High need baby = exhausted Mom

In looking up ways to soothe Nate, I came across the High Need Baby page on the Dr. Sears website. While Nate does not fit the description 100%, he most certainly possesses many of those traits. He is definitely intense in everything he does. He gets intensely excited over stimulation so quickly it’s frightening. He goes from zero to jacked up on Mountain Dew in a matter of seconds; arms and legs flailing about, body contorting, panting and smiling like there is no tomorrow. However this is quickly followed by frustration and crying that can only be consoled by holding him closely and helping him soothe himself back down again. I know some of that is par for the course. However this happens during every single awake time and escalates throughout the day until the most draining soothing sessions in the evening for that last nap and bedtime.

While I can’t say that  he necessarily feeds frequently, he does feed erratically. Again, perhaps par for the course now, but for a while now he has not followed the textbook “eat a certain amount at certain intervals” pattern. The only quasi-predictable feedings are at night. He is very demanding and quickly loses his cool. If he is hungry, overstimulated, etc. he goes from a discontent face to whimpering to all out screaming fairly quickly. He does awaken frequently when it comes to napping, and will not sleep longer than one sleep cycle at a time (if I am lucky) more commonly more than 30 minutes at a time unless I am wearing him. I thank the baby gods every single night for my one saving grace. Once I actually have him down for the night, whether it be 6 PM or 9 PM after a marathon soothing session, he is out for the night until 7:30 the next day. He will “wake” for 2-3 feedings, however he never opens his eyes or fully awakens.

He can display the “unsatisfied” trait, however for the most part wearing him or holding him tightly in a dark room with the sound of water running usually does the trick. The length of time it takes to soothe him this way does vary, but 90% of the time it has worked. He is most certainly unpredictable. I never know what I’m in for as dusk approaches. Some nights I have been able to lay him down in jammies and a fresh diaper and feed him as he nods off and falls asleep on his own. This is pretty rare. Some nights like a couple nights ago I try desperately for 3-4 hours to calm him down and have to lay him down 2 or more times because when he hits the mattress his eyes pop wide open and/or he starts wailing. Most nights fall somewhere in between.

To label him super-sensitive is the understatement of the century. Unfamiliar noises, smells, and environments are just too much for him. I mean, he survives, but it’s so visibly upsetting to him it’s heartbreaking. I want to shut the whole world off around him when that happens or magically transport us to our safe dark bathroom with the running shower. He can stand a certain amount of alone time, and looks at windows, lights, shadows and colors excitedly and with great interest, but once he is done he needs to be held. And held some more. He loves being held and putting him down when the circumstances are not 100% right (which is quite a bit of the time) is extremely frustrating for him.

Self-soothing is coming soon, I’m sure, and I guess I can’t quite make a judgment call on this yet because he is too young to self-soothe effectively yet. I still have the hope that developing this skill might affect other areas as well. The same goes for being separation sensitive. While he spends nearly all of his waking time with me, when he is with Steve he is fine and seems to be okay with other people for brief periods of time. Again, I can probably chalk this up to age and won’t be able to definitively say if this is an issue until he is a bit older.

So what is a mom to do? Luckily I already naturally lean toward attachment parenting even though that wasn’t necessarily my plan from the get-go. Between bedsharing, baby wearing and responding to his cries immediately, I have figured out how to better manage his high need characteristics. Despite this, I am still exhausted at the end of the day. I am exhausted at the beginning of the day. My back is sore in a way I have never felt from the most intense work out from holding and wearing him. (I wish I could carry him in a way that would tighten up my abs, because I would have a six pack by the time he learns how to walk!) My feet hurt from pacing around all 1200 sf of our condo so he can be soothed by movement. I am lucky if I can get two meals in before 3 pm and consider cereal at 9 pm when Nate has finally fallen asleep a perfectly acceptable form of “dinner”. I often can’t put him down long enough to pump (10 minutes) for several hours past my pump time and I end up with sore and full breasts, or as was the case yesterday with a plugged duct the size of my thumb that I have to painfully knead out to avoid having to deal with mastitis again.

I need to breathe. I am overwhelmed. I am frustrated. A friend I was venting to the other day asked me how I do it. I said “One day at a time. Actually, I take it in blocks of hours at a time.” And it’s true. I wake up and I can’t see past his first nap. If I can squeeze in some breakfast before he freaks out and needs to be soothed for his first nap (which has to happen within 45 minutes of waking up or else he loses it) I am golden. And so on until he falls asleep at night and I finish my last pump of the day. Even then it takes a while to unwind. To focus away from the sore back as I lie down. To quiet my mind of the 100 things I wanted to get done in the day and didn’t get to. Prioritizing which ones I need to tackle the second I wake up.

