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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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?