During about the first two years of our daughter’s life, my husband worked the overnight shift five days a week. The timing was tough because right after he took the new job that required a period of overnights, we found out we were expecting our first child. It was a little scary to face knowing I was going to be alone overnight with a newborn baby for an unknown period of time. If you are breastfeeding, there’s only so much your partner can do anyway, but it’s tough knowing you’ll be alone all night without some support or assistance with crying spells and diaper changes! If you are bottle-feeding, it’s harsh knowing that you are scheduled for every feeding shift.
Now our daughter is almost four and my husband has worked fairly standard hours for the last two years. So, I am not experienced at doing solo parenting overnight permanently – being a single parent is a completely different topic – but my time in the trenches provided me with seven useful tips for anyone faced with the same nerve-wracking and tiring situation of a long, solo night with an unpredictable baby.
1. Find other ways to divide the work with your significant other
Your partner may not be around to help with a crying baby during the night shift but could be available to give you a breather from cooking dinner, doing laundry, shopping for the weekly groceries, or making the evening daycare pickup run. Spend some time regularly discussing dividing, conquering, and communicating about the daily tasks.
2. Don’t be afraid to accept offers of help
If a parent, friend, or in-law offers to pitch in, don’t feel bad jumping on the opportunity to say yes. People will genuinely want to help you through a tiring time – don’t feel like you need to be a superhero and do it all yourself! When I was on maternity leave I got some offers from loved ones to, “go lay down for a while, I’ll mind the baby and catch up on dishes.” It’s hard to admit you need the help, but it’s worth it to feel refreshed.
3. Keep everything nearby
It’s easier to be woken up in the middle of the night when you know feeding supplies, a changing station, and clean clothes are within reach. The less you wake yourself, the easier it is to go back to sleep after the feeding is over. Take a look at your space and organize your tools effectively.
4. Nap when you can
I went back to work when my daughter was three months old, but when I was on maternity leave I took full advantage of the advice to “nap when the baby naps.” It was easier to face the interrupted nights when I knew I got some shut-eye during the day. My husband would get home from the overnight around 8 am while I was on maternity leave, and if it had been an especially bad overnight I would take the opportunity for a 30-minute nap when he got home. I would also resist the urge to do “one more thing” at night and just get myself to bed.
5. Don’t feel bad asking your partner to pitch in during their off time
My husband worked overnight on the weekdays but was off on the weekends and resumed a normal schedule briefly. We then split the time on Saturday and Sunday – I’d be on duty one weekend night and he’d be on duty the other. It was nice knowing that every week I would have the opportunity for a break. Take a look at how your schedule compares with your partner’s schedule and find ways to divide the on and off time. Everyone eventually needs time for a breather!
6. Prepare what you can before the baby arrives
If you know your partner will eventually have to go back to traveling during the work week after baby arrives, try to prepare. Cook freezer meals, stock up on toiletry and cleaning supplies, and finish any nagging home maintenance projects before the baby comes home. Essentially, minimize the number of tasks you need to handle during the day outside of just caring for the newborn. That way, you are able to take advantage of the “nap when the baby naps” advice instead of cooking dinner or doing chores.
7. Let yourself acknowledge that it’s hard
Having a newborn is hard enough, let alone facing sleepless nights with them alone and without another adult for support. Allow yourself a little time to accept that life will be difficult for a while. One day you’ll be in a routine and it will be easier, but it’s okay to accept that it’s a challenging time. Once the fog clears, you’ll realize how strong of a mom your circumstances turned you into!