I need soothing as well and I try to find it wherever I can. I am finding it right now venting via the written (or typed, as it were) word. Feeling my sweet baby breathe against my chest in his carrier. I find it in midnight nursing sessions, which don’t happen every night but when they do I say a silent and tearful prayer of thanks that for those glorious and indescribably sacred minutes he is nursing. I find it in the early morning after my 4 am pumping session when I know I have a pretty much guaranteed (for now) 3 hours until he is up for the day that I can use to nap, snuggle him closely and kiss his soft head, breathe deeply, or just stare aimlessly into the glow of our nightlight and try to just think about nothing. But despite all of these things, I struggle with exhaustion. All I can do is keep going, taking it one day, one hour, one nap, one shared deep sigh with Nate at a time.

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Progress

Today was a good day over all. It started with a successful thumb-sucking experience for Nate, who has desperately been trying to find his thumb through a tiny fist full of fingers for weeks now. He has been sucking on his fist all the time, but kept stabbing the roof of his mouth with his nails, not quite getting fingers in right, and as recent as yesterday finally getting a few fingers in his mouth and sucking on them. Yesterday he was getting closer to being able to hone in on his thumb, but didn’t quite get it. This step toward self-soothing makes me feel ever so slightly better about what the future holds. To be able to get another 10 minutes out of him spending time alone (which usually only lasts about 5-10 minutes) would be amazing.

On the Mommy front, I took advantage of the 55 degree weather to force myself to get out of the house and go for a walk. I used the magical burgers on a pretzel roll and waffle fries at Flo & Santos as the motivation to get out and go somewhere. Nate tried his best to keep it together but CTA was doing repair work on the el at the end of the alley so immediately he was greeted with terribly loud and piercing noises he was not used to. His lips pursed and turned into the deepest pout I’ve ever seen and he had a frightened and confused look on his face. I tried my best to get away from the noise but that required a couple blocks of walking and several pauses to talk to him sweetly and try to pop a pacifier in his mouth, which he would not take. I walked into F&S and placed my order and headed out to walk while it was being prepared. I kept peeking in at Nate to see how he was doing. He ever so slightly eased up on the frown, but never really reached a content state. He fell asleep after 5 minutes.

I walked just about a mile and picked up food and headed back home. As soon as he opened his eyes in the elevator, he started whimpering and crying. Luckily entering the condo seemed to calm him down and I left him in the stroller next to me while I ate and washed it down with a much-needed beer. While it was a wonderful feeling to get my heart rate up and get some fresh air, all the excitement took its toll on Nate and getting him down for the last nap of the afternoon was nearly impossible and putting him to sleep took a couple hours. Can’t win them all, I suppose.

But I must focus on the good. Nate found his thumb. I left the house with him on my own. Progress.

My little love

I hate reading through my entries and feeling like all I do is complain. While I have had some challenges, I don’t want to forget to document the moments that melt my heart and make everything so worthwhile.

One of my favorite activities with Nate is what I refer to as “human interaction time” which sounds so impersonal, but really translates into “Mommy and Nate making googly eyes at each other for 10 minutes”. During his calm/alert state, I talk to him, smile at him and he gurgles, coos, and smiles back. I try to keep a rhythm going back and forth to simulate a conversation pattern. Can you tell I’ve been reading my baby parenting books? Who knows if doing this on a regular basis will actually result in him talking sooner and better communication skills, but I sure enjoy it regardless of whether or not it works as intended.

Even though I’ve always loved these little bonding sessions, my absolute favorite happened on his changing pad last week. I was cleaning his neck and checking up on some irritation he had on it, so I had to flip him over to the other side of the pad by the lamp on the changing table to see better. For some reason, perhaps the different position and lighting, I realized he was looking at me in a way he had never looked at me before. He stopped his normal state of wiggling his arms and legs around (diaper changing is a very exciting and fun activity for him these days!) and lay very very still.  His eyes opened very wide and he focused his gaze on me in the sweetest, most relaxed and content way. It was the first time I could actually see him looking deep into my eyes. As if this weren’t sweet enough, he added to this the warmest little crooked smile and the most exaggeratedly deep and relaxed sigh. I instantly lost it and became a teary mess. My son loves me. Even at two months old, there is no question in my mind about it. He loves me.

On the mend

Yesterday was a tough day. I finally admitted to myself that I have a problem. After weeks of suspecting but not wanting to know the truth, I nervously googled post partum depression/anxiety symptoms and my heart sank as I repeatedly checked them off on every site I looked up. I held Nate close as I sobbed a bit and called my aunt to vent.

