March 23, 2012

How to Get Babies to Sleep Through the Night (& Why It’s Not So Bad for Dads)

We’ve all been there: It’s 2 a.m. You’re comfortably asleep. You’re dreaming about playing SS for your favorite baseball team and hitting a home run to win Game 7 (which leads to a big kiss from Saved By The Bell’s Kelly Kapowski who, in your dream, is not only your wife, but is also wearing a dress made only of bacon). Things are looking up as the commissioner hands you the World Series MVP trophy. Finally, a soft voice whispers in your ear: 

“Wake up. The baby is crying. It’s your turn to go rock her back to sleep.”

Goodbye bacon-dressed Kelly Kapowski. I will miss you.

Our youngest daughter, who clocks in at a lovely 10 months and is nursing, still feels the urge to catch a bite to eat around bar-closing time. She wakes up, cries out gently and waits not-so-patiently for my wife to go into her room and feed her. This often happens around 5 a.m. too1. It’s a baby routine most parents experience. 

Now before some bozo reading this says “Why don’t you get up with her?” and I have to respond “Because I don’t have boobs!” and that same bozo says “Are you sure? I’ve seen you in a swimsuit,” I think it’s fair to note that I always get up with all our kids during non-feeding situationsto rock them back to sleep, to help them in the bathroom, to rescue their baby dolls who suicide jump off the bed. 

At some point, though, that routine starts to drag on the family and it’s time to help your baby sleep through the night. Mom’s not cut out for this challenge, mainly because for the past so many months she’s been like a drug dealer to your baby. If a Mom’s boob is within a 50-mile radius, her baby will sniff her out and scream, scream, scream until she’s nuzzled up against it. Most men, who also can sniff out a close boob, employ a similar tactic when inside the boob-radius. That’s why Dad is called in to save the day. It’s a hard job, but we’re built to break our beautiful babe from the late-night munchies. We’re tough and strong willed. We’re firm, yet fair. We’re also very, very handsome. 

This is my third time going through this process and, I have to admit, breaking your child from eating in the middle of the night feels eerily similar to studying for a college midterm. You experience a range of emotions that include panic, duress and fear. You plan for an all-nighter by chugging 11 gallons of coffee and a 12-pack of Mt. Dew. You cram in as much information as you can from the baby instructional books that you’ve been ignoring for months. You even try to bribe your way out of things: “Listen, I’ve been trying really hard ever since you were born and if effort mattered I’d get an A+ (unless your Mom is ruining the curve), but since it’s not a factor how about this: If you sleep all through the night I will not try to murder the first boy who asks for your phone number2.” 

But no matter what you do, how much you prepare, you’ll find that the answer to this one-question midterm comes in the form of a poem (who knew?), and it goes something like this:

Hey, you’re not my Mom?
Pat, pat, pat.
Hey, you’re not my Mom?
Pat, pat, pat.
Hey, you’re not my Mom?
And so on. 

It may take one day, it may take 20 days. It may take stanza after stanza after stanza. Who knows; every kid is different. But the one thing I do know is that for one brief (albeit tiresome) cast of days, that baby has no one to depend on but youand it’s an amazing feeling. It’s one of the few moments in your life where everything is cured by cuddling. And in 15 or so years, when she’s clamoring for your credit card and the keys to your car, you can think back to those nights--where her only demand was a cuddleand smile. 

You’ll like it even better than winning the World Series MVP trophy.

1 To those without kids I’m here to confirm that there is, in fact, a 5 a.m. I’ve seen it. And it’s not pretty.
2 I will just cancel our phone number. (And maybe still poison him a little to let you know that I care.) 

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Cindy Dwyer said...


Watch out in a few years, when you've gotten out of practice of being woken up from a deep sleep. My 11 yo's allergies kept her up the other night. I don't remember her coming to our room complaining of not being able to sleep, but apparently I offered a brilliant solution.

"Go back to sleep, you'll feel better."

cwdurbin said...

I guess I'm spoiled by bottle feeding or maybe I just have an AWESOME child. My son is not quite 10 weeks and he's already sleeping through the night (and has been for 2 weeks now.) He falls asleep around 8 pm and is up at 6:40 am when we have to get him up so we can go to work. He used to be up at 11p, 2am and 5am (I can verify it does it exist as well!) and he cut them out one at a time like a toddler cuts out naps!

Steve Davis said...

Brian this is how I bonded with all five on my children, especially the girls. By the way when they need something in the night or have a bad dream do they call their mom, no it is always dad. Nothing quite so satisfying.

Kara said...

You are such a great dad, Brian. Loved this post (and your children, I'm sure, when adults, will, too).

Peter Combs said...

Good luck on the sleepless nights, man. Also, keep working away at that resolution list. Progress can be slow sometimes, but totally worth it!

Annasue said...

Nice job. I don't get it though. My son is 18 months, no longer nursed and I stopped giving him his pacifier recently. But for some reason, every night at 4 am, he's up. Tried ignoring him, but it just gets louder. I'm such a sucker I go pick him up only to have the cycle repeated nightly. :(

Muddy said...

Hi Brian! Love your blog...makes me laugh! I have 3 boys & I guess I breed little nocturnal beings because none of them slept through the night for years, despite my begging them to on bended knee while trying unsuccessfully to choke back the sobs. Sounds like you're already ahead of the curve!