As a baby and toddler sleep consultant, this is one of the questions I am most frequently asked.
It is easy to fall into the routine of one parent doing bedtime and being responsible for night time sleep (especially if you are a breastfeeding parent) but that doesn’t mean that this has to continue if you don’t want it to. Perhaps you have another baby on the way, or you’d like to go out or you are returning to work. Or maybe you read the research which claims better sleep outcomes can be had by having an involved secondary parent.
Whatever the reason, there are plenty of ways to balance out the responsibility of your baby or toddler’s sleep. Here are my top tips on how you can do this:
It is very common for partners to argue over sleep, especially when sleep deprivation and hormonal changes are added to the mix. Communicating how you feel and how you would like your partner to help, can make the transition to a more balanced responsibility around sleep much smoother. It is important to decide together what aspects of sleep are possible to share or hand over and more importantly to check that your sleep philosophies are aligned.
An easy one to start with is the bedtime routine. You could start by doing this together so that your partner becomes familiar with each part of the routine and so that your little one gets used to them being there for this part of the day. Gradually your partner can take on more aspects of the routine until they are able to do the entire routine without you.
To start with it may be that your partner does the bedtime routine (for example, bath time, baby massage, into pyjamas and a story/lullaby) and when it comes to falling asleep, you take over.
If your baby struggles with your partner doing bedtime and it is really important for you to be able to hand over bedtime responsibilities, either occasionally or regularly, being out of the home will make this process much easier. Once your little one knows that you are not an option they will succumb to your partner’s offers of comfort much more easily. Your partner will also find it easier to settle baby without the pressure of you being there (no matter how easy going you are!). You leaving the home at bedtime also lets your partner know that you trust them and that you are confident in their ability to get your little one to sleep.
Start by seeing if your partner can resettle baby during the first half of the night. This is when sleep is deeper and easier, so your partner might have more luck than later on in the night. If this doesn’t work it can be really handy if your partner can take baby during the early hours of the morning (this is when sleep is really hard for babies) and hold them, have skin to skin or put them in the carrier and go for an early morning walk so that you can catch up on some sleep.
Allow your partner to experiment and find their own way of settling baby, it could be through rocking, having some contact sleep through skin to skin or putting baby in a carrier and going for a walk. These are all strategies which promote and support sleep, they are not bad habits!
No One Else Will Do
If you try all of the above and your baby just isn’t having it, know that neither you, nor your baby nor your partner have done anything wrong. Some babies are very sensitive and won't be capable of this change just yet, that doesn't mean they won't in the future. If this is the case for your family, concentrate on things which are achievable and will support your sleep and energy levels.
For example; cooking, cleaning, and household admin. It could be taking on the responsibility for bedtime for siblings or taking baby in the morning or early evening whilst you catch up on sleep. It could be doing the nappy changes, winding baby and getting your night time station supplies ready.
I hope that having read this, you feel reassured that you are not the only family who struggles with this and that you have found my tips useful. If you would like more support on this my online courses cover gentle night weaning and how to involve a partner in detail.