How to Take Charge of the Night Shift

When you’re on duty at 2 a.m, sleep can seem like a distant dream. But those predawn hours can provide irreplaceable bonding moments with your baby, if you prepare for it.

Originally Published: 
Jeremy Nguyen for Fatherly

This story has been produced in partnership with the maker of Enfamil, and the award-winning Enspire, the only formula with immune-supporting Lactoferrin added as an ingredient.

Some people are built for the night. It’s science: A night owl’s circadian rhythms are such that they thrive when the sun goes down and are humming along at midnight. Still, genetic predisposition won’t help you when you have a newborn waking up at 2 a.m. Indeed, infants level the playing field for morning people and night owls. Whether you’re raring to go or ripped out of sleep, dealing with a fussy, unhappy, and likely hungry child in the middle of the night takes practice. It takes discipline. It takes a trained eye and subtle touch. But those parents who learn the work and art of taking the night shift will tell you this: There’s nothing quite like it.

Once you get the hang of it, the night shift is one of the most intimate times you’ll ever have with your child. It’s quiet, heartwarming bliss — you just have to be prepared for it. That’s what we’re here for. This night-shift rulebook offers just the sleep tricks, bottle-feeding tips, and emotional readiness you need to make this a special time.

Divide and Conquer: There’s no reason both you and your partner need to be losing sleep at the same time. So, figure out a system that works for you. Depending on your personal preferences and work situation, you might choose to swap every other night, alternate weeknights and weekends, or agree that you’re more the night owl while your wife is the early bird and take responsibilities accordingly.

Practice Less-Is-More: If you’re up and the kid is up, avoid the urge to play, talk, or try to make them laugh. Doing so is basically training a baby to expect live entertainment every time they cry at night. There’s another school of thought that says do as little as possible when on night duty. What does that mean? Keep the lights dim and the sound low. If they’re not crying, don’t feed them. If they’re not wet, don’t change them. Say soft, reassuring words in a quiet tone and resist the urge to tickle those cute toes at all costs.

When Less-Is-More Fails: The above scenario will work, optimistically, one out of 20 times. The other 95 percent of your nighttime duty will involve hands-on parenting. For this, you’ll want a soft blanket to swaddle your newborn, a fresh bottle of quality formula, and a comfortable chair in which you can rest. Because there’s no rushing a hungry baby.

The Right Way to Wrap: Swaddling is clutch for getting baby back to sleep and there is a tried-and-true technique for swaddling. It involves a bit of folding and tucking, and turns any blanket into a neat little package. A tight swaddle — one you can do in the dark — takes practice, something that is better accomplished in the light of day. Just remember, it’s the snugness that matters as it makes your infant feel safe and secure, whether or not you properly folded the corners.

Choose Your Nourishment Wisely: Despite your best intentions, a lot of things will not go according to plan during the night shift. You’re fumbling around in the dark to rescue a favorite toy that fell from the crib, groping for the blanket in which to nestle your squirming child, and wondering where your glasses are because you can’t see anything. What you don’t need to worry about is what to feed your baby. Enfamil’s Enspire checks all the boxes. The formula contains MFGM (a mixture of lipids and proteins that support brain development) and lactoferrin, a protein also in colostrum and breast milk that supports the immune system. It also has prebiotics for gut health. Of all the things that can (and will) go wrong on the night shift, this isn’t one of them.

Prepare the Bottle: Don’t overthink this step. It’s a 1-2-3 process that you can do in advance (a maximum of 24 hours ahead for powdered formula). First, wash your hands with soap and water. Next, measure the appropriate amount of water you need (check the directions) and pour it into the bottle; add the corresponding amount of powdered Enspire formula. Finally, put the cap on and shake to mix. Refrigerate the bottle until you’re ready to feed your baby.

Settle In: When your baby burrows into your chest for some food, that quality time is the best part of the night shift. If you haven’t already, get yourself a sturdy, well-cushioned, potentially reclining chair. Use the crook of your arm to support your baby, keeping their head higher than their tummy (for digestion). Hold the bottle lightly in their mouth so that they control whether or not to suck.

Set Up Shop: How long will you be hanging with the kid before sleep takes them off to dreamland? Hard to say. It could be 30 minutes. It could be two hours. To help make the time more enjoyable, keep your sitting area stocked with your favorite books. Include a few classic kid ones, too, and read them softly to your newborn nestled in your lap. Comprehension? Zero. But the sound of your voice is soothing. Even better, try singing: Research from the University of Toronto found that squirmy babies who listened to someone singing were able to calm themselves — and stay calm — for twice as long as babes who listened to someone speaking. Plus, babies don’t judge.

Take It One Day at a Time: You might look forward to that moment when your newborn starts to sleep peacefully through the night, but there’s some bad news for you: Studies have found it takes parents six years — yes, six years — to get back to a healthy sleep routine due to teething, tantrums, nightmares, sickness, and a generally disrupted circadian rhythm. The good news: It continually gets betters and the bulk of sleep loss happens early. Even better news? You’re a pro at the night shift now — and it’s something to look forward to.

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