John is nearly four months old now; he is no longer considered a “newborn.” If he was drinking regular formula, he would have graduated from the newborn variety to the infant form last month. Andrew and I are attempting the great challenge of putting JT down to sleep “drowsy but awake” (easier said than done), and with the four month mark quickly approaching, we’re both doing our research regarding different sleep training techniques (it’s incredible how many different methods there are). Every three to four hours, John is downing five ounces of formula, and when he’s not eating or sleeping, he can often be found on his mat or in his bouncy chair, smiling like a little fool. Plenty of people have told me that the first three months are the hardest, and though I have just barely emerged from the dark days of thirty minute rocking sessions before bedtime, fighting with John to make him finish his bottle (it’s amazing how long that last ounce can take), and constant rocking and bouncing during his nightly fussy times, I can understand why so many people say that the first three months are the hardest. That seems to be about how long it takes a first time mother to learn how to make life with her baby easier.
Here are ten discoveries that have made my life with little John so much easier.
- Treat yourself to a monthly membership to Audible, which will give you access to one credit a month towards audio books. The Audible app on your phone will become your most-used app in no time at all. After a month of staring at the wall while I rocked John to sleep, I realized that I could be a lot more productive with my time, and even better, as long as the book is an engaging listen, it makes those thirty minute rocking sessions before bed really fly. Now, when JT shows signs of getting tired, I pop my earbuds in and listen to a few chapters of my latest book while I rock him to sleep.
- The bouncy seat and/or swing can be the key to a decent night’s sleep. Now, I didn’t say good- Andrew and I rarely get a good night’s sleep. Even a baby that sleeps like a champ still needs to wake up to eat during those early months, but we’ve both been able to get considerably more sleep since John started sleeping in his bouncy seat, and now his swing. During the first few weeks that John was home, he woke up every hour or so, barely nursed, and then fell back to sleep before waking up again an hour later. As time went on, it became increasingly clear that he wasn’t actually hungry, but was simply having difficulty sleeping. He would scream when we placed him in his bassinet, leading us to rock him until he was sound asleep, only to have him wake up forty minutes later (if we were lucky) because he had lost his pacifier. We began by allowing him to sleep in his bouncy seat during the day- we had so many visitors who wanted to see him, but he spent so much time asleep, so this was a great way to allow visitors to see him without disturbing his naps. It didn’t take us long to realize that he slept much better in his bouncy seat, so we eventually transitioned to using the chair at night as well. When the chair wasn’t cutting it, we moved into the swing, and now that he’s almost four months old, we’re beginning to wean him off the movement so that he can eventually transition to his crib. The point of all that was to tell you that if you find a way to get your newborn to sleep soundly, don’t be afraid to use it- even it’s a bit unorthodox (as long as it’s not illegal). If the swing or the bouncy seat helps your baby to sleep (and in turn helps you to sleep), go for it.
- If your baby uses a pacifier to fall and stay asleep, purchase a Wubbanub (or a similar product). Better yet, buy three, just in case. JT has been a champion sleeper (up until two days ago, but that’s for another post), but that’s because he uses his pacifier to soothe himself back to sleep. He becomes an awful sleeper the moment that his pacifier falls out of his mouth and he realizes it’s missing. In the beginning, it was nearly impossible to keep John’s pacifier in his mouth after he fell asleep, so as soon as he re-entered REM sleep, he would wake up crying for his pacifier. After weeks of trying different methods, we discovered the amazing product that is the Wubbanub (designed for Soothie pacifiers by Avent). It’s just a small stuffed animal attached to a pacifier, but it can be conveniently tucked into a blanket and propped up by his mouth. Even when he releases his suction, the stuffed animal (a red dog named Clifford) keeps his pacifier close by.
- If you’re bottle-feeding, don’t feel like you need to wait until the 3 month mark to move to level 2 nipples. Use your own discretion, and make the change when you feel like your baby’s ready. John’s been using the level 2 nipples since he was two months old, and the week leading up to the change was horrible. Just like clothing and diapers, the age brackets are suggestions, not rules.
- On a similar note, don’t feel like you need to go up sizes in clothing and diapers just because your child has reached the age, height, or weight limit. John only made the transition to ones in diapers last week (up until then, he had been in ones at night and newborns during the day), and he was already three and a half months at that point. Likewise, he was in newborn clothing well after he reached the height maximum, and he’s still wearing size 0-3 in clothing, and probably will for a little while longer. The minimums and maximums for clothing are again suggestions, and a long, thin baby (or a short, chubby baby) will probably fall outside the limits. I’ve waited to transition sizes with clothing because I like getting as much out of each outfit as possible, but that’s just a personal preference. The diaper discovery, on the other hand, was a lot more beneficial. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, diapers are more expensive and have less in each case as you go up in sizes, so the longer you stay in the smaller sizes, the better. Now I’m not advocating keeping your child in smaller sizes longer than you should, but there’s no reason to go up a size as soon as your baby reaches the weight maximum. If they’re not leaking through, feel free to wait a bit.
