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Taking Care of the Baby at Night

What Dads Can Do to Soothe the Baby and Get Back to Sleep


Father and Baby
Courtesy of Photodisc / Getty Images
Having lived through five children and finding out what it is like to be a sleep deprived father, I really understand what dads go through when they are up in the middle of the night with a fussy baby. A friend who is a new dad recently asked me when it gets better, and I reminded him that dads with teenagers are often up late at night, but for different reasons. Good, complete nights' sleep and parenting don't mix very well.

So what is a dad to do when the baby is up in the middle of the night and everyone wants to go to sleep?

Try soothing sounds. Many dads I know cradle the baby in their arms and then walk to quiet music or white noise like ocean sounds or even a running clothes dryer. The rhythmic sounds, combined with quiet, gentle movements like walking or rocking in a rocking chair can often lull a baby back to sleep pretty quickly. And it can also be a little more relaxing for dad than other choices.

Consider a sling. Lots of dads just swear by the slings that are pretty popular today. Some can be a little complicated getting on, but once the baby is wrapped up and close to your chest, she will often quiet down and get to sleep sooner. It may be that she is warm and cuddly or it may be that she hears your heartbeat, but either way, you may want to try putting her in a sling during those late nighttime hours and either walking or rocking.

Try skin-to-skin contact. Some babies really relax when they are skin-to-skin with dad. Take off your shirt and then strip the baby down to just a diaper and lay her on your bare chest. Often that broad skin contact will help the baby calm down and get to sleep. And it can be a quiet bonding time for dad with his baby.

Bounce on an exercise ball. As a change of pace, try holding the baby and gently bouncing while sitting on a large exercise ball. Some dads I talked to like that even better than walking or rocking. The baby seems to be soothed by the up and down motion and it is not as taxing on dad.

Build a nest. One thing that worked really well for out kids was having a little bed right next to our bed. I built a little platform that held a crib mattress so that it was the same height as our bed and put it next to Mom's side. If the baby woke up hungry during the night, I would get up and change his diaper and then put him next to Mom to breastfeed. Then, when the baby was full and asleep, she would just set him over on the little "nest" to sleep so I didn't have to get back up to take him to the crib. It worked out well for us for me to only have to be up most nights for a few minutes at a time to change the diaper.

Try a little fresh air. Sometimes just opening the door and taking a walk around the block or around the back yard will get a baby to quiet down and get back to sleep. Just the change of atmosphere seems to help. Just make sure that the baby is warm as you walk, so don't try this in really cold weather without bundling up. But beware - the unbundling process can wake a sleeping baby up quickly, which kind of defeats the purpose.

Give her a massage. Sometimes babies are up at night with stiff muscles or just little aches and pains. You might consider giving her a gentle massage to help her relax and get back to sleep.

There are many great ideas for helping soothe a baby in the middle of the night. Just remember to be patient and to work through a variety of options until you find one that works. Getting frustrated about your predicament hurts more than it helps as babies tend to feel our stress. So keep at it and remember that this too shall pass - probably sooner than you think!

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