended to cluster-feed at night.

At first we'd both wake up when the baby woke up, and he'd often do the diaper change and then go back to sleep while I nursed. Eventually he learned to sleep through this, right around the time where a hungry baby did not necessarily mean a poopy diaper that needed the lights on and a lot of effort to handle.

Then he'd get up in the morning and with the first, give her a bottle and with the second, I'd sleepily nurse her and then hand her off and go back to sleep. I'd get up in time for him to go off to work and we'd restart the whole process over again.

With our first kid, I never mastered the lying down while nursing thing and I'd just go ahead and wake up and read a book while I fed her. With the second--I figured out how to nurse lying down right away, and it was awesome. I recommend that your wife start practicing that right away so she can get the hang of it quickly; it's pretty delightful to fall into a gentle snooze and wake up just enough when the baby pops off to hand her back into her bassinet.
posted by padraigin at 9:28 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a ten month old (who still doesn't sleep well, so take no advice from me...) and I agree with everyone above. When the baby wakes up, my husband would bring her to me and go right back to sleep. We don't change diapers in the middle of the night unless leakage seems imminent. Don't turn lights on or talk much, just get the baby to the breast early and she'll go back to sleep. My husband didn't have to do much at night on a regular basis, but every once in a while I would get at my wit's end and the baby would be crying and I couldn't nurse another second and he had to take her now now now so I could pretend to sleep a minute. They'd go and watch CNN in the dark, she'd calm down, they'd come back to bed and THEN I could sleep. And then I'd be fine for a few days.

My only real tip is for you to give the baby a bottle EVERY DAY. If she has trouble pumping, give the baby one formula bottle a night. (Wait a month or whatever they recommend before giving the first one, but then keep it up.) My husband only did that VERY intermittently with our last two and both of them decided that they hated bottles and refused them ever after. I could never leave either of them for more than three hours or so until they could eat lots of real food. (I am noticing that this reads like I have twins. I don't. My nine year old hated bottles, my ten month old hates bottles, cups, baby food, bread, oatmeal, etc., etc., etc. She only likes breast milk and only from me. Try to keep a bottle an option. A baby is much more likely to take a bottle from daddy than from mommy.) She is slowly starting to eat yogurt, apples and noodles, but still nurses a LOT.
posted by artychoke at 9:54 PM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

What worked here was Dad focusing on helping Mom, and doing a good quantity of the non-nursing duties (the constant poop dipes!) -- but mostly him doing stuff like booting off to get me something to drink every time I went to nurse. You deal with keeping Mom fed and doing what needs to be done to keep the house habitable so all she has to do is nurse and sleep.

FWIW I would steer clear of rushing for a bottle and certainly don't do in the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding by giving a bottle of formula just for the sake of giving a bottle. Never using bottles at all worked fine for me and Dad not hovering around offering to give one made it easier get into a rhythm with nursing.
posted by kmennie at 10:11 PM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

kmennie - that's why I said not for a month or so.
posted by artychoke at 10:13 PM on June 25, 2009

There's lots of good advice already but one thing I haven't seen mentioned is that in the early days and possibly weeks, breastfeeding is likely to be very, very difficult for your wife.

This isn't the case with all new mothers of course, but many, many women find breastfeeding to be both painful and difficult in the first days and weeks of a baby's life.

In those early weeks, I got up and sat with my wife every single time our little girl was awake and feeding. As some people have said, there's not a lot you can do, but you can provide some moral and emotional support, maybe the odd cup of tea, maybe the odd idea about holding/positioning the baby, and maybe sometimes a shoulder to cry on.

Although people will tell you there's nothing you can do while your partner is feeding, in the early period at least, she'll really appreciate it if you're there and offering support.

Once the breastfeeding settled into a simpler rhythm, I didn't get up for every feed any more but we fell into a pattern where I would get up and change bub, then pass her on to mum for a feed. Then I'd go back to bed during the feed. My wife would attempt to settle our bub but if she was making life a bit difficult I'd get up again and take over.

