Everyone has something to say about what to do when your baby starts screaming in the wee hours of the night. Personally, my family subscribes to the crying it out (CIO) method and we have found great success using those techniques. But no matter how effective your sleep-training tactics are, there will still be some nights when your child needs extra overnight attention. Teething, traveling, growth spurts, and sickness can all force even the best of infant sleepers to struggle with sleep on occasion. Those nights can be even more stressful when a sleep-deprived parent is confronted with an uncooperative babe. Parents taking a few minutes to get their wits about them can lead to a smoother process of getting baby and Mom and Dad back to bed.
Here are 4 Tips for Surviving Middle of the Night Wake-Up Calls:
1. Agree upon whose “turn” it is before going to bed.
The only thing worse than getting up for the third time in a night is arguing about who got up last time. For the sake of your relationship, decide BEFORE going to bed who will have nighttime duty. When our son still needed a nighttime feeding, the lot fell to me because my husband just could not provide what the baby needed at 2 a.m. Once our son could make it for an 8-hour stretch without nursing, Dad had the opportunity to put a little bit of skin in the game. We decided that weeknights were Mom’s job. Since my career of choice at the time was being a stay-at-home-mom, I had the opportunity to take naps Monday through Friday and my husband never minded helping to pick up the slack that created around the house. That meant Daddy was on duty on the weekends. There were just two nights that my husband could risk getting up in the night without the imminent threat of falling asleep at his desk the next day, so those were his nights. Once we had a system in place, everyone slept more easily. Of course, we both reserved the right to “treat” the other to a night off or a 3 a.m. crib call of “No, I’ve got this one, go back to bed,” but these were gifts we gave each other, not expectations. Less time fighting over whose turn it was meant more sleep for everyone!
2. Always, always, always make a pit stop before retrieving the screaming child.
Once you enter ground zero there is no escaping and no written rule on how long negotiations will last. Rushing the back-to-sleep process when nature is calling can lead to waking baby again and starting the process all over—still with a full bladder (or worse, trying to relieve yourself while holding a screaming infant!). It is absolutely worth the extra minute baby has to fuss so you can give him your full attention rather than plan an exit strategy when your little one needs you.
3. Never take negotiations to a second location.
The minute you decide to take your middle-of-the-night waker into the living room “just for a minute,” he will assume playtime has begun. When that crib is no longer visible, babies start looking for distractions, and they will always find them with a change of scenery. Put your favorite chair in the nursery and set up camp; you will be in there until the job is done.
4. Always take your phone.
This is an area that will require great discretion, depending on the age of your child. When my son was four months old I bought my first smartphone. That magic phone provided an escape when a nighttime feeding collided with a growth spurt or a teething babe that just wanted to eat. My son was a pokey eater to begin with but an hour into a growth spurt feeding and I needed something to keep me awake. Now that my toddler is aware that my phone has games on it, I have to be more careful. If he is sick and I recognize that we will be snuggling for the rest of the night, my phone can be just the thing we both need to lighten the stress of another all-nighter.