What I’ve learned

6monthsLottie is 6 months old this week and I’ve decided this milestone is a good time to stop blogging. A 6 month boot-camp seems to be a suitable length of time to feel ‘on top’ of this motherhood business. I’ll leave this blog on the internet in case it’s ever useful for mums or soon-to-be mums trawling for advice. Perhaps I’ll come back to it if something baby-related happens which is worth reporting, or maybe for boot-camp baby number two.

This final post is a good chance to summarise some of the things I’ve learned about motherhood during this 6 month journey:

  • There is a lot of advice out there, much of which is useless. I recommend identifying friends, family, experts, authors or even random strangers on the internet (like me!) who you think sound like they share your values and your perspective on the world, or you know they’ve had a good experience in motherhood, and tune into their advice while filtering out anything that contradicts it. Otherwise you’ll constantly be confused about the right thing to do and you’ll always feel judged as there will always be people doing something different who will want to tell you you’re not doing it right. People do have good advice, so use it, but use it wisely. Don’t assume just because someone has good advice about say, feeding, that you’ll also want to take their advice about something else, such as sleeping. Think about your own circumstances and mould advice to make sure it works for you, your baby and your family.
  • Choosing who to tune in to and who to tune out can be as simple as working out your priorities and finding people who share them. For instance, if you know from the outset that you don’t want to suffer from sleep deprivation for the first year of your baby’s life, identify friends who had babies who were ‘great sleepers’ or read up on books that promise to help your baby sleep longer. Then dedicate yourself to learning their secrets. If you meet someone who says ‘my five year old still doesn’t sleep through the night’ and you think this sounds like a nightmare scenario, take this into account when they offer any advice about baby sleep. It’s not to say they don’t know what they’re doing, it’s just that they’re not in a position to offer you advice if you don’t want to end up where they did.
  • Once you decide on a course of action, feel confident in your decision and stick to it. It might not work straight away but eventually you will have success. For instance, if you decide you want to instigate routines, such as ‘eat play sleep’, you don’t have to be 100% strict with it, but you do have to commit to sticking to this method as best you can to actually get any benefit from it. Trying it for two days and then deciding it doesn’t work and trying something different is the reason it didn’t work. Persevere!
  • I have learned that all babies are different, but they are much more of a blank canvas than mothers, who are far more different than babies. You might need to read that sentence again for it to make sense. Basically I’m saying that when you hear other mothers say ‘my baby doesn’t like doing XYZ’ or ‘my baby much prefers ABC’, what they’re really saying is ‘I don’t like XYZ’ or ‘I prefer ABC’. Mothers, hopefully in consultation with fathers, decide how to raise their children. Children don’t decide how they raise themselves.
  • Trust your instincts, but don’t expect your instincts to be more accurate than the knowledge and advice of real experts. For instance, if a doctor diagnoses an illness in your child and your instincts are telling you the doctor is wrong, by all means see another doctor. But never assume your instincts are 100% right and the doctor is 100% wrong, as just being a mother doesn’t qualify you to know better than a trained professional.
  • Babies change every day and so what you were doing yesterday might need to change today. Be nimble, flexible and take the good with the bad. Nothing is horrible for long and nothing is easy for long. I have learned that the love you feel for your baby will make all the hard times worthwhile, and when you’re right in the middle of the hardest times, try to remember this too will pass.
  • Remember you’re never alone. Your family and friends want to help you, so don’t feel you’re a failure if you need someone to put a load of washing on for you or do the shopping or look after your baby while you have some ‘me’ time. Ask for help if you need it. Make sure your partner, if you have one, pulls their weight – they are parents too. Go out for a walk if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Don’t go out at all if this makes life easier. Drink lots of coffee. Cancel plans, be late, don’t turn up if your baby has cracked it in the car and you just can’t face an outing. Your friends will understand and if they don’t understand you’re better off without them. Do something for yourself whenever you get a chance. If you’re so tired you feel like you’re losing your mind, laugh at yourself. It helps, I promise.
  • Once you’re a mother, you are busy all the time. But that doesn’t mean your life from before children is over. Unless of course you want it to be. What I’m meaning to say is that it’s up to you how much motherhood changes your life. If you want it to change, embrace your new identity. If you’re scared it will change you and you love your life and don’t want it to disappear, make sure it doesn’t. You can keep most things you did before parenthood, just maybe not in the same quantities as before. Know what you want from motherhood and go and get it. I’ve done it and 6 months down the track, I couldn’t be happier.

