Disclaimer: the following post is based on my personal experience. What works for me may not work for you. The message I want to project is- you do you what works best for you and your family.
Into my arms, oh no!
From the second day of Butterball’s life, my mother sentimentally said a Greek saying that roughly translates to, “the baby knows your arms”. This essentially means, the baby will never fall asleep unless they’re being settled while you hold them. Please note, my mum didn’t mean it to offend me, it was a family phrase, as it was repeated to me affectionately by other family members.
Then, when Butterball was in his final days in ICU, a nurse who I developed a great rapport with advised me not to hold the baby too much and showed me how to settle him in his crib. I allowed her to show me because I didn’t want Butterball to be used to my arms as I was already on a mission to establishing a steady sleep routine. This worked wonderfully in hospital, but not when I took him home.
Next, the microphone on my phone heard of my fears as Facebook started to show advertisments on how to settle your baby. I must say, this did teach me that babies love repetitive rhythm and I put this knowledge in my, “establishing a solid routine”, cache.
For a new mother, telling her to not hold the baby too much is not the most comforting piece of advice, whether it is meant seriously or in jest. Personally, I had begun to detach from my motherly instincts and worked with facts and strategies to generate the, “perfect, sleeping routine”. I was not going to consolidate any bad habits.
Mind vs Heart
From the moment Butterball was born up until I got advice which was welcomed by my baby-free arms, I developed an anxiety about Butterball’s sleep habits. My heart wanted to hold my baby but my mind ticked about not settling him in my arms as I didn’t want bad habits to form, or to hear that Greek saying again.
My Reality with Sleep
First of all, let me make it clear: Butterball’s witching hour did not last for one hour. He would cry and be unsettled from 4pm until midnight. My baby struggled to fall asleep for the first four months of his life. One particular night, I had to call the Maternal Health Nurse Hotline and the nurse said that Butterball was probably going through a growth spurt and needed a cuddle because he was scared. Partner R proceeded to cuddle our baby, nestling him into the crook of his neck, providing a safe haven. My goodness- he settled! It worked.
Next, my friend, Marijana, author of My Plate Runneth Over , visited me and offered to settle Butterball for his nap. I observed her and my baby be calm together as she held him, swayed and hummed. I asked her with trepidation, “am I allowed to do this?”, she said yes as long as bubs is slightly awake when placing him in his bassinet. Mind you, it took three tries of picking him up, settling and placing him in his bassinet before he fell asleep. Finally, I can follow my heart, hold my baby without the fear of ruining his sleep habits for all of eternity, because that’s how I thought- I could not make any mistakes!
My Maternal Health Nurse then informed me that, usually, babies don’t develop memory and habits until after four months. A long sigh of relief escaped me. She reassured me that I can rock and settle him in my arms if I want to.
Getting the knack
At the five month mark, I started weaning Butterball off my arms and developed the most incredible bed time pattern. It was AWESOME. I was nailing it… Until the next week rolled along and it was growth spurt time. Well, all of my efforts with his bedtime routine were thrown out of the window.
This is what I have learnt: Nothing remains consistent with a baby.
Once his growth spurt had finished, I re-established his routine.
The reality is, throughout his first year of life, Butterball and I would yo-yo between nailing it and failing it all depending on how our day went. Furthermore, sickness, teething and the randomness of being human can also disrupt the sleeping routine.
Parents please try to remain calm and be as flexible as a pretzel.
And don’t compare your baby with any other baby. That will drive you bonkers.
The greatest piece of advice my mum gave me was, “the first year is the hardest, don’t expect to sleep”. That is SO TRUE. Having a baby is like partying on a three day bender then not having any time to catch up on sleep. EVER! You often feel hungover without the delight of a martini or three.
Don’t fight your maternal instinct and not settle your baby in your arms in order to achieve a perfect sleep routine. Everything about having a baby is messy and contains a variety of bags that are either carried in your hand, over your shoulder or under your eyes. Striving for an impeccable slumber system is not worth the stress on you or your newborn. Expect learning curves, mistakes and tears- from the both of you!
Your baby will not want to be held forever, so cherish the time you have now.
Looking back, I wish I listened to my instincts more because Butterball and I have a bond. He does not have a bond with a book, a website nor a saying. It is with me.