Truth be told, parents who work night shifts are superheroes! From the outside looking in you are all crushing it, but I can imagine it might not always feel that way when you are in the thick of it. Balancing work with the demands of having a newborn at home cannot be easy.
Planning Makes Perfect With A Newborn
Sometimes it feels like we preach a gospel of planning, but it really is a super useful thing to help you set up a strong foundation for a shift-working family.
A number of the source we tapped when researching this article mentioned the need for planning ahead when it comes to introducing a baby into your shift-work lifestyle.
If you have a future-tense baby on the way, there are some questions you should probably ask and answer to help establish a good work-life-baby balance.
- Who will provide childcare during your night shift? Is it going to be your spouse? Grandparents? A 24-hour childcare center?
- Who will give you breaks so you can take care of your needs? Your partner? Your best friend? Your sibling? A mommy’s helper?
- Is your company family-friendly? Unfortunately, even in 2021 workplace discrimination against moms is still a thing, it’s called the “maternal wall.”
- What support systems or community resources do you have access to? It’s good to know what kind of local support systems are in place to help you and your family.
We are going to address each of these questions and hopefully you will feel confident answering them by the time you finish reading this article.
Strategies for Managing Night Shift with a Newborn
Based on some of the tips and suggestions we collected from working moms and dads, we compiled six highly recommended strategies that you can use to help you manage the demands of both the night shift and your infant.
Strategy 1: Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps
This tip comes from Jamie, a 911 dispatcher who worked 2nd shift when her son was a newborn. Shift workers and new parents are at a high risk of sleep deprivation, and as a night-shift-working parent that risk increases even more.
Babies sleep more than adults, so take cues from your baby and doze when they doze throughout the day, or at the very least lie down and rest.
If you have an older child too, encourage them to play in their rooms while you nap on the couch with the baby, it will give you a chance to bond with your newborn and get some shut-eye in. Chances are, they will want to snuggle up too and may join you in a big, group nap.
Strategy 2: Set Boundaries with Older Children
When you introduce your oldest child to their new baby-sibling they may have a hard time learning how to share your attention and may even revert to “bad habits,” like wetting themselves, or lose their sense of independence in order to gain back your attention.
This reversion may be subconscious, but you can nip it in the bud by setting clear boundaries.
It is okay to have boundaries with your older children, you know what they are capable of. If they can clean up themselves after a toileting accident, or help themselves to a snack, lovingly instruct them to do exactly that.
You may feel guilty doing this at first, but it will help reduce your stress-load and defend your sleep, which in-turn, will increase the quality time you will have to spend with your older child. Not to mention, modeling healthy boundaries with your kids will set them up to be more stable, have better self-esteem, and feel more secure in their relationship with you.
Strategy 3: Find a Routine and Stick to It
Having a set routine can help the whole family run like a well-oiled machine. Kids thrive on a certain amount of routine because it gives them a sense of stability. Parents benefit from routines because it lessens the emotional labor of trying to figure out what needs to happen on a daily basis.
Ideas for routines that you can implement to help you balance work, life, and baby include:
- Have a chore routine, split up house work so you don’t have to do it all at once and set a weekly-routine to follow. This will keep you from having to spend your whole day off doing housework. That said, you should always prioritize sleep over chores if needed.
- Have a weekday meal rotation set, this will help speed up grocery shopping and cut out the guess work when it comes to deciding what to cook.
- Make play-dates into a routine for your older child if you can set it up with other parents. That way you know every Tuesday at 4 Sally will be at Jenny’s and you can limit your turn to host play dates to your days off.
- Morning and bedtime routines are also useful to establish, especially if you have an older child that needs to get ready for school. Routines will help them gain some independence since they will know what is expected of them.
- Establishing routines around care responsibilities with your spouse will help you work together as a team.
Naturally, you should be creative and flexible with your routines, so you can adapt them to your family’s changing and growing needs.
Strategy 4: Have a Village
You’ve doubtless heard the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” meaning that parents and children benefit when they have help and support from a close-knit community comprised of trusted friends, family, and even the reliable babysitter.
Having a village to support you as a parent when either you, or your partner, are shift workers is great for a number of reasons.
- It helps you manage your parenting-work load so the shift-worker(s) in the family can get some much-needed time to practice self-care or sleep.
- It is a great way to gain wisdom from veteran parents, and to share knowledge.
- Children raised by a “village” tend to be more empathetic and have a stronger sense of security.
- It can decrease the loneliness of being home alone while your partner is working nights, or the loneliness of being a single parent.
Strategy 5: Bust Down the Maternity Wall
You’ve heard of the glass ceiling, but when it comes to the workplace discrimination that women unfortunately still have to put up with, there is the maternity wall too.
The maternity wall appears when women become pregnant or try to return from maternity leave only to discover they are being discriminated against.
If you are trying to juggle night shifts and caring for an infant, the last thing you want is for your workplace to make your life harder.
You can start dismantling the maternity wall even if you aren’t a working mom, (shift-working dads, we’re looking at you!). Here are a few ways to help:
- Have open conversations with management:
Sometimes managers do bad things with good intentions. For example, a manager might not put a pregnant woman up for promotion because they don’t want to add to their stress loads. They’re being empathetic to the demands of being a working parent, but they didn’t ask the woman what she wanted. Calling out this behavior when we notice it, is key to breaking down the maternal wall.
- Advocate for flexibility for families and normalize it:
A friend of mine shared that she once had to have her husband swing by her workplace, so she could breastfeed her son who just would not fall asleep. It was a last-ditch effort to help her desperate husband and it was frowned upon by her manager, even though it took less time than the cigarette breaks many of her colleagues are afforded.
- Use FMLA:
This one is for our US-based readers, but if you happen to work in some transportation industries (like the airlines) you can still qualify for FMLA even after your parental leave. This way, if your baby is sick you can call out and not get slapped with a punitive attendance penalty. This works for both working moms and dads in aviation, and may be true of other industries, just check with your union.
In general, by advocating for working moms, you are also supporting working dads since parental privileges are usually extended to all parents once the rights have been won.
Strategy 6: Have a Strategy for Pumping at Work
This one is for shift-working moms, having a strategy for pumping at work is crucial. Going back to breaking down the Maternity wall, it helps to know that you do have a protected right to pump at work.
Flight attendants: You are allowed to travel with your pump in the United States.
The first step towards developing a stress-free pumping strategy is investing in an efficient pump. This hospital strength pump is highly recommended by motherhood experts at What to Expect. The great thing about this pump set is, it comes with everything you need for on-the-go pumping.
The second step is to create a space at work where you feel comfortable pumping. You may need to involve management to see if they have a space for moms already set up. Nursing ponchos can help you when pumping also.