I hope at least something I’ve written at some stage has been useful to someone at some time. Thanks for reading.

Cheers

Victoria

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Going back to work

Lottie and CousinAs Christmas approaches, and Lottie nears her 6 month birthday, life beyond maternity leave gets closer. The reality that I am going back to work in March became much more of a reality when, last week, I got the very happy news that I have secured a childcare place for Lottie in a centre a few blocks from my house. Because of the single-intake system for childcare, in order to get a place, Lottie will be starting in February and will be attending four days a week, with the fifth day thankfully covered by my mother and sister.

As much as I know I will miss spending almost every waking hour with Lottie, I am also quite looking forward to her starting childcare. Really? Yes, really.

This is because I know Lottie will absolutely love childcare. I’m sure she’s perfectly happy with me at home too – she is content playing with her toys, having visitors, going for walks, visiting family and friends, reading books, singing songs, grocery shopping, going out for coffee and cake (for mum!) and her latest favourite thing is eating food. But there is one major thing missing from her life at home – other babies. Watching her face light up when she sees her cousin, who is 10 weeks older, and seeing her enjoyment at playing with babies and children, shows me just how much she is going to love childcare. And of course, it’s not just about her having fun. Childcare is also good for her development; teaching her how to socialise, how to negotiate, how to be independent from her parents, how to play with others and hopefully, how to be a resilient little person.

I am also looking forward to going back to work. Really? Yes, really.

I know there is no cookie-cutter reaction to the whole ‘going back to work’ thing after having a baby; for each family there are a unique set of circumstances, decisions and resulting emotions. Some new mums swap their careers for full-time parenting when they have children. Some new mums expect to be going back to work when they go on maternity leave, but then after their baby arrives they realise they would much prefer to be stay at home mums, either while their children are small or forever. Some women might like the idea of being stay at home mums, but they might not be in the financial position to make this decision. It is also really common for previously-full-time workers to negotiate part-time positions so that they can keep their foot in the workforce and be at home some of the time too. Then there are people like me who expect to take some time out of the workforce when they have babies, and then go back full time when their maternity leave ends.

I am in the fortunate position that I absolutely love my career, and I have missed working while being at home with Lottie. I can imagine if I didn’t enjoy my job, going back to it would be hard. Either way, whether you like or loathe your work, there is no doubt that being a working mum, part-time or full-time, is a massive juggling act where you’re constantly compromising between your dedication to your job and your parenting responsibilities. I know it’s going to be tough, but I feel ready.

Since Lottie was born, I’ve watched my husband racing home from work to make sure he has time to hang out with Lottie, and to help me with the evening routine, before she goes to bed. If he gets home too late and she’s in bed, he physically looks pained to have missed her. But then I also know that his job, like mine, is very busy and it’s not always possible to leave on time when there are demands on you which are expected as part of your job. With two parents working, and Lottie needing to be dropped at childcare in the mornings, and picked up (on time!), we’re going to be living very hectic lives. But that’s just what reality is like with children and two working parents, no matter what age, so we may as well get used to it while Lottie is still a baby. Between now and then I have a whole Summer to enjoy, so I will make the most of what is left of my maternity leave as my return to work date draws nearer.

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.

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.

