6 Lessons My 6-Week-Old Daughter Taught Me at 3 AM

Zachary Walston

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As a new parent, there is no sound I dread more than the soft plop of a pacifier striking a mattress. When you are sleep deprived and enveloped in the warm embrace of your mattress, which you have recently developed an off-and-on long-distance relationship with, the sounds of a pacifier falling out of your baby’s mouth floods you with dread. Within seconds, the soft whine becomes a full-fledged scream.

Power nap over.

The ancient stoics practiced incredible patience but they never met my daughter. There is little more infuriating than trying to settle a baby who is crying because she is tired. The reasonable action of going to sleep doesn’t fully register for some infants.

But there is a silver lining. Holding my daughter in the rocker provides ample time for reflection.

Live in the moment, no matter how challenging it may be.

“The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence; the past is a place of learning, not a place of living.” ― Roy T. Bennett

Life is all about priorities. When you have a new baby, newsletters fall low on the priority list (mine was about 6 weeks behind schedule). Podcast episodes and blog posts are thrown together last minute and the reading list piles up.

This is OK. These are not what matters in the early infant stages.

First, extreme sleep deprivation is a recipe for mediocre performance and content development. Second, and more importantly, I want to focus on my family, not worry about work (especially a side hustle).

There are silver linings to gain from any moment. While holding my daughter at 3 AM prevents me from getting much-needed beauty sleep, in the not-so-distant future, when she is telling me to leave her alone and is embarrassed by my presence, I will wish for those sleepless nights.

Recently I reflected on both lessons learned during sleepless nights and tips for future parents. Here are my six lessons. I would like to thank my daughter Caroline for the inspiration.

Rely on your partner.

Patience is far more challenging when sleep-deprived. Some nights are better than others and I have the patience of Buddha. I am currently reading Seneca’s Letters From a Stoic and find myself frequently reflecting on stoicism in the middle of the night. It helps, but some nights my emotions overpower me. This is where I rely on my wife to help.

We recognize when the other becomes frustrated and jump in to help. It is not about keeping score of workload and keeping to pre-assigned tasks. Rather, the intent is to ensure our kids are loved and taken care of while maintaining our sanity.

Audiobooks are wonderful.

I don’t mind the 11 pm recliner snuggles. Aside from quality time with my daughter, I catch up on my audiobooks. Currently, I am listening to the Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson. It is a great time to kick back, relax, and not worry about how quickly my daughter falls asleep.

I find it is challenging to pay attention at 2 AM and music is often the choice then. The point is to find a way to relax, enjoy yourself, and avoid counting the seconds until your child falls asleep.

Don’t worry about spoiling your infant.

You cannot spoil an infant. They cry for a reason, often from being tired, hungry, or in pain (including upset stomachs, which my kids were champions at achieving).

Snuggle away. Hold and love your baby. Don’t worry about sleep crutching if you hold them during a nap. Don’t worry about creating dependence. You are building a bond with them.

This time is limited. Enjoy it.

Upset stomachs are a pain for parents, too.

Thank God for audiobooks as my daughter kicks, screams, spits up, and farts hard enough to propel herself forward if she lies flat immediately after eating. Lying upright on my chest is the sweet spot. At 3am, sitting upright in bed with a baby on your chest can be dangerous as you are prone to fall asleep at any moment. This is where some level of mental stimulation (i.e. audiocooks) is key.

Critical thinking is challenging in the middle of the night.

Have you ever tried to think when in extreme sleep deprivation? You won’t churn out high-quality work, no matter the endeavor. Perhaps during the one-off night when you can’t sleep after inspiration strikes you manage to create the beginnings of a masterpiece or solve a problem that has long befuddled you, but chronic sleep deprivation only hinders performance.

Research is clear chronic sleep deprivation deteriorates mental and physical performance and recovery. I still have occasional brain waves in which Evernote has been my friend. Jot down a few ideas when you have them. You will have as much success remembering your midnight insights as you do recalling dreams. The memories will be slightly out of reach.

Live in the moment and recognize when something is temporary.

“Forever is composed of nows.” ― Emily Dickinson

This is a bit of a paradox. The sleep deprivation days are numbered and will pass before you know it. The downside is the times for baby snuggles and day time naping are numbered as well.

When you are sleep deprived and listening to a screening baby, it feels as if time is standing still. Trust me, it will be over quickly. Every stage of childhood has its ups and downs.

While infants scream and hate sleeping in, they are stationary. There are many times I wish I could put my 2-year-old in a rocker for 30 minutes of silence. Unfortunately, we often focus on the negative of the given stage we are in.

My toddler endless energy and endless use of the word no (once my son told me he is turning his listening ears off) but I also love playing with him.

I'm told to brace myself for the weekend sporting events and packed schedules, but right now my son and daughter require constant attention. The schedule is still packed, just in a different way. I am not saying this in an effort to story top, but rather to remind that every situation comes with different challenges.

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

I have had many episodes of frustration with my son and daughter, but I wouldn't trade a single moment.

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I am a physical therapist, researcher, and educator whose mission is to challenge health misinformation. You will find articles about health, fitness, medical care, psychology, and professional development on my site. As the husband of a real estate agent, you will also find real estate and housing tips.

Atlanta, GA
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