How to split the baby
July 10, 2008 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for thoughts on how to split up baby care between partners during maternity leave.

Mr. LLama and I just had a beautiful baby girl by c section last week. After a nightmarish week of attempted breastfeeding, we've gone with formula. This has worked out nicely (even though it was a source of sadness for me initially) because we've gotten a routine split in baby care going.

However, next week Mr. LLama returns to work at the Llamatorium. What are some ways people have split up childcare once Dad returns to work and Mom goes into poop patrol full time?

The equality in the split we have now is nice, but Mr. LLama has to wake up at 4:30 to go to work and we can't put him in a chronically sleep deprived position because of the toll that takes on a relationship. I'll be able to nap and he won't.

Ideally, I'd like plan that has me and the baby up at 4:30 too (even if I'm awake but the baby isn't--that sleep when the baby sleeps thing seems impossible to me.)

She's not a difficult baby so far--she's not a screamer--but she is up 2 or 3 or 4 times a night. She sleeps in her crib in our room. We were going to do a family bed but I haven't felt safe because I can't roll over or lie on my side easily because of the incision. The crib in the room seems to be working well.

I looked at the previous threads and found some good ideas but no thread specifically dedicated to this.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I understand your wish to get things planned out and organized but something that you will quickly learn as a new parent is that you really can't plan ANYTHING! Baby girl is totally in control, especially during the first few months. My advice would be to be flexible and figure out what works best for your family. Maybe Mom takes over the evening duties so dad can sleep then Dad takes over when he gets home from work so Mom can get a nap/shower/etc. You may have to try several different things to figure out what works but you will. Just be flexible, go with the flow and you will quickly get into a routine. Good Luck!
posted by pearlybob at 7:40 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

As far as the baby waking up a few times a night (yeah, babies do that) but one thing to consider is that adults aren't completely silent when we sleep. We flip, we flop, we snore... sometimes it's you waking the baby up... which then wakes you up. Something to consider when putting the crib next to the bed.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:09 AM on July 10, 2008

ms. lester and i were in the exact same situation. when i returned to work, ms. lester assumed all responsibilities, and i pitched in when i could. i found that much of my hometime was best used by doing the assocated housework, so often when i was home, ms lester would still watch the lesterette while i swept or washed dishes or whatot.

now maternity leave is over, i cut back my hours, and ms. lester gets the uninterrupted sleep.
posted by lester at 8:48 AM on July 10, 2008

Newborns are little 7-lb dictators. You can't really plan anything around them, you just have to go with the flow. Your routine will sort itself out in time. Everything changes so fast that first year, too, so you have to constantly be flexible.

One thing that helped us was a sling so we could wear the baby. We'd take turns with that and it left our hands free so we could get stuff done.
posted by Ostara at 8:49 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife breastfed so she took all the feedings, which early on means all the 'wakings', but once the baby's stomach grew a bit my wife and I settled on this algorithm: I'd take all the non-feeding-time wake-ups until midnight and every other one after midnight; she'd take alternate wakings after midnight (and, of course, all the feed time wake-ups). I didn't have to get up until 7am though.

Mostly, like pearlybob said and Ostara, flexibility and the baby is boss. And communication...if one or the other of you feels like you're taking on more than a fair (which is not necessarily equal depending on circumstances) share then make sure you talk it out instead of letting it turn into resentment.
posted by danOstuporStar at 8:52 AM on July 10, 2008

You will both be working full-time jobs, so it only seems fair that you both share equally in caring for your baby when you're both home in the evening. Soon enough your baby will sleep through the night and who gets up when won't really factor into division of labor.

I'm not sure why you want to get up at 4:30 AM, if the baby is sleeping... unless you think it's "more fair" to Mr. Llama. The fact that you can nap is very nice, but remember, you're recovering from pregnancy and a c-section-- you NEED to nap. Over time you will probably find that you won't nap, even when you're exhausted, simply because the time to get things done while your baby is napping is too valuable to waste.