The first few weeks are likely to be a tumultuous time as you all adjust to life together. When you're struggling and sleep-deprived, however, try to keep in mind that it doesn't last forever. Sometimes it seems as if it's never-ending but seriously, somewhere between 3 months and 6 months most babies will settle into a rhythm and you won't be getting up nearly as often.

Good luck! And enjoy it…
posted by puffl at 10:25 PM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

My little guy is coming up on 4 months. He started sleeping through the night around 8 weeks. Before then, Dad was in charge of outputs, mom was in charge of inputs; I fetched him from his crib and changed his diapers, she breastfeed in bed. It varied whether I stayed up during a feeding or snoozed.

Things that made life easier:
  • Sleep when your baby sleeps. Every hour of shut-eye helped even if it meant going to bed at 7pm.
  • Keep on top of chores. Dishes, laundry, whatever. Get it done while Mom's feeding.
  • Put the bedroom lights on a dimmer. Waking up at 3am is miserable enough.
Getting up for some feedings will be worse than others. For me, any feeding between 3 and 6am was tough. 1am to 3am for my wife.
posted by Loser at 10:28 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Our guy is 3-months old; similar to you, I am working, and my wife is staying home and breastfeeding. She's also got a pump and expresses breast milk. The plan (though it doesn't always happen) is I take him for about 4 hours every night, so she can rest, and if he's awake, I can feed him with a bottle. After that, she tries to guarantee me 6 hours of sleep so I can function at work. She tries to nap during the day when he is sleeping. On the weekends, we generally each get a nap in while the other takes care of him.
posted by fings at 10:30 PM on June 25, 2009

As kmennie says, you do everything to make sure your wife is comfortable, hydrated, fed, and happy. She nurses and sleeps. Especially in the first month when you're trying to establish the nursing relationship, it's all about making mama happy. You can change every single diaper, keep the house clean, make dinner, etc. I totally screwed up and had tons of problems nursing and would do it all differently if there was ever a baby #2 but can easily see that I was just trying to do too many other things and other complications and could never get nursing established.

But on the other hand, she can "relax" at home all day while you have to keep a schedule outside the house, so you need your sleep too.

This just made me laugh. Yeah, it's super relaxing all alone with a brand new baby. Her work at home is just as exhausting and important as yours is at your office. Perhaps even more so.

So since we ended up mostly bottle feeding, it was a little different than what you're planning on doing. Generally we switched off feedings at night but there weren't any hard and fast rules. Sometimes I needed more sleep, sometimes my husband did. I usually woke up first when the baby cried since my husband is a super deep sleeper and I quickly attained super-sonic mom hearing for the slightest baby cry.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:41 PM on June 25, 2009

I agree with puffl, it can be hard and hurt a lot, BUT if it does, call the hospital lactation consultants and go see them ASAP! I had to go back and get the latch corrected on my third child, even though I had nursed two other children for over a year each. Don't (like I did) wait around and say, oh, sometimes it hurts, it'll get better in a few days. Once I finally gave in and went to see the nurse, it finally did get all better in a few days. (Their advice is sort of always put more nipple in the baby's mouth, but they know better ways of getting the baby to do it. And gave me links to videos and diagrams and gave me samples of cooling pads and lotions.)

And regarding my comment above, you can get along perfectly well without any bottles, but it's nice to not lose the option if Mom gets flu or something.
posted by artychoke at 10:54 PM on June 25, 2009

Medela pump. It will allow the father to take over some feeding duties as well. No matter how hard the dude tries, he will not be able to express milk at 3am (or any other time). The best thing to do is pump on a rigid schedule...then figure out who is "on call" for baby duty at what time IN ADVANCE.