#EndMommyWars

Lottie has a coldI’ve started writing this post three times today and was interrupted each time by Lottie crying. She woke up this morning with a runny nose and is very whingey so I’m guessing she has her first cold. She is extra needy today, so I cancelled all plans and have accommodated her three 45 minute naps, which all ended in coughing and crying, and then she had her first ‘at home sleep on the boob’ in weeks. Now she’s back in her cot for her record breaking fifth sleep of the day. I’m hoping she stays asleep long enough for me to get through this post.

The hot topic in the world of mothers on the internet this week is this new documentary/advertisement by formula company Similac: End Mommy Wars. The ‘cynical me’ would say this is a very clever marketing ploy to promote the formula product category and Similac brand by creating a clip of social commentary that entices viral sharing. I have read a couple of interesting critiques of the ad, such as this one which makes the valid point about the missing fathers and women who are more than happy to go back to work. And this one that argues ‘‘mommy wars’ are the patriarchy’s latest attempt to control women’ and that making judgements and sharing opinions is a perfectly natural way for mothers to behave. But the ‘trying not to be so cynical me’ can acknowledge that watching the video is a worthwhile way to spend seven minutes of your life and makes some good points about the destructive and unnecessary ‘judging’ of some mothers towards others.

I have written about baby wars before, including sleep and feeding battles. I have no doubt that most advice given by one mother to the next is well meaning and if it does have all the hallmarks of negative judgement it is, mostly, unintentional. But I think unnecessary judgmental comments can be avoided if we are mindful of what we are saying and how we express our advice and opinions. I will put my hand up now and admit I am a judgemental person, extremely opinionated and stubborn in my beliefs. But there is a big difference between silent, locked away inside my head judgement which I do my best not to communication in my facial expressions, body language and words, as compared with harsh, unhelpful judgement provided to anyone and everyone who will listen or read it on internet parenthood sites. To put it simply, if we are all going to take Similac’s advice and #EndMommyWars, here are some things ‘mommies’ need to stop doing.

Don’t criticise other parent’s decisions while justifying your own

An example of the underhanded way some people put down other parents while explaining (in other words, justifying) their own ideas and methods is this typical statement by a co-sleeper:

I co-sleep because my child loves being with me and as a result my child has great self-esteem, is a very loving person and has a deep attachment to me.

Such statements imply parents who don’t co-sleep are raising children who have low self-esteem, are hateful and aren’t secure in their attachment to their parents. This is offensive and also ridiculous. All children adore their parents if they are brought up with love and care and where a child sleeps has absolutely zero impact on their personality. Why not just say:

I co-sleep because it works best for my family. And leave it at that.

Don’t assume your experience is the same as everyone else’s

No two mothers will have the exact same experience of raising their child. Some mothers will leave their jobs to have children and will make the decision to work part-time or to not go back at all, preferring to become full time stay at home mothers. Other mums will miss their careers and will go back to work as soon as they can. Every mother experiences motherhood differently and so it’s important not to assume everyone feels the same way as you do about all the myriad of decisions parents have to make in raising their babies.

It is equally important to remember that where you may see choices as just that – choices – other people’s experiences might lead them to be forced into a particular outcome which they then have to do their best to deal with. Feeding a child formula rather than breast feeding is one example. So is the decision to go back to work, and a long list of other scenarios where one woman’s experience and situation might be completely different from your own.

Agree to disagree and mind your own business

The subject of sleep-training is one where I feel mothers should do their best to agree to disagree and avoid forming camps of ‘against’ or ‘for’ particular sleep methods. I have written many times about my experience sleep-training Lottie and the benefits my family have gained from this approach. It’s not been easy but I am content in my choice. If another mother would prefer not to sleep train her child, then that’s completely her family’s decision and nothing to do with me. Whether it is choosing to use dummies or not, feeding with formula or breastfeeding, when to introduce solids, crying it out or attachment parenting, everyone needs to remember that the only decision they have any influence over is their own and that literally everything else is none of their business. Some mothers seem to go on what I would call crusades of persuasion, trying to convince other mothers to emulate their own decisions in raising their children. But really, unless it affects your own child, such as the risk of your child catching deadly diseases off children who haven’t been immunised, or your child being hurt in some way by the behaviour of other children, everything else really is none of your business. Full stop.

