Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Working Mum: Working with a Baby Who Doesn't Sleep Through the Night

I met a mom at support group last week whose 3.5 month old baby has recently gone from sleeping through the night to being up every 2-3 hours. (Regular Ask Moxie readers are probably familiar with the four month sleep regression and are nodding their heads knowingly right about now.) I told her that a lot of babies have this problem, and that it is just a phase and will pass. She said "but I'm going back to work next month", with a slightly panicked look on her face. "How will I handle working if the baby isn't sleeping through the night?"

Well, Pumpkin has yet to sleep through the night (and I mean that phrase in the everyday, "she sleeps the entire time I sleep" sense, not the silly "she slept five hours in a row" sense). And I am doing just fine at work. I won't lie and claim that there haven't been some very difficult weeks (these usually involve some sort of illness for Pumpkin and/or other members of the household), but on the whole, we do OK. Here are the things I think make this possible:

1. Hubby and I split the night. Each of us gets to sleep relatively uninterrupted for half of the night. I find that as long as I get 3-4 hours of uninterrupted sleep and an hour or two of additional sleep, I actually feel fine. We did this even before we started nightweaning. My advice to mothers planning to go back to work: introduce a bottle once breastfeeding is well established, so that Hubby can help out (and so that you have one less thing to worry about when transitioning into day care). The lactation counselors at my hospital recommended
introducing the bottle at ~3 weeks if breastfeeding was going well.

2. We take advantage of all offers for sleep help. My Mom is here now, because Pumpkin had an eye infection and couldn't go to day care. She offered to take a night shift so that Hubby could get some more sleep (he's been losing more sleep than me lately, due to the nightweaning efforts). We gladly accepted. Earlier, when Pumpkin's sleep was worse than it is now, I would accept offers from anyone who wanted to take her for a walk while I napped.

3. We catch up on sleep whenever we can. We take turns sleeping in a bit on the weekends. When sleep times were particularly bad, I would send Pumpkin to day care on one of my Fridays off and sleep for a couple of hours in the morning. I'd go pick her up at lunch time and we'd have a fun afternoon together.

4. We have seriously relaxed our housekeeping standards. Pre-Pumpkin, we did a fairly thorough cleaning every other weekend. This doesn't happen much anymore. Now we ar emore likely to do spot cleaning. Of course, a certain amount of housework is necessary for our sanity (I hate grungy bathrooms) and for Pumpkin's safety- I caught her about to eat a dust bunny the other day, and decided that perhaps our standards have gotten too lax. We're probably going to get a maid service to help out (the reason we don't have one yet is a topic for a future post on the differences between New Zealanders and Americans). Most other working moms I know swear by their maid service.

5. I go to bed really, really early. When Pumpkin's sleep was at its worst, I'd go to be before she did- I'd finish her last nursing, then hand her to Hubby and head off to bed. Now I go to bed at 9 most nights, and am almost never awake at 10.

Speaking of which... it is almost bedtime now! I'd be interested in reading any other tips for working moms with babies who don't sleep particularly well. I'm always looking to improve our routine.


  1. Even when my daughter slept through the 2 AM feeding, I still got up and pumped. I was never a big milk producer and I needed that extra pumping session to stay ahead of her intake.

    I had a Medela pump n style at home. Each night, I filled up the ice pack compartment before bed. Then I put the expressed milk in the insulated compartment until morning. At work, I used the hospital grade Medela provided by my employer.

    Do go to be super early. You can make up for some of the waking time in the middle of the night by going to bed earlier.

    About the cleaning lady. I notice that people in southern CA have a different attitude to cleaning ladies. It is just taken for granted that you will have one. In other parts of the country that do not border a poor nation, cleaning ladies are less common. I sometimes wonder if that is responsible for the march of American women into the workplace. If you notice, that became normal first in regions with access to cheap cleaning ladies and nannies.

    New Zealand, an island nation, does not have hordes of people walking over the border, willing to be taken advantage of. No, they have a labor shortage, at least for people who are willing to work for less than their worth.

  2. Hi Grace, I think you are right about the labor thing in NZ, although Hubby considers himself an Aucklander, and that city has a lot of Polynesian and Asian immigrants who take some of the jobs filled by Hispanic immigrants here. Of course, they can't just walk over the border, so although there are some "overstayers", there aren't the truly undocumented immigrants we have here.

    I'm impressed your employer provided a hospital grade pump. I lug my Pump in Style back and forth every day. Nothing is worse than getting it out for the first time and realizing I've forgotten some part! Luckily, I live close enough to work that I can drive home and get whatever I've forgotten.

