Izzy was barely a week old before I found myself (in a sleep-deprived state, no less) googling about baby sleep patterns.
I stumbled upon various websites and blogs, each with their own tactics and suggestions, some of which promised a “foolproof newborn routine” or something akin to that. I eagerly learned about “wake windows” — i.e., the length of time a baby can be awake between sleeps before they get overtired — and began watching the clock like a hawk. I paid attention to Izzy’s sleep cues (yawning, rubbing her eyes, tugging on her ears, getting fussy or frustrated) and tried to swaddle and soothe her the second I saw them.
As she got older and more alert (and thus, more interested in playing than sleeping), my obsession only has grown. I’ve become fixated on schedules and routines, making sure she gets her required daytime naps with the understanding that “sleep begets sleep” and a happily rested baby during the day makes for an easier night’s sleep. When she misses a nap, or fights one for a long time, I regrettably feel a sense of failure wash over me. Her schedule has been ruined, and thus, I let our entire household down.
I know I’m not alone here, and it’s not a surprise that moms today are so wrapped up in worrying about nap schedules. Having a newborn is chaotic. And having a newborn for the first time is the kind of chaos that is unexpected: it disrupts your entire life in a way that you never thought possible. Thus, the idea of a “schedule” or “routine” is appealing. It gives us a sense of control over something that is, ultimately, mostly uncontrollable.
And while I still write about my baby routines on this blog, it’s worth noting that babies are individuals, not robots. I’m trying to learn that any schedule should be a guideline, not a rulebook, and I’m still working on accepting what it means when we get “off schedule” — and how it isn’t the end of the world.
The other thing about baby sleep schedules? They’re constantly changing. It’s trying to chase a moving target, and always feeling slightly one step behind. And just when you think you’ve figured out a pattern or have settled into a groove: poof. The baby goes through a growth spurt, or reaches another milestone, and you’re left trying to figure it all out again. What worked last week suddenly doesn’t work anymore. Back to square one.
I still haven’t quite accepted this. The other day, I was trying to get Izzy down for her final nap of the day (the dreaded late afternoon/evening catnap) for 45 minutes. Nothing I was doing was working, even though she was obviously tired. My husband came home to find me exhausted, sweating, flushed from holding her for so long. He took over, and she was asleep within 5 minutes flat. Why, I wondered, couldn’t I do it? Why did she magically fall asleep in his arms but resist in mine? And throughout the 45-minute battle, my mind was filled with clocks and numbers: If she falls asleep now for half an hour, we’re on track for a 6:30 bedtime. If she doesn’t fall asleep, she’s going to be overtired, it will take us another 90 minutes to get her down for the night.
I wish I could let go of all of this — I know that I would feel much more relaxed if I ignored the clock completely, if I just watched her for signs of tiredness and went with her cues. I’m home with her, I have the luxury of doing this. And yet, the idea of a routine soothes me. But deep inside I know: this shouldn’t be about me at all.
Maybe one day I’ll let go of the structure and embrace a lifestyle where numbers have no place within my day. Maybe it will take a few more weeks, or maybe months. Maybe I won’t be there for a year. I hope at some point I can release the need for order within chaos — and just simply welcome the chaos itself.
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