BabyFilter: I'm looking for advice on how to schedule late night baby feedings once I go back to work.
June 14, 2007 10:10 PM   Subscribe

BabyFilter: I'm looking for advice on how to schedule late night baby feedings once I go back to work (details inside)

So my lovely girlfriend and I had our first child two weeks ago today, and everything is sleep-deprived but going about as well as we could hope. I've had the past two weeks off and will be going back to work in a week, however, and we're trying to figure what would be the best way approach to handling the late night feedings our son enjoys once I'm back working full-time.

Our son is feeding (at least right now) about every 2 & 1/2 to 3 hours, with feedings taking about an hour. I've been doing an early morning tube feeding (around 1-2am) so that my girlfriend can get at least 4 uninterrupted hours of sleep. FYI She's off work for the next year and isn't the best napper in the world, so being able to skip one feeding makes a huge difference in her ability to cope during the day.

For those of you who have been in this situation, how did you end up handling the feeding schedule with your baby? I'm hoping for tips and advice that will help us figure out how to survive the first 3 months while avoiding the worst of sleep deprivation.
posted by theNonsuch to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not totally clear on what you're asking. If it is a matter of to what degree you can manipulate when baby eats to optimize sleep, the answer is not much. The littlest ones can't physically eat very much and they can't tolerate not being fed, so pretty much you get up when they get up and give them what they want. Your baby's eating schedule is normal, increasing the intervals will only happen with time.

If it's a question about who takes the hit of getting up, I guess it comes down to who can tolerate it the best at any particular time. I was honestly trying to remember better what my wife and I did almost 3 years ago and it was all hazy, very hazy... because like almost every new parent I was bumbling around in a stupor. All I can remember is that we traded off, there were occasional acrimonious moments (it's easy to be snitty when you're tired), on more than one not-proud occasion I'm pretty sure I blearily feigned sleep in hopes she would just get up with him, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one... Other than catching naps when you can manage it I don't know there's really all that much you can do.

But if I'm missing the point please clarify, I'm maybe being obtuse.
posted by nanojath at 10:27 PM on June 14, 2007


With our first, I tended to stay up late cluster-feeding the baby until she finally went down for a long stretch (of maybe four hours, sometimes a little more), and then my husband would get up with her early in the morning and give her a bottle of pumped milk and I'd catch another hour or so of sleep before he had to leave for work.

I'm a terrible napper too, and that extra little bit of contiguous sleep made a big difference for me.

With the second, we co-slept, and the baby was either lying on top of me or in a bassinet next to the bed, and I barely even had to wake up to feed her. I was so tired from running after a toddler all day that learning to nurse lying down was an absolute imperative, and we all ended up getting plenty of sleep. We were skeptical about how co-sleeping would actually work for us, but it turned out great and the baby was easily shifted into her own space by the time she was sleeping for significant periods of time through the night.

The important thing is that babies are going to do what they want and need to do, and the best you can hope for is to find a way to work around that without going nuts. Be flexible, be willing to rethink your feelings about things like family beds or having the baby in (or out, for that matter) of your room. Explore whether pumping is a good long-term way for you to supplement feedings, or if your baby is going to respond better to formula (for example, one of my kids wouldn't take pumped milk if you begged, no matter how you presented it, but would take formula or the breast without hesitation).

Be ready to revisit this whole thing over and over again, because an infant's idea of routine is whatever they're doing in the moment. They develop so quickly that what works today can be obsolete by tomorrow.
posted by padraigin at 10:27 PM on June 14, 2007

Welllll... Here is how we did it: I (Dad) did all the night feedings, because Mom was on baby-duty all day. That meant usually 2 feedings/changings every night, and I still went to work the next day. Somehow, you get supernatural strength. Or you just feel exhausted all the time.
posted by The Deej at 10:32 PM on June 14, 2007

First, I feel your pain. My wife and I went through this with twins, and it was all formula, so we both got up to feed every time.

First: relax and don't stress about it. At first, we were stressed about the late night feedings; will they wake up too much? Will we ever go back to sleep? Will we get angry? Are we doing it wrong?

