Travelling with a 5 month old

Travelling with LottieLast weekend I took Lottie to visit friends in Sydney for four days with my sister and her 8 month old son. I was a bit nervous about the flight as I’ve experienced screaming babies on many flights, and always felt sympathetic to the mothers doing their best to hush the cries. The flight over, Lottie cried (loudly) for maybe 3 minutes total, in a few short bursts which resulted in her going to sleep in my arms. This was the first sleep she’s ever had in my arms without using my boob as a comforter so that was a win. She slept for 30 minutes, which is her absolute limit these days outside of a cot. On the way back, there was more screaming – perhaps 7 minutes in total on and off. The hardest part of the journey home was not sitting with my sister. So basically I was travelling alone. I was sitting next to two very kind soon-to-be-first-time-dads who, rather than be annoyed at Lottie’s cries, were interested to see what happened next. Usually when she screams, I can coax her onto my boob, but when she’s rejecting the boob (i.e. screaming at the boob) and I’m trying to push her head onto my nipple while she screams and wriggles and struggles in the tiny gap between me and the seat in front, things did feel quite momentarily dire. At the time, it was stressful. But like the way over, eventually she did go on the boob, and soon after fell asleep for 30 minutes.

For the other two hours of both flights, Lottie was very busy. She’s at the point now where she’s not content to sit in my lap quietly without entertainment. I felt exhausted by the end of both flights from bouncing her up and down, holding her high above my head so she could laugh at the people sitting in the rows behind, and reaching for her toys she kept dropping, toys which she apparently needed in her mouth or at least in her hand. All in all, the flying with baby experience was not as bad as I feared, and Lottie was actually very good. It would be far easier with my husband’s help so next time I’ll hopefully have him with me.

The logistics after arriving in Sydney were really smooth, thanks to careful planning by my sister and the friends we stayed with. We hired a car, and we had prearranged to hire two car seats which the hire company fitted in hire car before we arrived. The high chair we hired was in the boot, so all we had to do was pack everyone into the car and drive off. This was a major plus considering it was 41 degrees when we arrived!

Our friends had borrowed two portacots and Lottie and my nephew slept amazingly in them. I already knew Lottie loves sleeping in her own cot, and she’s great in her own portacot too. But I wasn’t sure how she would go in a completely different cot, in a different house, in a different climate and a slightly different time zone. But I needn’t have worried because her sleeps were brilliant the whole time we were away.

This is where I think the sleep training is paying dividends, and also my determination to get at least a small amount of sleep in the car seat and the pram. While we were away, Lottie not only went down to sleep independently in the portacot without any fuss, and slept all night soundly, she also had a few sleeps in the car seat and in the pram, which I brought with me on the plane. She even managed to have two solid day sleeps in a house where a 40th birthday party was being held, and the noise didn’t worry her in the slightest. In fact, with all the new faces to meet and after being passed around for a lot of cuddles, she seemed exhausted by the interaction and went to sleep faster than she does at home.
Of course I don’t want to curse myself by saying ‘Lottie’s sleeps are finally sorted’, but I must admit the trip to Sydney was a confidence boost for me in proving Lottie’s sleep flexibility and versatility and self-settling skills. So if anyone is reading this and wondering if sleep training is worthwhile, I would say yes. Definitely. Lottie and my nephew were fantastic travellers. We had a lovely holiday and were able to spend lots of quality time with our friends rather than worrying about settling the babies and whether they would wake up the house during the night, and whether we could go out without them getting overtired. Obviously it wasn’t the same as a holiday without babies, where you can do whatever you want at a moment’s notice. But it was still a pleasant surprise that the babies were so low maintenance. And I put most of this down to successful sleep training.

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Still the same person

Before and AfterIt’s such a cliché to say ‘Lottie is 5 months old next week, where has the time gone?’. But it’s true. It feels like yesterday that we brought her home from hospital, but it also feels like she’s always been with us. I know other new parents understand exactly what I’m talking about.

Looking back over the last 5 months, I would characterise the journey as a very enjoyable walk up a steep hill (or learning curve) that was constantly challenging. Over the past couple of weeks, the hill has levelled out and now it feels like I’m walking on flat ground. Still going forward, just not climbing. Incidentally, Lottie’s weight-growth chart is now on the more levelling out part of the line, not the sharp upward slope. So for me, the growth chart has tracked ‘baby difficulty’ in degrees. This correlation makes sense I guess since the first 5 months really is just about getting as much food and sleep happening to keep baby moving safely up that growth line and for me, food and sleep has been the most challenging part of being a new mum.