Ok, so Lottie is now awake and so I will finish this post here. Here’s to a better mothers-getting-along-supporting-each-other world.

Days Sleeps at Mothers’ Group

This is Lottie not sleeping on the beach. She ended up going to sleep on the boob. Not ideal!
This is Lottie not sleeping on the beach. She ended up going to sleep on the boob. Not ideal!

Last week I had my first official ‘Mothers’ Group’, organised by my local CaFHS office. I must admit, I was unsure at first whether there would be any point going to this group. I’ve been catching up with mothers with similar aged babies to Lottie since she was a few weeks old through friends I met doing aqua aerobics while I was pregnant. I also have a few close friends and two sisters who have babies and so I felt my bases were covered when it came to mother-advice-forums. However, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find I very much enjoyed my first official Mothers’ Group. There were ten mums from the local area, with twelve babies (yes, two sets of twins!), and all the babies were aged between 4 and 7 months. The structure was quite informal, and we had plenty of time to chat amongst ourselves. At the same time, the structure was also useful because the convenor of the group gave us the flexibility to choose which topics we wanted to discuss and unlike our informal get together with friends, we stick to those topics rather than gossip instead. For week two we all chose to discuss sleep and settling. On the topic of sleep and settling, I’m not really sure how Mothers’ Group is meant to work with sleep and settling so that would be the one problem I have with Mothers’ Group.

Mothers’ Group starts at 1:30 and ends at 3:30pm-ish. Before I was a mum, I would see this as a very convenient time to meet with a group of women with babies. There would be time to do some things in the morning, then I could have lunch beforehand and be home in plenty of time to organise dinner. The old me would probably expect to organise my day so my baby arrived at Mothers’ Group well rested and fed, ready to be happy-awake throughout the session and not crying for a feed or whinging for a sleep. But as I have had to come to terms with, this 1:30 – 3:30pm appointment is not so easy after all. It’s not that there would be a better two hour window in the day to take Lottie to Mothers’ Group. It’s just that, thanks to the way I have decided to manage Lottie’s ‘eat, play, sleep’ routine, there is absolutely no easy way to ensure all the ducks line up to make Mothers’ Group an easily achievable outing.

There are a few reasons why, which all have to do with sleep and settling. The first is that the length of Lottie’s day sleeps are completely unpredictable. And the speed at which she goes to sleep is also varied. Day sleeps in the cot are anywhere from 45 minutes long to 3 hours. I have no idea why. Sometimes Lottie whinges for a couple of minutes before going out like a light, but other times she chats to herself for half an hour before going to sleep, pushing out the entire ‘nap time’ to longer than expected. And then other times she is completely silent while she is going to sleep and I assume she’s asleep when she’s not, undoing my keeping-track-of-her-day-sleeps routine and not knowing how long she has in fact been asleep, unless I’m watching her cot-cam like a hawk which of course I am not because when she is asleep I’m busily doing things that need doing.

