Philip Potter

Dadding, season 2 minisode: what dads can do at night

Posted on 25 March 2020

This is a short entry to capture something I wanted to write down now rather than waiting for the next full update.

Newborn babies need to feed a lot – at least 8 to 12 times, or more, every 24 hours during the first few weeks. We are breastfeeding, which means that all of this feeding has to be done by mum. It’s too early to start pumping milk and introducing a bottle. So what can I, as a dad, do?

Nappy changes

A newborn baby has three basic needs: feeding, nappy changes, and sleep. As a dad, I’ve taken on a lot of the nappy changes: in particular, all nappy changes at night. During the night, mum feeds, and I change the nappy afterwards. This means that mum is awake longer than me (nappy changes are quicker than feeds), but mum doesn’t have to actually get out of bed. (As an aside, I’m not sure how possible this would be if I was back at work, as I would already be if I had just taken Paternity Leave and not Shared Parental Leave as well.)

This has required some active communication between Sonia and me. Sometimes she has to wake me up to get me to change a nappy, which can’t be a nice thing to have to do to someone. I have to reinforce that this is okay and expected: both by affirming during the day (“yes, please wake me up for nappy changes, this is fine”) and by being mindful of my body language at night. Waking up in a standard grumpy way does not help Sonia feel good about calling on my help. So I’ve been consciously trying to smile at her when she wakes me up. This takes some effort but it really helps us feel we’re doing nights together as a team!


Although a baby only has 3 basic needs, that doesn’t mean every time the baby cries you need to do one of those things. Sometimes, the baby is crying, and we try a feed, change nappy, and put him back in his Moses basket, and he is still crying. His basic needs are clearly met but he’s still upset.

It’s tempting to just keep feeding – breastfeeding is a great comfort to babies, even if mum’s milk supply is completely depleted. There have been a couple of episodes where Robin has spend multiple hours on the breast, when he could have got the same amount of milk in separate feeds spaced 2-3 hours apart.

But another option is just to try comforting him. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t have a high success rate, but when you get a crying baby to sleep just through some cooing and rocking, it feels like a huge accomplishment. One thing I do that has a decent track record of getting him comforted is to pick him up and walk up and down the stairs with him. This is also great exercise for me. Somehow the stairs are key: I don’t get the same results walking around on the flat, somehow.

Another thing I’ve had moderate success with is using my pinkie as a dummy for him to suck on. If we’re confident that he’s already well-fed (because he just had a feed 5 minutes ago and because Sonia has no milk left), sometimes I give him my pinkie and he gives it a good suck. This can be enough for him to slowly get off to sleep, with my finger still in his mouth, which I then have to carefully extract without waking him. Other times, he seems to recognise that this isn’t the real deal and tries to push me away with his little hands.

There has been a couple of times when he was being particularly demanding for food, and Sonia was absolutely exhausted but couldn’t see any way out. I find it important not to give up and to assume that this is her job to deal with, and to at least try to comfort Robin for a bit. The worst case scenario is that I try comforting for 10 minutes and he’s still crying, but at least Sonia’s had a 10 minute break; the best case is that I get him off to sleep completely.