Long story short, today I will start working on getting better. I am making a list this morning of all of the negative thoughts I’ve been having. I will then turn each of those into a positive affirmation and will print that list out in a pretty to look at format and hang it up in every room I spend time in every day.

I will get better. I will be the best mom I can be to my son.

Good morning.

As in literally, a good morning. The Wonder Weeks book I ordered has not arrived yet, but I know from reading the website, it promises a sunny week at 10 weeks. While I would hate to call the last two weeks stormy, they have definitely not been easy. Right around 8 weeks, Nate turned his ironic nickname of “Fussybuns” into a not so ironic one. My sweet angel baby who was already sleeping 5 hour stretches at night and would just nap on his own when he needed it and fall asleep for the night without much help suddenly turned into a wide awake and oversensitive mess literally overnight. Thankfully I had read about the WW and understood that he was suddenly very aware and very able to see more around him and it became very overwhelming for him very quickly. He needs so much soothing to calm him down and I feel like I’ve spent every waking moment trying to keep him from becoming overstimulated, soothing him when he does despite my efforts, and then trying desperately to get him to nap enough during the day so he will sleep at night.

Nights have gotten better but they started with hours of wailing and inconsolable screaming and I was able to whittle that down to the first signs of fussiness followed by a quick swaddle, turning off of all lights, turning on the shower and shhing softly in his ear while hugging him tightly. This works like a charm, but every night I dread the possibility that the charm of this combination has worn off.

WW talks about week 10 being a sunny week, so I have waited with great anticipation during this challenging time for tomorrow. Of course during this time we had the following meltdown catalysts: 2 month shots (absolute worst day of my parenting life so far), my husband being out of town for five days, and finally our sailing club’s annual winter meeting, which was on Saturday.

I had dreaded this meeting because in past years it was a long afternoon turned to evening turned to night of hanging out, drinking, laughing, talking, etc. Of course this year with a newborn in tow, I wasn’t sure how long we’d make it through that schedule. Especially since Nate has been so sensitive to napping/awake time and stimulation. The trip started okay as he napped for an hour before we left and the hour drive to the hotel, and then some. The three hour early afternoon nap gave me a false sense of security.

When we got to the hotel, the two other moms with newborns in our group (one is 5 months and the other is 6 months old) were in the pool and one offered up a swimmie diaper so Nate could get in the pool too. While 2 months is a bit young to go full on pool swimming, I thought it would be nice to just dip his legs and torso in the water for a few minutes so he could experience the sensation. I plan on taking him to swimming lessons in a couple months, so I wanted to literally test out the waters. Of course, as luck would have it, the moment I was ready to get into the pool with him, a dozen screaming unruly kids clearly there for a birthday party ran into the pool area and jumped/cannonballed into the pool. The shrieking was compounded by the acoustics of the room … recipe for disaster. I got in the pool anyway hoping the kids would calm down after their initial excited entry into the pool. WRONG. They not only did not shut up, they also had completely no regard for trying to stay away from the three newborns in the pool. Steve asked one boy to watch where he was going as he nearly hit us with a flailing arm. Not 30 seconds later, he splashed water on both of us. I furiously turned to him and said “Would you please be careful? THANK YOU.” His eyes got very large and he nodded his head and said “Okay.” and swam away. I braced myself for their guardians to come after me for scolding him but I was fully prepared to give the “Two month old in my arms. Nuff said.” response. One of them halfheartedly warned the kids to be careful with the babies. Nice try. The whole time Nate clung to me and had this confused and slightly overwhelmed look on his face, his lips tightly drawn together uncomfortably. Five minutes was more than enough for both of us. We got out and I wrapped him up in a towel and took him up to the room to rinse off in the shower.

As if this experience was not enough of a sure-fire path to an eventual meltdown, both segments of the parties included loudly barking dogs and tons of visual stimulation. Nate could not handle the dog barking and would start crying every time it got very loud. I’m sure my low tolerance for continuous dog barking translated into anxiety he could sense, which just made things worse. I could just see the time bomb ticking away as his huge eyes darted around the room nervously, taking in all the unfamiliar lights/shadows/colors while his ears were picking up voices he had never heard in addition to the piercing barking. We luckily got to eat dinner and he had an hour nap right around the same time, which is the only reason I think he lasted as long as he did. We snapped a few pictures of the babies, including this gem:

If there had been a meltdown timer on him, I would have seen the last minute ticking away as this picture was taken. He started to get uncomfortable and I could tell he was starting to get overwhelmed, so I picked him up and thought I’d cut down the stimulation by feeding him under the nursing cover. Too late. Sensory overload, complete meltdown. Steve and I took him upstairs to the master bedroom to calm him down. I ran the shower in the dark master bath to try to recreate our home soothing sessions. It took about 2o minutes of that to get him calmed down enough to take a bottle.

