The Frank Diaries: Surviving the Newborn Stage

Hello you ruddy marvellous lot. Happy 2016 and and all that. We had the most un-celebratory New Years Eve on record I think. Homemade pizzas (one of which we forgot about and completely decimated), the last episode of the Agatha Christie that was on over Christmas, and the London fireworks on our phones whilst in bed. Watching the clock on Big Ben count down from 60, whilst simultaneously hearing the fireworks from 11 miles away due to the time delay, was a slight anti-climax though. I won’t lie.

Christmas was equally as low key but very pleasant indeed as we travelled round various parts of London and Kent visiting our four families. Other than dressing him in the obligatory Santa outfit, we didn’t make a huge fuss about it being Frank’s First Christmas™. Paul and I didn’t even bother getting him a present (shock horror!), although he did get some lovely bits from doting grandparents, aunts and uncles. And I enjoyed copious amounts of cheese, chocolate and alcohol. As I said, low-key but satisfyingly pleasant.

To accompany this blog post I thought I’d share some pictures that were taken at my Mum’s house over Christmas by my brother in law. He is by no means a professional photographer, but likes to sit and quietly click away on his fancy Dan camera. I love seeing the day from a reportage point of view, and as most of my photos of Frank are iPhone selfies enhanced by a clever Instagram filter, it’s truly lovely to now have some more natural images of him (and my gorgeous nephew, Eithan) that capture the ‘every day’. So thank you very much, Colin 🙂

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But anyway, this post isn’t about Christmas or the New Year. It’s about survival. Frank turned three months last week, which means as we enter 2016 I no longer have a newborn baby. My mind is boggled. In many, many ways it is a huge relief to be in the ‘infant’ stage. He’s still very young and vulnerable, but now that he sees so much more and his synapses have gone in to overdrive, his personality is really starting to emerge and he’s just so much more enjoyable. He’s also chubbed out big and is cultivating quite the double chin, which is super cute.

Frank was not an easy newborn. I don’t think I had unrealistic expectations, but he did (and still does, to be honest) cry an awful lot. See, there are babies who whinge when they want something and whimper when they’re unhappy, but are generally happy to gurgle and look around in blissful unawareness. But then there are babies who fly in to inconsolable rage at any given moment, turning purple in the process, causing the cat to fly out the cat flap in fear of his life, and stopping only to eat, sleep or poo. Frank was most definitely the latter.

In the depths of the night feeding sessions I would more often than not find myself asking the internet a desperate question. Why does my baby cry so much? How do I get my 4 week old to sleep for longer? Does my baby have reflux? What is colic? Baby forums became my sanctuary, and I’d scour the posts looking for other new mums who had asked the same questions, eagerly reading the answers and words of advice from those who had been there, done that.

But the problem with babies is that they are extremely changeable and totally unreliable. What seems to work one day might not work the next, and what might work for one baby may have the complete opposite effect on another. So it’s all trial and error, this baby rearing lark. However, three months in I’m pretty sure I know what my baby likes and doesn’t like now. We have a bit of a routine going. I’m down with the kid.

Here’s what works for us:

Baby wearing

Whilst pregnant I knew that I wanted some sort of sling. The hippy in me wanted a wrap as opposed to a structured carrier so I bid for an Ergobaby Wrap on eBay and had fun practising the basic wrap for newborns before he arrived. At three days old and with Paul instructing me via a YouTube tutorial, we somehow managed to get Frank in snugly and I felt like some sort of Earth Mother Goddess. It soon became clear, however, that when I most needed the sling (i.e. when Frank was massively overtired and screaming inconsolably), the Ergobaby just wasn’t going to cut it. Too time-consuming and complicated to get on. Some quick research and a call-out on a baby forum later and I had a NCT Close Caboo winging its way to me which is SO much better. In the early weeks Frank would usually nap in this once a day when I would potter around making lunch, tidying up etc. I wouldn’t say he particularly loved or loves the sling. He nearly always protests as I put him in and will generally take 5-10 minutes of frantic jiggling and shushing to settle him, but there’s no denying the sling is a great tool in the early weeks for a baby who just wants to be close to you.

Swaddling

In the first month I put out a couple of desperate, baby-related pleas on Facebook and got a multitude of helpful messages from my mummy friends. SEVERAL people suggested swaddling but I have to admit I was really reluctant in the early weeks, and I’m not too sure why. I think I thought he wouldn’t like it. Eventually I gave in and it changed everything regarding Frank’s sleep. He had a pretty severe startle reflex and having his arms bound to his sides improved his sleep enormously. I started with a Gro-Snug which worked well initially but kept riding up around his face in the middle of the night, and am now on Swaddle Me blankets. I use them for every sleep, day and night. In fact, I rely on swaddling so much now that I am quite scared he won’t settle properly once he starts to roll over and we can no longer swaddle! But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

Dummies

Ok, hands up who said whilst pregnant that they wouldn’t be giving their babies a dummy? I know I did. I’m not even sure why these little plastic wonders are frowned upon by many, but what I do know is that I’d bought a pack of two ‘just in case’ prior to Frank being born, and had effectively shoved one in his mouth within the first few days.