The outcome of all this unpredictability around day sleeps is that in order to get Lottie to Mothers’ Group on time (or anywhere on time), I may need to cut short a nap which is something I really hate to do (she gets very grumpy when woken). Or she wakes earlier enough that she is due to go back to sleep as soon as I arrive. Or worse, she could go to sleep in the car on the 10 minute drive there, then wake when I arrive (because she won’t stay asleep through the transfer out of the car anymore) and then she’s had a ridiculously short nap which leaves her whingy-tired until the next proper sleep. In fact by some miracle, Lottie didn’t start screaming at Mothers’ Group even though by the time it finishes she had been awake almost three hours, and just lay on the mat in front of me doing a great impression of almost going to sleep but not quite getting there. As I looked around at other babies happily sleeping on their rugs, including one pair of twins, and other babies contentedly being put down in their (static) prams and sleeping without a peep, I will admit I did get day-time-sleep-envy. From all the sleep training I’ve been doing and the spotting of tired signs, going through the sleep cues and successfully getting 3 or 4 reasonable length sleeps throughout the day, there is one thing Lottie cannot do: she can’t fall asleep when we are out and about without help. She can sleep in the car, she can sleep in a moving pram, she can sleep in the carrier (not for long) and she is an absolute pro at sleeping in her cot, or her portacot. But the only way to get her to sleep out of the house when I am not in a position to whip out the portacot, or if I can’t help her with motion because I’m sitting at a café, visiting a friend, at a birthday party, at Mothers’ Group, or even on the beach as I experienced recently, is to put her to sleep on my boob. This usually results in a 15 minute-max nap on the boob which is usually enough to take the edge off the overtiredness until I can get her home for a proper sleep. And thank goodness that the boob still does work as a last resort when I need it. But the outcome of all of this is that amongst the day sleeps, it’s very hard to do anything which a) needs to be done at a specific time, or b) involves me staying put for an hour or more without having to give in to boob-to-sleep which is far from ideal. Since Lottie only stays awake happily from an hour to two hours max, and since she has to be fed as soon as she wakes up so that eats into her awake time before we go out, whenever I go somewhere I am constantly wondering how on earth I am going to get her to sleep.

I wonder if the sleep and settling session at Mothers’ Group will give me any useful tips to help solve this problem? Or if, more likely, I’m just going to have to live with this reality, which I have chosen by managing sleeps the way I do. Of course if I learn anything useful, I will share it here.

Great sleep expectations

LottieYawningLottie is three and a half months old and is sleeping through the night fairly consistently. She goes to bed around 6 – 7pm depending on the timing and length of her last day sleep. I’m giving her a dream feed at 10pm and then 6 out of 7 nights a week for the past fortnight, she has made it through to 6-7am. As you can imagine, dropping the overnight feed is a very welcome change. The only downside, and I’m saying this totally as a ‘first world problem’ without, I hope, sounding too smug, is that now that I’m getting a full night’s sleep, a good 8 hour stretch is my new normal, just like it was before I had a newborn. So suddenly on the odd occasions Lottie does wake early, say around 4am, and definitely needs a feed, I find it very difficult to wake up, get out of bed and attend to her. In my head I’m screaming ‘come on Lottie! You know how to get all the way through, you should be able to do it every night!’. Quickly my expectation has changed from accepting that night feeds are just a part of life, to expecting night feeds to be no longer. But is this necessarily a bad thing? I don’t think so. Let me explain why.

Last night Lottie woke at 4.50am and was yelling out. This is a nasty time of night and I was deeply asleep before I was woken. I checked on the cot-cam to see whether her yelling was hysterical or calm. Even though I can usually hear the difference between the insistent-not-going-to-stop-until-she’s-fed yelling and benign calling out, I find having a quick peep at her from the comfort of my bed a much more accurate way of deciphering where she is at. The expression on her face is an obvious giveaway – wide mouthed with scrunched up eyes or just staring around. So is her body language – flailing arms and kicking frantically means she’s hungry, but fairly still is a good sign she’ll go back to sleep. Last night I could see all the signs that Lottie was absolutely fine and so I didn’t get out of bed. Her eyes were shut and the calling out lasted only about 30 seconds so I suspect she was either yelling in her sleep, or waking ever-so-slightly between sleep cycles. Once she found her hand and started sucking it, she self-settled and slept through until 7am. Suffice to say I was really glad I didn’t get out of bed and go in there. If I had, I probably would have woken her up completely and then she definitely would have needed to be fed before going back to sleep; my getting up would have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. But since my expectation was that she had had enough to eat from the last feed before bed and the dream feed, and that there should be no reason for her to need a feed at 4:50am since she’s proven many times she can make it through to morning, we got through the night again without an overnight feed.

