In my experience as a sleep consultant and mom, there is a simple fact that just needs to be addressed: in a parenting partnership, one parent will be the dominant one and the other parent will be the non-dominant one. Usually, the dominant caregiver is almost always the one who has the milk. While this is usually the birth mom, it is not true in all situations (I have had a handful of cases where Dad was the dominant care giver and mom had to learn the ropes!) and every family make up is different than the next.
Generally, however, I’m usually contacted by parents who are having issues getting their babies to sleep and that’s almost always because baby’s got an external sleep prop that they use to get back to sleep when they wake in the night. And the most common prop I see, by far, is nursing, which pretty much leaves Dad or ND (the non-dominant care giver) out of the equation.
This can be a problem for a couple of reasons. Obviously, if baby’s waking up six times a night and demanding Mom come in to nurse her back to sleep, that’s taxing on Mom (and baby!).
But there’s another person who tends to suffer in this scenario, and that’s the non-dominant care giver. It might be hard to imagine, if you’re currently reading this in the middle of the night with a baby hanging off your breast, listening to your partner snoring contentedly from the other room, but it’s true.
They want to help!
Dads/NDs, the vast majority of them anyway, want to be great parents and partners. They want to have an active role in bringing up their kids, and they love it when they feel like they’re succeeding in that role.
But because Mom is the one with the magical breast milk, Dad/ND often feels powerless to help out in the sleep department, which means Mom’s up every time baby cries, and ND, while sympathetic, can’t do much but go back to sleep.
This can lead to some hostility from a sleep deprived Mom, who feels like she’s doing more than her share, and some defensiveness from Dad/ND, who gets to feeling attacked for something he has no control over.
Take a load off, mom!
But here’s the good news for both of you…
If you’ve decided to give sleep training a try, it often goes better if the non-dominant care taker takes the lead.
That’s right! Take a load off, Mom. Dad/ND’s taking point on this one. Because Dad/ND doesn’t nurse, and baby knows it. So when it comes to breaking the association between nursing and falling asleep, baby tends to learn quicker and respond better when Dad/ND comes into the room during the first few nights of baby learning to fall asleep independently.
Here’s the funny thing. Whenever I drop this little tidbit on couple I’m working with, Mom lets out a big woot-woot and teases her partner about how much fun they are going to have getting up six times in the night.
But then, night one, as soon as baby starts to cry, Mom shoots out of bed and goes straight into baby’s room. Or even more regularly, Mom stands in the doorway instructing Dad/ND on the right way to settle Baby back down, and corrects him every step of the way.
I have literally sent full-grown women to their rooms in this scenario. Usually, I politely request that they leave the house all together for a reprieve!
If Dad/ND’s going to get involved, him and Baby have to find their own rhythm, and Mom needs to have little to no part in it. And as much as they always say they’ll have no problem letting their husbands take the wheel, when it comes down to the moment of truth, many women have trouble giving up control.
Routine is King!
Letting Dad or the non-dominant care giver is important not just for Mom to have a break, but it also reinforces the importance of routine. As you go through the sleep training journey with your little one, you will hear from me time and time again that routine is King and ultimately it won’t matter who does bed time (including a babysitter one night!!) because you will have set your child up with an amazing routine that is iron clad and they will come to know what to expect after each step of the carefully crafted routine. When in doubt, rely on consistency with your routine it really will get you through all the tough parts!
So remember, Dad/ND might just be the magical solution to your baby’s sleep issues, but you’re going to have to let him take over. Take heart though. Most of my clients see dramatic improvements in their baby’s sleep in just a couple of nights, so you won’t have to control yourself for long.
After that, you and and your partner will have the evenings back to yourselves, and your whole family can get back to sleeping through the night.