As pearlybob says, just be flexible and try to give each other breaks. It'll all come together faster than you imagine.
posted by idest at 8:52 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

idest, I wondered about that too. I assumed she wanted to get up to have time to get non-baby stuff done, but, yeah, OP don't get up at 4:30 unless you really have to!
posted by danOstuporStar at 8:54 AM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: We had a similar situation in our house. We ended up going the traditional route: mama takes care of the baby, papa works to pay the bills but dives into caring for the boy (and the mama) when he can.

However, for the first week or so, my wife was bed-ridden, so I took care of the baby a lot. Also, I mostly worked at home for all of it except the first month or so after paternity leave, so I was able to watch the boy here and there throughout the day.

Fifteen months on, I can do, and do do, everything she can do for the boy except breast-feed. I also have a strong bond with the boy, one I don't see some other fathers as having.

Our boy still sleeps in our room and, most of the time, in our bed. Getting chubby, yummy little feet in my face is the price I pay.

What made this work kind of happened naturally, though with a lot of metacommentary coming into play when we noticed that we had found a rhythm in order to establish that the rhythm was a good thing:

--Baby sets the schedule. This came about because the boy was a red-faced screamer for the first three months. All sleep is good sleep, so if the baby wants to sleep, then the baby gets to sleep. No waking the baby prematurely except in the rare circumstance we all have to be somewhere (like the pediatrician's office). This has changed somewhat now that he is a cheery toddler, but we still like to let him sleep as late as we can and still get him to daycare on time.

--We gradually fell into a system where, when I was working outside the house, that mama would take a shower before I left for work, usually while the baby was still asleep. Though sometimes that wouldn't happen and the wife wouldn't be able to take a shower until the boy was put down for the night. Also, if the baby was asleep, I would try to watch him (since he sleeps on the bed a lot) and do work at the same time to give mama a chance to have a little life of her own. Once he was able to start grabbing things--like yanking the laptop screen back the wrong way (eep!)--this became unfeasible. Even just-awoken babies are so fast...

--Night bed-times have always been more problematic. I can now get him to nap in six to 15 minutes (I swear!) but I can rarely get him to bed at night without a long struggle of up to an hour. So mama has taken on almost all of that responsibility and papa (me) has done more other things.

--Since the boy wouldn't take a bottle and my wife loathes pumping, she was constantly on call for breast-feeding. So I had to pick up more slack with housework (which is not a problem as I'm better at it than she is--she'll usually agree--for things like cooking and cleaning). It felt natural for me to just pick up these extra chores, though I did sometimes feel a bit put-upon--but we talked it out. Talking it out was made easier by acknowledging that although my wife's decision not to pump meant I had to do more housework to compensate for not being able to feed the baby, in the early days my wife was giving up a lot of freedom by not being able to go anywhere for any real length of time without the baby in tow. Now the boy is 90%-solid-fed and this problem has disappeared.

--We agreed even before the baby came along that we have a "no tit for tat" rule in our family. Nobody ever gets to tell anybody else, after the fact, "You *have* to do this chore because I already did that one." No score-keeping, no balance sheets, no chore rosters. Either it gets done, or it doesn't. If you want it done, then do it yourself or else charm and beguile the other person so much that they feel compelled to do it. A lot of work gets done with beguilements like, "I'll go cook dinner if you'll watch the baby" or "I'll cook dinner and feed the baby in the kitchen if you'll vacuum." It sets up a nice feeling of teamwork--but everyone also is free to negotiate the offer, refuse it, or postpone it for another time.

--We pointedly talk about the mental traps of thinking, "She was home all day. Why didn't she do the chores while the baby was sleeping?" or "He's been at the office all day chatting and gossiping and I've been here alone with the baby." These attitudes are corrosive, even if they are accurate. Certainly, once the boy was out of his screamy phase and had more personality, I began to envy my wife and the time she was able to spend wandering around the city with the boy in a sling or carrier while I was working. But it also made me feel better because she was able to go to a whole boatload of mommy groups and do other things to develop a life outside the home.

--"I had a hard day" isn't really a good comment in our house. Everyone has a hard day. But "I know you had a hard day" works wonders.

--We talk about this stuff all the time, push back when we feel like we're doing too much or spending our time on the wrong things, and work out new ways to lighten the load for each other, and ourselves, all the time. We also complain, grouse, argue, and sometimes resent each other. But we're human, so we also apologize, laugh, love, tease, defuse, redirect, and flirt with each other to smooth it all out.

