Intentional Parenting While Working Night Shift: Read 10 Tips

Trish ~ Labor Nurse Mama
February 27, 2019

Working night shift as a mom is hard. I know all about that night shift life. Well, maybe all moms know about the night shift life, right? We're all up at ungodly hours nursing our babies, soothing tummy aches, and scaring away the monsters. But what I'm here to talk to you about is a little bit different.  I'm talking about managing your life as a mother while working a night shift job outside of the home.  I am a Registered Nurse and I work the night shift on a Labor and Delivery unit. I'm the nurse delivering babies at all hours of the night! Yep, it's a dream job and I absolutely love it but working the night shift is not for the faint of heart.  No matter which way you slice it, being a mom who works night shift means that you are sacrificing sleep. If you're a mother, you already know all about that, don't you?

Why I am here and who I am:

Hey mama, I am Trish— AKA Labor Nurse Mama. I am a labor and delivery nurse with over 15 years of high-risk OB experience. I am also a mama to 7 kids and have given birth to 6. This means I am quite familiar with the postpartum period and how to navigate it. I am the online birth class educator for Calm Labor Confident Birth and The VBAC Lab birth classes and the mama expert inside our Calm Mama Society, a pregnancy & postpartum membership community! I am passionate about your birth and motherhood journey! You can find me over on IG teaching over 230k mamas daily. I am passionate about your birth and motherhood journey!

We make a small commission from some of the links (you don’t pay any more for using our links); however some of the recommendations, we do not earn anything; we love ’em and want you to know about them. Click here for our full disclosure. Thank you!

Now, some of us choose to work the night shift because it works better for our schedules or for our kids. Others don't have a choice. Some of us work 12-hour shifts, others might work 8. Our situations are all different, but I'd bet that either way, you're looking for some advice on how to make it as livable as possible.  I'm with you, mama. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was already working the night shift as a nurse. I was terrified about how it would all work out. I scribbled down sample schedules, acceptable babysitting options, and possible scenarios for weeks before I threw my hands up in the air and said: “screw it, it'll all work out”. You know what? I was right. As moms, we always make it work out eventually, don't we? We always figure it out somehow. We always show up. You still will, mama. You're gonna rock this night shift life and still be the best mom you can be for your little ones.  Let me show you how.

1. Routine is Everything

If you've visited me at my blog A Life In Labor at all, you'll know that I am constantly mentioning routine when giving advice about anything related to being a mom.  Seriously, when it comes to sleep (yours or your child's), a routine is key.

My advice is to figure out how you are going to manage your “sleep hours” as any day shift person would manage their “work hours”. What I mean is, that is when you are going to need to find child-care.  Here is my sample routine that I use for myself if I work THREE DAYS IN A ROW:

Day 1:

  • Wake up at a normal time with my family as I would any other day
  • Schedule childcare from 12-4 while I nap before work
  • Get ready for work, make dinner, and be with my kids until Hubby gets home around 6 pm
  • Work 7 pm-7:30 am

Day 2:

  • Schedule childcare from 7 am (when hubby leaves for work) until 4 pm
  • Get home around 8:30 am
  • Eat breakfast with my kids
  • Sleep from 9am-4pm
  • Get ready for work, make dinner, and be with my kids until hubby gets home
  • Work 7pm – 7:30 am

Day 3:

  • Everything exactly the same as Day 2

Day 4:

  • Schedule childcare from 7 am (when hubby leaves for work) until 12:30 pm
  • Get home around 8:30 am
  • Eat breakfast with my kids
  • Sleep from 9 am – 12:30 pm
  • Eat lunch with the kids
  • Nap again if the kids take an afternoon nap
  • Go to bed at a normal time and reset your life to day shift all over again

Your days and times might look totally different from mine based on what your work schedule is and what your husband's work schedule is. To be honest, sometimes my husband doesn't get home until 9 pm. What that means is that my routine changes as my needs change.

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What doesn't change is the expected routine. No matter what days I work, I schedule child-care around my sleep.

2. Plan Your Meals

Working the night shift, your eating schedule gets a little wonky on the days you work. What's best is to have in mind what you're going to have and when you are going to have it. Planning ahead makes your life so much easier, I promise. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner take on completely new meanings when you start working the night shift. Lunch at 3 am? Heck yes! Dinner comes first and breakfast is last? Absolutely! I find it helpful to pre-make some breakfasts on the days that I'm not working so that I can have a quick meal when I get home. Muffins, frozen breakfast burritos, and Keto egg bites are all some favorites of mine to stock up on before I work. And trust me, girl, when I say something like “make dinner”, it doesn't have to be anything fancy. Fill the bellies. That's all I'm sayin'.  I'll give you an example of how I manage my meals when I am working the night shift based on the same example I gave you above (if I'm working three days in a row).

