My little girl is almost four months old. I can hardly believe how quickly the past few months have flown by. Everyone says the time flies but it can be hard to believe when you haven’t been sleeping well and you are busy caring for small children.
I always say that three months is the age where things start to feel normal again. At least this has been the case with my family. We are starting to sleep more. A new daily routine is taking shape. And we are generally becoming more adjusted to our newly expanded family.
This three month mark has also made me reflective. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about each of my babies and how their newborn days passed.
The newborn months are hard for any mother. I would say that if you don’t find them difficult in at least a few ways, then you are definitely an exception. The early days are filled with so much joy and newness as you finally get to meet this new little life that God has knit together. Thankfulness, elation, and quiet contentment. These feelings carry on, of course, but once the adrenaline starts to wear off a little, and exhaustion starts to set in, some new feelings come join the fun. Mental, emotional and physical fatigue are also characteristic of life with a newborn.
Before I start reflecting on memories of how life was during three newborn stages, I want to make something clear. This is not a how-to post. I am not claiming to have all the answers. In fact, the concluding premise is that I do not have all the answers. Another important thing to note is that I am neither directly promoting or discouraging any particular “method” or “rules” for helping newborns. There is no one-size-fits all way to care for babies. And while I certainly have my opinions on things that are good and helpful practices, they are just that– opinions based on my own reading and personal experiences.
Three Newborns, Three Ways
With my oldest child, Jack, I was unprepared. He was my first and my knowledge base was limited. You can have a dozen friends with small children, but still lack the experience of actually being the primary caregiver all day and all night– actually being the mom. Moreover, we were thrown for a loop when Jack was born with pneumonia and had to spend nine days in the special care unit receiving antibiotics. I remember nights of just holding him, bouncing up and down for what seemed like hours, trying to get him to sleep. Other nights he would either be nursed or rocked to sleep, then carefully placed in his crib. We would ever-so-quietly sneak out of his room, cursing creaking floorboards and doors under our breath. Anytime he awoke, we repeated the process.
Jack was about six weeks old when a friend recommended that I read Babywise. I felt like I had the instruction book I was lacking. I implemented the book’s sleeping principles immediately. After just one weekend, I saw significant improvement in Jack’s sleep. After a week or so, his body fell into a routine of eating, then playtime, then nap time. My days were becoming more predictable and we were getting more rested. As Jack reached other milestones, we followed Babywise’s suggestions to continued success.
Naturally, given how helpful I found the book to be for us, I recommended it to all my friends who were expecting. “You have to read Babywise. It has all the answers!”
When Jack was nine months old we found out that we were expecting our second child. We had hoped to have our children close together and were excited to welcome another baby into our family. Preparations were made. Matching “big brother” and “little brother” shirts were purchased. And I reread Babywise. I was ready. I knew what was coming. Or so I thought.
Two weeks after Jedidiah was born I was ready to start trying to get him on a routine and start helping him learn to go to sleep on his own. However, no one told me that babies were different and what worked for one may not work for another. Or maybe they did tell me and I just didn’t listen. I had full confidence in Babywise, remember?
Jedidiah did not learn to go to sleep by crying it out like Jack did. I had this idea of how everything would happen based on what I had experienced with Jack. In just two days, Jack learned to go to sleep on his own with minimal fussing. Jedidiah would just cry without ever settling down on his own. I felt helpless because I couldn’t figure out what to do. Plus, hearing your baby cry is very stressful, especially when you are already on edge. Once I did get him to sleep, he would wake up after forty-five minutes and we would have to start all over. Nighttime wasn’t much better. My faith was tested too, because as often as I was praying for rest and relief, I wasn’t seeing any improvement. The combination of fatigue, feelings of desperation, and caring for both a baby and a toddler led to many tears.
Eventually, as many babies do, Jedidiah settled into a routine for himself. He never did cry it out, but over time I figured out what worked for him. The process involved a lot of reading blogs and baby books. Jedidiah’s gradual development was also a big factor in his sleep pattern improving.
My experience during the newborn stage with my third baby has been remarkably less stressful and more enjoyable.
When Molly was born I had three children ages three and younger. This is still the case. I had every reason to think that Molly’s newborn days would be just as hard or harder than the boys’ days. My pessimism increased when I considered that she would be born during the end of winter, a time when I typically already struggle with melancholy feelings and a general impatience for Spring.
So how can I say that this third experience has been so much easier?
Molly still woke up to eat every couple of hours at night during the first few weeks. She still went through the same two-week phase of waking up forty-five minutes into her naps. We were still mostly cooped up in the house, rambunctious and anxious for sunshine. Molly also went through a phase of only wanting her mommy to hold her in the evenings, fussing if anyone else tried.
The difference was in my perspective and in my attitude. I had a much more relaxed approach to everything. This time around I didn’t read up on what to do in any and every potential situation that might arise. I knew that eventually things would get worked out and I wasn’t so focused and determined to hasten that time.
Molly slept with me in our bed some nights. She slept on my chest during many, many afternoon naps. (These naps became a great opportunity for me to rest as well as a sweet time that I treasured with my little girl). We used a cradle sometimes and a pack-n-play at other times. I did not check the clock all the time when it was time for her to eat. If she wanted to eat after only two hours, we just went with it. I still followed a routine of eat/wake/sleep but without a strict determination for things to go a certain way.
Improvements came naturally as the days and weeks went by. I thanked the Lord that even though my sleep was interrupted and short during the night, He provided the energy and strength I needed during the day.
The lesson I’ve learned?
There isn’t a formula. And as much as we would like someone to tell us exactly how to help our babies, it’s often just a matter of trial and error. Which means that when we offer or take advice, it always needs to be tempered with an acknowledgment that it’s all just personal experience with individual children. We need to remember that these days with young children are fleeting. In the midst of them, let’s just take each day as it comes, finding joy in the little moments, and relying on the Lord for the hard ones. That’s the best thing we can do.
Even though I stand by my statement that there isn’t a magic formula to taking care of babies, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t at least offer what I have found to be consistently helpful with all three of my children. While I have learned to hold these principles a bit more loosely, I still think that they are principles that can set a baby up to thrive, as a general rule (obviously I do allow for exceptions).
Helping my children to develop a routine of getting a full feeding, then having an appropriate amount of wake time (typically starting at about 30 minutes and increasing to a little over an hour by the time they are three months), followed by a nap. Repeat. This cycle put my children eating somewhere between every 2-4 hours. My goal over time is for my babies to be able to settle themselves to sleep in their own beds.
This routine has been helpful to establish predicability and order in our days. I believe it helps to encourage better nighttime sleeping habits as well.
***I learned the “eat/wake/sleep” principle from On Becoming Baby Wise. I also found that the book The Baby Whisperer had many helpful suggestions for teaching a baby to go to sleep on his own, (alternatives to letting a baby cry it out).