When I was pregnant, one of the most common warnings from some friends and colleagues who were already parents was that I should prepare myself for the most painful part of motherhood: sleep deprivation. There’s no doubt sleep deprivation is tough and leaves you feeling muddy in the head, a bit sick, headachey and in my case, close to tears or hysterical laughter or both. There is also scientific evidence that mothers whose children have sleep issues are more prone to post-natal depression, so the impacts are very serious for some families. This is why I really believe we, as a society, should do new parents a favour and stop setting the expectation that sleep deprivation is a normal part of parenthood that lasts until children become toddlers, or even older. As I’ve seen proven in my own family and amongst many of my friends who also sleep-trained their children to self-settle, there is absolutely no reason why night feeds and spending time getting babies back to sleep should be keeping parents up at night past the 3-4 month mark. If my baby can be taught to self-settle and can get enough food into her belly to sustain her for an 8-9 hour sleep, there is absolutely no reason why, barring illness, another baby of a similar age can’t do the exact same thing. I understand there will be times in the future where Lottie won’t sleep all the way through the night; she might get sick, she’ll go through growth spurts and be extra hungry, solids might mess things around a bit, teething is a difficult period and when she is big enough, she might jump out of her cot in the night for a range of reasons. But overall, once a baby can self-settle and the expectation is set that they can, and should, sleep through the night, there is no good reason to make parents think anything else is considered ‘normal’. Why suffer from sleep deprivation if you don’t have to? The only thing I ever feel like doing between the hours of midnight and 6am is sleeping, and I’m setting the expectation that my child should feel the same way.

Whereas this post is based on my experiences as a new mother with one child, so a very small sample, I found it interesting to read this paper from the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health called ‘Sleeping like a baby? Infant sleep: Impact on caregivers and current controversies’. As I’ve written about previously on this blog, there are two schools of thought when it comes to baby sleep management: attachment and behavioural management. These are two ends of a continuum with most parents sitting on one side but not at the extreme ends. The paper is discussing the controversies around care-givers advice to new parents about baby sleep, where care-givers I assume are midwives, general practitioners and paediatricians.

The authors explain that attachment parenting is the method where babies are ‘parented to sleep’ with intervention such as rocking or being worn in a sling and where ‘waking overnight is regarded as adaptive and not to be discouraged’. They say evidence supporting this method ‘is predominantly personal and clinical experiences, informed by theories about parent–infant relationships and reports of care-giving practices in traditional societies. There is limited systematic evidence’. This is a polite way for scientists to say there is no credible, peer reviewed research to back up this method of sleep management.

Conversely, behaviour management methods are described as, ‘after excluding health-related explanations… parents [use] active strategies to respond to infant sleep problems’ and that this method ‘argues that infant behaviour can be shaped or modified by the caregiving milieu’. In other words, sleep training, which includes ‘parent education about infant development and capacities, providing the baby with a separate safe sleep space, and a predictable environment with regular routines of care and ways of responding to the baby’s crying and settling that ultimately encourage the baby to self-settle to sleep’. The benefits, or successful results, of the behavioural management approach, unlike attachment parenting, are proven ‘from research published in peer-reviewed journals but is also informed by clinical experience’. Don’t you love it when science backs up your pre-conceived notions! I think one of the key words in this quote is infant ‘capacities’; the capacity for the infant to sleep through the night should be something caregivers advise parents about, rather than setting the expectation that many months and possibly years of sleep deprivation is just part of life. The conclusion of the paper states that ‘Infant sleep problems are common, impact adversely on maternal and paternal mental health, and are amenable to behavioural management strategies. Future research needs to determine if there are long-term harms or sustained benefits of these interventions using rigorous, objective measures. Robust research delineating the benefits and harms of [attachment] approaches is also needed. In the meantime, clinicians should ask about infant sleep and maternal and paternal well-being, educate parents about normal sleep patterns and, if appropriate, offer behavioural management strategies to parents to implement (or not) as they see fit’.

