This is part 4 (as in the fourth week of parenting) in a series I’m muddling through on my experience as a mother. This is just a conversation about my experience – what I did, and what I might do differently next time. It’s not meant as a guide for what I necessarily would think is right for you,* so use your judgment because every baby and every mom is different. Please don’t construe any of this as medical advice and consult your doctor/pediatrician/local witch doctor before doing…anything ever.
*Never take any advice from me, I obviously have no idea what I’m doing, as you will realize…
After writing and reading this post, I realized that the misery I shuffled through during the first six months of the Sprout’s life was caused by a combination of information-overload, sleep deprivation-induced stupidity, and taking things too literally. Looking back, I feel pretty dumb for not figuring things out earlier. Sitting here now, the parent of a healthy ten month old who somehow survived my early months of terrible parenting, I am dumbfounded by my own mistakes. If this sounds similar to what you are going thorough, hire a babysitter, get a day’s worth of sleep, and learn what not to do.
Depending on your circumstances, you are likely to fall into a natural routine of ‘baby days’ as my partner and I called them in those early weeks. According to Tracy Hogg, the routine of eating, sleeping and activity should repeat itself every 3 hours or so (or every 2, if your baby is under 6 lbs) and should stay in that routine until your kiddo is about 4 months old, at which time your baby days will grow into longer 4-hour cycles. Always one to take things overboard, I missed the memo on that one. To be fair, no one told me.
In that first hectic month during which life was a non-stop routine of nursing, pumping, cleaning bottles, syringes and pump parts, (also trying to catch some cat naps,) we aimed for a solid 2-hour schedule (that’s 12 ‘baby-days’ per earth day) because of my low milk supply. Despite this being the recommendation of lactation consultants everywhere, I wish I had ignored them. Two hours is simply not enough time between the start of each feeding, leaving less than 30 minutes to catch sleep in between all of the work. It wasn’t just me who was exhausted – the Sprout hated it too. Since he had to be up for about an hour between the breastfeeding and supplementation, he had only an hour to sleep between feeds, and that just isn’t enough for a newborn.
When the Sprout was about four weeks old, here is what my schedule looked like (Note that this isn’t an exaggeration, this is an exact report of my activities on June 20th, 2012):
12:00 AM: Nurse for 20 minutes per side, supplement the Sprout, then pump for 20 minutes (90 minutes total, including diaper changes, setup and washing of the bottles, etc.)
1:30 AM: Shower while the Sprout sleeps
2:00 AM: Nurse for an hour
3:00 AM: Sleep for three hours (Sometimes I was just so exhausted there was no way to wake me for a feed, so this is the one I occasionally, and guiltily, skipped, while my partner supplemented him).
6:00 AM: Nurse, supplement, pump for another 90 minutes
7:30 AM: Laundry (Due to a broken basement door, this involved going outside and entering through the bulkhead, soaking and scraping poopy diapers before washing them, then hanging the clean diapers on a line outside, which took about half an hour, all while lugging the Sprout around in a sling. I was too environmentally guilt-ridden and exhausted to realize that the dryer was a viable option).
8:00 AM: Chores (dishes, watering plants, etc), with the Sprout in the sling.
9:00 AM: Nurse/supplement for 60 minutes
10:00 AM: Tummy time for the Sprout
10:30 AM: Nurse/supplement for 60 minutes (Cluster feeding to make up for my cheating overnight)
11:30 AM: One-handed lunch, dropping crumbs all over the Sprout. (This is my first meal of the day)
12:00 PM: Nap for 90 minutes, followed by guilt after realizing I slept late.
1:30 PM: Nurse/supplement for 60 minutes
2:30 PM: Attempt to get the Sprout to stop screaming
3:30 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes.
4:30 PM: Laundry (pulling down the dry diapers from the line, sorting everything, scraping more poop), Sprout in the sling.
5:00 PM: Nurse/supplement for 60 minutes
5:30 PM: Start cooking for 30 minutes while my partner takes the Sprout
6:00 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes
7:00 PM: Continue cooking for 30 minutes
7:30 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes
8:30 PM: Shower, brush teeth (for the first time in the day) while my partner takes the Sprout.
9:00 PM: Finish cooking for 30 minutes, eat (second and last meal of the day, again covering the Sprout in crumbs).