--This is corny, but we are overly polite to each other when it comes to acknowledging chores done, meals cooked, favors given, etc. "Thanks for cooking dinner." "Thank you for sweeping the floor." "Thanks for changing the boy." "Thanks for doing that." We know empirically that thanking someone is a social a ritual, but emotionally it still feels good to be thanked.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:07 AM on July 10, 2008 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clarify -- I'm not looking to schedule the baby at all -- I know she's just a baby. I'm more thinking about baby 'coverage', i.e., Mom takes all nights during the week, Dad takes all weekend feedings and all of Saturday -- stuff like that. We were wondering what guidelines others use.

And re. why I want to get up at 4:30 -- because I like Mr. Llama and want to see him, and because I might be able to get a run or a dog walk in (eventually. When I'm not so much walking around gutshot) while he's in the house first thing in the morning. He won't actually leave the house until after 6.

Good comments -- please keep the advice coming! We're novices.

I liked this: "I had a hard day" isn't really a good comment in our house. Everyone has a hard day. But "I know you had a hard day" works wonders.

and this:

We agreed even before the baby came along that we have a "no tit for tat" rule in our family. Nobody ever gets to tell anybody else, after the fact, "You *have* to do this chore because I already did that one." No score-keeping, no balance sheets, no chore rosters. Either it gets done, or it doesn't. If you want it done, then do it yourself or else charm and beguile the other person so much that they feel compelled to do it. A lot of work gets done with beguilements like, "I'll go cook dinner if you'll watch the baby" or "I'll cook dinner and feed the baby in the kitchen if you'll vacuum." It sets up a nice feeling of teamwork--but everyone also is free to negotiate the offer, refuse it, or postpone it for another time.

I generally agree, and we do sort of naturally adhere by those rules, but we've also found some guideines to be helpful (he is currently doing the 10 to 2 shift, I do the 2 to 4 shift.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:34 AM on July 10, 2008

Response by poster: 2 to 6! I mean.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:39 AM on July 10, 2008

Speaking as someone with a 3 month old baby boy, not only can you not schedule the kid - you really can't schedule yourself, either. I remember days early on where the very first thing on my list for that day was to take a shower. I wound up showering sometime in the afternoon - the next day. Now we might want to get somewhere by 10 am, and we consider ourselves lucky if we get there at noon.

There are times where it'll be very obvious that your partner is at a greater degree of can't than you are. You can't either, but not as much as them. So you can, and you do.

It gets better, but especially early on, there really is no real planning. You only need to take care of the kid and yourselves, everything else is gravy and can be put on hold for a few months. Be a team, and keep the ball moving forward. You won't have the time or energy to waste on who should be doing what when, etc.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:34 AM on July 10, 2008

I generally agree, and we do sort of naturally adhere by those rules, but we've also found some guideines to be helpful (he is currently doing the 10 to 2 shift, I do the 2 to 4 shift.)

We would have done this, though I was working full-time in the beginning, except that the boy could only be settled by breast-feeding. That left me out of the night-time chores and left mama out of many of the day-time chores. She definitely needed to nap throughout the day.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:28 AM on July 10, 2008

Best answer: I found this recent NY Times Magazine article on the subject fascinating.
posted by judith at 11:47 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Looks like you have lots of good info, but I wanted to add that you are only a week in, and any schedule you think of right now will probably change very shortly. Our little girl is 6 weeks old, and just now we are working out some of these details becuase she has been all over the place until recently.
posted by Big_B at 1:36 PM on July 10, 2008

First and foremost, CONGRATS! New babies are awesome, awesomely scrumptious, and just the bestest. Truly, congrats.

So my wife and I have a three-and-a-half month old at home, and the best thing folks have said here is that the key is to be flexible, since your new baby won't be all that flexible for the first few weeks to months (and maybe even longer!). Each of you has roles that you'll fall into more easily, and each of you will have roles that you'll gladly hand over to the other -- and that's totally, completely OK, since the challenges of the first few months are hard enough that taking the breaks that you can might be the difference between those months being joyful or being maddening. (For example, I really enjoy cooking, and my wife doesn't enjoy it nearly as much, so meals have very easily fallen onto my lap for these past few months. And while I won't say that my wife enjoys doing the laundry, she certainly doesn't loathe it as much as I do, which is great given the pretty significant bump in laundry needs in a home with a new baby.)

