(or threemonthitis…or fivemonthitis)
The days of pacing up and down the hallway at witching hour are a distant memory. Your baby has naturally fallen into a fairly consistent pattern of feeding and sleeping. You’re feeling proud that you have learned to spot those early signs of tiredness and the unique cues which mean ‘I’m hungry’, ‘I’m bored’ or ‘I’m wet’. You’ve caught up on sleep. The little one is perfectly content to entertain themselves for a while, so you can finish a cup of tea, reply to an email, even have a shower. Your scrunched up little piglet is blossoming into an open faced, curious baby with a personality streaming through those wide eyes.
And then one day it changes.
Suddenly he or she refuses to eat. The contrast from that guzzling creature to a baby who cries at the very mention of milk is startling. For the breastfed baby, when they do eat it’s for a matter of minutes.
Suddenly he or she refuses to sleep. That lovely routine you had going ends not with a sleeping babe but two wide eyes staring up at you. And maybe a giggle. ‘Me, Sleep? Sleep’s for wimps!’
And the rest. While still entranced by the faces of strangers, your child may no longer be as happy in a stranger’s arms. You may put them down to play while you sit down for that cup of tea, only to find them staring at you with a frown. On occasion, you find yourself with a Jekyll and Hyde, with a wide smile crumbling into bereft cries in an instant. One day they may seem to be a ray of sunshine, laughing at the very sight of you, then the next you’re lucky if you can coax a smile.
Simultaneously, your mood seems to have plummeted. As your oestrogen levels slowly return to normal, that pregnancy and newborn haze falls away – along with clumps of hair which plug up your shower (which, lets face it, could do with a good clean). The excited visitors have drifted away and the texts and phone calls asking what your little one did today have all but disappeared. The novelty has worn off. Perhaps you have a group of new mum friends you try to turn to – only to find them at war over controlled crying.
Welcome to the end of the fourth trimester!
While you may be wondering whether you’ve been left with a changeling, in actual fact your baby is undergoing an enormous set of changes. As his or her eyesight has developed, it is now possible not only to control their gaze to maintain focus on an object (and reach for it! And grab it! And suck it!), but the world has now become Technicolor. How exciting! And, at times, so exhausting that tears before bedtime are inevitable.
As this amazing new world opens up, alongside the skills to explore it, your baby is also starting to realise they are a separate entity. It will be a few more months before this separation leads to anxiety when you’re apart – for now, bubs is usually pretty happy to drink in the world around and start to consider what is great and not so great about it. Where it gets tricky is that these emerging preferences can be difficult to work out, especially when an angry cry can come quite out of the blue. How were you to know the cushion you just moved was so interesting?
This also means that distraction can start to feel like a problem. You might try to feed your baby as usual only to find that little head bobbing about all over the place, straining to see over the crook of your arm and indignant crying at the very idea of settling down for a feed. For the breastfed baby, this can lead to milk showers in the middle of Starbucks, while for the bottle-fed baby, a lot of discarded formula. If you are breastfeeding, your baby has also become very skilled at quickly draining the boob so can fill up in minutes then move on to the next thing – quite a shock when you’ve finally learned to have a book and your phone handy and started to enjoy a 20 minute rest.
As your baby has unfurled, he or she is now discovering the pleasure of their own body. From a still snuggly newborn, you’re now faced with flailing arms and legs, a body that twists and turns as soon as it’s put down, maybe rolling over and laughing with delight. That body may also be causing some pain as teeth push up through little gums and take you back to the days of pacing the corridor with an inconsolable child.
Of course, how could anyone sleep with all this going on? If it’s not the sore head, it’s the hunger that catches up when the lights go out, or the rolling to practice, or the feet to play with. And, sleep deprived with plummeting oestrogen, this can lead to a rather knackered you.
The rather wonderful thing about all of this though, is that now begins a relationship with your child which feels truly reciprocal. Your baby has always responded to you, but now there’s no mistaking how important your relationship is. Among the tearful evenings (for both of you) come moments of hysterical laughter and awesome discoveries. Although friends may have become less interested as your bundle becomes a baby, you can now share enjoyment between the two of you. While your confidence may feel slightly knocked for a week or so, you’ll both come out of this with a whole host of new skills. And maybe a couple of teeth.