He had pretty high jaundice levels, so we were advised to either ward him at the hospital, or rent a phototherapy bed for use at home. Since we couldn’t wait to go home and get settled, we picked the second option.
‘Place him under the UV light for half an hour, every two hours,’ the neonatal nurse told us, as I dutifully took down all the information in my notebook. ‘And every time you pick him up, you can feed him, change him, then put him back under the light.’
Don’t get me wrong, I ‘m not blaming my intensive clock-watching habit on the nurse. Indeed, I’d been a serial reader of parenting books and websites during my pregnancy, many of which had information like ‘newborns had to feed every two hours in the day, and every three hours at night’.
Or, “change his diaper at least every two or three hours”.
Or “your baby should not be awake for more than an hour and a half at a stretch”.
Or “he should take his first morning nap at 9am”.
And of course, “babies need routines”.
All this advice was great. But then, I got a little obsessive.
Christian wasn’t a great sleeper as a baby ― as first-time parents, we’d count the number of daytime naps he was getting, the number of hours of sleep, and worried that we would be hurting his brain development if he didn’t get enough snooze-time.
“We’d avoid all evening appointments, since we had to be home by 7pm, so that we could start his bedtime routine.”
We based our day on when his next nap was due. Should we lunch with some friends at noon? No, we’d better move it to 1pm, since Christian might need some quiet time to settle down and have his nap.
We’d avoid all evening appointments, since we had to be home by 7pm, so that we could start his bedtime routine.
Even though I was sleepy by midnight, I’d force myself to stay awake because I knew that he would wake up in 45 minutes for his next feed.
It wasn’t just the sleep. I was devoted to breastfeeding him every two hours, as advised by the books. So, when he started tugging at my blouse and showing hunger cues after just 30 minutes, I started wondering if there was something fundamentally wrong with the way I was feeding him.
I would try to hold, cuddle and distract him from the boob till the clock “allowed” me to give him his feed.
I remember going out for tea with several friends during my maternity leave, having Christian happily bouncing on my lap. Instead of focusing on enjoying myself and engaging in the conversation, I’d be looking at my watch thinking, ‘okay, it’s 12 minutes to his feeding time, I’d better start bracing myself for the wails.’
When I did give in to him and let him nurse well before the two-hour mark, I’m convinced that not only I, but he, too, heaved a sigh of relief.
“When he started tugging at my blouse and showing hunger cues after just 30 minutes, I started wondering if there was something fundamentally wrong with the way I was feeding him.”
I went back to work when Christian was 4 months old and stuck to a strict pumping routine ― great, yet one more thing to add to my list of schedules!
Indeed, watching the clock was taking a toll on me ― I was less relaxed, almost always on edge, and when things didn’t go according to ‘plan’, I would start to doubt myself.
Thankfully, I didn’t suffer from postnatal depression, but I completely understand why some other mums do. I talked about my ‘clock-watching habit’ with several other mum friends and they agreed how it had caused them so much anxiety.
One stay-at-home mum friend even talked about how she’d watch the clock from 6pm to 8pm every single evening, counting down the minutes to the moment her husband would walk through the door and relieve her of her 6-month-old daughter for just a few minutes.
Another friend shared that she was obsessed about her baby drinking at least 15 minutes from the left breast before switching to the right, so that he could get the rich “hind milk”. She even got a mini-kitchen timer just for this purpose.
As Christian got older, I started getting used to his feeding routine ― I was rather proud of how far I had come. But then, I also started wondering, at what point do I stretch these the periods between his feeds? Should he be feeding every three hours instead of two now? Should he be dropping a nap by now?
I realised it was all a vicious, never-ending circle. If I wanted to really relax and enjoy motherhood, I would have to let go of my ‘clock-watching’ habits. I asked myself, what was the worst that could happen, if he went to bed just a little past his bedtime? Would anything bad happen if I just breastfed him whenever he wanted to?
Then, I had my second child, Connor. Immediately, I started wondering how I’d manage each of their routines. We were spending a lot of time going out and exploring places by then, but my firstborn still needed his naps, and my newborn would definitely have to sleep on the go.
Somehow, when you have more than one child, your attention is naturally taken away from watching the clock. Even if I wanted to, it was near impossible to follow a routine to the letter.
“But then, I also started wondering, at what point do I stretch these the periods between his feeds?”
Unlike Christian, I was nursing Connor on demand, and being far less militant about his naptimes and bedtimes. Soon, I realised that Christian’s routines had become rather sketchy, too.
But then, I was also feeling more relaxed and confident in my parenting abilities.
I was able to enjoy my time much more with my children ― I also stopped measuring my successes and failures against whether I’d met the expectations of the timetable I had set. I realised that giving myself some allowance and flexibility had ultimately made me a happier parent.
These days, I have three kids running around, and three completely different schedules to follow. Yep, besides the feeding and sleeping, there’s homework, plus an intense amount of play they enjoy.
But you know what, I’m choosing to go with my instincts and well, to just go with the flow. It’s not worth missing the best moments of parenting by getting caught up in ‘watching the clock’.”
Melissa Tan, 32, a senior writer with SmartParents, is mum to Cameron, 2, Connor, 4, and Christian, 6.
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