A doctor told a very good friend of mine that the first three months of a baby’s life is like a fourth trimester (I guess it wouldn’t be called a trimester then but whatev). He said that some major development is far from done but we wouldn’t be able to give birth to their giant heads if they stayed in the womb any longer (I wouldn’t say that they fit really well at 40 weeks either but I’m not going to argue with nature.)
My friend told me this when my first son was about a month old and I was trying to implement all the “well intended” (code for “shit”) advice that is often bestowed on a new mother. It was like an Oprah A-Ha moment and it made perfect sense. If I just let him live his life like he’s still in the womb my life will become way less complicated. Here’s what I did:
I stopped trying to give him a bath every night. Someone told me a bath was essential to establishing a bedtime schedule. She also told me that this should be followed by a massage (sadly for him, not me) and a story. He hated bath time because he was naked and freezing (for the record, he loves being both now), the massage confused him just long enough to get through it and I don’t know why I thought reading “Go Dog Go” to a two-week old was logical, but then “sane” wasn’t an adjective I’d use for me in the first three months of my child’s life. I accepted that he was a newborn and not a member of the Deadliest Catch fishing crew so he wasn’t dirty and he didn’t need a bath.
I stopped dressing him in anything other that jammies. He ate, he pooed, he slept and he cried in a one-hour, round-the-clock cycle. When you have a newborn there is no day and night. I quickly found out that newborns don’t have schedules and they are like those creepy rave kids strung out on E, they want to party at 4am AND 4pm. It was a perpetual Groundhog Day so why dress for that? Plus, you just have to undress them if they happen to fall into a blissful sleep around 8pm because IT’S BEDTIME!! (said in a high-pitched control freak shrill) and they don’t help with the undressing for a while so it’s like stripping a surly, drugged monkey. Not pretty.
I fed him when he wanted to eat. I remember crying “he can’t be hungry, I just fed him!” so I would try everything to get him to stop only to find out he did want to eat. He would promptly spit it all up but he was happy and therefore I was happy. My motto was “Pick him up. Fill his mouth. Change his bum.” If that didn’t work, I’d hand him to his father, say “I can’t take it anymore” then cry in the bathroom. It worked for us.
I always let him sleep. Another “helpful” person told me I should never let a child sleep past 4pm because you’ll never get them to bed. This is, in fact, true FOR A TWO YEAR OLD. If your newborn is sleeping, don’t wake them. Even though it may not seem like it, they sleep about 16 hours out of 24 in a day and if you think you can roll that into 8 consecutive hours you think wrong. That’s like you sleeping one month so you can stay up for two – you’d starve and/or go bonkers. If your baby is sleeping, sleep yourself or hit the Southern Comfort – don’t poke the bear.
I didn’t do any classes. You know these classes that they have to “stimulate” your newborn. Let me tell you something, being awake stimulates your newborn. Jingling keys is like an effing air show to them so don’t bother with the damn classes. If you want to feel normal and a part of humanity go do something that stimulates you (in a non-porn way) and just sit the baby in the corner or have it strapped to you in a baby carrier. They don’t know where the hell they are anyway so there’s no point in you having to sit through “If You’re Happy and You Know It” clapping your baby’s hands like a newborn/E.T. puppet show because I can guarantee you that your newborn is thinking “I’m not happy and I know it. If I had a dry bum, a full tummy and was asleep on your chest while you lay on the couch watching a taped episode of Project Runway now that would be pretty damn sweet”.
I stopped changing his nappy constantly. When I was sent home from the hospital they gave me a chart to record his peeing and pooing to make sure he was eating enough and everything was in “working order”. I was so happy. I love charts and I loved the small sliver of control I had over the situation. The problem was I got into the habit of changing him every 20 minutes or so. This included the night so if he woke up to eat, I changed him after which meant he woke up that much more which meant it was harder for him to go back to sleep which was not pretty because by the time I got him back to sleep he was hungry again. Once I figured out that if you grease up their little bums and slap a diaper on them they can pretty much make it through the night without a change unless they poo. Now I didn’t use cloth diapers so this may not be the case with them but the tree-killing, bleached disposable ones I used would soak up a small lake if you threw one of them into it, so baby pee is no big deal.
I picked him up if he cried. Some people warned me that this would “spoil him” and he would manipulate me and cry every time he wanted me. Er, okay, look at me and my sneaky baby! My thinking was I would rather pick him up to find out nothing was wrong rather than leave him to cry and find out something was.
I let him sleep on me. This was considered a big no-no by many because I was “creating a bad habit”. Even I wondered if I would have to rock him to sleep and have him sleep on my chest in his dorm room at college (which would make for some awkward roommate moments) because I didn’t establish a sleep schedule early on. Here’s the thing, even if you get something established in the beginning, they change so damn quickly that it will be out the window the next week and you’re back to square one. A wise friend once told me “whatever gets you though the day” and him sleeping on my chest while I watched a movie got me through the day. So there.
Personally, I think you have plenty of time to get all these schedules into place so just do “whatever gets you through the day” for the first little while and cut yourself a break. I like the idea of the fourth trimester. All you need for those first few months is to provide them with warmth, food and love and the nightly baths, ferberizing and Mommy and Me classes can wait a bit. I’m just grateful nature decided that it made more sense for them to be on this side of the fish tank rather than making us give birth to 18lb babies, but I’m weird like that.
This article was originally published on Amy’s blog here and has been republished with full permission.
Amy Morrison was a creative director at an ad agency but decided to quit and go freelance as an art director/graphic designer in 2004. You can and should follow her blog here