Day 1:

  • Throw dinner in the crockpot in the morning to cook all day so I don't have to worry about cooking when I wake up

  • Have breakfast and lunch as normal

  • Eat dinner before you go to work

  • Pack healthy, filling, protein-packed snacks to eat throughout my shift

Day 2:

  • Eat a quick breakfast when I get home from work

  • Make dinner to eat with my family when I wake up from my nap

  • Take leftover crock-pot meal from yesterday with me to eat at work (when I take my “lunch” break at 3 am ?)

  • Always have snacks available during your shift

Day 3:

  • Eat a quick breakfast when I get home from work

  • Make dinner to eat with my family when I wake up from my nap

  • Take leftover dinner from Day 2 to eat at work

  • Snacks, snacks, snacks

Day 4:

  • Eat a quick breakfast when I get home from work

  • Wake up to eat lunch with the kids

  • Throw together some combination of leftovers and stuff in the fridge for dinner because I'm exhausted

Every day still has three meals and snacks in it, they are just at odd times. One of my close friends actually wakes up from her naps and eats breakfast instead of dinner because it's the meal after she sleeps! That's not my way because I also have a family to feed but you know what? Everyone finds their way when they work a night shift. You will too.

3. Prep Your Sleep Environment

Ok, girl, you're about to sleep during the day for more than just a quick cat nap. You need to get good, solid rest for many hours in order for you to reset yourself and get back to the working mom life. This means that you need a solid game plan. How are you going to make sure your body gets good rest?

I need a few things in order to do it.

  • Blackout curtains– this is an absolute no-brainer. I don't care if my blackout curtains are the most hideous things on the planet. If they work, I'm happy. Put blackout curtains on all windows in your room (even your bathroom if it's attached to your master and shines through to your sleep space).
  • Sleep mask– Do I really need a sleep mask if I have blackout curtains? Yep. I do. What of it? I will do everything in my power to make sure that there is no light leaking in through my eyelids waking me up at 1 pm and taking away my precious sleep.
  • White noise machine– LIFESAVER. My son sleeps with white noise every night so I already have a deep appreciation for a good white noise machine. I only need it when I sleep during the day. It really is so helpful to drown out the sound of life happening in my house.
  • Earplugs– I only use earplugs in special cases. Usually, my white noise machine does the trick for me but under certain circumstances such as when the gardeners are here that day, the neighbors feel like blasting their music, or there is a pool party in the yard behind me, I need some earplugs to block it all out.
4. Lump Your Shifts Together

Ok, so we've been talking about working three shifts in a row. That isn't always the case. Sometimes you're scheduled to work two on, one-off, and then one on again…or any combination of “offs and ons” that you can think of.  In my experience, I have found that lumping all of my shifts together is better for a few reasons:

    1. You get it all over with and don't have to go back and forth between a day shift schedule and a night shift schedule
    2. Lumping your work shifts together creates longer stretches off at the end of the week that you can spend with your family.
    3. You don't have days in between shifts that you need to sleep. When this happens, it feels like you didn't even have any true days off because you still had to lock yourself away for a chunk of the day.
    4. You end up needing less childcare when you lump shifts together (because you have to schedule sleep on that first day off)
5. Get Caffeinated and Hydrated at Night

You might be used to having a cup of coffee in the morning to wake you up and drinking water all day to stay hydrated. This is great! – until you start working the night shift.  Starting the morning of your first night shift, you're going to want to skip that morning cup of coffee so that you have a better nap before work. If you're anything like me, it takes some serious willpower to not stop at the coffee shop on the way home from work in the morning because it I am so darn tired after my night shift. It sounds so nice to sip on a hot cup of caffeine for my drive home but it's a terrible idea.  Instead, drink your caffeinated beverage on your way to work at night and when you wake up from your nap on that first day off. This way, you aren't sabotaging your sleep between shifts. As for hydrating, this is a little bit trickier. Throughout your shift, of course, you should be drinking water. You need to be drinking water throughout your night shift just as much as you need to be drinking water throughout the day when you're home or running errands. BUT…there is a big but here…try to stop drinking water a couple of hours before the end of your shift. Your body is used to emptying its bladder throughout the day. Waking up to pee in the middle of your nap is a very common misfortune. In order to try to prevent frequent waking during the day, drink most of your water at night and very early morning to avoid drinking right before you go to sleep.

