What I Learned from Doing Every Single Nighttime Feed
I chose to do every single nighttime feed for my first baby, as well as handle nearly all nighttime wakeups until she was 12 months old. Let me be clear, I do not wear this as some badge of honor and this article is not a “how-to”. This is more of a “how not to” because the thing I learned from doing every single nighttime feed and wakeup is that I should not have done it.
I initially took on the nighttime duties largely because I exclusively breastfed my baby. Specifically, I don’t like to pump, I find bottle feeding a lot of work, and at night I find it easier to grab the baby out of the bassinet, feed her in bed, and put her back down. Plus, most of the time I enjoy bonding in the quiet hours of the night.
If I am being honest with myself, I also choose this out of a place of deep anxiety. I have a hyperactive fear of SIDS and suffocation so I worry about letting someone else handle the nighttime baby needs. What if they fall asleep with her in the bed? What if they accidentally put her to bed with a blanket? I am all about the “what ifs”. I need to control the situation to feel safe. Completely irrational, I know.
My baby was not a great sleeper. It took her 14 months to sleep through the night. It was six months before she ever slept longer than 2-3 hour stretches (and often much less than that).
I barely survived this crazy pace with my firstborn. Now I have a 3 month old and from the day she was born, I have blundered my way through all of the nighttime feeds and wakeups once again. My sleep suffered tremendously like with my firstborn but this time, I had a complete meltdown.
When my newest daughter was 10 weeks old, I found myself crying night after night, losing patience with the baby and everyone around me. Simple tasks made me feel overwhelmed. I was so exhausted I didn’t feel safe driving. I did dumb stuff constantly, like leaving the burners and oven on. I was also trying to work from home during the day while watching my kids full time.
My husband would try to help, but I kept pushing him away. Our conversations were frequently something along the lines of…
Me: “I need more sleep.”
Husband: “Great, I will take the baby next time she wakes up.”
Me: “No, that won’t work. I can do it. It’s no big deal.”
Confused husband: “Are you sure?”
Me: “Oh yes, I was just overreacting. I can do it.”
After days of my husband waking up to me in tears, he took matters into his own hands. He snuck our baby out of the room while I slept. I woke up five hours later confused but rested. And you know what? The baby was fine. This simple act of help opened my eyes. It sounds so obvious, but I honestly did not realize how desperately I needed help. The blinders had come off. From then on, we worked out a strategy so I could get extra sleep in the morning.
Of course, it wasn’t long before thoughts of guilt crept in. “Why can’t I keep up? Why do I need help? I shouldn’t put this burden on my husband.” As I lay there feeling guilty for sleeping in a third morning in a row while my husband watched the baby, I realized I had jumped on board with the American motherhood way of doing it all without even realizing it. We as mothers often wear our ability to withstand exhaustion as a badge of honor. We want to be able to work, take care of the kids, cook dinner, plan activities, do laundry and feed the kids, all while staying calm, not sleeping, and looking good.
By trying (and failing) to do all nighttime feeds and wakeups I learned that it is okay to not be okay. I learned that I need to ask for help and not feel guilty or like a failure for doing so.
Now the anxiety part for me is trickier. I still get extremely nervous when someone else is watching my baby without me around, especially while I am sleeping. But I am learning to ask for help by talking about my anxiety with my husband and my family (and probably a therapist soon). I won’t endure by myself anymore.
I think I need to hang a poster in my home office or the kid’s playroom that reminds me to “Do Less. Be Less”. My new goal is to be a human mom, not a super mom (or a sleep-deprived zombie mom).