To celebrate the new ‘this isn’t as challenging all of a sudden’ period I’ve found myself in, I thought I’d share a before and after photo. That’s me on the left on one of the mornings the week I brought Lottie home from hospital. I clearly hadn’t had much sleep and looked (and felt) like I’d been dragged through a bush backwards. The photo on the right is me this week riding a bus into the city for a girls’ night out. I left Lottie home asleep with her other parent, and apart from some very full and painful boobs from missing the dream feed and not pumping because I couldn’t be bothered before I went to bed, it was amazing to have a chance to get out and socialise like I used to before I was pregnant.

What I won’t say here, however, is that by going out and socialising with friends, minus Lottie, I got a glimpse of my ‘old life’ or I had a chance to be the ‘old me’ again. It might be surprising to hear, I actually don’t feel like a different person now that I am a mother. I am still interested in all the same things as I used to be interested in. I still have the same friends and the same relationship with my husband and my family and friends that I used to have. I still have the same dress sense, the same Twitter addiction, I read and follow the same current affairs and news, and I like doing the same things in my free time, such as watching movies, studying, going to the football, eating out, following politics, catching up with friends. The only difference is, I have less of this free time now, and it’s more difficult to make plans spontaneously. And obviously I have a new topic of interest – Lottie. Before Lottie I would never have imagined I would find myself reading baby blogs and parenting websites, but now I have a new interest. Before Lottie, I didn’t find it interesting to talk to friends about the merits of different parenting methods, now I find these conversations relevant to my life.

The point I’m trying to make is that my new interest in being a parent hasn’t replaced my interest in other things. Since I’ve been on maternity leave, my life has changed considerably from when I was working every day, but this change is only temporary; I’m going back to work in March. And all the other things in my life have continued and my identity as ‘Vic the mum’ is the same identity as I had before. I don’t know if this is everyone’s experience, but since I’ve promised to document my journey as a new parent, I just felt this realisation was an important step on that journey.

When I started writing this post, when Lottie was only a couple of weeks old, I said: ‘life has to go on and for my life to go on happily, this baby needs to make everything about my already awesome life even better’. I can safely say, coming up to the five month mark, that my life as a mother has gone on very happily, and that Lottie has made me a happier person, but not a different person than I was before.

Safe places for baby to sleep

Lottie on the way home from the hospital. She slept through her first trip in the car seat.
Lottie on the way home from the hospital. She slept through her first trip in the car seat.

Lottie is 20 weeks old (4.5 months) and she is developing more personality every day. In fact, out of all the weeks we have been getting to know her, this has been my favourite so far. She is cracking smiles at everyone and anyone, including strangers at the supermarket. And since we started solids a week ago, she seems to have a newfound energy for interaction and grabbing things (and putting them in her mouth). It might just be a coincidence, but her enthusiasm for food just seems to have made her grow up from a ‘newborn baby’ to a ‘small child’. Everything is changing so fast and I’m loving every minute of it.

Lottie’s sleeps have been consistently consistent too. She still hasn’t managed a sleep at mother’s group, or any other place outside of home where I can’t use a portacot or take her for a walk in the pram or a drive in the car. But this situation is not surprising. It’s not a coincidence that she can’t just sleep on a mat in a brightly lit room full of other people (and babies), or at a BBQ, at the pub, on the beach or any number of other places I might like her to sleep so I can be out and about with her for longer than a couple of hours. This is because all the sleep cues I’ve trained her to rely on before going to sleep are in fact necessary for her to go to sleep. I have to remind myself that right at the start, I said I was committed to having proper day sleeps and avoiding ‘napping and snacking’, and I remain committed to this ‘parent-led’ sleep method. Whereas once I was stressing that Lottie wouldn’t sleep in her cot during the day, now she finds it very hard to sleep anywhere else for any longer than 30 – 40 minutes max: this includes the pram, the car and the carrier. Even the old ‘going to sleep on the boob’ trick has failed of late. It’s not so bad though because as long as I don’t overdo what I would call ‘non-cot-sleeps’, a short nap does take the edge off her overtiredness and so even with a couple of ‘non-cot-sleeps’ a day, we are still usually on track for a full nights’ sleep (including the 10pm dream feed). So all good.