Good luck, and congrats.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:04 AM on June 26, 2009

Lots of good advice above, particularly the recommendation for Sleep Sheep (rocks!). Breastfeeding does kind of suck at first, but 99% of problems that may arise can be fixed-- La Leche League and are great resources for troubleshooting any issues your wife may end up having. And it is super-convenient at night, since it means you can just grab the baby and feed her instead of dealing with a screaming tot while you mix up a batch of formula in the kitchen, heat it, put it in the bottle, etc. etc.

Supplementing breastmilk with formula will cause your wife's supply to drop, so it's not a good idea; if you're anxious to get the baby used to a bottle, then have your wife pump and use that milk instead. (Also, try to get the slowest-flow nipple you can find, to mimic the breastfeeding experience and prevent baby from learning to prefer one to the other. The First Years Breastflow bottles worked nicely for us from about 5weeks onwards).

Also wanted to second hal_c_on's advice to figure out your schedule in advance, during the day, and in writing. You can make any adjustments you need as time goes on, but always try to work those out when you're awake and rational, not on the fly at 3AM when your worst sleep-needing animal self is in control. Doing things ad hoc, without rules in place, is a prescription for both partners to feel resentful and as though they're doing the bulk of the work. We worked out a shift system with Mr. B on call from 9-2 (no responsibilities for me except lying there like a sow for breastfeeding) and me on call from 2-9. The sleep deprivation isn't really like college, where you get only X hours per night, x<<8; it's more gradual wearing-down through constantly interrupted sleep and chronic ~6-hour nights. Good luck!
posted by Bardolph at 2:25 AM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

When we were expecting our first child, we had decided beforehand that we'd split the night-time duties as evenly as possible (with me breastfeeding) - but in practice, things went a little differently.

Firstly, I quickly realized I'd wake up (and stay awake) anyway, even when my husband got up to give her a bottle. I also noticed I could cope much better with disrupted sleep than he (and actually fell asleep easier after breastfeeding, which may have been a hormonal thing). The baby always fell asleep after feeding, so we never had to do any of those dreaded livingroom back-and-forth marathons. And the baby was calm and napped a lot during the day, so I could easily catch some sleep then. Her diaper rarely needed changing in the middle of the night. After discovering all this, I decided to let my husband sleep through the night.

In return, he let me get some rest and quiet-time (with earplugs!) after he got home from work in the evening, when the baby was usually fussy. Also, when there were periods of time when the baby slept fitfully, we noticed that I needlessly woke up with every little whimper of hers. That's when I slept with those earplugs all night, and relied on my husband to wake me up when the baby was hungry enough to wake him up.

When we decided it was time to wean the baby from the midnight snack, my husband participated again. We let the baby sleep in a pram inside and rocked her back to sleep when she stirred - it took us only a few nights for her to catch the drift and adjust her timetable.

In your case, what will work for you guys will depend on so many variables, many of which are still unpredictable at this point (the baby's temper and sleeping pattern, breastfeeding, how both of you are coping), that I'd recommend you to just go with the flow and see what the situation requires. In any case, don't let your spouse get too exhausted.

Good luck!
posted by sively at 4:53 AM on June 26, 2009

What worked for us (similar situation to yours 7 years ago) was I would do the last feed in the evening (using expressed milk, or later, formula, as breastfeeding just didn't work out) around 11 and my wife would go to bed early. Then she'd do the early morning feed (2.30 ish) and I would sleep through until I had to get up to go to work (around 5.30 at that time).

For us it made more sense only to have one person awake for any given night feed unless there was a good reason for both to be awake (baby sick or whatever) but a lot depends on your specific situation and the sleep schedule of your baby. You may not be able to split night feeds "fairly" in the sense of both getting the same amount of sleep (or not without you getting less sleep than you could otherwise get) but in which case you have to pick up the slack somewhere else.

