newborn feeding and sleeping
Aro is nearly three months. I wanted to share what life has been like with him so far and the tools for feeding and sleeping that have helped us as a family. I'm not an expert. Just a new parent relying on her wits, husband, advice from much wiser mums and dads, and sometimes (meaning - most of the time) Google. I've focused on feeding and sleeping for now because they take up so much of our time and energy.
The Deep End
My husband and I had no experience with babies prior to Aro. I knew it would be hard but imagining life with a newborn when you're pregnant compared to actually living that life is like preparing for a light breeze and then realising you're in the eye of a tornado. The first couple of weeks were exhausting and terrifying. We didn't know a thing - how to get him to sleep, how to stop him crying, how to fumble our way through nappy changes, whether it was okay to pretzel his arm into those pesky little onesies, and was it really normal for him to make those noises in his sleep?
I was in pain from labour, the ventouse, and an episiotomy. I was supposed to keep off my stitches but that wasn't possible because I had to sit for hours to feed Aro. All the good hormones that had kept me and Aro healthy during pregnancy were flooding out of my body leaving me emotionally ill-equipped to cope with all the physical and mental demands of my new life.
My husband spent his day bouncing on a Swiss ball to calm Aro or walking in circles around the dining table with Aro in his arms to get him to sleep. When he wasn't doing that, he watched as I tried to feed our baby, did endless loads of laundry and dishes, cooked meals that I could eat with one hand while holding Aro with the other, and of course, changed nappies. On bad days, we got two or three hours of sleep and on a good day, we got five or six. Our arms ached. It was always so full with the baby.
Aro struggled to regain his birth weight and became dehydrated. This was because of a number of factors - first, my milk took a long time to come in - about 4-5 days after birth despite nursing a lot. Second, Aro had jaundice which was making him sleep through feedings. My midwife instructed us to wake him every 2 hours to eat and to top him up after each feed with 30 mls of formula. After a huge weight gain (like a couple of hundred grams in a few days!), we went back to exclusive breastfeeding.
Once Aro started to gain weight, our next challenge was helping Aro to latch when my breasts became engorged. At one point, it took him forty minutes to latch. Another time, he just couldn't latch at all. He was screaming with hunger and I was in tears. His dad finally had to feed him a bottle of formula. I felt like I failed him. We hired a lactation consultant and she came in for an hour, left me with a nipple shield which solved the latching problem, gave me a stirring pep talk, and made me feel like I could get through this challenge. She was worth her weight in gold.
Now, Aro feeds on demand but generally every 3-4 hours during the day, with a longer stretch in the night anywhere between 4-6 hours. At the beginning, feeding and burping would take an hour or more but he has become a lot more efficient, feeding for 15-20 minutes per breast. Sometimes, he comfort nurses and dozes off while feeding and it's such a sweet sight that I let him. There's nothing better than a content, well-fed, milk drunk baby.
Our next challenge is to see if Aro will take a bottle of breastmilk. As he grows, I want to give others the opportunity to feed him and my husband and I the opportunity for a night out! At the beginning, exclusive breastfeeding can feel like you're trapped and chained to this little creature. You can't be away from him for too long and other people can't take care of all his needs even when you're desperate for a break. I've bought a pump, bottles and teats but Aro is a discerning customer and so far, has only drunk from the bottle when I literally sit in front of him and pump breastmilk straight into the bottle. Honestly!
Tools for Feeding and Breastfeeding
Burp Cloths and Bibs with Velcro closures - I was amused by the stacks of muslins, bibs, burp cloths, and cloth wipes that I was given at my baby shower. I never imagined I would need them all. What did I know?! Aro is a happy spiller and vomiter. Before he had better neck control, the bibs with velcro closures were much easier to put on. The Closer to Nature milk feeding bibs have been the most functional because of the velcro, size, absorbency, and quick dry towelling fabric. I also bought a 5 pack of Burt's Bees burp cloths from Amazon and love the look, texture, softness and absorbency. I wish they were a teeny bit bigger though. I often wondered why I couldn't just use a muslin as a burp cloth and the answer is absorbency. At nearly three months, Aro has started drooling and blowing saliva bubbles as well. This means it's sometimes useful to have him wear a bib all the time but of course, I want the bibs to be stylish and go with his outfits. I like the bandanna styles with velcro closures from H&M.
Lanolin - I went through three or four big tubes of Lansinoh HPA Lanolin during the first couple of weeks alone. I still use it today when Aro has had a particularly hungry day. At the beginning, I made sure to slather it on after every feeding and before and after showering. It made a real difference for those particularly painful early breastfeeding days when your nipples haven't had a chance to toughen up. It's expensive to buy from pharmacies so I bought it in bulk from Amazon.
Medela Nipple Shield - As mentioned previously, we brought in a lactation consultant when Aro had trouble latching. She popped this nipple shield onto my nipple and like magic, Aro latched on in a few seconds. It was a game changer. I would put it on and let him feed for five minutes or until the breast was emptied a little then pop it off so that he would also get used to feeding directly from the breast. I've used it less and less as we have established breastfeeding but still pop it on from time to time if my nipples are feeling a little sore or if he's being a little fussy on the breast. Make sure you choose the right size.