Nowadays his dummy is used as a sleep aid and I intend for it to stay that way. When he’s swaddled and on my shoulder, he’ll often start sucking on my jumper. In goes a dummy and he falls asleep fairly quickly, spitting it out just as he starts to fall in to a deep sleep.

White noise

Apparently it’s bloody noisy in the womb, so many babies are calmed by white noise. I use an app on my phone called Sleepy Sounds and Frank LOVES it. There are lots of different sounds on there but it’s the hairdryer he really responds to, calming in an instant if he’s hysterical, and sending him to sleep when it’s bedtime. I do have my concerns as it needs to be pretty loud to have any effect, and as it’s on my phone I don’t like having it too close to his head. But again, this is a big part of our sleep routine and something Frank struggles to settle without.

Rocking

Paul takes the mick out of me for calling Frank a ‘motion baby’ but he really is. Whether he’s rocked, bobbed, swayed or swung, Frank likes to move. However, I can already feel this constant motion already taking effect on my back and knees, and it’s only going to get worse as he gets bigger, which leads me to…

…The Swing Chair

A few weeks ago his napping was driving me absolutely mad, as he would wake- without fail- 30 minutes after going down. Every time. I’ve read a lot about it and realise now that it happens as he is coming out of his light REM sleep cycle. Whereas he should slip in to a deeper sleep at this point, the transition wakes him up and he can’t re-settle. You can’t get anything done in 30 minutes, and with me needing to get back in to Utterly Wow mode this month, I desperately needed a solution. The internet told me a swing chair would be my saviour, so we asked for one as an early Christmas present from his Nanny and Grandad, and I think I actually wept tears of joy the first time he napped in it and I had to wake him 2.5 hours later.

A few weeks in and it doesn’t work every time, but as I type he’s upstairs gently swinging away, having been down for 1 hour 4o and counting. The swing chair may be huge, cumbersome and ghastly to look at, but boy it delivers.

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So there we go. These are the tools that settle my demanding diva and have got me through the newborn stage. The ‘routine’ is quite extensive, and many a time I lament the fact that I have to do all these things to get Frank to sleep when other people seem to simply lie their angels down and walk away, but needs must. Some might say I’m ‘making a rod for my own back’ (possibly the most over-used sentence on baby forums), but I’m confident these are all just temporary solutions. As it happens, I’m pretty much following the method of American paediatrician, Harvey Karp who wrote The Happiest Baby On The BlockHis method is all about the 5 S’s: Swaddling (yep), Side or Stomach position (Frank goes to sleep on my shoulder or in my arms on his side), Shush (white noise), Swing (hell yes), and Suck (pass me that pacifier). And he’s a Doctor, so he must be right.

Right?

Sama xx

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5 thoughts on “The Frank Diaries: Surviving the Newborn Stage

  1. Sama! Frank sounds EXACTLY like Flo as a newborn. She was so unsettled and would not sleep at all. We used white noise, dummy, swaddling, feeding to sleep and rocking! Eventually we got it down to dummy, feed and white noise. At four months we swapped the dummy for a comfort blanket (these lovely Muslims from Aden & Anis http://www.naturalbabyshower.co.uk/collections/aden-anais-issies-musy-mates/products/aden-anais-issie-security-blanket-twinkle ) after a couple of hellish nights she was off the dummy for good. If he’s already sucking on your top, this might work for you too? We are now, at 8 months, starting to wean her off the white noise. I think I hung onto it even though she didn’t need it. I still feed her before every sleep but she self settles. It was a routine which changed everything for us and I still stick to a pretty rigid routine now. (This website is pretty good for suggested routines – http://www.weebeedreaming.com/my-blog/sample-schedule-4-months-up). There is light at the end of the tunnel though…Flo sleeps from 7-7, with a dream feed at 10 most nights now. Hang in there, it’s gets easier. We are having so much fun now!!!

  2. I knew what you meant! Ah that Aden & Anais one looks lovely. We actually have a really nice comforter from The White Company that was a gift, but he’s not quite holding things yet, so is still quite unaware of it. I’ll keep persisting though. I had a yellow blanket as a baby/child that I clung to like a limpet, so know how good they can be! Glad to hear I’m not alone with doing everything it takes to get our babies to sleep! xx

  3. There’s no such thing as “Making a rod for your own back” when it comes to high needs, distressed babies. My own turns one year old in a few days and in the first 3 (often horrific) months we threw everything at the problem. Slings, SwaddleUps, dummies, sleepyheads, they all helped this nap refusing, sleep-dodging, perpetually unsettled infant and I’m glad we did. She’s now a sunny, nap-relishing sleeping-through delight without any brutal sleep training or extended crying whatsoever. The swaddle weaning really wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. She still only uses the dummy to get off to sleep and friends are often surprised to discover we use it at all as its never needed outside of sleep.

    You do what you need to do and what your instinct tells you is right, and as long as that is with compassion and kindness, it eventually works. You’re probably sick of hearing that it gets better but it does and when all your friends who had those content, snuggled, settled babies are bemoaning how hard the crawling/cruising/toddling stages are, you’ll find it a piece of cake after surviving a fussy newborn.

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