9:30 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes
10:30 PM: Read email, take notes on the day, regroup, while Sprout sleeps in my lap
11:00 PM: Nurse for 60 minutes
DO NOT DO THIS. This was my schedule with a partner available to me to help with dishes, kitty litter, errands and supplementation. I can’t imagine what life would have been like as a single mother, or with a less helpful partner. Even despite my best efforts, I was unable to meet that 2-hour cycle. Occasionally I’d try and cluster-feed to make up for it, but sometimes I just needed to sleep. The most damaging thing about the prescribed 2-hour cycle is that lactation consultants never tell you when you can stop. And despite my repeated requests for logical exceptions, all of these LCs demanded the 2-hour cycle from the start of one feed to the next even if he took 90+ minutes to nurse.
At the point of this sample day, I had been at it for four weeks and had grown a little more lax in the schedule. I still had to supplement and pump after some feedings, but it was nothing compared to the first two weeks when supplementation and pumping was mandatory after every feed. Since the Sprout was so exhausted, his feeds often took an hour, I kept having to massage him and wiggle his limbs wake him up as he ate. Looking back, it seems pretty cruel.
This sample day was a ‘cooking day’ and I managed to cook for the next seven days within a cumulative 90 minutes. On other days, this ‘spare’ time was spent on pediatrician visits, lactation consultations, errands, chores – in other words, this there was no time for anything actually pleasant. Note that my cumulative sleep was 4.5 hours. I spent 12.5 hours with either a pump or a baby attached to my breasts. There was much soreness, blisters, bleeding, ugh, I can’t believe they weren’t permanently mauled.
In hindsight, here is what I wish I could do (sadly, it won’t be an option with the next baby since I’ll have a toddler to take care of):
12:00 AM: Nurse, unless the poor kid is too tired, in which case, I’ll just let her sleep.
1:00 AM: Assuming she’s as slow of an eater as my first child, I’ll finish up nursing and sleep for 2+ hours or whenever she wants to wake up and eat, not according to a prescribed schedule.
4:00 AM: Nurse
5:00 AM: Sleep again for another couple of hours
7:00 AM: (Or whenever she wakes up for the day and refuses to go back down) Nurse
8:00 AM: Enjoy the baby – tummy time, cuddling, staring into her eyes and enjoying her.
9:00 AM: Put the baby down (awake or asleep, either way). Eat breakfast
10:00 AM: Nurse
11:00 AM: Throw the baby in a sling and run some errands, take a walk, or let her hang out on the floor with a Munari Mobile to entertain her while I do something pleasant and fun, like sewing or reading.
12:00 PM: Eat lunch
1:00 PM: Nurse
2:00 PM: Enjoy the baby – tummy time, maybe listen to some music, or visit some friends
3:00 PM: Put the baby down. Goof off on the internet.
4:00 PM: Nurse
5:00 PM: Enjoy the baby some more. Maybe some light dancing or taking a walk with baby in the sling through the witching hour.
6:00 PM: Cook dinner (something fresh, not disgusting bulk leftovers that have been sitting in the fridge all week).
7:00 PM: Nurse
8:00 PM: Read the baby a story, maybe a bath, change her into PJs, snuggle
9:00 PM: Put the baby down for the night
10:00 PM: Nurse, if the kid wakes up for it, otherwise sleep.
11:00 PM: Sleep
Or course this is an ideal schedule, and not all of it will work out. She’ll get cranky, she’ll want to cluster feed at points, things happen. Most people would start the bedtime routine a lot earlier, but it depends on your kid – the Sprout liked to naturally start his nights at 8PM and both my partner and I are night owls. The difference, however, is that with an extra hour thrown into each ‘baby day,’ and by giving both me and the baby a break, there would be time to eat a whopping three meals, get about 7 hours of sleep, and there would be time to enjoy the baby and the rest of life, instead of just scrambling to survive. Most of all, I wish I had known that it is OK and often healthy to put the baby down once in a while.
I also wish I had ignored the lactation consultants on the pumping. Rarely would I pump more than half an ounce, and it would always be in the first 5 minutes. The consultants insisted that 20 minutes was the goal, each time, after every feed, and I needed to keep pumping even if nothing came out. I really don’t think that helped. What I think would have helped was some sleep, some food, and some sanity. So if you hate pumping, if it takes up all of the time you’d rather spend with your baby, watching reality TV, or you know, having a life, then maybe you don’t have to do it.