For the next hour, Steve fed him between whimpers and put him in his carseat and got him to nap for about 15 minutes. We finally decided it was probably time to go as it was past his bedtime and hanging out at the party was just going to make things worse. We tried to say our goodbyes quickly, but someone insisted on poking at his face because “ohmygodisn’thesocute?” and of course he started bawling again. He barely calmed down during the drive to the hotel and within 15  minutes of getting there he started to cry and scream again. And would not stop. Steve tried to soothe him for an hour and held him, walked with him, talked softly and sang to him. Nothing worked. Just when he would seem to calm down he would start screaming again completely out of nowhere. It was heartbreaking. Finally when I thought Steve had enough, I took Nate into the bathroom and ran the shower. Luckily there was also a very heavily droning exhaust fan in there that helped out tremendously. He sobbed a bit and sniffled in my ear, and within a couple minutes he was out. Success.

Yesterday we felt the aftershocks of the horribly overwhelming day and it was very difficult to get him to nap. When bedtime came, another meltdown was impending and I decided to try something a little different. I drew a warm bath, turned on the nightlight and put a few drops of lavender essential oil in the water. Steve brought Nate in and I sat with him for a while, dipping him in the water, hugging him, pouring water over his tummy, singing to him. He complained a bit when we got him out, but we dried him off and wrapped him in a blanket warm from the dryer and he passed out. After one last feeding he was down for the night at 8 pm and slept until  a little after 11:30, ate, and then .. wait for it … slept until 4:30. Nearly FIVE HOURS. I could cry just typing that out. If it weren’t for the stupid cat knocking something over at 2:30 it would have been a glorious stretch of sleep for me as well, but I’ll take what I can get.

Please let this be the start of a sunnier week for us …

Babies = bodily fluids everywhere.

You’d think that after 7 weeks of being the mother of a little boy I would have figured out how to change his diaper without a peeing accident. He’s a tricky little guy though. 99.9% of the time (a round figure, of course) I can leave him “al fresco” long enough to wipe him clean and swap diapers without incident. It’s just when I get too comfortable with this wonderful trait that it comes to bite me in the nose. I went to change Nate after a long sleepy morning, and he had been a bit fussy so I popped his pacifier in while I changed him so he’d make it through without getting too flustered. I had failed to grab the new cloth diaper from the drawer before starting to change him so in the amount of time it took me to grab that new diaper and start the swap out, it happened. A glistening arc of streaming pee rose up and over his tummy and chest, perfectly aimed at his mouth. Luckily for everyone involved, his pacifier was strategically placed to block any spray, because that would have been far too traumatizing. Mostly for me. Normally when these accidents occur I act quickly enough to cover him up and he’ll only get a few drops on his leg or tummy, which I can just address with a wipie. At this point I figured he was completely covered in urine from chin to toes, so I opted for a bath. This was our first solo Mommy/Nate bath, and it went perfectly! He squealed with delight as soon as I lowered him into his tub. I even got to show him a couple of his bath toys, and he marveled over the bright colors. Success!

Of course, my sweetly smelling clean baby was in for another Mom blunder, and within a matter of a couple of hours. We had a successful nursing session of a whopping 8 minutes (anything over 5 minutes is a success for us at this point) and he pulled away. I assumed he had pulled away in frustration because how could he possibly be full after 8 minutes? I grabbed my “back up” bottle of pumped milk and after a quick burp tried to feed him.  He quickly made a face, gagged, and spat up on his clean jammies and my clothes. Silly Mommy.

A calm during the storm

Nate is quietly napping with a full tummy. Normally this would be a perfect time for me to do something for myself. Take a shower, straighten up, organize, or perhaps finally get around to starting that baby book I’ve been meaning to work on. This morning it is my thoughts I need to lay out and organize.  

This week was tough. Nate is hopefully coming off (slowly but surely) from a nursing strike. I feel for parents who have truly colicky babies. Nursing strikes due to oversupply and overactive letdown (our seemingly never ending issue) result in behavior similar to that of a colicky baby. In this case, it’s been discomfort and gassiness from getting too much lactose in the foremilk, resulting in crying and screaming with no way to comfort with the breast. Fortunately in this situation there is an easy solution – bottle feeding. Unfortunately, I have a very strong desire to primarily breast feed and limit our need for bottle feeding to times when I can’t physically be around to nurse him.