  3. Anonymous7:26 AM

    Hi Cloud,
    I followed you over from Moxie and have really been enjoying your blog.

    My first child was up every 2-3 hours all night until well past 1, and I went back to work when she was 3 months old. We co-slept for most of it, which was the only way this was reasonable. Also, I was very fuzzy at work sometimes - it's a good thing I am a librarian and not a brain surgeon. We night-weaned her at about 18 months (she was in a crib by then), but she wasn't regularly going to sleep at bedtime and not waking up until wakeup time until perhaps age 3. I went to bed with her (at 7:30-8pm) for the period between about 3-8 months.

    My second is a better sleeper, but still does not sleep from bedtime to morning - average nights have him up once in the wee hours and once at about 5am, though lately we have been having the 18 month sleep regression/separation anxiety, ha ha ha gronk.

    We do not have a cleaning lady and could not afford one, frankly (my husband is a graduate student) even if we wanted one. I have often wished for a "cleaning buddy" - another working mom who'd be willing to trade weekends and do a blitz together on each other's houses, while the dads took the kids out for brunch. Or a "cleaning husband." Hmmm.

  4. Welcome, Flea! I'm glad you are enjoying the blog. I've had my share of fuzzy days, too. I spend most of my days in front of the computer. On the plus side, no one dies if I have a bad day. On the negative side, it can be really hard to stay awake!
    You know, I think our ambiguous feelings about the fact that we can afford a cleaning service are part of the reason we don't have one yet. Which is a bit silly. I really should write a post about the whole thing, because I clearly have some thoughts I need to work out on the subject. Hubby finally caved and said we could get a service, and I still haven't gotten around to finding one. So maybe he convinced me while I was convincing him?

  5. Anonymous9:58 PM


    Our daughter woke up every hour when she was 10 months old and it was driving me insane. I thought I had tried it all; taking her up, no taking her up, feed her more in the evening, pat her back, less sleep during the day, etc, etc. Well, the one thing we hadn't done was to give dad the responsibility for the nights. It was always me (smelling milk, of course!).

    One evening we decided to give it a try. We switched places in our bed so that my husband was closest to the crib. It took three days... and even without much crying at all. She then woke up twice instead of all the time. Four weeks later she slept through the night.

    So that is my best tip - stay away from your baby at night completely until she or he is completely weaned from nighttime feeding. Works at least for older babies that aren't hungry at night any more, just have a habit that needs to be changed.

    (Another way to get some extra sleep if your hubby is not around or if yor baby doesn't use a bottle - dreamfeed!)

  6. I emphatically second getting your partner to take a shift for a few hours during the night, especially combined with going to bed early. Our Pumpkin was able to sleep for a few hours stretch right after I nursed her to bed, so I would go to bed shortly after while my hubby was "on duty." Then, I would be on duty after a few hours when we knew she would wake up hungry. It enabled us both to get a decent chunk of sleep.

    Co-sleeping and dreamfeeds were also incredibly helpful in getting sleep.

    I hope it isn't bad etiquette to link to my blog on yours, but my husband wrote a really funny post about baby-related sleep deprivation and working parents that I thought you might enjoy!

    I highly recommend a cleaning lady. I would rather have the cleaning lady come every other week than many other things that money can be spent on, like cable or clothing or eating out. It is hard to juggle all the priorities that we have as working parents, and having the cleaning lady come has helped my husband and I be able to focus on other areas (and helps alleviate one of those guilt areas that we've talked about before).

    Grace - My cleaning lady isn't cheap, she didn't walk over a border, and I am certainly not taking advantage of her. Cleaning houses is her job, she does it very well, and we pay her well for it. Just because she does not make as much as I do (and I don't know that she doesn't) and her job is different from mine does not mean that I am taking advantage of her.

  7. I come from the land of one-year mat leaves, but even so my son was nowhere near sleeping through the night (still isn't, really) when i returned to work. He often woke every hour or two all night long. The only way it worked for us was to cosleep... still find myself cosleeping alot... it's just easier for us.

  8. Hey Caramama, it is fine by me if you link to your blog here! I think the only time I'd mind is if a spammer did it to try to drum up traffic to an unrelated site. Then I delete the comment. And I remember reading that post and thinking it was funny.

    I don't think Grace was implying that we're necessarily taking advantage of the women who clean our homes, but here in SoCal the labor market for that work is so completely changed by the impact of illegal immigration that I think it does happen. Some of the amounts I hear people say they pay their housekeepers seem ridiculously low to me.


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