The four-week mark is when I got it. That’s when I finally got fed up and stopped listening to what I should be doing and did what I thought made sense. After I stopped pumping and started exclusively breast feeding and supplementing with donor milk (which coincidentally(?) quickly became unnecessary) I suddenly had all of this time to kill.
Sure, it wasn’t leisure time. There was still a baby to take care of. Nursing to do, diapers to scrape, screaming to soothe. Unless you’ve got a colicky baby (and screw you, attachment parenting guides, it does exist and not every baby can just be attached out of it), that uncontrollable, unexplainable, frustrating style of flipping-out should peak around 4-6 weeks and then start to taper and then end around 4-6 months. So there is an end in sight, just hold on.
Meanwhile, instead of feeling guilty that your baby is crying, try the 5’s (Swaddling, Shushing, Swinging, holding him on his Side, and Sucking) to get him to calm down. Most of the time, it will work. I did not do this often, I wish I had.
The Sprout, despite meeting the technical definition for colic (multiple hours of screaming multiple times a week for multiple months), was not colicky. He just had a dumbass mom who had no idea what she was doing.
Sadly, I was polluted in the early days by bad advice – specifically the kind that warned against using ‘props,’ starting him on a life-long dependency on outside help to get to sleep. As if when he’s in college, he’s going to need to sleep in a giant swing or else suffer from sleep deprivation.
Unfortunately I was too sleep-deprived myself to be critical of this advice. I was worried about pacifiers creating nipple confusion, having read that if he needed to suck, it would be best done on the nipple to help my supply (unrealistic and terrible advice via The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding) leading to six-hour nursing sessions and sore, blistered nipples.
I was worried that sleeping in a swing or car seat was dangerous so I didn’t buy a swing (until I came to my senses much later) and would take him out of the car seat once we got to our destination, even if he had fallen asleep. Even in the crib I was terrified of SIDS, so I spent my days in a fog, shuffling around with him in my arms or weighing down shoulders in a sling.
This mix of intense attachment-parenting/la leche league guilt and fear of ‘cheating,’ didn’t help teach the Sprout how to fall asleep without props. It just forced me to live in a cloud of utter exhaustion and taught the Sprout how to never sleep at all. It replaced easy props with props that wore me the heck out.
I’m being hyperbolic. He slept. He slept in the sling, while I walked him up and down the street while wishing I could just rest for a few minutes. He slept attached my breast, while I contorted into uncomfortable positions and caught sleep in 45-minute chunks while propped on my elbows. And when he wasn’t sleeping, he was screaming from exhaustion (which of course I took for hunger, my milk paranoia going wild). After a month of us waking him up for the ridiculous 2-hour schedule, he had been trained to never sleep for more than an hour. With the exception of about 10-20 minutes each morning, every waking (non-nursing) moment, he cried.
Since he never learned to link his sleep cycles (which typically last 45 minutes each), he woke up every 45 minutes all night until he was five and a half months old. That’s right – except for the twice-a-week ‘bender’ of a 3 hour nap while my partner took over, I didn’t sleep for an uninterrupted hour for almost six months (yay for swings!) The only tool I thought I was ‘allowed’ to use was nursing, so I’d latch him back on and fall asleep with him on the boob, only to switch sides and do it again 45 minutes later. During the day, he took a few 15-minute micro naps on my lap, while I would sit extremely still, wishing desperately that he would stay asleep while also wishing I had some way of getting to a restroom. I was terrified of the crib or bassinet, seeing it as a giant SIDS cave where sleeping babies entered and dead babies came out, and I think the Sprout picked up on my anxiety, screaming like crazy every time I attempted to lower him into one.
I was so tired, there was no way I could have realized how dysfunctional my life had become. I knew other moms slept more. I knew other babies had awake time that didn’t involve screaming, but I thought they were the exception rather than the rule, or it was because I wasn’t feeding him enough, or that they were just better parents (they are). The only people who offered me advice were proponents of the crying-it-out method, a tall order for even the most well-rested parent, never mind someone as paranoid of SIDS and brain damage (later debunked) as myself. It took everything I had and a good deal of intervention from my partner not to put the baby through the wall after one of his hours-of-crying fits, how on earth could I subject him to controlled crying if I knew I could soothe my starving baby to sleep with the breast?
So in other words, my first month of motherhood was tough. It took about four more months before it got easier. But it did get easier.