When I started writing regularly, I thought much of my content would relate to what it’s like working at home, part time, with kids at home. My oldest has been in daycare for the last two years, so it’s been easy-street as far as working from home is concerned. This changed recently when my daughter was born, and more importantly, when my wife returned to work. So it’s time to revisit what it’s like having a newborn at home.
I’ve discussed sleep deprivation before in regards to the 24hr Website Challenge. Sleep is an important thing to me and I can’t stress this enough: nothing can prepare you for the sleep deprivation you’ll experience with a newborn baby.
Prior experience not applicable
When I was a young man (age 18-21) I marched in a drum and bugle corps. I figured this experience would have me conditioned well enough to deal with a crying baby in the middle of the night. In drum corps, we’d travel via bus at night, after the previous days show. We’d typically arrive at our next destination sometime between 2 and 5AM. We’d all stumble off the bus like zombies, grab our sleeping bags, set up a place to sleep (usually on the gym floor of whatever school we were staying at), and then go back to sleep. If you were really fancy you took time to brush your teeth with running water, and blow up an air mattress.
This is not what it’s like with a newborn. In drum corps the only variable was when you were going to arrive. You controlled how quickly you could set up your bed and get back to sleep.
Enter the newborn
Babies don’t know or care that you have to get up at 6:30AM to get to work, or that you were up until midnight feeding them the night before. They just know when they’re hungry and will cry until they eat. They also eat at their own speed, need to be burped, and generally be content before everyone can go back to sleep.
If your wife is breastfeeding, most of the burden lies on her. But as a good husband, you should help her bear the burden by fetching a baby, burping her, and putting her back to bed.
I should note that I was much more helpful with the nighttime routine with our first child than with our second. Maybe it’s because I was younger, or more excited as a new dad. Whatever the case was, I’m certainly not going to try to take credit for everything my wife has done for our children during these early development stages. So whatever sleep deprivation boogey-man stories I’m telling, you can bet she’s experiencing it to a greater degree.
There has been occasions where I’d look over and see the baby on the boppy in front of my wife. The baby could be eating, but could be sleeping, and my wife definitely looks like she’s sleeping. I’d say, “put the baby to bed, you’re falling asleep!” But she was always quick to retort that she was just resting her eyes.
The deprivation also isn’t like what you might experience with a normal work or school week. Staying up late and getting up early, you just want to get to the weekend so you can sleep in. Do these babies know what day of the week it is? Heck no! My son is 4 years old and still has a hard time getting the days of the week, but he can read a digital clock and knows not to bug us before 8AM. So that’s the best you’re going to get on Saturday and Sunday: 8AM – minus all the times you got up in the middle of the night for your newborn.
If I were to give advice to breastfeeding mothers (which I’m not qualified to), it would be to nap when your baby does. This obviously only works when you’re on maternity leave and not operating a vehicle. Many busy mothers feel they need to get stuff done while their baby is sleeping. Do yourself a favor and get all that stuff done when you have nesting urges, before that baby is born, so you can nap yourself back to reality.
For those mothers and others (like me) who are also trying to get work done during this period, hopefully your work is flexible. Tell your coworkers about your situation – you did tell them you had a baby, didn’t you?!? Your ability to work will become sporadic, and spread out throughout the day. If you do technology work, buy yourself a laptop if you don’t have one so you can be mobile. Make sure it’s powerful enough to do everything you’d normally do. Even if it just means being able to work on the couch rather than in your office, it will help.
The good news is this situation is temporary. Once your baby sleeps through the night, you will be able to as well.