My wife and I were spoiled by Gideon spending a week in the NICU.
That seems like an awful thing to say. The NICU is the last place parents expect or want their newborn to experience their first hours. With needles stuck into their heads, wires taped to their bodies, it’s the stuff that nightmares are made of. There’s real emotional and physical tolls on the parents. After being discharged from the hospital you’re no longer 5 minutes and a handscrub away from your child, instead you’re at home. But it’s not really your home anymore because the house is oddly empty, nothing seems to have changed there which belies the fact that everything has changed.
But in a way we were spoiled, because in his time there Gideon was kept on a precise sleep and feeding schedule that could only be maintained by a psychotically punctual villain like the Clock King or, in this case, a professional team of nurses offering the best care in the world. A dissonant chord entered this rhythm when we took him home though. Despite Gideon’s best efforts to maintain his schedule, it slowly unraveled due to the impracticalities of life at home not hospital.
Amber and I reaped the rewards of the nurses hard work for the first few weeks. We marveled at how Gideon let us sleep through the night, punctuated by only a few feeding intervals. But like all parents we got too greedy. We would let him sleep too long so we could enjoy dinner in peace, we would wake him up ahead of time to eat so his feeding time wouldn’t interrupt our schedule. And as we introduced chaos into his schedule to better fit ours, his sleeping became more random and haphazard in a way that was detrimental to our own. We had played ourselves. Now instead of getting 3-4 hours of sleep at a time we’d be lucky to get an hour. He wouldn’t stay down for more than 15 minutes at night and then sleep during prime daylight hours in the afternoon. It was unsustainable.
This wasn’t a problem that could be solved with love. No amount of cooing, rocking, swaddling, feeding and burping was going to get us our precious sleep back. No, in order to solve this we needed to be jerks. No matter how he protested, we made a rule that he would not sleep after 6-7pm until we went to bed as well. If he fell asleep eating, or in the baby bjorn, or even in our arms it meant one thing: Back/tummy time!
I repeat the process when I wake up at 4:30am (I work at 6). I get up, get ready, feed him a small amount then let him exercise (his arms, legs, neck AND lungs) until I finish his feeding, lulling him back to sleep and letting mom get a bit more rest.
End result? Wide eyed rested parents, a strong baby, and even a happier more cheerful baby in the morning. Turns out babies seem to benefit from a good night’s sleep too. This is a good early lesson for us, sometimes as parents we have to be jerks and set our kid on a path that works for everyone (including us!) instead of obliging them to whatever they want. We just had to get started on this way earlier than I thought!