Then one night my wife forgot to put the nipple in the ring before screwing the ring onto the formula bottle -- it was just sitting on top -- and dumped an entire bottle of formula on his face at 3am. In the middle of a dark room, with us both tense, and suddenly a big liquid sound, followed by "ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME?" and suddenly it was the funniest thing ever, and we stopped worrying.

And even after we cleaned him up, he still went right back to sleep. And so did we.

Second: the night feedings don't turn off like a lightswitch; they gradually get further and further apart, so you'll be getting more and more sleep in between. So even though you can't predict each night's timing, you can surf the general trend.

For us, that meant us taking six-hour shifts with the baby monitor (on those nights we slept in different rooms) or one of us would stay awake for the first six hours and handle feedings, and the other for the next six hours.

This way we each got at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep, which means more sanity for both of you, and a less stressed, more patient attitude towards your baby when they're crying and you can't figure out why.

Oh, keep this important thing in mind: even if one of us was on shift, the other would wake up and take over if the on shift person started getting frustrated and angry from lack of sleep, or if something was going wrong (like one baby crying for an unknown reason, and waking up the second, and both needing more comforting than one person could provide.) So it's really six hours on, and six hours on call.

So, congratulations and hang in there; right now three months feels like forever, but you'll get through it soon. And if it makes you feel any better, mine took five months to sleep through the night (since they would wake each other up) and one of 'em was a "happy spitter"; she would puke several times a day, and so night feedings/burpings were always followed by me cleaning up a pile of baby puke off of our hardwood floors.

Oh, almost forgot: sleep when the baby sleeps. If your girlfriend is tending the baby at home all day, that means exactly what it sounds like; for you, working all day, it means go to bed as soon after the baby goes down to sleep as you can; resist the temptation to watch TV or surf MetaFilter or anything else that keeps you up later. It's only for three months or so, and you'll be much better off for it.

Finally, make sure your work cohorts understand that you're sleep-deprived, so that they'll look out for mistakes and such that you might be making during this brief period. Plus, confiding in them will make them more patient with you.
posted by davejay at 10:39 PM on June 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

so we both got up to feed every time.

Er, at first. Forgot to clarify that. We established the schedule I'm recommending after we each learned to juggle two babies. This isn't relevant for your situation, but I didn't want to appear to contradict myself. :)
posted by davejay at 10:40 PM on June 14, 2007

You do become more tolerant of it over time - and you get better at zoning/dozing through the late feedings.
posted by nanojath at 10:58 PM on June 14, 2007

davejay's right on (and with twins, whew!). About your girlfriend not being a good napper: I never took naps before our baby was born, just couldn't handle them. But I actually learned how to nap, out of sheer exhaustion. I'm still not that good at it, but what I got over was not wanting to nap because I hate napping. My trick was to tell myself "OK I'm not going to nap but I will lie down and relax for a few minutes, the baby's asleep and the dirty house can wait." Invariably I'd fall asleep.

Another trick for us was to establish the baby's final "down for the night" point, even though we knew he'd be up again to eat in a few hours. At that time every night, we'd both do the brushing teeth, pajamas routine and get in bed to sleep. It forced us to remember to maintain a nighttime sleep schedule for ourselves so we had a chance for more sleep. Otherwise we'd be tempted to just stay up catching up on work, housework, etc., until the next feeding.
posted by girlhacker at 12:20 AM on June 15, 2007

Babies have their own schedules and personalities, so you will simply try a few things and find out what works for you and the baby. But here is what worked for us, in case it helps:

After about 6 weeks we found that by feeding, playing with her (just 10 minutes or so of singing and gentle leg-dancing), and THEN letting our baby fall asleep, she slept longer and better. This meant we got an extra hour or so between each feeding and the night time feedings slowly lessened. In other words, she was able to fall asleep on her own very comfortably. The first night we did this she went from waking every 2 hours to waking after 4.5 hours, and it only got better after that.

caveat: She was 2 weeks late, so gestationally she was at 2 months when we started this... most babies probably wont' be able to do this before that gestational period. And she fed really well, grew like a weed, sleeps on her own 12 hours a night, and is nothing short of a genius at 19 months.