So put simply, the authors found that more research is needed into the benefits and harms of both methods, but there is enough research already, and enough proof of detrimental impacts on families from lack of sleep, that caregivers should, ethically, at the very least make parents aware of what ‘normal’ sleep patterns are (that is, set the expectations of when a baby should be sleeping through the night’, and when appropriate, provide information about behavioural management strategies that parents can try if they choose to improve their child’s capacity to sleep. Amen to that!

The best and the worst

TheBestAndWorstI’ve been on baby boot camp with my daughter Lottie for three months, so I feel it’s time to assess how my life has changed since becoming a mum. Overall life is brilliant, and I couldn’t be happier. But it’s also worth noting that I was already a very happy person before Lottie’s arrival and of course not everything about having a baby is sunshine and roses. The easiest way to explain how I feel about motherhood’s ups and downs so far is to dot point the top ten and bottom ten changes I’ve experienced.

The best things

  • Feeling like my heart will burst with love for Lottie, a love that amazingly seems to grow every day. (Sorry for the soppiness).
  • Watching my husband and Lottie’s extended family and friends loving her like I do.
  • Looking forward to getting to know Lottie’s personality as she grows into a toddler and soon a small person who can have conversations.
  • Singing songs and reading books, learning how to entertain Lottie and surprisingly finding myself entertained too.
  • Small clothes.
  • Walks in the sun with Lottie in the pram or carrier.
  • Catching a smile on camera or video. Ok, I admit it, I’m addicted to taking photos of my baby. I have hundreds of photos.
  • Coffee and cake with friends and hanging out with my family more since I’m on leave from work.
  • Sharing the baby boot camp experience with my sister and nephew who is 10 weeks older than Lottie. It’s lovely to have someone to text in the morning about Lottie’s night who finds trivial baby updates interesting.
  • Cuddles. During feeds, before bed, first thing in the morning, after feeds, any and every time of the day I love Lottie cuddles.

The worst things

  • Sleep deprivation and having to get out of a warm bed in the middle of the cold night to feed Lottie. Thankfully these occasions are becoming less frequent.
  • Lottie’s emotional crying (tears). Particularly when I can’t do anything about it, such as in the car.
  • Managing Lottie’s sleeps. The moments when I think she’s asleep and then I realise she’s not (sleep fail). Or when she is asleep and then for an inexplicable reason she wakes up and I know she won’t go back to sleep even though she’s not had enough sleep. Or when we’re out somewhere and Lottie is exhausted and losing it, but won’t go to sleep. You get the picture. Sleeps are hard.
  • Physical exhaustion and sore back and neck from feeding, lifting, pushing pram, carrying, bending over, in and out of cot etc.
  • The inconsistency and unpredictability of Lottie’s behaviour; just when I think things are getting more consistent and predictable, bam, things are all over the shop again.
  • Worrying about Lottie for no other reason than just being worried. Finding silly things to worry about when there’s nothing to worry about. I think this just comes with the parent-territory.
  • Lack of mental-stimulation and missing being around work colleagues and having challenges every day. Maternity leave can be very boring, particularly when Lottie is asleep.
  • Baby-related chores such as washing, cleaning, managing all the bits and pieces that go with Lottie such as expressing milk, sterilizing bottles, nappy bag restocks, keeping on top of nappy supply etc.
  • The end of spontaneity. Going out, even just to grab something from the shops, now requires careful planning and sometimes even a baby sitter. Outings also need to take into account sleeps. And all the bits and pieces that need to be packed up and taken with us; it sometimes feels like I have to pack up the house just to leave for a couple of hours.
  • As much as I love the singing and the books, the repetition of the same songs and the same books can be mind-numbingly boring at times.

