Most- well, ALL of the past 28 days have been spent in a marathon of dance, as Ken and I get to know this little girl and, simultaneously, begin to see each other as parents. What we’re already finding is, the moment we catch up with, and understand, one delicate pattern of behaviour with Camden, she has moved on to something else.
So, for the benefit of the other brand new (or soon to be) mums, here’s what we have learned so far – and we’d love to hear some of your tricks as well.
28 learnings in 28 days
1. Everything is scary the first time… The life of a newborn must be somewhat terrifying. Realistically, it’s a never ending barrage of People Doing Things To You. The first few times we put Camden on her change table, she let out a cry only to be trumped by the first time we pulled a onesie over her head. With repetition, all of these little day to day actions are becoming much less traumatic for all of us. The Baby Whisperer‘s suggestion is to talk the baby through all these new experiences right from day #1 (“we’re just putting a new diaper on you… we’re just putting you in the car seat so we can go outside…” bonus: if you live in an apartment building (like we do) this narration may help reassure the neighbours that the incessant screaming isn’t resulting from any undue torture – just a bath.
2. Newborns don’t have “sleeping problems”… The No Cry Sleep Solution devotes about 25 pages to newborn babies – the sum of which amounts to the acceptance that it’s pretty impossible to maintain predictable sleep patterns until about 4 months (at the earliest) but that the time until then can be spent introducing and practicing good habits and routines.
3. Always bring an extra onesie. You just never know when projectile-poop, or up-the-back peeing during a change will happen
4. Take lots of pictures… She really does change every day right now. She’s not nearly as skinny and tiny as she was at the beginning (this is a good thing) she is filling out bit by bit, which is changing the contours of her little face and body constantly. each stage is so precious!
5. … Then put the camera down… I am certainly guilty of leaning towards Viewing Life Through a Camera. Have you ever been to a concert where you are surrounded by people recording the show on their phones? No one is actually looking at the stage, but instead have chosen to watch the action through their tiny phone screens. Then you sacrifice experiencing the action and life that’s happening right in front of you, all for the sake of getting a good picture. I’d love for the toddler-Camden to be just as excited about being face to face with me as she is with my iphone.
6. Always bring more diapers than you think you could possibly need. Not only to combat those incredible moments of 4 changes within 5 minutes, but things can come up, you end up out for way longer than you had planned & being prepared really helps quiet that “I have no idea what i’m doing” voice.
7. Recommended Daily Guidelines math doesn’t make any sense… Newborns are “supposed” to sleep 12-16 hours a day, eat 8-12 times a day for 20-40min per feeding, spend 30min per day on their stomachs so they don’t get a flat head (spread out over several 3-5 min attempts per/day) and will need to have their diaper changed 8-12 times a day. They will also spend 2-4 hours per day crying. Is it just me, or does that all add up to quite a bit more than 24 hours?
8. So track as much as you can… The combination of interrupted sleep (aka: “the new normal”), the upheaval of diet (no more spending the afternoon strolling around and casually grabbing a bite when the mood strikes us) and all the other Learnings of how to Live with our newest family member, reality can start to seem a bit out of proportion. In our situation, during the second week we started to feel like our little bundle of joy was more like a little bundle of anxiety that Cried All the Time and Never Slept. Ken (who is not a doctor, but has played one on TV) was concerned that there was No Way Camden was getting anywhere near 12-16hrs of recommended sleep a day (see above point – lol); however, lo and behold, after tracking it for a few days, she actually does sleep about 12 hours per 24 hour period – just not in any sort of pattern that would be most convenient for us. Sometimes those 2hr long naps can only happen in 5-8 minutes intervals in conjunction with lots of picking up, snuggling and rocking back to sleep and gently (very gently) putting back into the bassinet. and that’s just the way it is.
9. Nourish when she nourishes… That 40min or so when she’s eating has become a time when i sit down (obviously, I’m feeding her!) have a drink and a snack myself, and listen to a podcast or watch old episodes of Mad about You on netflix. Make the most of it.
10. Sleep when she sleeps… This is a tough one for me – i’m not a napper and not used to slowing down, But if you can’t nap, at least recline, regroup and prepare for the next cycle of awake & ready to feed.
11. Attunement to noises also makes no sense… Last weekend we were downtown and wandered through a street festival where there was – without exaggeration – a 14 piece, Brazilian percussion band with thousands of people milling around dancing and singing. And wouldn’t you know it, Camden snoozed peacefully through the entire thing. Meanwhile, dropping an ice cube into a glass freaks her out.
12. This actually works… some of the time. Actually, it seems to take the edge off of any sort of meltdown crying. Our little girl doesn’t fall asleep instantly the way the baby in the youtube video does, but she does stop crying, which is a huge step toward settling her down.
13. This actually works… again, some of the time. Ken found this 90 minute long video and we now keep it handy and play it on his ipod touch to aid in the mellowing to sleep, often just leaving the iPod in her bassinet to play away as she snoozes. Personally, I love it.
