It didn’t take us long to label Marshall as a fussy baby. Or “passionate” as Dr. Karp says in an attempt to put a positive spin on a challenging temperament. Neither Jon nor I have been around newborns enough to know what’s normal and what’s not, but we knew that we were having more frustrating times with Marshall than we’d like. Sure, all babies cry. We knew to expect crying. But so often he would go from crying at something like hunger or gas or sleepiness to crying at his own crying. He was quick to spiral out of control and be inconsolable. We relied on the Happiest Baby on the Block method to calm him down, and he usually needed all five S’s – swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking. And boy, it is exhausting–physically and emotionally–to do all of that!
About a week ago I was feeling especially frazzled trying to take care of Marshall. Not being able to help him calm down when he got worked up was making me feel like a terrible mother. I was really taking it all personally and just feeling very down in the dumps. So I picked up some books and started reading the experts’ ideas about babies’ sleeping and eating habits and schedules (or non-schedules). I thought introducing more structure to Marshall’s days might help him mellow.
There seems to be quite a bit of support for the idea that during the day, babies should be in a repetitive routine of eating, “playing” until they start to look sleepy, and then napping.
Also, it’s recommended by many to refrain from rocking or nursing babies to sleep, and instead, lay them down for naps when they are still awake so they can begin learning to fall asleep on their own.
And it seems that most people agree that babies should go at least 2 or 3 hours between meals. I had previously heard from our pediatrician that my body needs a couple hours to replenish my milk supply, so I needed to be careful about letting Marshall comfort nurse too much. So we were already watching the clock quite a bit and relying on other soothing measures when Marshall started “hunting” before that two hour mark.
During my exploring, I also read that some think six weeks is the ideal time to start “training” babies to get on a schedule for sleeping and eating, which includes at least short periods of letting them cry before giving into their needs.
I thought I’d give some of it a shot. I spent a couple days trying to institute a bit of a schedule and take a bit more control over Marshall’s sleeping and eating habits. It was miserable. I was miserable. And Marshall was certainly miserable. None of it felt right. There were lots of tears. From both of us.
The good news is I was also reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. It contradicts everything else I was reading and recommends something pretty basic. Surrender yourself to your baby. Stop watching the clock and listen to your baby. If he’s hungry, feed him. If he’s tired, help soothe him to sleep in whatever way he needs. As long as he’s gaining weight and producing stools and is spending some of the day awake and alert, don’t worry. Relax and enjoy your baby.
Some babies might do fabulously with a daily schedule defined by their parents, but Marshall isn’t one of them. At least not yet. When I accepted that, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt so much more calm and at ease about everything. I tend to be impatient and I definitely like to be the one in control, but when it comes to parenting this fella, it feels right to just take a few steps back and just let Marshall be Marshall.
The biggest change we made is being quicker to offer him the breast when he’s fussy. Sure, there are plenty of ways to soothe him, but nothing works quite as quickly or effectively as letting him nurse. I stopped worrying about how long it had been since he had last eaten, and it turns out that there’s always at least a little milk in there! I’ve also stopped waking him up when he falls asleep while nursing. If he wants to nap, I let him nap. And if he needs rocking or bouncing or for me to stand on my head for him to fall asleep, so be it.
Maybe it’s just coincidence, but since abandoning the idea of controlling Marshall’s days, he has not had one meltdown. He’s had fussy times, and we still rely on a variety of calming techniques. But he hasn’t had any totally over the edge, inconsolable episodes. I feel like I am being able to enjoy him so much more because I’m not so stressed and exhausted now!