Life as Clay

Advice for new fathers: A word about patience

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Late night infant care is challenging for many reasons. It is jarring to care for a < 10 lb baby who is shrieking in your ear at 3am. During the day, we have time to notice early feeding cues — rooting, “boob diving” (as I like to call it), and fussiness. During the night, we usually aren’t woken by our infants until they are very hungry and crying loudly. If your wife is exclusively breastfeeding the baby, then, as a father, you may not have much to do during the night.

Our daughter was born a little small, so she received bottles of fortified breast milk several times each day. Doctors suggested giving her these bottles during the night so that mama can get a little sleep. The result is that I’ve fed our child many times during the night.

Books and doctors recommend developing a dialogue with your child during feeding and while changing diapers. If you’re like me, it’s difficult to make cooing noises or even come up with a single coherent sentence at 3am.

Bottle feeding during the night also is frustrating because your child wakes you up with shrieks of hunger, yet you still have to prepare the bottle — warm it up, etc.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you find yourself frustrated during night feedings:

  1. Your infant does not have control over her limbs. She will flail them around (just like during the day), sometimes impeding your efforts to feed her. Controlling her arms for her frequently will help her calm down a little bit; that’s the whole theory behind swaddling.
  2. Prepare your night feeding and changing areas. Put something near the diaper station that you can read from while changing diapers, if you find yourself having a hard time self-initiating a 3am dialogue. This can even be the ingredients list from a bottle of baby shampoo or something; just speak it in a baby friendly tone to help reassure your child while changing her. Other possibilities: read sports scores, an article from a magazine, sing a song, etc.
  3. Changing your baby’s diaper tends to wake her up a little bit, so if she’s already screaming and the bottle is ready, try feeding her before changing the diaper.
  4. Prepare a blanket or activity mat near the feeding area for use during the night. You may find yourself needing both of your hands during night sessions. You can place your child on the mat for a little supervised tummy time while you use your hands to prepare a bottle, etc.
  5. Prepare bottles before going to bed. I usually have two of them ready to go in the fridge.
  6. Make sure that all other supplies you need are nearby: a burp cloth, diapers, diaper wipes, a swaddle blanket, etc.
  7. Infants are more awake during the night than during the day, frequently. While daytime feedings frequently immediately precede a nap, your child may remain awake for hours after a night feeding. You can use the aforementioned activity mat or blanket for some tummy time while you wait for your child to sleep. Have a few toys or books nearby that you can use to engage your child.
  8. Take time to learn the techniques from The Happiest Baby on the Block. There are some cool swaddle holds that you can use to instantly quiet your crying baby. It’s like magic. Sometimes all you need in order to get through these feedings is a little bit of quiet.
  9. Remember that over stimulation can make your baby fussy. Sometimes your child needs to be left alone (not patted, touched, cooed at, etc.) in order to find peace.
  10. Infants are not able to understand punishment. Do not punish your infant for any reason. The burden is on you to handle the difficulties presented during night feedings.

Finally, regardless of how patient you are or all of the wonderful things that you wish for your child through a glorious life, a screaming baby will test that patience during the night. Learn to recognize your limits. If you get too frustrated you are likely to blame the child for your own frustration. This can lead to anger. When you find yourself approaching the limit, try some hands-off tummy time for a few minutes. If that doesn’t work, wake up your partner and tell her that you need help. Tell her that you are frustrated and having a difficult time.

You sometimes will feel that your well of patience is empty when you are sleep deprived and trying to figure out how to console an inconsolable infant. Put the child down, take a few deep breaths, relax, and move forward with your established process. These can be challenging times and it is up to you to find the strength to endure them peacefully.

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Written by Clay

January 14, 2011 at 11:19

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