If you asked me what point of parenting I found the hardest (excluding tweenhood, because that’s a WHOLE other ball game, whoah have you got fun to come!) it would have to be 4 and 5 months. I’ve always found the newborn period pretty easy, I think in part to the hideous morning sickness, PGP and insomnia I experience during pregnancy meaning that even 3hrs of broken sleep at night is an improvement on my pregnancy sleep, plus you get lots of lovely warm squishy cuddles and an immobile baby who’s content with his or her world revolving around your chest not needing anything else. I enjoy toddlerdom too I love that willful curiosity and the real emergence of personality (despite the sudocrem smeared on the sofas, unrolling of toilet roll and emptying of baby wipe packets that occurs on an almost daily basis), but oh 4-5 months that is a period I **HATE** with a passion (yes I did say that, me the supposed ‘baby expert’, I willingly confess to hating being a mother to a 4 or 5 month old baby!). It is, without a doubt, the hardest stage of parenting a baby or toddler and I have struggled with each of my four children.
So what happens at 4 and 5 months? You’ve just settled into a routine, both day and night. Your little one may be sleeping stretches of 4 or 5 hours at night (or if you’re lucky, even longer!), you’ve got some semblance of normality back in the daytime too. Your house may be resurfacing from the bomb site it became during the newborn days when you didn’t have the time or energy to even plug the hoover in (unless it was used as white noise to get the baby to sleep!), you’ve started to eat better, maybe exercise a little too, heck you may even have started to brush your hair and put on lipstick, yep – you’ve got this parenting thing sorted, you’re emerging from the fog of the fourth trimester and you’re feeling good (particularly when it comes to your little one’s sleep!) ………and then it happens…………..your baby doesn’t sleep, that smile that you’ve come to love, it doesn’t happen very often now, your baby is always grouchy and unsettled, they cry to be picked up constantly (much more than they did as a newborn) but when you pick them up they’re not happy and squirm around on your lap. What the hell went wrong?! To add to this their dribble is akin to Niagara falls and they ram everything they touch into their mouth, teething? Surely not (the answer is probably not by the way!).
….and you know what’s worse? You’re not special anymore. The interest in your baby has waned now they’re not a newborn anymore, the congratulations cards have long since been taken down, the petals on the flowers relegated to the compost heap, the visitors have stopped coming which is a good job really as they only comment about teething and “you really should be giving her proper food by now, you need to wean, that’s why she’s not sleeping”. The midwives have long since discharged you from their care and you only see the health visitor (who tells you that you’re making a rod for your own back and that you need to sleep train using controlled crying/CIO and *never* let your baby fall asleep in your arms) if you go to baby clinic. No, mothers of 4 or 5 month old babies are not special, they are ‘old hands’ and expected to get on with it without the help that was offered in the newborn period.
So, why are 4 and 5 month old babies such hard work? Developmentally so much is happening. I always used to look at my babies at that age and feel so sorry for them, they were so much more alert, understanding so much of the world now, but their bodies were still effectively pretty useless, they couldn’t sit unaided, couldn’t crawl, couldn’t stand – “the mind is willing but the body is weak” was a phrase that came to mind, imagine the sheer frustration! It may be hard parenting a 4 or 5 month old, but imagine how hard it is to BE a 4 or 5 month old?!
So much happens developmentally at 4 or 5 months, physically babies become so much stronger and more able to do things such as grasp and move their body with purpose and their hand-eye coordination really picks up a gear. The world takes on a whole new sensory quality as their vision and sensory processing matures. One of the most sensory areas of a baby’s body is their mouth – which is why *everything* gets put in there and why many mistakenly think their baby is ready for weaning and/or teething, babies put keys in their mouth, does it mean they want to eat them? The ‘putting everything in their mouth’ stage is a normal developmental one. I’m not saying your baby isn’t teething, they may well be, but the constant putting things in their mouth isn’t a sign, neither is it necessarily a sign of readiness for weaning. At this stage babies become so much more aware of their surroundings and that includes recognising people (and the opposite! ever wondered why your newborn was happy to be passed around to complete strangers as a baby, but now isn’t happy with anyone apart from you?). Language acquisition really kicks in too with the emergence of babbling. All this in just a few short weeks, imagine how exhausting and confusing that must be for your baby.
I always liken the 4-5mth experience for a baby as akin to you emigrating to Africa. Imagine moving somewhere with an entirely different climate, a different language and different food – in fact *everything* is different. It would freak you out wouldn’t it? All this change, all at once. How might it affect you? Well you might want to cling to those you love or those things that remind you of home, you’d probably be pretty cranky in this new overwhelming world of change and your sleep is probably most likely to be seriously affected – with all these thoughts running through your mind it would be mighty hard to switch off, especially when you do finally get to sleep and then wake up in strange surroundings only two hours later. Just for 5 minutes try to imagine how your baby is feeling with all of these changes, imagine how overwhelmed he is – now – should you listen to your mother in law or health visitor and start weaning him, introducing yet something else new into his life? Or should you start sleep training? Leaving him to cry by himself when what he really needs is you to help comfort him and be his ‘constant’. The key really is to CHANGE NOTHING. This too will pass.
The secret to surviving the 4 to 5 month old babies from hell? Well that secret is you. It’s what *you* do during these long 8 weeks, what support will you have? Who will you ask to help you? Who will you ask to support you whilst you are busy being there for your baby? How will you put as much of your life on hold for the next few short weeks whilst you help your baby to navigate this critical period of their development? What steps will you take to help you to cope with the transient sleepless nights?
This stage WILL pass, I promise, six month old babies are a dream, the fun of weaning, the babbling, the real emergence of personality, the ability to sit upright unaided and amuse themselves for more than 10 seconds and SLEEP…….sweet, sweet sleep…(I’m not talking ‘sleeping through the night’ here by the way, that’s pretty unusual for any child under 2 years old…I’m talking no more waking every 2hourly!). THIS TOO WILL PASS.
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