The first part of my Survival Series was focused on ways for Mums to cope with the physical and mental roller coaster that takes place in those first couple of months with a newborn baby. In this post I want to explore some of the behaviours you can expect to see in your baby and how to cope with their more challenging aspects – I know this was something I was looking up almost every day!
One of the first things I did was to try out some baby apps on my phone, mostly to help me monitor his feeding. When you’re new to caring for a baby, and totally knackered, it can be hard work trying to remember when you last changed a nappy and which breast you last fed them from! There are lots of apps out there and I tried quite a few but finally settled on the MyMedela app. I like the way they illustrate a summary of the last 24 hour period and how it provides articles and advice on the homepage which you can peruse while you’re on your 10th feeding session that morning! With the MyMedela app you can track breastfeeding, pumping, bottle feeding, nappy changes and sleep, as well as the measurements of your baby like height and weight. The breastfeeding tracker also shows which side you last fed from and for how long which was really handy.
The first 2 weeks: super sleepy!
In the first couple of weeks Rowan slept A LOT. These little people have so much growing and development to do on their way to becoming big people, and the best way for them to do this is to be sleeping! So we had a relatively blissful fortnight of gazing lovingly at our sleeping baby – and taking as many photos as possible! However, the sleeping was punctuated by a lot of feeding and nappy changing. As I mentioned in my first survival post you should take full advantage of this extra sleepiness by taking quick naps yourself. This is much easier said than done of course, because you have visitors wanting to see you and you’re trying to use your breaks to do other essential things like eating or going to the loo! But your body is recovering from a major physical event so you and your baby need as much sleep as possible.
So while they’re in this early, extra sleepy phase immediately after being born, try to nap with them to help your own body heal and recover. I wish I had tried sleeping more, but I would sometimes manage to get my head down in an evening for an hour when my husband was home as I felt more able to relax with someone keeping an eye on the baby. But even 20 minutes here and there, it all helps!
The three C’s: colic, cluster feeding and crying
Babies cry. A lot. It’s kind of their thing. They cry to communicate to us that they need something, but there are times when there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. You’ve tried feeding, burping, changing and soothing them, but still they cry. It can be so heart-wrenching to hear and when you’re exhausted and trying to manage on your own it can be overwhelming. This inconsolable crying tends to peak at 6 or 7 weeks old, and then starts to ease away. Rowan followed this pattern and from 8 weeks onward I could see that when he was crying it was for a reason.
It’s normal for babies to cry more this way in the evenings and this is something we’re still experiencing with Rowan (I am writing this at 13 weeks postpartum). Sometimes this is due to colic, which is a slightly odd condition that seems to be a common complaint but is not greatly understood. It is like indigestion which occurs because babies’ stomachs are still trying to get used to the process of digestion and the intake of milk, in the same way they need help being burped as they can’t do that themselves. We tried a couple of different colic drops, which you can see more about in my Newborn Essentials post, and they did help more than they didn’t. But we haven’t used them religiously because I was more convinced Rowan was crying in the evenings for another reason – cluster feeding.
Cluster feeding is when babies go on a bit of a frenzy and feed many times, almost constantly, over a few hours. My theory as to why this happens in the evenings in particular is that the baby’s instinct is to take in as much food as possible before the fasting that happens through the night (however that theory was thrown a bit when Rowan decided the middle of the day was a great time to cluster feed!). So he was crying more because he wanted to feed more, but this is potentially a recipe for misery for you as you end up stuck in one place and feeding from sore boobs at the point of the day when you’re most worn down. I’ll discuss this more in the next post about breastfeeding, but one of the ways to cope with cluster feeding is to get yourself set up with a station of snacks, drinks and light entertainment – and make sure your partner keeps bringing the refills!
Often the reason Rowan was upset and inconsolable was because he was overtired. Now that he is out of the colic and cluster feeding phase (though he does still like to group feeds together in the middle of the day and the evenings), this is the biggest cause of his evening tantrums. Frustratingly, it can be surprisingly difficult to get a baby to sleep when they are in desperate need of it! One of the ways I could soothe him in his overtired state was to put him in my Boba wrap. There are lots of different products for baby wearing or baby carrying out there and I would definitely recommend finding one you both like. When I was carrying him in this wrap he would pass out asleep almost immediately because he was warm and secure and being held against me. This also meant my arms could have a rest which was a relief (but it does make you very hot so be sure not to wear too many layers underneath!).
When Rowan gets overtired in the day and won’t go down for a nap, I take him out in the pram for a walk. The movements and sound of going along the pavement in his bassinet has a wonderfully soporific affect that helps him get to sleep. Although this trick doesn’t give me much physical rest, it does get me out of the house and into the fresh air which is great for my mental health.
Changing and bathing
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was how much Rowan hated nappy changes! I think it was the sensation of being exposed to a different temperature and the cold baby wipes that he disliked so much, so every time we had to change him it was an ordeal. And when we finally gave him a bath he cried the whole time and we fumbled around like the naive, inexperienced parents we were! Thankfully he started to enjoy the actual bath bit after that, but still hated being taken out and dried off. We dutifully made sure the towels were warm and the room was warm but still he would have a meltdown. It took a few weeks before he would stay cheerful when going from bath to towel, but he still occasionally throws a wobbler!
It happened mostly when putting Rowan to bed after a feed, but sometimes I would swear I’d given birth to a dinosaur because the noises that came out of him sounded like a little T-Rex! The growls and grunts and squeaks and squawks that he made would keep me awake. I was convinced he must have been struggling in some way and I even asked the health visitor about it but she just said it was all normal! So if you think you’ve got a little prehistoric creature in your house, it’s just your little one making newborn noises – it soon turns into adorable cooing!
Record every moment you can!
What makes the crying, colic, cluster feeding and nappy changing worth it is all the love you feel for this little being. There are so many ‘firsts’ in those early days and every one of them is an occasion – no matter how insignificant it may seem – so celebrate them all and take lots of pictures and videos because, as I’m sure you’ll hear from anyone who has children, they grow up so quickly!
If you’re struggling with your baby’s crying, or you feel just too overwhelmed by everything, please seek help. The Cry-sis helpline provides a support 7 days and their website has lots of resources for coping with crying babies, colic and sleeplessness. Whether it’s a friend, your partner, a family member or your GP, if you feel unable to cope at this intense stage of motherhood reach out for support.