4 months old: About breastfeeding, bottles and a good nap routine

by Veerle

In short, these are the adventures Isolde takes us on in her fourth month: she tries the bottle for the first time, she starts taking her naps in the bedroom in stead of the living room, and sleepwise – before we start to feel too lucky – she has a bit of a setback in her otherwise lovely uninterrupted nights. Well, I do hope this is not where you stop reading…

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but with all three of my children, I’ve always enjoyed nursing them. Admittedly, the first weeks it can be hard, and yes, you need to be strong sometimes to see it through, especially when you’re already feeling so tired from –oh, I don’t know - a pregnancy, giving birth, taking care of a newborn - let alone having to provide her milk all by yourself.

When Daphne was born, I remember Tom would come home from work and ask: “Darling, so what have you been up to today?” As if the answer to his very well meant question wasn’t blindingly obvious… Mostly I replied something like this: “I fed the baby, cleared the table, then fed her again, quickly took a shower while she napped, then fed her once more”, and so on. Because that’s what it’s like, and in a bad mood, you’d even say you felt like a milking cow. It’s work, that’s what it is! Very soon however, Tom gave a significant twist to his question: “So, dear, what were you able to do today?” Much better ... :)

Why do I tell you this? Well, as much as I love breastfeeding – it truly IS an intimate and cosy moment between yourself and your baby, there comes a time when you want your body to be your own again, and when that time comes, you’ll need an alternative way of feeding your baby: from a bottle or a cup. Either way, best to start getting her used to this in time: you see, it took Daphne 8 weeks to take the bottle, and Alexander 7.

A midwife once told me the best age to start weaning your baby is between 4 and 8 weeks old. Apparently, she won’t be as fussy then as she will be later on, when she just won’t know how she’s supposed to suck from a bottle teat. That may all very well be, but I’ve never understood how any mother is supposed to fit pumping milk and trying to have the baby take it from the bottle, into an already jampacked day of nursing. Isolde is not 8 weeks old anymore, but she’s still a lot younger than her brother and sister were when they first tried a bottle. We’ll see.

With the above in mind, I call our health insurance office. They offer a rental service for all kinds of medical equipment, from crutches and wheelchairs, to electrical breast pumps. I never was a great fan of pumping milk, which is probably also why it never seemed to work for me, but I’ve decided to give it another go. To my great relief, I manage to extract rather a lot of milk for a first time – 60 ml.

I seize the moment to offer it to Isolde immediately. It’s not an overwhelming success, but at least she allows it. The milk just kind of dribbles into her mouth and she swallows it. Very soon, it starts to annoy her though, so I stop right away. The rest of that week, I try to pump every morning after Isolde’s first feed. She never drinks more than 30 ml, but it’s only about getting her used to it, no need to push it.

This month and next month, we have been invited to two weddings, of two of my cousins. As long as Isolde doesn’t take the bottle, I’ll have to take her with me. Thinking back to my birthday party, we feel a little apprehensive.

Our fears are not unjust: the first wedding is nothing short of a disaster for Isolde. We knew this already, but now have definitive proof: we need to keep Isolde away from all things crowded and busy in the evenings. Although the party venue is large, not one small room is available for me to sit with her to quietly feed her and put her to sleep. Isolde gets so upset that we have to take her outside so the other guests can at least hear the speeches and songs prepared by friends. Luckily, my sister and mother step in from time to time and we manage to quickly gobble up one plateful, before we take over ourselves again. Isolde just won’t stop crying and most definitely won’t fall asleep, so in the end we go for a drive in the car until she finally caves.

There’s a couple at this same wedding with a seven-week-old baby, their first, sleeping soundly in the pram. Smugly they announce to me that they have made their baby used to lots of people and noise. I let them talk. I don’t reply that many babies of seven weeks sleep through almost everything. As much as we like to think we can, as parents we can’t take credit for the “good” behaviour of our baby as long as she’s so little. These fresh parents will figure this out soon enough, so I decide to leave them blissfully ignorant for the time being.

Anyway, that night we feel awful in Isolde’s place. Hopefully next month we’ll be able to leave her with the babysitter, and spare her this craziness.

Back to our day-to-day routines. I have decided to move Isolde to the bedroom for her naps. I’m not entirely sure it will make her sleep better, but I’ll feel more at ease when making noises or when the phone rings. Now that she doesn’t wake up for night feeds anymore, I even consider moving her bed to the nursery, but in the end I don’t. I like it when I can hear her breathe and turn in her sleep. While other parents can’t sleep because they’re listening to these sounds, I find them reassuring.

Coincidence or not, but that week, Isolde wakes up in the middle of the night. I’m a bit surprised, but hey, she’s been such a good sleeper so far, I honestly don’t mind. I even enjoy this very quiet time just the two of us. Moonlight fills the room - we have no curtains yet - and I just observe Isolde as she’s drinking, thinking, as all mothers do, what an extraordinary child my baby is.

Isolde wakes up the next night as well. Please don’t let this be her new sleep pattern! The next, she sleeps through again (yes!), but the following two nights, there she is again. Bye bye romance… It’s unbelievable how quickly the fear of broken nights can get to you. Every evening, you’re uncertain about whether or not you’ll get a full night’s sleep. This is almost as hard as dealing with the lack of sleep itself, I remember that all too well (see Alexander!). Luckily, it all appears to be a passing phase…

At almost 4 months old, Isolde has put herself into a routine of 2 naps a day. The easiest one is the morning nap: as soon as Isolde has been awake for about two hours, I just know she’s getting tired. After I’ve put her down, I hang around in the room for a little while, quietly making my bed, or organizing freshly ironed laundry in the closet. That way, I’m hoping she’ll know she can be at ease, and to my surprise, it works. Isolde watches me for a while and then very often falls asleep, for about an hour. It’s an ideal moment for me to relax and treat myself to my “one fun thing a day”: reading the paper, writing this diary, calling a friend and chat. Beats doing household chores any time!

For some reason, the morning-nap approach doesn’t seem to ‘take’ for her afternoon nap. So sometimes she does sleep then, sometimes not. And when we’re very lucky, she even takes a very short nap at around 6 p.m, just when we’re having supper: she could not have timed that one better!

After supper, we’re mostly back to a fussy evening, and I get to be a live dummy again. We just can’t seem to get rid of that habit of hers… Maybe the hot weather has got something to do with it as well. I try not to mind too much, Isolde is after all, still so little.

At four months, Isolde starts experimenting with all sounds produced in the front of her mouth, like p, b and m. And she starts laughing out loud whenever Daphne or Alexander make funny faces or sounds. So, I’ll end with a great big cliché: “They grow so fast, don’t they?”

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