I’ve always said I didn’t want a high maintenance baby. What does this mean, exactly? Well I’m not sure, but I think I thought I should have a baby that could soothe herself, sleep well and not need much attention. Now I’m a mother and I realize this is impossible.
I have always focused on the need for good sleep habits, even before the baby. We got the Snoo bassinet (highly recommended, but that’s for another post) to promote good sleep. We said we would sleep with baby in our room until at least six months as per the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. We would not sleep with baby in our bed. We also did not want to be so rigid about scheduling her that it kept us from living our lives.
Midwife note: The American Academy of Pediatrics has a bunch of guidelines for safe sleep. One of which is to have the baby sleep in the parents’ room (but not in their bed) for at least six months, ideally a year. See their recommendations here.
Flash forward to reality...
Her first two nights, Fiona slept in the Snoo but it wasn’t turned on. This was because the motion got us a little nervous at first with a tiny baby. We decided to bring it downstairs and have her nap in it so we could see it moving. We felt better after doing this and her third night home she slept in the Snoo with the motion and has been doing so since. There is a motion limiter function which we used for awhile, but now we don’t need to do that.
During her first few weeks, we often slept with her on our chests during the day. Newborns are so snuggly, how could you not? You can’t spoil a new baby and they like to be close to you. Also, that time ends quickly and it’s nice to enjoy every moment of it while it lasts.
I’m going to tell you a secret about the first few weeks that no one told me: babies sleep a lot (though in small bursts) and relatively easily, but this period ends quickly and then they WAKE UP. This is a real thing. We both felt like the first few weeks were great in terms of being able to get things done while she was sleeping. It helped that we were both home for 3 weeks together. It was a period of time where we were mislead. We thought, this is easy! We can do laundry and keep the house clean. What is everyone talking about? Sorry to burst the bubble, but friends, this period also passes quickly and then they WAKE UP.
Fred went back to work after three glorious weeks at home. My mom was visiting for the first two days he was gone and then it was just me and her. She wanted to be held. A lot. This coincided with me feeling better and ready to start exercising and doing more. It was a difficult time because I wanted to do more and was feeling physically better, but it was next to impossible because I was constantly feeding or holding her. I “resorted” to wearing her at least once a day to get things done. I felt like this was a compromise and a crutch. I have several pictures of me wearing her with expressions of defeat during this time. For the record, I did work out once that week, while wearing her. I did a very easy dance workout (Cize) and kept it low impact.
Midwife note: It is generally recommended to wait until 6 weeks postpartum to work out, after clearance from your provider. It’s really important not to do too much too soon, which can make your bleeding heavier or set back the recovery.
Meanwhile, we were very lucky at night. As early as 14 days old, she was consistently sleeping 3-4 hours at a time in the Snoo. We started a bedtime routine (more about that later) around 5-6 weeks. We were really inconsistent and late with bedtimes but we got her to sleep well. At this point, she was going to bed around 11pm, sleeping longest for about a 4 hour stretch, waking up once to feed and waking for the day between 7-9am. We knew we were lucky and we enjoyed our night sleep!
Weeks 5-8 were the hardest for me when it came to sleep (however this was when breastfeeding started to improve so at least there was one victory). I was pretty much feeling normal and wanting to do stuff. She was napping, but inconsistently and it was taking a bunch of steps to get her down (ball bouncing, white noise, swaddle). One day she barely slept all day for a nap and was super cranky. The next day, I vowed to keep track of her sleep and be sure she napped. I made sure she was going to sleep after 1-1.5 hours awake and she did better. Victory! Though it wasn’t enough for me - I wanted her to just go to sleep. Why did I have to soothe her and bounce and do so much to accomplish it?
She started herself on the eat, play/activity, sleep cycle around 8 weeks. She did this on her own and we didn’t have to “train” her. This means exactly what it says: she eats, then she is alert for awhile, then she goes to sleep for a nap. She does not fall asleep while nursing except on rare occasions (always at bedtime, sometimes the first morning feed or when she’s really overtired).
Around 8 weeks, I started a nap routine. I read about this and decided if she had a bedtime routine, she should also have a nap one. I made a list. I went through the routine. I put her down “drowsy but awake” like all the websites said. I offered her a pacifier. I felt like I would get the routine down for a day or so (with some frustrations, of course) and then I would go out the next day and feel like the whole thing was out the window the next day at home. This continued. I would spend all this time bouncing her, letting her cry some, soothing without touching her. You name it, I pretty much tried it. For a few days the “fading” method worked. Then our schedule was off for a few days and it was back to cranky baby needing to be soothed again.
Fiona only sleeps forty minutes for naps. It’s pretty much on a timer - she wakes up at minute forty. However, she wakes up happy and content and will happily lie in the bassinet for 5-10 minutes if needed. Are the naps short? Yes. But I’m aware of the timing now and I can run around and do what needs to be done (or take time to myself) in that time frame. And my theory is that she is rested or she would wake up cranky. Forty minutes is her nap timing (for now, anyway).
It wasn’t until today that I finally came to a realization. Fred was off from work and I got frustrated when she fell asleep after bouncing and cried. He picked her up, bounced for a minute and put her back. I said, “well I don’t want to do that, I want her to self soothe. I don’t want a high maintenance baby.” He pointed out that it’s working and it doesn’t matter we have to bounce or rock her. She’s a baby and that’s what she needs. Also it takes way less time (and is way less frustrating) to pick her back up and bounce for a minute than to sit there letting her cry, giving pacifier, shushing, etc.
I think my biggest concern was that I would have a high maintenance baby that no one would want to take care of. She needs to bounce to sleep? Who wants to do that? Again, Fred reminded me that a nanny or babysitter is paid to take care of her and do what she needs. The person we hired reinforced this (“taking care of her is my only job when I’m here”). Grandparents and other family - they just want to snuggle and spend time with your baby and will do what they need to do. Extra snuggling while bouncing and rocking? Yes, please.
I have spent hours reading websites about sleep. I bought a book about sleep. I have cried with her. I have stomped my feet in annoyance or left the room and gone into the bathroom for a brief respite. I have begrudgingly wrapped her in the wrap for the purpose of getting her to sleep. I’m realizing now that I spent so much time being frustrated when I didn't’ have to be. A few minutes (or sometimes 10-15 but not always) of bouncing and she sleeps.
So many things say not to do this. The put them down “drowsy but awake” is everywhere. Don’t rock them to sleep. Teach them to self soothe. Let them cry it out (CIO). Here’s my opinion and best advice: YOU DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. I’m not against the methods or advice above. But right now, my important reminder for myself is that I can avoid frustration and extra time by just taking the time from the get go to bounce. That alone is so valuable to me. Everyone tries to give you advice (books, family, other moms, etc). Take their advice if you want, but take the parts that work for you. If they don’t work, don’t do them and move on.
Also there is nothing wrong with an occasional “wrap nap”. Baby-wearing has many benefits for both mom and baby. Although I don’t want every nap to be in the wrap (but if you do, totally fine, because you do you), I am happy to wear her sometimes. Because the baby-wearing timeline goes by fast too. Take advantage of it while you can!
That said, if you’re curious about our routines (because people like knowing what works for others, right? Again taking what works for you), here they are.
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A pregnant midwife living and working in New York City