The 4-month fussies

I’m writing this at just after 5am, having been awake since just after 4am with a hungry baby. Joel’s pattern for the past week or so seems to have been the following…. he wakes up at around 4am and feeds fairly constantly on and off until about 7am, when he falls asleep for a quick nap, just enough time for me to get Andrew up, have breakfast and do a bit of potty time with him, before Joel wakes up for more feeding until we go out to a group at about 9.30am; he’s then rarely bothered about feeding until we get home at around 12/12.30pm, because he’s so interested in looking at what’s going on; he usually feeds a little whilst Andrew eats lunch, and then once Andrew is napping, Joel feeds very enthusiastically for a couple of hours; he slows down more into the evening, and gets noticeably tired by the time we have tea together at about 6.30pm; he feeds a bit more after bath-time and then is pretty zonked in his Moses basket by about 8.15pm.

I know I can’t complain about sleep, because in this current pattern we do get a good chunk at the start of the night – I go to bed not long after Joel does, no later than 9pm (of course this could all change now I’ve written this!) It’s just quite draining being awake for so many hours before I even start the day looking after a toddler.

I’ve figured out that the reason he feeds so enthusiastically and is so awake from 4am is that this is a time when there is nothing going on. He has become so distractable over the past month, and he is very fussy when feeding if there is anything visually or aurally stimulating surrounding him. I remember this happening around this age with Andrew too, and I remember talking to some of my LLL friends who reassured me that this was normal – they called it the 4 month fussies. This went on until he was eating a good amount of solid food at around 9 months and the amount of milk he needed over a day started to decrease, and his waking up time gradually got later. I’m hoping a similar pattern will emerge with Joel, though of course it might not.

If I try and feed Joel at groups, because he looks like he might want some milk (cued by hands in mouth – though I think this might also be teeth pushing up now), he usually cries and struggles, maybe taking a little milk if he’s hungry enough to battle through the desire to not have his face pushed against me! Sometimes I don’t even bother trying because I feel I get more stressed as he gets stressed, and then it’s a vicious circle of us both getting the other one stressed, that usually ends with me feeling like the whole room of mums are looking at me thinking why on earth is she trying to force feed her baby?! But as often as I feel able to do it, I at least offer him milk in the hope that he might take something. As he’s having less milk than he once did mid-morning and whenever else we might be out and about, he has to make it up another time, and that time seems to be 4am.

'Napping'at 7am, just as I got up to get Andrew sorted with breakfast and potty time.
‘Napping’ at 7am, just as I got up to get Andrew sorted with breakfast and potty time.

As I’ve been sat awake feeding, knowing I’m unlikely to get any more sleep for the night, I’ve been pondering whether I can change anything myself to make the situation any different. My conclusion is that there isn’t much I can or want to do, as things are generally working as they are; they could be better, but they could be much worse. I feel that letting my baby take the lead on these things generally works better than me the mum trying to impose a schedule, and I personally find it less stressful in the long run not to try and battle against what baby wants to do. The hardest part is the fact that Tom and I don’t spend much time together awake and alone! I also can’t commit to going to any meetings in the evening for things I am involved in such as my Editor role for the local NCT branch or groups at church. But others understand my situation and we work around it.

With an active toddler to entertain and have fun with, we need to get out of our small flat, and besides which we’re a generally active family who like to get out and about in the fresh air and meet up with others at groups or cafes or parks. If it means that Joel feeds less when we do go out, then I accept that he will feed more at other times to satisfy his hunger over a 24-hour period. I think we have a good compromise of generally going out in the morning (the exception is Wednesdays when our group is in the afternoon) and coming home in the early afternoon so that Andrew can nap and Joel have a good feeding session, and then often popping out to the park or shops for an hour after nap now that the nights are drawing out. Andrew will nap in his buggy, and we used to stay out for naps quite a bit, but now it’s important that Joel gets some quiet time to feed well, and also I value that time to rest myself having been up so early.

The thing that I’m holding onto in all of this is that it won’t last forever. This is the second time we’ve been in this situation and I know now that it will change, albeit not overnight. Yes it’s tiring, and yes the fussing is annoying, but when I stop and think about it, there’s something deeply gratifying about being the centre of someone’s world at 4am. And I know that being the centre of that someone’s world won’t last forever, so I’m enjoying it while it lasts – before I know it he’ll be off out to school and not wanting me to kiss him goodbye at the school gate in case he looks uncool (if cool is still the word that’ll be used for it by then!) With all the distractions around, he’s already no longer that tiny newborn who did nothing but feed and sleep on me all day and night. Time flies!