To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Our beautiful daughter is 5 and a half weeks old, weighs about 11 pounds, and is growing like a weed, both physically and mentally. She is paying so much more attention to the world around her, holding up her head for longer and longer periods, and making eye contact with me several times a day. Today she finally gave me what I have been waiting for for a while- a smile! It was while she was laying on the changing table and I was doing silly faces trying to provoke her to smile, and she did it! It was so worth the wait.

These past several weeks have been amazing and very challenging. People always say that having a newborn baby is hard but rewarding, and it absolutely is. They require so much out of you and give little back in return. But what surprised me is not how difficult this period has been, (I expected that even if I couldn’t quite imagine it), but how easy it is to do the difficult task at hand.

Let me explain. Penny is ours and only ours. We are essentially keeping her alive every minute of every day. Even though she doesn’t give much back yet, I love her more than anything and would do anything for her. The other day, as I watched our little girl sleeping in my arms, I said to Kevin, “Even though I have only known her for about a month, I love her so much that I would literally put her before anything else. If I had to choose between saving her life or yours, I would save hers, no contest.” And he said he felt the same way. Some of you may think that sounds like a harsh thing to say to your husband, and some may think that it is so obvious it doesn’t even need saying, but to me it was a revelation. And I guess that’s what I mean when I say that I am surprised by how easy it is to do this very hard job. I am hooked, and will do whatever it takes to keep my baby happy and healthy no matter what.

So what does keeping Miss Penny happy these days require? The first is feeding. She is still eating every 2 to 3 hours during the day, but thankfully she has gotten more efficient at nursing, and what used to take her at least 45 minutes now takes about 20. This has been huge, because what I didn’t know before having a baby is that you feed them every 2 to 3 hours from the start of your last feed to the start of your next. Which means if it takes almost an hour to feed your baby and she nurses every 2 hours, you are essentially nursing half of the day. Sounds exhausting, right?

The other thing that keeps our baby happy is helping her to get plenty of sleep so that she can process all of the new and exciting things she sees each day. What we quickly realized after a few sleepless nights in the beginning was that babies can get overtired, in which case they get very upset and have a hard time falling asleep. This didn’t make much sense to me at first- if she’s tired and needs sleep, then she will simply sleep, right? Not so much. What we have discovered is that if we miss the cues that she is tired and allow her to stay up too long, she will have a much harder time falling asleep and we will suffer the consequences. Now, we make sure she doesn’t stay up much longer than an hour at a time (including nursing), and when she starts to look overwhelmed by the world around her, we help her to fall asleep. Newborns need a lot of help to fall asleep, which makes sense when you think about how they fell asleep in the womb- always being jostled and rocked around, warm and cozy, being lulled to sleep by the whooshing sounds of blood pumping through their mothers’ bodies.

One thing I’m sure all parents can agree on is that if something works once or twice and you joyfully realize that you have discovered the magic cure to finally get your baby to _______________ (stop crying, fall asleep, whatever it may be), it will not work for long. Or at least not every time. You constantly have to try something new, which really keeps you on your toes! But there are some things that have pretty consistently worked to help Penelope drift off into dreamland:

  • Swaddle her up nice and tight so that she doesn’t flail her limbs and scare herself.
  • Shush loudly in her ear if she is crying.
  • Play some kind of white noise (the hair dryer, bathroom fan, sound machine, running water).
  • Rock her, sway her, or make tiny bouncing movements that result in what we like to call “jello head” (Kevin was very worried at first about doing this because of the fear of shaken baby syndrome, but it is tiny movements almost like vibrations, and is perfectly safe. Plus, she loves it!)
  • Move to a less stimulating environment, like outside, or a dark room- we often take her into the guest bathroom because it is dark and we can turn on the fan. It puts her to sleep almost every time within minutes!

Having this bag of tricks up our sleeves helps us to get her to sleep pretty well, but the problem is keeping her asleep. And that leads me to the hardest part of parenting so far: getting enough sleep.

Sleep is one of those things that you don’t really pay attention to or recognize the importance of until you are no longer getting enough of it. There have been many nights of little sleep in my past (mostly in my reckless college days), but I was always able to make it up later by sleeping in or getting more sleep the next night. Being a breastfeeding mom, there is no making it up later. I will literally need to feed my baby at least every 3 hours. And cat napping all the time just doesn’t cut it for me. I need my consecutive 8 hours to be happy! There have been longer stretches at night as Penny gets older, but they are inconsistent and cannot be counted on. Having interrupted sleep for weeks on end without a break is hard. And being sleep deprived makes everything else seem harder as well. The piece of advice I hear more than anything else is “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Easier said than done. First off, I am a terrible napper. It takes me forever to unwind and fall asleep, so by the time I finally do, it is time to get up. Second, I never know how long Penny is going to nap for. It could be 20 minutes, it could be 4 hours. Sometimes I spend more time getting her to sleep than she does actually sleeping. By the time I get a few things done and try to lay down, she either wakes up, or I am wondering if she is going to wake up, making it hard to relax enough to fall asleep. Third, I have things I want to do when she sleeps, like shower and eat. And even more things I don’t want to do, like laundry and dishes. Even as I write this post, I am keenly aware of the fact that while Penny sleeps soundly beside me, I am missing out on yet another chance to get some much needed zzzzz’s. But no matter how much sleep I manage to get in any given period, it is never a sound, deep sleep, as I am always listening for Penny. My mind is racing and is so hard to shut off, and I imagine that as a parent, it will be like that always.

Last weekend our best friends Lindsay and Andy visited us from Ohio with their adorable daughter Emma. Emma recently turned one, which means that Lindsay and Andy were right where we are a year ago. Emma is almost walking, eats the same foods as her parents, and sleeps about 12 hours a night. No more bottles, no more waking in the night… It sounded so nice, and I found myself wishing for that to come quickly for us as well. And then, when we were relaxing on the couch, Penny sleeping soundly on my chest with her tiny hands framing her face, Lindsay made a comment that she missed snuggling Emma like that. Now that she is mobile, Emma always wants to be moving and exploring, and it is hard to get her to sit still. And it made me realize how quickly this time is going to fly by. Before I know it I will be where they are now, wishing I could snuggle with my precious baby girl on my chest. It was a nice reminder of how important it is to really cherish this time, in spite of all the difficulties that caring for a newborn brings. Because as hard as it is, there is nothing in my life that has ever been easier than loving this sweet baby girl.

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Penny and Emma June

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Future best friends!

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Penny at 1 month old

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