When I was pregnant with my first baby I, like many new mums, excitedly bought and borrowed a multitude of baby books.
I spent hours swotting up before our impending bundle of joy arrived and I found a couple of books that seemed, I thought, to take a sensible structured approach to baby rearing.
The approach they advocated seemed to suit my personality traits – a like to be in control perfectionist with, at times, big dollops of anxiety and OCD tendencies.
What’s more, they seemed to be the in-thing. The word ‘routine’ seemed to be the baby raising buzz word of the day, so I thought I couldn’t go far wrong following the herd.
I had nothing else to go on. No previous experience. No family or best friend around me for support.
“It’ll help me take the guess work out of it,” I naively thought. “I’ll know what I need to be doing and when. Excellent.”
After the big day out I tried to stick to the baby rule book as much as possible.
It was all laid out for me like a plan to follow. Sleeping, eating, playtime, repeat. Even down to when I should open the curtains, length of playtime and how much boob to offer.
But you know what. The whole time I felt like something big was missing.
When do I actually get to spend time with my baby?
Not just the 15 minutes between feeding and getting her back to bed.
But to really spend time with her. Snuggling her. Smelling her. Letting her nap skin-to-skin on my chest. Letting her fall asleep in my arms. Rocking her. Feeding her to sleep.
All the things that I wanted to do. But all the things that plenty of experts say you shouldn’t do because you’ll create a huge rod down your back.
“You’ll never get her out of your bed”.
“She’ll never be able to self-settle,” I could hear them chanting.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there was no delicious mummy and baby time at all. But I felt like the structured routine was somewhat stifling.
I felt like I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to just be with her. As if the author of the book would knock at my door if I stepped out of line.
So why didn’t I just throw the book away then? I ask myself that now too.
Looking back I was too anxious to try anything else in case I rocked the boat, because it seemed like she was doing ok.
When you’re a new mum everything seems so daunting. Mummy guilt kicks in and you are tired and swimming with hormones. So I pushed my instincts aside and told myself “it’s for the best.”
But I felt like I was missing out on my baby even though she was right there.
I was constantly watching the clock. Probably more so than my baby’s cues, just trying to keep on track with the recommendations.
I became easily stressed if she did not sleep for the allocated amount of time that the book stated. I’d spend ages trying to get her back to sleep just so I could keep on track with the routine, when she actually had slept enough and was fine and happy. Instead it often ended up with a baby that was upset and me feeling stressed and frazzled too.
There were other factors too. Not least breastfeeding, which I struggled with anyway.
But hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is only now, with experience, that I can look back and know that the structured routine was not the right parenting path for us.
The very fact that it was so structured actually did not work for me from an emotional and mental wellbeing perspective.
I’m not saying that having a structured routine was all bad. And I’m not trying to put anyone off. I’m simply explaining (partly for myself) how I personally felt when using a structured routine.
In fact there were some great points. Particularly setting up nap time and night time routines so that baby knows what to expect. That really helped and it also set us up with great reading habits that we still have to this day.
Five years on our daughter is a bright little button. Independent and loving. A typical five year old. As happy and healthy as I could hope for. So a structured routine certainly hasn’t had a negative affect on her.
But when I was pregnant with my second baby, I stayed away from the books. I told myself that this time I would do what felt right in my heart.
Of course, second time around you also feel a little more confident. You have to let go a little because you have another child to look after and run around for.
So this time, I’ve done all the things that I now wish I’d done first time around. We’ve snuggled, she’s slept on me, I feed and rock her to sleep, I wear her…
If she wakes up after a really short nap, that’s ok. If she looks like she needs it I’ll try to get her back to sleep, but if not we just get up and get on with a cycle that works for us.
Because you do tend to fall into a cycle anyway. Sleeping, feeding, up time, feeding (top up before bed), back to bed.
I feel so much more relaxed. But of course I still get stressed at times. And of course I still worry. And of course I still wonder whether I’m doing things right! But that’s mothering. And that’s babies. They are like little Rubik’s cubes sometimes. Hard to figure out. But that’s ok.
This time we’re just going with the flow and I think we are better for it.
Photo credit: Book image: Wokandapix via Pixabay.
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