Before Ben was 12 weeks old, I really looked forward to him meeting that milestone. Everything I read seemed to suggest that at 12 weeks, things would click. He would be ready for a bit of a routine. He would feed less, and more efficiently. He wouldn’t need to be held close all day every day. He would start to nap somewhere other than on me or in his pram.
Looking back, I can pinpoint two points in those early weeks when things suddenly seemed to get easier. The first was at 5 weeks. All of a sudden, Ben didn’t always cry when I put him down for short periods of time. He could sit in his bouncy chair for five minutes while I made a sandwich. This was a revelation. He also started to take a dummy and a bottle at this time.
The second point was at 11 weeks. This was when Ben caught his first cold. It might sound silly, but this cold went on for what seemed like ages. In the first week, I was quite blase about it and took him to baby massage and to meet friends and things. In the second week, I was fed up of having a snotty baby. To avoid him catching anything else, we spent the week at home.
This was actually one of the most helpful things I could have done, as it allowed me to really observe his routine. I had not done anything to encourage a routine except to create a bedtime routine of bath, feed, bed. I loosely thought about following The Baby Whisperer plan of Eat – Activity – Sleep, but Ben was more like Eat – Activity – Eat – Activity – Eat until he falls asleep – Eat… and so on. However, when our day wasn’t structured around outings when he would inevitably fall asleep in the car or the pram, I realised he did have tired signals, and that I could follow them and put him to bed when he needed it.
At around 12 weeks, Ben could stay awake for a maximum of 2 hours. Some babies can do more, some do less. He would then sleep for exactly 45 minutes. Then he would feed and play for another 2 hours, when he would need to sleep again.
It was as simple as that. However, all the books I had read seemed to suggest either that my baby could stay awake for ages, would go 4 hours or more between feeds at 12 weeks, or would sleep in 2-3 hour stretches during the day. I didn’t want to force him into a routine; instead I found that he had a natural routine.
After speaking to lots of other mums, I found that most babies sleep in 45 minute stretches. I don’t know the theory behind sleep cycles, but that seems to be one sleep cycle. When Ben had slept for this long, he would be refreshed and hungry. He was ready to start again.
I didn’t mind the 45 minute stretches at all – he would generally nap 3 or 4 times a day. Observing this helped me to stretch his feeds out to every 3 hours, so he did start to eat more efficiently at each feed, and I wasn’t feeding him constantly. In the ‘Activity’ times he would spend time playing with his baby gym, doing tummy time, observing and generally discovering the world. He discovered his hands, and then learned to hold objects. Then he learned to put everything in his mouth.
Usually, I timed walks or journeys to coincide with his naps, which was fine. I knew that I wanted him eventually to be able to nap in his cot at home, so I tried to make sure that at least one nap a day was at home. Sometimes he cried a bit as he went to sleep, but never for more than 5 minutes. If he didn’t seem to be able to settle, I would get him up and try again a bit later.
As he moved closer to 6 months, his nap times gradually lengthened, and he was able to stay awake for longer stretches. I think introducing solids probably had a lot to do with this.
I really loved the age from 3 months to 6 months. Your baby’s personality starts to appear, and they become much less of a mystery. Some days are really hard, and you wonder if it will get easier, but most days are brilliant.