Around six months you should enter the new family normal. The elements of your pre-baby life start to return, but on a new schedule, which emerges as you get the baby’s schedule settled.
Sometime after 4 months, if you’re still nursing, Peanut will start a milk demand that keeps going. Start solids. (I will post on that next week.) Don’t worry about the one new food a day nonsense (if that is even still in vogue) unless you have existing allergy worries. Just feed her.
If you’re going back to work but don’t want to pump, you can wean her to nurse at wake-up and bedtime feedings. Your boobies will be efficient machines by now. You can train them to do whatever you want. Just don’t wean her cold turkey, unless you like pain. Decide what you want to do and give yourself at least a month to adjust your milk supply and her schedule.
This stage is full of the forward and a little backslide progress. Your goal is to get the late evening feed to go away and the middle of the night feed to keep moving forward. Lock the bedtime routine in and let Peanut eat as much as she wants at the last feed. She might still wake at 10 to eat, but test letting her sleep through it. Do the same with the 2 a.m. feed. Sometimes it will work. Other times it won’t. The not-working will happen more at the start of four months.
By 6-7 months most babies can sleep for an 11+ hour stretch, say 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. If she’s not doing that, then you likely have a trained night feeder. It will become a harder habit to break the longer you wait, but if you don’t break the habit, you may well find yourself doing wee-hour feeds well past her second birthday. That’s a long time for an adult to endure interrupted sleep and remain balanced. It becomes a huge problem if mom gets pregnant with the second baby before the family gets a solid night’s sleep on a regular basis.
The Overall Schedule
At this stage there is a danger of not setting enough limits. This is where mothers who never sleep, husbands and wives who never go on dates, babies who cry and whine incessantly—all that stuff that you don’t want—starts.
Perhaps you’re burning out from early control issues or perhaps you just don’t think she’s old enough to cry for a bit or go for more than an hour without nursing. She is. And this is where one of the truths I mentioned in a previous article arises. Raising kids is a process and you have to give them time to develop. At this time that means not indulging her every demand for rocking or feeding. Take away pacifiers. Give her a chance to settle herself.
Around 4 months Peanut will get better eyesight and will have her first separation anxiety. This will make nap time—she will have two until about a year old— and bedtime a bit more difficult. Stand fast. Set the eating schedule, set the sleeping schedule, and stick with them. Don’t obsess with precision, insisting that she has to eat at noon on the dot, but don’t deviate more than a half hour or so.
This will seem silly at the time, but you’re setting her pattern for later when she’s more opinionated. You will fall back on this schedule and the bedtime ritual often. It will help you reestablish sanity after holiday celebrations, after sickness, whenever Daddy is out of town, at Spring Forward and Fall Back, etc.
Note: the schedule is your goal and the supporting structure of early parenting, but it functions like an average. You will rarely have schedule-perfect days, but you will also learn not to allow simultaneous deviations.
The Rest of Your Life
You can keep your marriage front and center, still have friends, still have work, but the whens of all of it change.
If you enjoyed socializing with friends on Saturday evenings, you will no longer be able to do it at 7 p.m. You can do something earlier. You can get a sitter and go out. You can have friends over for cocktails, after Peanut is in bed, say 8ish. I have fond memories of my parents hosting such parties in the ’70s.
It will be years before 7 p.m. is a preferred fun time again. My kids are 12, 10, and 2×8 and we returned to the American 7 p.m. entertaining option a few years ago.
Nights will be earlier too. You won’t stay out until 1 a.m. and may turn into a pumpkin by 10 p.m.
For work, church, and charity you will seek flexibility or concise projects. Rigid schedules or long-term projects will require more organization to pull off.
Finally, your pre-mom brain should start to awaken from its slumber. Reading and other intellectual pursuits will return in fits and spurts. When my twins were babes, I idly wondered if I would ever read again. In the previous few years I had read The Deathly Hallows, memorized the works of Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss, and Lauren Child, and considered it an accomplishment if I managed to read James Taranto’s “Best of the Web Today” in the The Wall Street Journal each evening. That was the extent of my intellectual life for a while. Then, a few months after my random musing, I picked up a book again and began my way back to intellectual pursuits and the, large, family normal.