Working Nights Tip: Shiftwork & Starting a Family

Starting a family is one of the most exciting, rewarding, and at times challenging undertakings a couple can take. Not surprisingly many couples debate about when is the best time to start a family - after all there are a lot of issues to consider (e.g., lifestyle changes, childcare options, financial issues, etc.). While for the most part shiftworkers face the same issues as everyone else when starting a family, there are some extra things to think about. Here we will discuss some strategies for shiftworkers who are thinking about starting a family, and reveal how with proper planning they can minimize stress and fatigue and maximize quality time with their baby.


The first, and probably most important, factor to consider is childcare. Will you or your partner reduce your hours or give up your job? How will that affect finances in the household? Do you have family and friends that can help out, or will you use professional childcare?
Some shiftworking families choose what is called “split-shift parenting” as a childcare solution. With this strategy, one parent will work days and attend to childcare duties while the other parent is working nights, and vice versa.

One concern with “split-shift parenting” is that each parent is responsible for childcare duties during the hours when he or she ought to be sleeping. That’s typically not a problem for the day-working parent, who sleeps at night with the baby. However, the night-working parent will likely have trouble getting daytime sleep when the baby is more likely to be awake. A better plan may be to consider morning daycare or recruiting family to help watch the baby when you sleep during the day. If you opt to use professional childcare, see if your employer allows you to set up a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). With an FSA, you can put aside a  sum of money each year to help pay for qualified care, and that money won’t be subject to state or federal tax. FSAs for childcare aren’t straightforward and are not the right answer for everybody, as they can affect other tax issues such as the childcare tax credit. Speak to an accountant or someone in your company’s Human Resources department who can advise you on this issue to see if you could save money with an FSA.


Managing Sleep:

The second factor to consider when choosing to start a family as a shiftworker is how you’ll manage your sleep. A new baby can greatly affect the sleep quality and quantity of his or her parents. To help with this, parents may want to consider setting their own sleep “shift schedule,” so that one parent gets the sleep he or she needs. Perhaps this means that the shiftworker sleeps away from the nursery or play area on two consecutive days of the week before switching off with the other parent.

Another idea is for the baby to sleep at a family member’s home for a day ortwo per week, helping both parents get the sleep they need. Things are a little more complicated with nursing mothers, but technology provides us with more options these days.



The third factor to consider is money. Having children is an incredibly rewarding experience, but also a very costly one. Even furniture for a baby’s room seems to be more expensive than the furniture we’d put in our own bedrooms. However, baby furniture and many other essentials get little wear, so hand-me-downs from family or friends can often ease the burden.

Take care, however, when accepting some items – car seats, for example. Structural damage that compromises your baby’s safety is hard to spot, and even small accidents could have rendered a seat too dangerous to reuse. Car seats also have an “expiration” date, after which the degradation of the plastic and other materials means that the seat should be discarded.

Likewise, older cribs and strollers may not have the safety features of new models. Parents-to-be should also look at getting or updating life-insurance policies and wills. In the event of a tragedy, a surviving parent needs to be able to at least maintain the status quo, which could mean ensuring that a mortgage is paid off and other cash is available. This factor does not mean getting life insurance for the baby. Insurance is meant to protect the bread-winners of the household, and although health insurance for children is essential, getting life insurance for them rarely a savvy financial move. While there seem to be considerable challenges to coping with a new addition to the family, most new parents wouldn’t trade it for anything. Start thinking about about how you will cope with these issues now, and you’ll likely have less stress and fatigue down the road.


The Baby Sleep Book:



Getting a good night’s sleep can be hard for anyone. It can be especially hard on shiftworkers, who have to go to bed and wake up at unusual hours. And if you add a baby or toddler to the mix, sometimes the challenge of sleeping for seven or eight straight hours seems downright impossible. The Baby Sleep Book (Little Brown, 2005, $14.95) teaches parents techniques to get children to fall asleep and sleep well. It addresses common problems such as nighttime separation anxiety, breast-feeding habits, and even adult sleep problems that have been studied at the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at  the University of Notre Dame. The authors, all pediatric experts, teach parents how to understand their babies’ nighttime temperament and model their own lifestyles to match their babies’ temperaments. The book is meant not only to help babies sleep better, but their parents Too.


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