I know it may make me stubborn but I feel like it’s the right thing for me to do and unfortunately there is no quick and easy fix for it. What’s worse, I took one problem and inadvertently made it even worse. When his nursing strike started, I frantically ran out to the store and bought a nipple shield and an orthodontic nippled bottle, whose box claimed to promote breastfeeding. A chat with my lactation consultant yesterday indicated this bottle was doing more harm than good. A switch back to the original bottles, whose nipples have a stronger flow (despite being slow flow), confirmed this. Nate went from eating well from those bottles to being overwhelmed, choking and spitting out mouthfuls of milk. I will be shelving that orthodontic bottle, clearly.

My lactation consultant gave me a list of helpful tricks to try, including taking a little baby/mommy “bondingmoon”. Getting reacquainted with our physical bond would hopefully help both of us with nursing. Easier said than done. She recommended skin on skin. I found that he is not happy at all with wearing nothing but a diaper. A far cry from his first two weeks when I rarely had a use for his newborn clothes because I kept him either skin on skin in his diaper or swaddled up.

He was already a bit uncomfortable from our awkward attempt at skin on skin, so when it came time to nurse, he pretty much lost it instantly. I tried several times to get him to latch on, but he was overwhelmed with the flow and quickly turned into a red-faced screaming and crying mess. Enter the aforementioned bottle fail. I at least stayed strong in not offering him the orthodontic bottle, but it was a long day of trying to get him to eat until he was exhausted and watching him nap while dreading the next feeding experience. Add to this an amazing amount of breast milk spilled all over the sheets and even one diaper pee overflow incident which resulted in a late evening bed sheet washing session.

Our challenging day culminated in probably the most difficult feeding session of the day. After a couple of quasi-successful short nursing sessions in the early evening, his last feeding of the day went downhill quickly. He started at the breast and sputtered and choked and started crying. I turned to my fridge stash, which due to my attempts to “right-size” my oversupply was down to only 1 ½ oz. Obviously this would not suffice as he normally takes down 3-4 oz. I fed him the contents of the bottle and sure enough, he kept crying for more. I frantically pumped what I could from both breasts, but after just a couple of ounces of relatively light colored foremilk, both breasts called it quits, probably caused by stress.

I fed him what I had pumped because I figured it was better than nothing and I knew he would never go to sleep if he was still hungry. He finished most of it and then looked like he needed a burp. I picked him up, pat his back and the entire contents of his tummy came out in a dramatic “whoosh”, all over the freshly washed sheets.

It’s the moments like these that have happened since he was born where I do nothing for several seconds. I just took it all in. I had spit up on my feet and my shoulder. There was spit up on the bed frame and box spring. Roughly a quarter of the bed was covered in spit up. (I am still thanking the bed salesman who threw in the mattress protector when we bought our new bed this summer) I breathed deeply because losing my cool was not an option. Finally, I looked at him. I had instantly flipped him over toward the bed and patted his back to get him to clear his nose and throat so he wouldn’t choke. I had put him on his back again to take my breather. When I looked at him, he looked right back at me with his huge brown eyes, surprisingly calm look on his face, drops of spit up on his cheeks, chin and even on his eyelid. It was as if he was thinking “It’s okay Mommy, you’ve got this.”  Throughout this entire week I’ve been trying to play the part of cheerleader, encouraging him to eat and adapt to the flow, to keep trying because Mommy is working on getting her supply in check, etc. And I keep saying “It’s okay Nate, you’ve got this, you can do it!” I guess I needed a bit of encouragement as well. I know it’s irrational to think the breastfeeding gods are against me, however the majority of my experience thus far has pointed in that direction.

I woke Steve up and had him help me clean him up and change the sheets. I thawed a bag of frozen milk thinking he’d probably be hungry again, but the little guy fell asleep almost as soon as we put him down in his clean diaper and clothes. It was midnight. He woke up at 1:30 am and nursed perfectly. Another very successful nursing followed at 4 am.

This morning’s 7 am nursing mirrored yesterday morning with choking, tears, etc. except when I gave him some freshly pumped milk in the bottle, he drank just fine and did not choke or dribble. I guess it is taking him a while to get the hang of it again but he’s getting there. I finally offered him a breast as he was dozing off to make sure he got some hind milk and he nursed happily until he passed out. I’m calling this my silver lining.

I’ve read that if you want to give breastfeeding a real shot, you should keep at it for 40 days. That last day of trying would be tomorrow. I’ve certainly been taken for a hell of a ride during this “trial” phase. I want for this to work out so badly, but the road has been rough and bumpy to say the least. All I can keep doing is my best, I suppose.