So, have a plan by all means, but recognise you'll both have to be pretty flexible, and you may both end up feeling like you're doing all the work when in fact it's just that the total amount of work to be done has grown by more than you expected.
posted by crocomancer at 5:04 AM on June 26, 2009

I'd strongly recommend cosleeping. Baby will quickly learn where the boob is and find his or her way to it.

If you don't cosleep, I guess someone gets up at night to feed the baby. Your wife COULD pump and you COULD bottlefeed the baby at night, but in those early months, as I recall (I have a 8 month old) my boobs were SO FULL at night that feeding time was a real relief.

My baby (YMMV) stopped needing Daddy to be involved in nighttime stuff after week 3 or so. After you get passed the pooping round the clock phase, boob is all my baby needed.

It'd be nice if you supplied your partner with water bottles at her nightstand though. That's very helpful.


Non-feeding related, my SO makes my life way easier by being in charge of getting the baby ready for bed (sleeping outfit, clean diaper, book read) while I get my own PJs on, teeth brushed, a few minutes of personal alone time before night sets in.
posted by k8t at 5:04 AM on June 26, 2009

Since you have no family nearby you should look into hiring someone who can come into the house for an hour or two everyday (at least) and help mama. Basically a grandma substitute (but she doesn't have to be old, just experienced and empathetic). Have the person bring a healthy lunch for Mama and be willing to change nappies, tidy up, take baby for a stroll while mama showers etc, etc. Start collecting take out menus as well at let your wife know you expect to treat her to dinner every night for the the first month (because you aren't going to feel like cooking/clealing up). It is setting your wife up for a lot of stress and disappointment in herself to expect her to shoulder the entire burden alone for ten hours a day seven days a week. Personally, I was always the one that got up with the baby but I have a higher energy level than my husband and have no problem napping with the baby. I also lived with my retired parents for the first three months of my first-borns life so I had a built in support network. Yes, you will get less sleep but the time will fly by (although each say feels like it drags...). Babies are totally worth it. Good luck on your adventure.
posted by saucysault at 5:07 AM on June 26, 2009

Someone mentioned above and I'd like to repeat. BE HELPFUL WHEN YOU GET HOME. Yeah, you had a long day, but nothing like what your wife had.

Shower is a pain when they are brandnew. When they're a few weeks and settled, you can leave them sleeping to go shower. When they're a little older, you can set them in the bouncy seat or whatever in the bathroom and shower, but at the beginning you're dying for a shower. If you can go to work a little later and help her out by letting her take a shower do it.

Also, before leaving the house, do all the little stuff - put away the dishes, take out the trash, feed the cat... all that stuff adds up and if your wife doesn't have to think about it, it'll be nice. Similarly, don't assume that because she is home that she is available to do that sort of thing or run errands for you.
posted by k8t at 5:12 AM on June 26, 2009

- We just welcomed our second son three months ago.

- He woke up twice a night to get his diaper changed, and now is sleeps through the night.

- We practice "co-sleeping". Baby sleeps next to Mom. No getting up at night to stumble over to a crib (or even another room!).

- I took 2 months of parental leave from work (I'm entitled to 9 months in Canada). I did all the housework, except for laundry, because I am terrible at laundry.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:51 AM on June 26, 2009

Oh, yeah, we're going to hire a cleaner (trying to avoid saying "cleaning lady") for an hour or two each month, because, now that I'm back at work, I just don't have time to clean as often as I used to.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:52 AM on June 26, 2009

Wow. An abundance of great information here. We really really appreciate your answers Ask.Mefi!
posted by wolfkult at 6:16 AM on June 26, 2009

I took at least one of the nighttime feedings -- and when I didn't feed, I often got up to change the baby's diaper while Mom hit the head and got the meal ready. (And if I didn't do the overnight feeding, I also handled the evening meal let her go to bed early.) It's great time for you and the Little Nipper to get to know each other, even if you're not doing anything. :7)

We have four kids and I worked full-time, while my wife was on maternity leave (or, later, a SAHMom) after each delivery. *shrug*

Staying with the baby all day is hard. Yes, yes, I know that you have a job 9-5, too, but she never leaves her "office"!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:54 AM on June 26, 2009

When I could remember to, I also made a little game with myself: what can I find to do around the house before she asks for it? I didn't always remember, but it probably helped.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:55 AM on June 26, 2009

I recommend The Happiest Baby on the Block either the book or DVD.