A Lactation Consultant - Mary Clare McCarthy saved breastfeeding for us. I contacted her via the form on her website and she came back to me in a couple of hours and was in my house the next day. She spent an hour and a half with us, chatting, educating us, making us laugh, and giving us a pep talk. She followed up with a phone call a couple of days later. I call her Mary Poppins and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend her to everyone. I wish I had hired her from the beginning to help me learn breastfeeding basics.
Philips Avent Natural Manual Breast Pump - It's intimidating choosing a breast pump because there are so many of them on the market. I chose the Philips Avent purely because my friend had given me Avent bottles and teats. Thankfully, the pump is great. It's easy to pull apart, wash and reassemble, and comfortable and intuitive to use. Now, we're working on Aro actually taking a bottle of breastmilk! I initially used a Haakaa breast pump because it was given to me by a friend but I wasn't able to pump as much milk from it as I have from the Philips Avent. Honestly, unless you're overflowing with milk, the Haakaa is more like a drip catcher for those early, engorged days which you can stick on your other breast when baby is feeding on the other side.
Sleep is our next challenge. We want to set up healthy sleeping habits for Aro so that he learns to go to sleep on his own. Aro is not the kind of baby that naturally drifts off to sleep. When he suspects that naptime or bedtime is coming, he either cries hysterically or becomes extremely grizzly. Sleep inevitably claims him but he goes down fighting and we have our work cut out for us guiding him to sleep.
In the first few weeks, sleep came easily enough. Aro got tired when we bounced or rocked him and he didn't wake up when we put him down in the bassinet. At some point though, he stopped doing this and would only go to sleep and stay asleep when we held him. We would swaddle him and walk around the dining room table in endless loops with a muslin draped over his head. We could only sit down or lay him in his bassinet or the Nuna chair when he reached deep sleep. Sometimes, as soon as we put him down, his eyes would ping open and we would have to start from square one. This process would take anywhere from forty minutes to over two hours. Keep in mind that we would do this between four to six times a day and at least once or twice in the middle of the night.
This was clearly unsustainable so we switched to Dorothy Waide's You Simply Can't Spoil a Newborn self-settling technique. This consisted of sitting down with Aro in our arms, letting him cry, then consoling him within specific, timed intervals. Once asleep, we would hold him in our arms for over thirty minutes to an hour before laying him down in the bassinet. While this was physically easier, again it was time-consuming and heartbreaking to have a hysterical baby in our arms. Whenever the time to get him to sleep came, my heart would race with anxiety.
My husband and I decided that having him screaming in our arms every time he wanted to sleep did not feel right or respectful. We didn't want to battle him to sleep. I consulted Plunket nurses, Google, and our GP. People shrugged and said that crying to sleep sounded normal enough. One of them put it down to his personality. I persisted. I refused to believe it. I watched a friend put her baby to sleep in her arms by gently patting him. It was such a peaceful process and I wanted the same thing for my child.
One afternoon, I had Aro swaddled and crying in my arms. It was time for a nap. When he started to get really worked up, I jumped up from the bed and started to rock and bounce him in my arms like we had done when he was a very new newborn. He settled almost instantly and I was able to sit back down on the bed and guide him to sleep without crying. Aro's dad followed suit and after a couple of successes, he decided he would also start laying Aro down in the crib drowsy but awake. This would teach him that the bassinet was the place to fall asleep, not our arms.
Now, Aro is nearly three months old. For nap times, we swaddle him, cast this white noise from Youtube onto a stereo, heat the room to 18 degrees, and spend a few minutes swaying and humming a lullaby to Aro while he is in our arms. A few minutes after his eyes have closed, but before he is fast asleep, we carefully lay him down in his bassinet. Once down, he usually stirs, finds his position for sleeping, and usually drifts off for anywhere between twenty minutes to an hour and a half. Often, we have to resettle him once or twice a nap by swaying the bassinet and putting our hands on his chest, or (more often) picking him up, rocking him and putting him back down. Again, some days, he will grizzle and cry but not to the level of hysteria he once did. When it's a great day, he will fall straight to sleep with hardly a whimper.
For bedtime, his Dad has set up a different routine to help Aro detect the difference between daytime naps and nighttime. Aro is fed, bathed, massaged, put in his pajamas, and his Dad reads to him. We keep the lights dim and try not to overstimulate him (easier said than done!). We use the same naptime process after that plus turn on a humidifier to combat the dry air from the heater. For some (very welcome!) reason, Aro finds it much easier to stay asleep at night.
