It felt like my baby was the only one in my Mother’s Group who wouldn’t sleep
There’s one in every Mother’s Group. The mum with the baby that's always crying and fussing. The one who cries through all the parent education sessions while the mum bobs around desperately at the back of the room. Unfortunately, my first daughter was ‘that’ baby.
While all the other babies in the group lay serenely in their prams, my daughter refused to make a good first impression. I spent each week attempting different techniques to get her to settle while trying not to notice the looks of pity in the other mums’ faces.
To be honest, our daughter was always pretty unsettled. I’d heard that babies in the first weeks were quite ‘sleepy’ and barely opened their eyes. Not our little one. From the moment she was born she opened her eyes, closely followed by her mouth with a loud roar. The midwives all said she was ‘alert’ which I thought was a compliment at the time. After a while, I decided it was a curse.
By the time I got to Mother’s Group, I was looking for some solidarity. I was hoping others had been pounding the pavement at 10 pm trying to get their baby to sleep. I hoped someone had an answer to how to get her to sleep longer than the 30-minute catnaps she’d become accustomed to.
But no one seemed to be going through the same things as me. Sure, they all had things they found hard but it was so different to my issues.
“Vivi sleeps from 9 until 12 every morning, it’s really hard to get out of the house!” one mum lamented.
“Oh my Max just likes lying in his cot or the pram, it’s like he doesn’t want to be held,” another mother said.
So, I decided I needed to ‘fix’ my daughter. I went to the library and borrowed all the sleep and routine books. I read forums online and quizzed people about what helped their babies to sleep and be less fussy.
I went with a routine that set out sleep, feeding and play times down to the minute. 1 PM breast feed for 8 minutes each side, 1:16 PM put them to bed awake and allow them to sleep for 47 minutes. That kind of routine. My poor daughter didn’t know what hit her.
For the next few days, I lay under her cot, patting her for hours to try and get her into that magic second sleep cycle. I would set an alarm for 29 minutes so I could try and catch her before she woke so then I could help her stay asleep longer than 30 minutes.
By day three, I was miserable and so was she. I had spent much of that day crying and begging her to sleep. When my husband walked through the door, I handed him our screaming, confused baby and said: ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I walked out of the house and returned all the routine books to the library.
Eventually, I came to understand the concept of ‘the fourth trimester’. This period of time is from when your baby is born until they’re about 3 months old. It’s when your baby is adjusting to everything that is unfamiliar in the outside world like bright lights, cooler temperatures and noise.
I realised there was nothing wrong with my daughter, she just needed more help adjusting in this fourth trimester phase. So, during the day, I stopped trying to make her sleep in her cot and instead let her sleep on me. We’d either lie on the couch or if I had to go out, I'd wear her in a baby carrier. I gave up on trying to get her into a routine and just fed her whenever she wanted. If she was unsettled, I found a ‘womb noises’ app on my phone and played it to her to help her calm down.
By the time we left the fourth trimester, she was a far happier baby. The haze started to lift and we got out and about a bit more. Sometimes we’d visit with friends, go for a walk or head to a playgroup. I didn’t feel like ‘that’ mother in Mother’s Group anymore… until we hit 6 months.
Our mother’s group decided to go out to dinner to celebrate the babies’ half year birthdays. The only problem was my daughter would only take milk from me. She hated the bottle and even when presented with my expressed breast milk, would outright refuse to drink from it. I was hopeful though, I expressed some extra milk, gave her the usual 7 pm feed and headed out the door.
All was going well but by 10 pm she was awake and demanding a feed. My husband tried to give her the bottle but was having no luck. So while my fellow mums drank wine and prepared to head to another bar, I grabbed my car keys and headed home.
By that point, I’d realised that this was just my baby. She needs more from her mother than some other kids, and that’s ok. She’s now five-years-old and while she’s happy, smart and well-adjusted, she is still quite attached to me. She needs to cuddle me first thing in the morning, she needs lots of my attention throughout the day and she always likes to know where I am.
Having a clingy, crying baby was hard work and isolating but it’s made me a better parent. Better yet, providing what she needed has given us a rock-solid bond that will last a lifetime.
by Caitlin Wright