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Making It Work

Dads and Nighttime Routines

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 3, May-June 1999, pp. 99-101

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I went back to work when my baby was six weeks old. My husband and I agreed that we wanted to be the ones caring for our daughter, so I took a job working at night. This way, my husband could be home to care for our baby while I was gone. However, he is really struggling with comforting our daughter during the night. She takes my milk from a bottle but has trouble settling to sleep without breastfeeding. What techniques have fathers or other caregivers found to comfort their babies to sleep when mom is not home?


Nighttimes were particularly difficult for my husband with our oldest daughter. He found several ways of getting our daughter back to sleep, but none of them involved offering bottles, which just seemed to remind her of my absence and upset her more. For a long time my husband put our daughter to sleep by putting her in a sling and walking back and forth in front of the running dishwasher. She liked the sound and the warm air. My husband had the entire dishwasher cycle memorized so that he knew when to walk out of the room before the rinse cycle woke her up. Sometimes my husband used music. He would put the baby in a sling, dim the lights, and slowly dance in the living room. We found that recordings of female vocalists, especially folk singers, worked well. Complex music woke her up. As our daughter got a little older, my husband started taking her for long walks in the stroller at bedtime to help her calm down and fall asleep. If she woke up in the night, he would offer water from a cup, and then put her in the sling and walk her. Sometimes it helped to have him lie down on the floor or couch with her instead of sleeping in the bed where she was used to nursing.

This was a very difficult time for him. I didn't really understand how challenging it had been until our second child went through a time when she would only go to sleep for dad. At the time, my husband was traveling out of town frequently. I faced each trip with real panic, because I knew I'd be left with a crying baby who just could not fall asleep. The only thing that worked for us was to go for long drives at bedtime. Then I would carry both sleeping children into the house.

At the time, I felt odd because we were using so many “crutches” at night: driving, music, walking, even the dishwasher! But in both cases, our children outgrew those nighttime needs on their own.

Cindy H.


One of the best baby shower presents that we received was a large bouncy exercise ball. It is large enough to sit on, and it was designed for adults to use in large motion exercises. These balls have become very popular among new parents in my community. The parent holds the baby securely, sits on the ball with feet flat on the floor, and bounces. It's great! Since my first daughter rarely nursed to sleep, the ball was a big help. I usually put on some good dance music and bounced along with the beat. My husband preferred to make up his own chants in rhythm to his bouncing. Either way, our baby was soon asleep.

These balls are sold in some baby supply stores and in stores that specialize in adult exercise equipment. They are strong and durable, so as your baby grows, they can be used for games or exercises for baby and parent, or for adult exercise routines as the manufacturer intended. As your babies become preschoolers, you can race the ball outside. It will be a great toy for years to come.

Susie F.


My mother-in-law cared for my first child when I was at work. Her technique was very labor-intensive but always worked for her. She walked and rocked him until he was asleep. For at least one naptime, she would just hold him, not even trying to put him down. By the time my second child was born, I was working from home, but often she couldn't settle down to sleep with breastfeeding at night. My husband put her in our sling and wore her until she fell asleep. Usually he danced with her accompanied by rock and roll music. Occasionally he played our basement pinball machine and sometimes worked large jigsaw puzzles. I know it sounds strange, but after forty-five minutes to an hour, she was asleep.

With my second child, I found that getting to sleep was sometimes a different issue than breastfeeding. In my case, the crux of the problem was how tired I was. I needed someone else's help. Maybe your husband needs to be rested or patient enough to make it through an end of the day ritual. Maybe extra sleep on the weekend for one or both of you would make it easier. Congratulations on working out such a wonderful care arrangement for your daughter.

Sharon S.


I cared for my niece when my sister went back to work. We had a similar problem with Allison's having difficulty going to sleep without nursing. I would pull up my shirt and hold her “skin-to-skin” against my stomach to give her the bottle, much as she would be held to nurse. This usually worked like a charm!

Cindy M.


I went back to work when my oldest was six weeks old. I worked nights, and my husband worked days. He used lots of skin-to-skin contact with Alice to help calm her down. He'd take off his shirt and have her wear only a diaper and walk around the house holding her close. That seemed to help a lot, but the best thing we discovered was my sleeping in a T-shirt and then leaving the shirt, unwashed, for the next night. Mike would use it as a blanket for Alice. She could smell Mom in the shirt and would calm down right away.

Patricia Minium


I had a hard time watching my partner struggle to do something that seemed so natural for me to do- soothe our baby. I'm sure you wish you could clone yourself! One thing I learned with my children is that I had to give dad the room to learn about each baby and what each of them wanted. While one could go to sleep in the sling while dad vacuumed, the other would scream at the mere sight of the vacuum cleaner! You can give dad some different ideas, but he is going to have to pick and choose what works for him and the baby. You'll be surprised how resourceful a dad can become once given a few tools and a lot of trust.

My children's father figured out that our second son liked to be bounced to sleep on a large exercise ball. Sometimes he had to sing while he bounced to get the baby to sleep. He would just pick a tune and sing it over and over. I used to tease him about it. It seemed to me that the baby became so bored with the monotonous tune that sleep was the only escape.

But it worked!

One side effect of having my partner learn to soothe and put our babies to sleep was that he gained a wonderful sense of connection with our children and confidence in his parenting skills. There is no sight more rewarding than to come into a room and see the people I most love in the world, snuggled together in sweet slumber.

Norma E.


My husband puts on music and dances with our four-month-old son, Richard. It can be upbeat or soothing (believe it or not, Richard's favorite is the rock group, Queen). The baby usually falls asleep within ten minutes. He loves the cuddle time with his dad. Another great trick is putting the baby in a sling and going out for a walk. My son falls asleep almost instantly.

Mary Beth P.

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