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Making It Work

Adjusting to the Late Shift

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 2, March -- April 2007, pp. 74-75

"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 lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I am going back to work the late shift (11 pm to 7 am). How can I help my six-month-old daughter adjust to this? How can I spend time with her and still get some sleep during the day?

Mother's Response

I have worked three or four night shifts (8 pm to 8 am) every week for the past 13 years, and I was able to exclusively breastfeed all three of my children, now 13, 10 and seven years old. You can do this! I've known many determined women who have made this work for their families.

I pumped at work and my husband fed my children my milk for many years, and I believe their health is a testament to the benefits of extended breastfeeding. I was tired a lot of the time, especially with subsequent pregnancies, and I was fortunate to find a woman in the neighborhood who provided flexible, quality in-home daycare. I used her services intermittently. When I was really exhausted and had to go back to work the next night, she was a lifesaver. Talk to your neighbors, as this is how I found her. We have no family nearby, or I think that would have provided a potential respite for those exhausting days. I also learned to take naps whenever possible, so that sleep took priority over less important activities (housecleaning or volunteering, for example).

You may be able to nap with your six-month-old for quite a while on the days you come home from work. Depending how your baby sleeps, it may just be enough for you to nap a few hours here and there. As for quality time, you can go to baby-gym classes or music classes through the park district. That is always a fun and interactive time with babies and other mothers. I wish you all the best.

Kim Carnazzola, MD
Libertyville IL USA

Mother's Response

When I started going back to work and was facing a schedule that was different than most parents, I changed my baby's schedule, too. My partner and I would keep baby up much later through the evening than many other babies we knew. My partner worked days, but would happily stay up until 11 pm or so with the baby. Baby would be inclined to sleep longer in the morning this way. (Remember, it can take time for a baby to learn a new pattern.)

When I came home in the morning, my baby would still be asleep for a few more hours. This gave me a chance to sleep for a block of time. Then I got up and had some time during the day with my child. I would sleep again at naptime or, if there were other things I had to do, I would go back to bed for a few hours in the evening once my partner came home. Don't worry. Your baby will adjust to whatever schedule you provide for her.

Sam Leeson
Toronto ON Canada

Mother's Response

I'm a 20-year LLL Leader who cares for my seven-month-old grandchild while my daughter, Heather, works. Heather is a paramedic with 12-hour shifts from 6 pm to 6 am. She returned to work when Caitlyn was 12 weeks old.

What works for us is for me to baby-sit all night, then when Heather gets off work the next morning, she sleeps at my place and I continue to watch Caitlyn. When Caitlyn needs to eat, I take her in to Heather to be nursed.

As for helping your daughter adjust, in our case the night shift actually helps Caitlyn not miss her mom as much, as she sleeps much of the evening. As for getting time with her during the day, even though Heather's sleep is interrupted when I bring her baby into her, the snuggling and nursing time helps both of them adjust to the separation.

I'm sure your daughter will adjust quickly since she has such a wonderful, attentive mom!

Theresa Himes
Mt Pleasant IA USA

Mother's Response

I returned to night shifts after each of my maternity leaves ended. My little ones were around 11 months old at the time. I found it helpful to have their daddy do "night duty" periodically for a month or so prior to the first night shift. If your baby is still nursing throughout the night, you'll need a few "dry runs" to see how both your baby and the alternate caregiver will do without you. If your baby takes expressed milk, leaving some for a middle of the night snack will be helpful. Go over your typical strategies for whoever will be caring for your child, and encourage him/her to try them. Even if a simple cuddle and rocking doesn't work for you (baby often just expects to be nursed when it's mommy who is responding), they might work perfectly for someone else while you're working. If you have a cosleeping arrangement, try sleeping in a different room and leave your daughter and caregiver to sleep alone for a few nights. And remember, even if the trial runs don't go smoothly, your baby and her caregiver will survive in your absence.

As for maximizing time spent with your baby during the day, I suggest staying up until your baby's first nap, if possible. Spend that hour or two after work enjoying your baby. Start your daytime sleep when your baby starts her morning nap. This will be easy and seamless if your daughter is being cared for inside the home. If your daughter is being cared for outside the home while you sleep, take advantage of the time you are alone to get yourself fully prepared for your next shift before picking her up. This way, you won't be distracted with "things you need to do" during the time you have with your baby. Planning is everything. Be as organized as you can be, then you can relax and enjoy your baby.

Christine Thomas
Grimsby ON Canada

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