14. This actually works… you guessed it, some of the time. I had heard so many rave reviews about the sleep sheep, how could I not try one? At this stage in her development, we use the little velcro straps that the sheep comes with to strap it safely to the outside of the bassinet, and have put Camden to bed with the sounds of whales, waves and rain. Honestly, she seems to dig it (as does Ken – he’s out like a light with the sheep!)
15. Get in touch with your family… If they’re nearby, embrace this time and opportunity to connect with the newest family member. If they’re far away (like mine is) plan a visit to look forward to and take advantage of skype, facebook and blogs to keep in contact. One of my favourite surprises with this new baby has been the phone calls and messages from my sister, niece, cousins and other family members who are taking the time and making the effort to reach out to me.
16. Avoid committing to a specific time… When Camden is eating or sleeping, time has to – somewhat – stand still. Then we’ll need to change diapers (and possibly onesies) at least once. Which means our ability to leave the house and be at a specific place needs about a 2 hour window of leeway. Thanks for your patience.
17. Repeat, repeat, repeat… Much along the lines of learning #1, I can’t be reminded enough that none of the three of us are going to do (or love doing) any of these things the first time. Or even the first 20 times. But as the lady formerly known as Supernanny always reminds us, it is our job to establish and maintain routines and patterns, not the baby’s. The first time we gave Camden a bath, it was torture. But to say “well that’s it, our baby just doesn’t like to bathe, so we aren’t going to subject her to that” apparently isn’t an option (lol) so we remain optimistic and repeat, repeat, repeat. And you know what? By her fourth bath, she was almost content. We have even decided to up the bath schedule to every night for a while to help her with the understanding and expectation that baths are normal.
18. Check your outfit before you walk out the door. I learned this one the hard (seam-tearing) way. But, if you’re breastfeeding, do a test run in your outfit before heading out and about only to discover that there is no way to casually and confidently feed the little monster – even with your super-chic nursing shawl – if you need to fully-undress in order to access your breasts.
19. Get outside… At least once a day – it does so much for me and Camden; along with the regular benefits of movement and walking, getting out during the day helps to reinforce the difference between Day and Night for babies – crying also seems quieter when it’s outside. For us, the biggest benefit os that she sleeps really well in her stroller and is much more likely (at this point) to have an uninterrupted nap there. So she sleeps longer, which means she eats better when she wakes, which sets her up for a better next sleep! hurray!
20. Keep up with the 8 meaningful touches per day… Realistically, Ken and I are probably months away from having any sort of “date night” that couples with kids are encouraged to maintain. My hope is to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months (though i’m starting to sway toward pumping, but that’s for another post), also, neither Ken nor I have family in town. This combination of not having any family to leave our little babe with and not really, functionally being able to leave her at this point means that we don’t have any time alone with each other. So hugs, kisses, holding hands, putting the iphones down and choosing to read or do something together intend REALLY count right now.
21. (some) Knowledge is Power… Learning little tidbits about the biology of babies has really helped me to contextualize her behaviour, things like how small her stomach is, how quickly she digests & how long her REM cycle is (thereby reducing her amount of “deep sleep”) really helps me to empathize with this little person’s day to day frustrations.
22. Avoid over-googling… I should have learned this during the 9 months leading up to her arrival – but Anything can mean Anything during this phase. Googling “symptoms” and looking for a diagnosis of why the baby is acting, well, like a baby will make you insane.
23. At the same time, it’s okay to err on the side of going to the doctor… My constant refrain for the last 3 weeks has been, “It’s bound to be easier once she can tell me what’s wrong“. But for now, she just can’t. And just like all this world is new for her, all her cues and communication efforts are a brand new language for us. So when we’ve been unsure, we do our best to check her from head to toe, consider everything that we (in our super limited knowledge and experience) understand, and then, if we’re still apprehensive, we pack her up and head to the doctor. And 100% of the time – even if there hasn’t been anything wrong- the doctor has thanked us for bringing her in, encouraged us as new parents and offered some sort of tip or personal story for working though the current phase.
24. Sometimes singing works… ABCDEFG, Baa-baa black sheep, or a personalized lullaby by daddy – any of these may buy a few minutes of contentment.
25. Sometimes swaddling works… Getting her all wrapped up and holding her tightly to my chest (vertically) and whispering “shh-shh-shh” while walking and bouncing is another key move. Made so much easier with the use of these fabulous snuggly sleeping bags (literally a knitted, snuggly and soft bag that cozies her in perfectly) that my mum knitted for her.
26. Sometimes just feeding her works… I know, I know- this is one of those “crutches” that all the parenting books caution against, but the thing is – at this stage, it works. (sorry, but it does). If she has woken or startled herself on the way to putting her into her bed, sometimes feeding her for about a minute will put her right back to sleep and we can slide her into her bed.
27. Sometimes she just needs to cry… My mum, very patiently, keeps reminding me of this. Sometimes, babies just cry and that’s that. Again, sorry, but if my mum says it it must be true.
28. Remember the Good News… Very few college-age teens are crying all day, refusing to bathe, or determined to only sleep perched upon their mother’s laps. I heard or read some derivative of this somewhere and it has stuck with me. Not only as an encouragement that this phase is temporary, but also as a poignant reminder that not only is it temporary, but it will pass all too quickly. Time to stop writing and return to our little princess.