- The adrenaline high of the first week or so will fade, leading to intense sleep deprivation. After reading about the awful sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn for months on end, I was surprised to find that I was able to wake up every hour or so to nurse John, and I still felt great during the day. People kept telling me to rest, but I didn’t understand why. I had heard plenty about the sleep deprivation, but those stories were always accompanied by tales of keys in the freezer, spilled coffee after an unexpected nap, and the woes of total exhaustion. In all honesty, I often found myself thinking that I was handling the lack of sleep better than my husband, even though I was the one awake for an hour every other hour to nurse and rock John to sleep. For a short time, I thought that I was unaffected by the lack of sleep, and then all at once, it hit me. I could barely open my eyes when I needed to nurse, and for the first time ever, I began to sleep through John’s whimpers and cries at night. Whereas once I had enjoyed those precious moments of absolute silence and peace, now I could barely remain conscious through them. During the day, I dragged from task to task, always tired and never feeling remotely rested. It wasn’t until I got ill and was forced to rest that I was able to reset my sleeping habits. Now I take the wise oft-repeated adage seriously: sleep, or at least rest, when the baby sleeps.
- You will sleep again- eventually. This is the flip-side of #6, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you accept #6 at about the same time that you discover #7. At least that’s how it worked for me. Right around the time that I realized that I was not Superwoman, I also learned that the total lack of sleep is only temporary. At two weeks, John was waking up every other hour to nurse. At two months, he was down to just two times a night. Now, just shy of four months, JT normally only wakes up once to eat, and he even slept through the night once. Now, when I wake up with him at 5:45AM, I actually feel rested. Not all babies will drop feedings as quickly as John did, but all children will do it eventually. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to take ten minutes out of each day for yourself.
This one is still a work in progress for me, though with summer finally here, I’m taking it a lot more seriously. In the first few weeks, I treated my shower time as “my time.” For those twenty minutes that I was in the shower, I was closed off from the rest of the world. No one could interrupt me; no one could ask me to feed or rock the baby. Those twenty minutes became my anchor for the rest of the day, or the impetus to wake up in the morning. No matter how difficult things got, I always had my shower time to look forward to. From the very beginning, there was an understanding between my husband and me that if I wanted to shower unhindered, I would. Now, with 80 degree days, I normally shower quickly with the monitor in earshot, and spend 20 minutes by the pool whenever the weather permits. This time, like my shower time, is untouchable. In addition to learning this lesson, I also have learned to ask for help when I need it. I have accepted that John was never meant to be just my responsibility, and it’s okay for me to ask for help from my husband. I’ve also realized that there are many friends and family members who are more than willing to lend a hand. All you have to do is ask.
- Being a first-time mother is hard. If any veteran mother tells you otherwise, assume that they’ve forgotten what it was like the first time around. In the weeks leading up to John’s birth, as well as in the weeks following, I read a lot of articles by veteran mothers addressed to first-timers. One of the more commonly repeated pieces of advice was that first-time mothers should not fret over their single child because toting around a single newborn is much easier than juggling the demands of a newborn, a toddler, and maybe another child or two. I know that they’re right- just by considering the numbers, it seems obvious that two children would be harder than one, but that doesn’t mean that the first one is easy. Many veteran moms look to encourage first-timers to get out on their own with their baby as often as possible. They write about their regrets as they reflect on their lives as a mother of multiple children as compared to their lives as a first-time mom. They lament their missed coffee dates, shopping trips, and day trips when it was just one little newborn in a carrier. They seek to encourage new moms to get out more, to load their newborn children into their carriers and to drive to the local coffee shop for a cup for tea, to Target for a new pair of non-maternity skinny jeans, or to the zoo for a lazy afternoon strolling passed the enclosures and being grateful that your child is not yet a toddler who can wander into the gorilla cage. To an extent, I think they’re right. My daily walks with John were very revitalizing, and it wasn’t too difficult or unnerving to load him into his stroller and get moving. It took a lot more energy and self-motivation to take my first trip to Target, just John and me. And I was a nervous wreck the first time that I drove to work with JT in the backseat. To this day, I have not ventured into a coffee shop with him, and when we went to the National Zoo, we were accompanied by his father and paternal grandmother. So yes, it’s important to get out, even if it means going outside your comfort zone a bit, but that doesn’t mean that you need to drive to Starbucks with your two-week old firstborn in your backseat. There’s nothing wrong with baby steps; there’s nothing wrong with taking your time. As a mother who still has those first three months fresh in her mind, I can confidently say that you don’t have to be as adventurous as some of these authors suggest. I’ve already made a note for the future that if I ever write a blog post as a veteran mother writing to first-timers, I will do my best to remember what those first few months were like. Not everyone will make it to Starbucks for a latte. Some new mothers will only make it around the block in the beginning, and even that might be considered an accomplishment. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Your life will never be the same, and even when you daydream about the way things used to be and possibly wonder if you made the right choice, you would never trade this new life for anything. This is by far the most significant discovery that I have made in the past three and a half months. My life has changed so much since John was born. I have learned so much about self-sacrifice and putting another before yourself. I have learned what it feels like to have another human being depend entirely on you to have their needs met. I have learned what it feels like to wake up feeling absolutely exhausted, only to look at your son’s smiling face and know that it has all been worth it. Every mother will have her ups and downs, her moments of being so high she can barely contain her love and joy, and of being so low that she wonders if she made the right choice. And yet even in those darkest moments, even if you find yourself doubting your very ability to be a mother, you know that you would never trade this new life for anything. Because even when you daydream about the way things used to be, you will also find yourself looking forward to the day where you can share these wonderful memories and moments with your child.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!