Looking back at the list of good things and bad things, it’s made me realise that the good things are all major happiness-inducing changes and the bad things are mostly small annoyances that are completely and utterly made up for by the good stuff. Motherhood clearly gets the big tick from me!

Job Share Parenting

Job Share ParentingThis Saturday Lottie will be 3 months old. I’ve heard people say that babies get much ‘easier’ from 3 months onwards and I must admit I’m finding this to be the case. Lottie has become more predictable in her behaviour (give or take a recent Wonder Week) and her sleep and feeding habits are less of a mystery. She is able to self-settle much quicker (so no more lying in her cot awake for up to 90 minutes before going to sleep, it’s now more like 10 minutes). Her ability to sleep anywhere is improving. I don’t think the sleeps in the car seat, in the carrier on my front or in the pram are ever going to be quality day sleeps – they usually only last an hour or less – but as long as I only have one of these shorter day-sleeps per day, Lottie doesn’t seem to get overtired. The cot in her nursery is still her favourite place and night times are going well, with one night feed post dream feed, and a few times no night feed at all. I love a full night’s sleep!

Part of the reason I feel things are getting easier are not just to do with Lottie, but are attributable to my own growing confidence, and also my husband’s. We have started to get into a good rhythm in sharing Lottie-related-tasks when Rick is at home on weekends, mornings and evenings. I’ve had to make a conscious effort not to treat Rick like my parenting assistant, because I could tell right from the start this would undermine his confidence. It also implies that I am better at parenting than him and the outcome of that attitude is that I’m the only one who can look after Lottie, which is hard on me, and Rick. For example, if I ask Rick to change Lottie’s nappy, and then I stand over him while he does it telling him he’s doing it wrong, he’s going to feel like an assistant parent. And it’s double-handling so a waste of my time. It also positions me as the boss parent, and just like in the workplace, the boss is in charge and therefore takes ultimate responsibility. I don’t want ultimate responsibility for Lottie, because she has two parents. Not a boss and an assistant. Rather parents who are job sharing. I would prefer Rick doesn’t need my help changing a nappy, and in fact can work out for himself when Lottie needs changing, so I bite my tongue and let him do it.

Now after three months, just like me, Rick’s quickly learned how to do all sorts of Lottie tasks without my help; he does most of the baths, most of the reading books, lots of nappies and outfit changes, burping, spotting tired signs, putting down to bed, soothing when she cries, entertaining her, singing to her, putting her in the pram and in the car seat, taking her for walks in the pram or carrier, feeding her a bottle, in fact everything except for the only things he can’t physically do: breastfeeding and expressing. Obviously I do more of all of these things as I’m on maternity leave and he works full time. And I get up in the night because there’s no point Rick getting up since he can’t feed Lottie (and needs his sleep so he can be alert at work!). Job-shared roles in workplaces aren’t always split 50/50, nevertheless both the employees in the shared-job take full responsibility when they are at work. And slowly, but surely, this is how our parenting-job-sharing is taking shape.

It is so nice when Rick comes home from work to be able to hand Lottie over to him and run out to the supermarket or have a bath or read a book or cook dinner. It’s also great to have a break on weekends, where I don’t have to change every nappy or manage every sleep. Rick’s confidence with Lottie isn’t just great for me, but also makes his time with Lottie more enjoyable I think since he’s sure of what he’s doing and he knows what to do if Lottie needs something. There are still many times where I catch myself bossing Rick around with Lottie as if I’m his boss. And sometimes he does need to check with me if he’s not sure what Lottie needs. I also try not to say ‘thank you’ to Rick when he looks after Lottie, because that implies he’s doing me a favour, almost as if he’s babysitting his own daughter, when really he’s just being a parent. I can already see that the long term benefits of us both being confident job-sharing parents is going to be good for all of us. Particularly when I go back to work, and also when I hopefully have baby number two. See what I mean about things getting easier; I’m already thinking about the next one.