Cosleeping is great. My wife breastfed and pumped since my twins were preemies and couldn't breastfeed when they were in the NICU. When they got home, one learned to breastfeed sooner than the other so I would feed my daughter while my boy nursed. Since there was a surplus of milk, there were times my wife could nap and get a full six hours of sleep but since she was breastfeeding that was mostly her job after that. I would usually wake up, change a diaper and hand the babies to my wife who would roll over and nurse.

Life is good.
posted by mearls at 7:14 AM on June 26, 2009

My daughter is 7 weeks old so I am currently living your question right now with bonus points for having an amazingly active 2 1/2 year old boy in the equation who wake up like clockwork at 6:30 everyday.

We alternate nights/shifts.
At 7 weeks it's much easier than the first 2-3 at home but alternating at least lets you get a few hours in a row of sleep. Now my daughter sleeps overnight 5-7 hours and alternating works pretty good. In theory one of us gives her the "nighttime" bottle around 10-11 and the other hits the hay at that time (doesn't always work for the other with washing bottles, boiling water, sterilizing bottles). The one who did not give her that last bottle is the one on wakeup duty in the am.

There really is no way to prepare for your new arrival in regards to what is going to happen to your sleep schedule (for our first we would find dirty diapers in the hamper and dirty sleepers in the trash - seriously) and that is why for us alternating shifts got us through.

It's gonna be real tough at first, but you'll find your own routine that will work for you guys and by the time your baby is about 3 weeks you should be doing really good (don't worry that 3 weeks will really fly by).

Good luck and congrats!
posted by doorsfan at 7:14 AM on June 26, 2009

Our little one is now 18 month, and I'll just be blunt: the first few months _sucked_. Yes, it was wonderful to have her, and yes she was the light of my life and the wind beneath my wings, but man...there's a reason that sleep deprivation is used to coerce confessions. I'd have said or done _anything_ after a few week for a full 8 hours sleep.

My wife and I based our schedule on our own biorhythms. She wasn't able to breastfeed (and while many, even most, women can, keep in mind that some can't...and that it's ok) so we did bottles and formula after the first week when it became apparent that losing weight in a newborn = bad. I have always been more effective at night, and hate mornings, while my wife is a morning person and likes to sleep early if possible. So we just made that happen for the first couple of months...I adjusted my work schedule (and had 2 months or so off at the beginning) so that it would work.

We set a time limit...I think it was 3am or so. Anything BEFORE 3am was my problem, anything after 3am was her problem. She went to bed as early as she could, and I did the bedtime routine for The Girl, put her down, etc. She got her up in the morning, etc...and I slept in. That way we both got decent nights of sleep, even if we woke partially while the other was getting in or out of bed.

With that said, for the first few weeks we both got up every single time...until you find your routine, you WILL need both parents. It's a lot of work, until you figure it out.

Oh, and I'll Nth everyone upthread who said that your wife will desperately need help when you get home, is impossible to care for oneself with a newborn around. She won't be able to shower, fix her own meals, nearly anything...the baby really is consuming. So lay in ready-to-eat meals, you rock the baby while your wife showers, etc...anything you can do to help her feel "normal" and not like her life has been taken away will help.

Good luck! With all that said, it's worth it a million times. Kids are awesome.
posted by griffey at 7:38 AM on June 26, 2009

There's no schedule. If you are working, she should be doing all of that.
posted by Zambrano at 8:42 AM on June 26, 2009

During the night, we each had an end: I was in charge of nursing, Mr. Corpse was in charge of diapers.