A couple of things I wish I'd done that would have made my life easier and let me rest more while the baby slept:

I breastfed exclusively, but this meant I was the only feeder. I wish I had just given her a bottle of formula once during the night (did I say me? I meant my husband). One bottle wouldn't have spoiled the breastfeeding schedule and it would have let me sleep. But it sounds like you are already doing this.

I wish I'd gotten a housecleaning service for the first couple of months. Part of my problem (not) napping was that there was so much to DO, and if someone else could have cleaned up even a little bit, that would have helped. Husbands/partners don't count, because that would have made me feel even guiltier.

Good luck!
posted by mdiskin at 5:07 AM on June 15, 2007

We did almost exactly the same thing as you're doing right now. I'd go to bed relatively early, wifey would stay up for the around-midnight feed, and I'd handle the 2am-3am feeding. The key point for this working was the agreement that we would go to bed at different times.

These days (four months), she sleeps through the night. It's good. :)
posted by lowlife at 5:30 AM on June 15, 2007

With regards to napping - that will change. Your sleep patterns are much more adaptive when they're under siege. I'm a horrible sleeper, yet I've cultivated the skill of resting my eyes. Your girlfriend will, too.
posted by plinth at 5:54 AM on June 15, 2007

I cosleep as well with my 14-week-old, and she just nurses in the night as needed. I sit up, she latches on, we roll onto our sides and she feeds until she fall asleep. Aside from feeling a LOT like a sow and piglet, it works for us. By now, she doesn't eat very often - maybe once or twice each night. I get plenty of sleep and so does she.
posted by pomegranate at 5:58 AM on June 15, 2007

Second pomegranate's suggestion of co-sleeping. The big hurdle to get over seems to be figuring out a way for the baby to nurse while lying down. Once you've got that mastered, there's no reason Mom has to be awake for Baby to eat...
posted by genehack at 6:39 AM on June 15, 2007

I've used pretty much all of these strategies at one point or another, first with one baby, then with a toddler and twins. You're in early days, it will settle out, then change, and you'll adjust again. My suggestion is to have all of these suggestions on hand, available to follow your and your baby's needs at the time. My experience is that you think that the craziness will end if you just get the plan. The reality is that there is no such thing as the plan. As they say, you can lead a horse to water...

Learn to find peace through the craziness and changes, and be prepared to do whatever works for you, not someone else. Having different strategies to shift through is a definite plus.
posted by kch at 8:25 AM on June 15, 2007

Thirding co-sleeping. I was a total sleep-deprived zombie for a while after our son was born, until we (my son and I) figured out the "sow and piglet" thing - I'd latch him on, then doze off, and he would eat until he was sated and then delatch and doze off himself. If he got lucky, I wouldn't move much between feedings, and often I'd wake up to him latching himself back on again a couple of hours later (still having the nipple within reach). Had we not settled on this, I'm pretty sure I would have been hospitalized - sleep deprivation is a high contributor to post-natal depression, which I certainly had.

Also, re: napping. Nothing is so blissful as taking a nap with your warm snuggly baby. Sometimes in the bed, but also sometimes we'd nap with the baby on my chest as I lounged in the recliner.

Congrats on your new little one. If your girlfriend ever just needs to chat/vent/whatever, my email is in my profile.
posted by anastasiav at 11:18 AM on June 15, 2007

I've been told by a midwife that a baby is physically able to go for six hours between feedings once they hit 12 pounds. Until then, you will have to suffer through the 3-4 hour schedule but just continue to do what you are doing and be flexible. And the poster above who said to let your child fall asleep on their own was right on!! A child has to learn how to self soothe and fall asleep by himself or else you might be faced with years of night time struggles!! Best of luck to you and congrats. My son is 7 weeks old and it's an amazing ride!
posted by pearlybob at 11:25 AM on June 15, 2007

My then-husband just couldn't tolerate the baby in the bed. So the baby slept in a basket/bassinet (a laundry basket would do nicely) next to the bed. It made settling the baby back into bed much simpler. There was a basket of diaper-changing stuff there, too, so there was less of the feeling of "getting up."
posted by theora55 at 11:29 AM on June 15, 2007

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