6. Say “No” To Screen Time

Yes, for normal people, sitting on the couch with a glass of wine to watch a couple of episodes of your favorite show while also scrolling through Instagram after you get off work is perfectly appropriate. But you aren't normal. You work the night shift. Say “no” to all screen time when you get home from work. Do not, under any circumstances sit down on that couch and turn on the T.V. I guarantee you will fall asleep and I guarantee you will regret it.  This applies to using your phone until you drift off to sleep too. I know that we all do it sometimes but on the mornings when you need to sleep during the day, it's really quite bad for you. You are already sleeping during the day, which is confusing your brain. But add some blue light from a screen to the mix and your asking for a headache and 3 hours of sleep when you were really wishing for at least 6.  Check your phone for the last time in your car when you're parked in the driveway. Set your alarm, and send your last text now because once you walk in that door, the screen is off-limits until you wake up.

7. Set “Do Not Disturb”

Your “nighttime” is somewhere between 9 am and 4 pm. That's normal people's prime time to text, call, and message. Don't be surprised if everyone you know (even the people who know you work night shift) try to get your attention during the day. You're bound to have dings and beeps all day long if you don't set your “Do Not Disturb” setting on your phone. Make sure that no noise is coming through and no notifications are able to distract you from the sleep you deserve.  People forget what your schedule is. That's expected and normal. You're the weird one. Not them. ? So just warn your family and friends ahead of time that some days you won't respond until evening. If they don't understand where you're coming from then all you need to do to solve the problem is start texting them and calling them at 2 or 3 am when you're on your lunch break. They'll get the picture.

8. Take Care Of Yourself

I think that most moms' first instinct is to just sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice for their families. It's easy to start giving up the things that are good for you for the sake of what's easy for everyone else. This can snowball and become a nightmare for you and your family.
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Make sure you are still getting exercise. If you can't fit in a walk around the neighborhood or a gym session because let's face it, there is no time when you work the night shift as a mom, then make it a point to take the stairs when you're at work or do some squats in the unit when you have a couple of minutes where you don't have to eat or pee. Don't forget to take off your makeup, wash your face, and moisturize before your naps just as you would before night sleep. Treat yourself the way you should be treated no matter how anxious you are to just collapse into bed. You will sleep better and wake up more refreshed if you do your normal bedtime routine before crawling under the sheets. Make sure you're taking your daily supplements. In order to be sure that I maintain a good supplement routine every day (working or not), I take my vitamins at a time when I am awake EVERY DAY. For me, it's 7 pm. I take my supplements at 7 pm every day regardless of my work schedule. If I'm home, it's right before I take my son up to give him a bath before bed. If I'm working, it's right after I clock in for work. Easy peasy. Don't miss your supplements on days that you work because you've gotten out of the habit. Make it a priority!

9. Ask For Help

You can't do this alone. You actually have to carve out time to sleep and I know that is hard for you to do. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can just go without sleep or stay awake for days in a row. You can't and you shouldn't. You need help and your family needs for you to get help.  Ask family to watch the kids every once in a while. If you can get your mom to commit to once a week and your mother-in-law to commit to once every other week, hey, you're on your way. Try Amazon Fresh for grocery shopping and use amazon prime for when you look like a hot mess and you're too tired to put shoes on and you've officially run out of laundry soap and milk and you're pretty desperate for some new under-eye concealer. Get the help you need. You don't need to be a super-woman all the time. Although, if you're working the night shift, you pretty much already are.

10. Thank Your Lucky Stars

This post might make it sound like I'm warning you about some kind of terrible situation that you tragically find yourself in. That actually couldn't be further from the truth.  I have had many opportunities to switch from the night shift and start working the day shift instead. I turn it down every time. Working the night shift works for my family and I think it can really benefit your family too.  Look back on the daily routines that I laid out for you earlier in the article. You'll notice that you never have a day without seeing your kids. You have breakfast with your young kids (that aren't in school) every day. You have dinner with your family every day! This is priceless!  In my experience, I spend much more time with my son working the night shift than I would if I worked the day shift. I miss a couple of bedtimes a week and I don't get him out of bed in the morning on the mornings after I work but that's about it. My son hardly even knows that I'm gone. I leave the house around 6 pm, he starts his bedtime routine at 7 pm. He wakes up around 7 am, and I'm home around 8 am. To him, I'm only away from the house a couple of hours a day. It's magical. I am so incredibly thankful for my night-shift position that allows me to be with my family as much as possible. I hope you can be too.

Being a full-time mom is hard enough. Being a full-time mom and a night shift mom is superhuman. Luckily, working the night shift is a great option if you are a working mom who desires to spend more time with their babies.  I hope these tips help you manage your working life with your home life as you start (or continue) your night shift endeavor. Now that you know that it's totally possible, you can find a night shift routine that works for you.  

labor nurse mama trish ware

What are your tricks to managing your life when you are working the night shift as a mom? Let me know in the comments!

Just a little Disclaimer: As always, I am just writing my thoughts and what I’ve learned along the way. Although I am in fact a labor and delivery RN, This is not medical advice. You should always seek and follow the advice of your care provider.

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