During the day I did all the baby-raising while Mr. Corpse was at work. Before he left in the morning I would desperately try to take a shower and fix myself breakfast and lunch (to put in the fridge for later). I don't remember evenings -- it's all a blur.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:02 AM on June 26, 2009

My wife was at home and not working and I was working 50+ hours a week as a first year teacher. The rule was basically whenever I was home I did all diapers and fussy-baby stuff and she was on break. That included nights. She basically did all feedings (breast feeding) in the beginning. Eventually she started working and pumping and I did feedings too.

It seemed fair since she as the one who had the baby.

As a side note: my kids are now 4and 7. The newborn phase might seem like a pain in the ass at the time, but looking back it was very satisfying. This is the only point in your kid's life when he needs your undivided attention at all times. Cumbersome yes, but try to enjoy it. You might miss it later on when Hannah Montana replaces you in your child's life.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 9:59 AM on June 26, 2009

Eight month old here. I worked, my wife did not. We bottle fed her at night. What we found worked best was that I would get up with the baby on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights. This way I would only have one tough night during the week. I can deal with sleep deprivation for one night during the week but not two. Your wife can sleep when the baby sleeps during the day. The woman who taught our baby classes insisted that the husband be allowed to sleep during the week. You can try sleeping under your desk during the week, but your boss may disapprove.

It helps if you handle all of the errands, cook ready-made meals, and just give your wife plenty of love. Make sure you grab the baby as soon as you get home from work. And one word of advice. Get a miracle blanket. Those things are awesome!!!
posted by jasondigitized at 10:04 AM on June 26, 2009

my wife and i have a seven month old boy, and we grew into the routine of having me take the late night shift until about 2am, while she took anything after that and got up in the morning. i've always been a night owl and she's been better in the mornings, so she'd try to get a good solid block of uninterrupted sleep until he stirred at 3 or 4, and i'd comfort him if he woke before then, or offer a bottle.

one of the best things we heard in our prenatal classes though was to take in as much information you can get beforehand, and be ready for anything. it was described as "getting lots of tools for your toolbox." what worked for one baby isn't guaranteed to work for any other, so your best bet is to learn a ton of tricks and techniques, and apply whatever ends up working! it's hard to settle on a routine before your little one is born, particularly because they have a mind of their own, and will set about taming you right away. i'll echo some of the posts above though: it's exhausting at times, but one of the best things you'll ever get to experience!
posted by swrittenb at 10:36 AM on June 26, 2009

What worked for us, with our first, was that once the baby was a month old, and my milk supply was such that I could get ahead of the game and express milk, my husband took over feedings on Saturday nights, and I got 9 straight, once a week. It didn't last that long, actually, because by 3 months he was only waking once a night, and I took over completely.

It's a difficult balance to strike, because sleep is very important to both higher-order thinking processes, which you'll need more of, and regulation of emotions, which she'll need more of. My emotional recovery was relatively swift and easy, so we struck the balance more toward protecting my husband's sleep for his job, but if your wife has a hard time, you should do everything you can to even her keel. Nothing is more important than that.

That's why I wonder whether it's possible to "have a plan that we can agree on now and that will work." It will depend on how she responds to birth, how difficult breastfeeding is for her, how difficult the transition to parenthood is for you or for her, etc. And those are just the known unknowns! The best thing, I think, is to each remind yourselves that whatever bad thing you're feeling, the other is feeling it, too, and whatever break you take is at the other's expense. So try to give when you think you can, not when it seems fair.
posted by palliser at 10:06 PM on June 26, 2009

Also, even though this wasn't your question, for squeezing a little more sleep out of the wee one:

Miracle blanket. Accept no substitutes; this will keep your baby tight no matter how strong she is.
White noise machine. Or get white noise recordings off the internet and play them.
Happiest Baby on the Block.
posted by palliser at 10:13 PM on June 26, 2009

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