As I mentioned, one place Lottie still manages to have short day sleeps is in the car in her capsule. The capsule used to also double as Lottie’s pram, as the capsule clicked out of the car and onto my Mountain Buggy Swift pram. For the last couple of weeks, we have stopped using the capsule on the pram because Lottie is now big enough for the stroller pram, and is very happy to sleep in it when it is fully reclined (for no longer than 30 minutes as long as the pram is moving non-stop for those 30 minutes!). However, for the first 2 – 3 months, Lottie was more than happy to sleep in her capsule for up to 2 hours, which meant that she would often fall asleep in the car and then stay asleep once I’d taken the capsule out of the car. Or she would fall asleep in the capsule on the pram and I could keep her asleep even when not pushing, such as one very memorable visit to the Royal Show where she slept in the capsule on the pram for 3 hours. These days, the longest sleeps Lottie has in the capsule are when we go for long drives, which we do most weekends to and from my family’s beach house which is just over an hour from home. Lottie is so good at falling asleep in the car, I have renamed our car ‘the sleep machine’ as it remains a sure-fire way to get in a short nap.

Even though Lottie doesn’t stay asleep once we stop driving, she often used to stay asleep when she was younger and I thought nothing of transferring the capsule into the house, or onto the pram for a walk, thinking, like all new mothers – the more sleep the better! But I have had to think again this week after reading this tragic story about a family losing their 3 month old son from accidental suffocation in a car seat capsule. The article outlining the events surrounding this accident came with a warning that ‘Research proves it is never safe to leave your baby asleep in a car seat’. When I read the evidence that research by doctors at the University of Auckland found 9 of 43 incidents involving ‘babies who had turned blue from lack of oxygen’ were when babies were in car seats or upright bouncers, I must admit I was horrified. The article also quoted Kid Safe Australia whose ‘safe sleeping for infants’ fact sheet states ‘Bouncinettes, prams, strollers, hammocks, baby swings, and car seats have NOT been designed for safe sleeping. No young child should be left unsupervised in these if they fall asleep’. And then this article about a baby’s death in a bouncer reports that a study of baby deaths in capsules, swings and bouncers found the time period between when the child had last been seen alive ‘to when they were discovered ranged from as little as four minutes to up to 11 hours’. 4 minutes?!? At this point my horror (and guilt) at unknowingly putting Lottie in unsafe sleeping environment many times also turned to anger. Because I can absolutely guarantee you that all babies who use car seat capsules, sleep in car seat capsules. All babies who ride in cars, sleep in car seat capsules. In fact, Lottie fell asleep in her car capsule on the way home from the hospital. Because newborn babies sleep most of the day! And the car’s motion helps them to go to sleep. So now we’re being told that these car seat capsules, which are built to be safe in the event of an accident, are not safe to sleep in ‘unsupervised?’ And that babies should be woken when you reach your destination, and not left to sleep in the capsule. In Lottie’s case, this would have meant being woken many times after a 10 minute nap. No thank you!

When I thought about it, I realised that in fact Lottie was better supervised asleep in her capsule out of the car than she is asleep in the back seat of the car. When she’s out of the car, I can see her clearly and am not distracted by important things like keeping the car on the road and making sure I’m not driving into oncoming traffic. I have a mirror in front of the capsule since it is rear facing, but it’s very hard to glance at it in the rear-view-mirror for a safe amount of time, so if I am driving on my own, on a freeway or in the country where I don’t stop at traffic lights and I’m going too fast to take my eyes off the road for even a moment, Lottie is very often ‘unsupervised’ and asleep in her capsule for much longer than 4 minutes. I would never put Lottie down to sleep anywhere but her cot overnight (and thankfully she has always happily slept in her cot at night). And I’m sure she has never been in the pram or capsule asleep outside of the car for longer than a few minutes without me checking on her. But when I am driving, it is another matter. And when I am driving, Lottie, like all babies, is very often asleep. So the very clever people who have designed car seat capsules to be safe, comfy and transportable, are now telling us they’re not a safe place to sleep? For crying out loud, we can put humans on the moon, but we can’t design a safe place for babies to sleep ‘unsupervised’ in the car? I just don’t think this is good enough. Particularly for new mums, prone to anxiety and desperate to get their new babies as much sleep as they need, who also don’t want to be stuck, isolated at home for the first year of their baby’s life, which in many cases can be very bad for the new mum’s mental health. I just don’t think this is good enough! And I have no idea what to do about it, except to write this post.