On a good night, Aro goes to bed between 6-7.30 pm, goes to sleep for 4-6 hours, wakes up for a feed, goes back to bed for 3-4 hours, then wakes up for the morning. He has a morning nap and we try to go out in the frontpack or buggy for his afternoon nap. Once we get home, we try for one last nap before bedtime. Some days, this rhythm comes naturally. Other days, it is a battle. I'm not looking forward to the upcoming sleep regressions and hope that the skills we're working hard to teach him now will help us with those. Mostly, I am excited for the day we put Aro is in his cot and he puts himself calmly to sleep, secure in the knowledge that when he wakes up he will always have the safe haven of our arms in which to come back.
Tools for Sleep and Settling
Miracle Blanket - We have used the Miracle Blanket since the first day Aro came home from hospital. We use it for all of his bassinet sleeps. I consider that he sleeps better and longer in this swaddle compared to the other ones we have tried (for example, the Aden and Anais muslin swaddle, Snugbags Snuggle Pod, and the Mum 2 Mum Dream swaddles). As he has gotten stronger and more mobile, his legs tend to escape but his arms remain securely by his side.
Infacol - At first, Aro found farts and burps very upsetting. It would have been funny except that bringing up wind kept waking him up when he was asleep. My midwife recommended Infacol which helps consolidate wind. We used to give him a dose before each night feed to encourage long stretches of sleep at night. Now that he is nearly three months, we have stopped using this because it's now easier to wind Aro.
Little Hope and Co Baby Cocoon - Once we started consistently putting Aro in his bassinet drowsy but awake, we invested in a baby cocoon from Little Hope and Co. We think it helps him sleep for longer because it holds him in, makes him feel snug, and makes the bassinet a lot less intimidating for his little body. We plan to use it for travel and to help with transitioning to the cot (eek!).
White Noise - We use a Chromecast to play the noise from this youtube video through our Bose Soundtouch wireless speaker. White noise has been a game changer for us mostly because we live in a small one level, two-bedroom apartment. When Aro was asleep, we used to tiptoe around the apartment, afraid to do simple stuff like open pantry doors and flush the toilet in case the noises startled him awake. Now, the white noise helps mask those sounds and allows us to play music and watch movies while Aro sleeps. It's also magic when it comes to easing his fussing and crying. I use this free White Noise app on my phone and when he's getting worked up in the car seat, I turn on those ocean wave sounds and he calms right down. It's freaky magic.
Philips Avent 0-6 month Classic Pacifier - Aro finds sucking super soothing. It took a couple of tries for him to learn how to suck on these pacifiers. We used it when we first started putting him down in the bassinet drowsy but awake. It helped him drop off to sleep very fast. However, getting up to replace it was a pain so we have stopped using it for bassinet sleeps. Instead, we use it in the pram, front pack and car seat where we can't always pick him up to guide him to sleep. When he was having trouble keeping the pacifier in his mouth, we found it useful to attach the pacifier to this Gro Company comforter.
Adjusting to the Newborn Life
The closer we got to three months, the more life settled down. Aro became stronger and calmer. He held his head up, batted at his mobiles, held a rattle, and became just a little more independent. Instead of crying out to be held all the time, he was happy to sit in his bouncy chair for a bit and watch us cook dinner or take a shower. When he smiles, coos and interacts with us, it is pure magic. We started going out for walks, to cafes, meeting up with friends, and even catching a movie with other mothers and their babies. I healed well and I am adjusting to my new life. There were weeks when I cried at least once a day. I sometimes felt anxious at being left alone with the baby, sure that I wouldn't be able to cope. No amount of coffee dates and visiting friends seemed to soothe the ache. Even though the fog is lifting, my husband and I are taking things day by day and gratefully accepting the help and support of our family and friends.
Family - We asked our family to give us space for our first week at home. I thought it would give the three of us time to bond. In hindsight, this was a mistake. Having family around as soon as possible would have boosted our morale and prevented us from feeling isolated and alone. It would have been invaluable to have extra pairs of hands for baby holding, changing nappies, making food, and doing the dishes and the laundry.
Happy Mum - A friend of mine told me that when she got home with her baby, everyone was so focused on making sure the baby was happy that it left her feeling teary and alone. She advised that the more my husband looked after me and what I needed to recover from labour, the more I could look after the baby. My husband took this on board and basically did everything, leaving me free to focus on establishing breastfeeding and recovery. More than that, he held me when the mood swings came, was my cheerleader when things got tough but also when I succeeded, and he reminded me everyday that I was amazing, resilient and beautiful.
Gentleness - I found myself grieving for the life I once had and even wondering whether we had made a huge mistake. Thoughts like these made me feel like a monster until I cut myself some slack. These thoughts made me human. It helped to remember to be gentle on myself, and to talk, talk, talk about these feelings to my husband and my friends. I'm so glad I didn't keep them to myself.
Surrender - I've always had trouble letting go and going with the flow. I like to plan, research, and control as many factors around me as possible. This mindset was not helpful for the newborn months. Instead, I had to learn to surrender to my baby - his needs, his wants. I had to learn to surrender to my recovering body and its many limitations. I had to learn to surrender my old life and surrender to my new life. My life wasn't mine anymore; it was Aro's.