I’m Giving Up on Clocks and Charts (And Listening to Intuition) When It Comes to Raising My Child

My battle with clocks and charts started the day Lydia was born.

My wonderful midwife advised me that my newborn needed to nurse — i.e. actively drink, not just suck for comfort — for twenty minutes every 3-4 hours. Since with breastfeeding you can’t see how much your baby is drinking, it’s hard to know whether she’s getting enough; so I grabbed onto these numbers to guide and reassure me.

But no matter what I did, Lydia would never nurse for 20 minutes at a time. Not even close. I had a clock set up next to my nursing chair so I could keep an eye on it. She would nurse for maybe eight minutes and then fall asleep.

I would gently rub her, jiggle her and talk to her; but she was out. I would undress her, move her to the other breast, tickle her cheek. Nothing. She was done.

I was constantly anxious for the those first few weeks. She wasn’t nursing half as long as she should be. Was she getting malnourished? Was I stunting her growth and development?

At her first checkup two days later, she hadn’t quite gained as much weight as she should have, according to the charts. Oh Lord, I was starving her. I was failing her. How could I get her to nurse longer?! She was peeing and pooping a decent amount, and looked happy and healthy, but she wasn’t hitting those numbers.

I did more research. I tried more tactics. I sweated and fretted. Breastfeeding was a constant source of anxiety.

At her next appointment, though, she had gained a whole pile of weight. Without me having changed a thing. Turns out, she was getting plenty of milk out of those short nursing sessions.

I removed the clock from my nursing table and never had another major breastfeeding problem.

* * *

one year old

The clock next crept back into my life when Lydia was about to turn one. I had never kept track of how much sleep she got, relying solely on her cues. It was working wonderfully. I felt generally well-rested, and Lydia was growing phenomenally and developing right on track. I was vaguely aware that most babies at her age had two to three naps a day. She had two.

But gradually, she was refusing to take her first nap until later and later in the day, so that sometimes we couldn’t even fit in a second nap. I tried everything to get her to fall asleep earlier, but she just wouldn’t do it. I was spending hours every day trying to get her to sleep — rocking, nursing, singing, pushing her in the stroller, going for drives in the car, laying with her in a dark, quiet room. I even tried to quietly leave her in her playpen to rest, but she would just fuss. She just didn’t seem interested in sleeping.

I did some research, and discovered she wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep for babies her age — in fact, she was short several hours every day! I started keeping track of her sleep and I became even more stressed. Was I impeding her development? What was I doing wrong?

Again: she was a very content and inquisitive baby, bright-eyed and robustly healthy. She was gaining weight steadily, full of energy, and hitting her milestones right on time. But according to the charts and the clock, she was sleeping all wrong.

After several weeks of intense anxiety on my part and no change in her sleep patterns, I resigned myself to the fact that Lydia just did not sleep as much as other babies, and there was nothing I could do about it. I begrudgingly accepted the new one-nap routine and stopped watching the clock.

And everyone was happy.

* * *

lydia grapes

In the last few weeks, a similar pattern has been emerging: Lydia’s been refusing to nap every once in a while. At all. She just turned two, and she only sleeps about ten hours at night. Against my better judgement, I looked into how much sleep she’s “supposed” to be getting. Holy crap, she should be sleeping 2-4 more hours every day! That’s 15-28% less sleep than she needs!!

She’s a bright and imaginative girl, full of energy and words. She plays quietly by herself for hours, but also loves to run and play outside. Her coordination is excellent, and she’s fairly even-tempered (for a toddler), sociable, and recovers from illness quickly. She shows no signs of sleep deprivation.

But those numbers.

Lately, I’ve been running myself ragged trying to get her to sleep more. I’m implementing all kinds of routines, trying to get her to eat the right foods at the right times. I’ll spend up to two hours some days trying to get her to nap, but she’ll just pop up and go back to playing. It’s wearing me out. And for what?

Finally, yesterday, I decided to forget it. Every time in my history with Lydia that I’ve decided to stop looking at the clock, I’ve experienced freedom.

Lydia’s not like other kids. I need to face it. I can’t make her sleep, and it’s such a waste of energy to try.

I’m giving up the clock and relying on a much more subjective measure of her well-being: I’m going to look at her. Does she look healthy? Does she seem happy? I’ll pay attention to her eyes, her voice, her posture, her behaviour. I am finding that these are all much better indicators of whether she’s getting enough sleep or food.

*Big exhale of relief.*

Have you ever had a similar experience?

