Parenting In The Gray

Babies don't come with instruction manuals and any book that prescribes a sure-fire method is likely totally full of it, or is at least failing to acknowledge variances for personalities, growth spurts, etc. As first time parents, it's hard for my husband and I to trust our own instincts.
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Mother and baby
Mother and baby

When I was pregnant, I read a bunch of books about the merits for both baby and parents of getting on a schedule. I liked these books for their theories about helping your baby foster independence, and about fitting the baby into our lives instead of letting him rule the roost. So when my son Hudson was born, this was my goal: work towards the coveted schedule.

For the first weeks, we just fed him and let him sleep on his own terms. But I followed some tips about focusing on full feedings and putting Hudson down in his own bed to sleep. And for a while there, it sort of seemed like we nailed it. After a week or so, Hudson easily transitioned to a three hour routine on his own and rarely if ever fussed when going down. And we saw the glory of what it can be: predictable, two-hour naps, at least three times a day and a very happy baby. I was able to make plans with a reasonable degree of confidence that Hudson would be in good baby shape - i.e. having eaten and with a ton of sleep under his little belt.

And then, somewhere between week 5 and 6, Hudson took my schedule and threw it out the window. He's very strong for his age.

The crux of it is that he seems completely unable to sleep during the day for longer than 45 minutes and wakes up crying. The 45-minute thing is apparently really common and there's even an amazing name for it: The 45 Minute Intruder. Babies' sleep cycles at about 45 minutes so basically, they stir themselves up around that time and then are unable to fall back to sleep on their own.

In Hudson's case, that's usually the end of the nap and we're not able to get him back to sleep after that. Sometimes, we can coax him back to sleep with a pacifier and some rocking, but most often he is just not going to fall back asleep despite our best efforts.

The difference between quiet, two hour naps and 45 minute naps is huge. ("Yuuuuge!" even.) It's the difference between eating AND showering versus eating OR showering.

After attending my mom's group class last week and polling all of the women there, most confirmed, as did the guest speaker for the day, that weeks 6-8ish were rough. The guest speaker (a baby expert from the Fussy Baby Network, coincidentally!) also mentioned that this period of fussiness usually resolves itself by 6 months, which I'm totally ignoring and choosing to listen to the girls in class who said that it was really only a few weeks. A lot of the women also referenced the Wonder Weeks app as being helpful in navigating this time.

The app is an abbreviated version of a book by the same name that explains all about babies mental development through the first year. When I got home, I downloaded the book and read the first half in an hour or so, and I believe his short naps (after five weeks of great daytime sleep) are thanks to major changes happening with his perception, vision, and cognition. Basically, if I woke up and had to process the world in a new way every time, I'd freak out too. Understanding what's going on really helps me find the patience and grace to just roll with whatever Hudson needs to make him feel safe and secure in what's probably a really overwhelming time.

But interestingly, there was another part of the book that stuck with me. Most parenting books are of two camps. On one hand, we have put them on a schedule, babies need structure, help them be independent, which I've been reading up on and had ascribed to 100%. But the Wonder Weeks book had a lot of language that clued me in to it being on the OTHER side of the tracks: you can't spoil a newborn, feed on demand, constant physical contact breeds security.

Their primary advice during this time was to let the baby sleep on you. Which by the way, is pretty much the exact opposite of what all of the books I'd read earlier advised.

I'm not sure whether it was even a conscious decision to take that advice, but in the latter half of last week, I stopped stressing out about keeping us on the three hour routine and having Hudson sleep in his own bed. It was way easier for him to just pass out on me, in his carrier, or even just next to me on his boppy throne, and if it was a 45 minute nap... well, that's 45 minutes better than zero.

We carried that into the weekend and Hudson spent basically all of Saturday snoozing on his aunt and uncle at a patio while we ate lunch, and all of Sunday crashed out on my husband, watching football. The end result was a really well-rested baby and some of the biggest smiles we've gotten yet.

It was definitely WAY easier than the struggle to get him to nap and stay down in his own bed. But I don't mean to imply that "easy" is better. On the contrary, the last two weeks have proven that the effort that goes into a little bit of stability and routine are worth it for us.

However, I did come to realize that I need to get comfortable living in the gray. It's not as black and white as any book makes it sound -- we needed to give our little dude some extra love, so we did. I have no clue if we're over the hump, but today, we're all recharged to start fresh. And I'm reasonably sure that we haven't ruined his ability to sleep independently by letting him nap on us for a few days to get through a rough patch. (Stay tuned.) Hopefully we'll end this week back on a more predictable schedule, but maybe I'll be right back to eating lunch over Hudson's head while he sleeps in the carrier and praying that a spinach leaf doesn't land on his cute little head.

Babies don't come with instruction manuals and any book that prescribes a sure-fire method is likely totally full of it, or is at least failing to acknowledge variances for personalities, growth spurts, etc. As first time parents, it's hard for my husband and I (emphasis on the I) to trust our own instincts, but I think this weekend was a big win doing just that.

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