The maternity/paternity leave aspect of this also hits close to home, since my wife and I both took the first two weeks off, she continued at home for ten additional weeks, and then I took two more weeks off once she returned to work -- so we had a lot of role-juggling going on during that time. And again, there was no way at all to plan it other than to put 10-15 seconds on a day-to-day basis into evaluating whether things were working, and what we could each be doing to help out the other. Another example: during her maternity leave, my wife breastfed our baby nearly exclusively, but also pumped so that I could feed her a bottle of expressed milk as the first meal every morning (both because I wanted to and because we wanted her to be OK with taking bottles) -- so it made a lot of sense for me to be the one to handle all the prep and clean-up that pumping entails. Now that my wife is back at work, I still do a lot of it, but she has very specific parts that she handles (preparing the bottles for daycare, for example) -- we came to that agreement just by chatting one night about what would make each of our lives easier. There's no way we could have planned it, though... it was just an honest, spontaneous evaluation of how things had evolved, and how we could continue to keep the workload reasonable.

Finally, I totally endorse the idea of using the time when you're both at home to get those things that make you feel like you done, even if that means that you wake up a bit earlier or go to sleep a bit later. So if taking a shower or going for a run is important to you continuing to feel like your own person (rather than solely the mother of a child), then definitely think about working out a way so that you can wake up at 4:30 with Mr. Llama and he can watch the peanut for the half hour you need. Because I seem to only be able to communicate with examples, my final one: now that my wife is back at work, she's breastfeeding our baby first thing in the morning, and then again just before she leaves for work and brings the baby to daycare. What that means is that that first feeding can be kind of early... but what works really well for me is to be the one to wake up, bring the baby in (she's now in her own room) and pass her over, and then get into the shower. It's time when I'm otherwise totally useless (I can't really help her breastfeed!), and I really have to start my day off with a shower or else I feel like crap, so the situation works perfectly for both of us.

In the end, if you're like 90% of the other couples of a firstborn, these first few weeks will be more about learning from your mistakes than getting it right (the number of times my wife and I said, "sorry, kid, we're just idiots!" in the first month easily reaches into the hundreds, and I'm a damn pediatrician!). So long as you both roll with the punches, respect each other's need for both involvement and rest, and remember to stop, breathe, and maintain a healthy sense of humor, the splits in caring for your new baby will come naturally.
posted by delfuego at 7:52 PM on July 10, 2008

I wish mo nickels was my baby daddy. I've done all of this on my own. Kudos to you for making your relationship work and grow stronger with the addition of your darling baby boy. :o*
posted by hannahkitty at 11:09 AM on July 22, 2008

Response by poster: An update, in case anyone is interested or stumbles upon this thread later on:

Here's what we've been doing and is working reasonably well in the vast wealth of experience that is our first seven weeks as parents: We get in bed at 8 PM (That's right. We know how to party.)

Mr. Llama does baby duty until 10:00 PM, more if he can. He tries to get in a 10:00 feeding, which takes us to after midnight, which is when I take over until 4:30 AM, when we get up.

At 4:30 AM, I inhale a cup of coffee (coffee is set up the previous day; everything is on timers. "Timers!" represents the bulk of my parenting knowledge) and I either go to the gym or run/walk w/the dog from 5 to 6, when Mr. Llama leaves for work and I take over for the day. That sixty minute stretch from 5 AM to 6 AM is a very big deal to me.

When he gets home in the afternoon at 4ish, I hand the baby off to him for the evening. I don't actually throw the baby at him, but the thought's occurred.

On the weekends, more sleep for everyone, and Mr. Llama does the biggest chunk of baby care, and in-house chores like laundry, and I do most of the errands.

In practice everything's a lot more fluid than this looks on paper. Also, we've recently initiated cocktail hour from 5 to 6, where we share a grown up beverage. If the baby's up we hold her while we hang out and talk, but it's a nice time to stop moving and talk about something other than baby logistics.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:03 AM on August 15, 2008

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