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Reality Check: Who Should Lose Sleep?

Q. I think my husband should wake up at least sometimes when I nurse the baby in the middle of the night. He thinks it's crazy for us both to lose sleep since he has to work and I'm on maternity leave. What do you think?

A.
I can see the sense behind your husband's argument and the emotional need behind yours. Francine M. Deutsch, Ph.D., professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College and author of Halving It All: How Equally Shared Parenting Works, can see it both ways too, although she doesn't think the you're-on-maternity-leave reasoning holds much water. "The 'I'm going to work tomorrow and you're on maternity leave' argument makes it sound as if you're on vacation," which, of course, you're not.

But that's not the most important point, says Deutsch. A father should get up with his baby not only as a favor to the mother; he should also do it as a favor to himself. "If men do become involved, they're the big winners." One of the best ways of getting close to a baby is through hands-on caretaking -- doing the 2 AM diaper change, rocking back to sleep, burping. Aside from sleeping, this is what infants spend most of their time doing. So even if it's 4 AM, Dad is tired and has to function at work in five hours, says Deutsch, "those are magical moments, and as a part of a life, they last such a short time."

Well, he might regret it the next morning when he's caught dozing at his desk. But in years to come, he won't. There really is something magical about middle-of-the-night meetings with your baby. I have sweet memories of nursing my babies by moonlight, and my husband has sweet memories of rocking them to sleep, the feeling of a heavy head and a marshmallow cheek melting into his shoulder. Sure, he was tired. He's still tired. But he's not sorry.

Contributing editor Trisha Thompson is a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk magazine.

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