Related Post: For Moms Who Are Panicking Because Their Babies Aren’t Sleeping as Much as the Books Say They Should

Image by Simon Shek
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  1. All three of my children so far have never, NEVER nursed for longer than 10 minutes. At the hospital that was my biggest fuss with the nurses who INSISTED that they HAD to nurse for 20 minutes AT LEAST… So frustrating. My grandma always told me they get what they need in the first 5 minutes, kiddos were all perfectly fine.
    Sleeping…. I have to go on cues. If they seem tired, they probably need sleep. If they don’t seem tired, I’m just wasting time and becoming frustrated that they aren’t sleeping. Granted I’m not much of a “researcher” so I don’t ever know what they’re “supposed” to be doing.
    Ruth Anne recently posted..JoyMy Profile

  2. There came a point in my first kid’s infancy (8 months) when he was sleeping from 11 pm to 4 am, and my husband and I thought we would lose our minds. And our baby was very unhappy. But because we didn’t know what the tired signals were, we did have to go by the clock. And his tired signals were very subtle, and sometimes he was so absorbed in something that he literally wasn’t doing much that would suggest he was tired. He’s still like this, 9 years later. So we do have to insist that bedtime happens at the prescribed time. Our second and third kids have been easier to read, so we can go by their signals much more. Some kids seem to have more disorganized body clocks, and they can be helped by a predictable routine. This is not to say that parents should be adhering super strictly to an abstract schedule. But sometimes a clock-based schedule is a good thing. As with so many parenting dilemmas, different kids will need different things. It’s good to figure out what works for your kid and good to know that another kid (even your own other kid!) may need another approach.

    • Hi Rachel! I agree that clocks and charts can be useful tools — although more helpful for some than others. I actually wrote this post a couple of weeks ago; and lately, I’m trying to adhere to a flexible schedule (regulated by the clock), and it’s actually working out quite well. But I based that routine on what she seemed to be needing rather than what the books told me she needed. She’s still sleeping WAY less than the books tell me she should, but our days are predictable and we’re happy and well-rested. So much better. My point was that I’m not letting clocks and charts DICTATE when we do things — they can act as a guide. Thanks for sharing your story! You’re so right that it depends so much on the kid.

  3. Oh my yes!!!
    With breast feeding I never worried, I trusted her. But with sleeping, gah! I felt like I was always failing her because I couldn’t get her to sleep as much as she “should.” She sounds a lot like Lydia. She was fine in every way, just not hitting those numbers. Though there is one sign of issue, she has constant bags under her eyes. The occasionally go away or reduce but then they are always back. Otherwise, she seems fine. Ana, though, does actually seem to do better following a schedule than sleep cues. I learned that she falls asleep best between 12:30-1 pm for naps and 7:30-8 pm for bedtime. This is generally true no matter how much or little sleep she had in the previous sleeping session. It took FOREVER to discover “her” pattern though.
    Michele recently posted..Motherhood with a Toddler – Life in GeneralMy Profile

    • Yes: discovering *her* pattern is essential! As I said in my comment above, I have now found a good, predictable routine for Lydia, which makes us all happy; but I had to determine what was best by paying attention to HER for a while, not the books.

  4. Love this post! When my baby was little, I researched to try to figure out what was best so I could do everything perfect. I would get concerned when he wasn’t matching those numbers and scoring as well on the “tests” as he should, even though he was happy and healthy (just not statistically so). After a while, I started coming across advice that contradicted each other, sometimes they would even use the same studies to prove their point! It was a liberating day when I realized that as a mother, I know what is best for my child far better than any chart, clock, statistic, trend, blog, facebook, doctor, neighbor or extended family. Learning to listen to and trust my intuition instead of other well meaning sources works best for us.
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  5. My daughter is 6.5 months old and doesn’t sleep as much as she “should” be sleeping either- she only naps for 30 minutes at a time, and has only ever napped that long. She takes 3 thirty minute naps a day, which is a good 1-3 hours less than most infants her age, depending on those lists. It can be frustrating (for me), but she is happy and healthy! I gave up on the schedules and books that told me how long my baby should be sleeping a long time ago, as it was driving me crazy to try to get her to conform to what the books said she should be doing. I recently read an article in Psychology Today that said those numbers are all based on what parents report- so they’re just norms, not in any way related to what kids NEED in terms of sleep. Deciding to be a student of my daughter and meet her where she is instead of trying to get her to conform to some crazy schedule/expectation has been liberating for both of us!

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!! I especially found comfort in the line “I was spending hours every day trying to get her to sleep”. I thought I was the only other mother who had done that. I used to be so overly concerned with what the “experts” said about my daughters sleep. Thank goodness I’ve decided to give up on the clock, too!

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