The first year after having a baby went by really fast – happy birthday Daniel! This post is a reflection on our experience and what we learned in the first year.
Grandparents. We were very fortunate to get a lot of help from Daniel’s grandparents. My mom stayed with us when he was 1 week – 3 months old, and Janos’s dad was around when he was 4-6 months old (they made it to the UK from Canada despite the pandemic). We also spent the summer in Canada with the grandparents taking care of the baby while we worked remotely.
We learned a lot about baby care from them, including nursery rhymes in our respective languages and a cool trick for dealing with the baby spitting up on himself without changing his outfit (you can put a dry cloth under the wet part of the outfit). I think our first year as parents would have been much harder without them.
Feeding. Daniel is a good eater, and in the first couple of months of life he was interested in little else (he often seemed to doze off after a feed just to cry for another feed five minutes later). I would spend whole evenings on the couch feeding him while watching through hours of David Attenborough nature series. Thankfully, around 2 months of age he became much more efficient at eating and went down to around 6 shorter feeds a day, which was much more manageable.
Around 4 months he started eating some solid food and went down to 4-5 feeds a day – this worked well for me going back to the office, since the midday feed could be replaced with solid food. He is not picky and eats almost everything, especially if he can see the grownups are eating it.
I am still breastfeeding him 2-3 times a day, which I originally wasn’t expecting to do for this long. One thing I didn’t realize about breastfeeding before having a kid is that it’s not that easy to stop (physically or emotionally). I’ve been gradually decreasing the number of feeds but don’t have concrete plans to stop in the next while. Both of us still seem to enjoy it, and he may be getting some covid antibodies through breast milk too.
Sleep. During the first two months, we had 2-3 long feeds during the night, and this was pretty tiring. I found that the degree of sleep disruption mattered more for my wellbeing than the absolute amount of sleep. In particular, I felt ok if I had at least 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep, while being woken up 1-1.5 hours after falling asleep felt pretty bad. From this perspective, the number night wakings mattered a lot: one was ok, two was bad but tolerable, three was terrible. I did not succeed at taking naps during the day and sometimes had insomnia at night, which was more frustrating than being woken up by the baby. My mom is a morning person and was fine with doing the morning shift starting around 5am – this allowed me to have a luxurious 4 hour block of uninterrupted sleep.
For the first 6 months, Daniel had a long afternoon nap outdoors (3-4 hours), usually in the backyard or on a walk in the park. At night he slept in a sidecar cot next to our bed until he was 4 months old, at which point we moved him to a separate room and he started waking up less often (usually once per night rather than twice). At around 9 months, we remembered that sleep training is a thing, and the internet said that he didn’t need to feed at night anymore, so we tried some combination of letting him cry for a few minutes before attending to him and sleeping with earplugs so we mostly didn’t hear him. After a week or two he seemingly caught on to the fact that there was no more food at night and stopped waking up. These days he generally sleeps through the night until 6 or 7am, which we are very grateful for.
Parental leave. We took a month of leave together and took the rest of the leave separately. One thing that I regret is going on parental leave too early – we both went on leave a week before the due date, while Daniel was born over 2 weeks overdue. As I belatedly found out, babies are usually overdue in my family, so going on leave before the due date was a waste of time (especially for Janos). Sitting around waiting for the baby was not that much fun, since we could not make plans more than day or two ahead. I wish I had spent that time working and left more leave to spend with the actual baby later on.
Afterwards I took 3 more months and Janos took 4.5 more months of leave (we used shared parental leave for this). Both of us felt a bit isolated when on leave, though having our housemates and our respective parents around helped with this. In retrospect, it seems better to spend more of the leave together in the newborn phase.
Group house. Raising a kid in a group house has been interesting and easier than we expected. Until recently we lived downstairs and all the other housemates lived upstairs (separated by the living room) so the others didn’t hear the baby at night. Our housemates generally enjoy interacting with him and watching him learn new skills. He is a lot more social than most pandemic babies (as attested by various caregivers), which is probably a combination of being around a lot more people and natural temperament.
One upside of the group house is the flexibility of available space. There was an available spare room because a housemate was away for a while, and we used it to host our parents. Someone recently moved out from the small room upstairs, so we got that room for Daniel and moved into the room next to it.
One challenge with parenting in a group house is a higher total amount of variance in our lives, since the baby and our housemates are both sources of variance (e.g. people moving in and out, more stuff in shared spaces, etc), but so far this has not been too much. Overall, living in a group house still works well and we plan to continue.
Potty training. We’ve been following some combination of elimination communication and family tradition to get him used to using the potty from an early age, starting from about a month old. We got a “top hat” potty, meant for young babies who can’t sit up yet, that goes between your knees with the baby sitting in your lap and leaning back on you. We’ve been pretty lazy about this and only put him on the potty 2-3 times a day.
His level of potty use was pretty nonlinear. He used it for #2 at the same time almost every day for a couple of months, then this pattern got thrown off when he started solids, but he still used it occasionally. He lost interest in the potty for a couple of months in summer, probably related to outgrowing the top hat potty but not yet being comfortable sitting on a regular one. He gradually got used to the regular potty, especially after we started giving him some treats when sitting on it (fruit puffs / melts / etc), which both served as a reward and helped him relax if he was restless. These days he uses the potty most of the time, but doesn’t yet give a clear signal when he wants to go – hopefully this will happen in not too long.
Mental stuff. I found it mentally taxing to take care of a newborn with the background stress of the second wave of the pandemic. There seemed to be a direct relationship between the amount and quality of sleep and mental resilience. I often found that I was being harder on myself, as if I had some finite amount of patience and compassion and I was spending it all on Daniel.
One unexpected aspect of becoming a parent was that in addition to worrying about his safety during the day, I had nightmares during the night, usually involving him falling and me trying to catch him. The worst part was that these dreams woke me up, usually about half an hour after falling asleep. I often woke up standing, looking for the baby in random places like the closet and feeling pretty disoriented. This often woke Janos up as well, because I would cry out “where is he” or something along these lines. On two occasions I hit my leg on the bed frame while getting up in my sleep and got bruises on my leg. I don’t seem to be getting out of bed in my sleep anymore (the weighted blanket probably helps), but I still have these dreams at least a few times a month. I hope this will eventually go away.
Physical recovery. Recovering from having a baby took longer than I expected, though I suspect my expectations were a bit unrealistic. I used to fantasize about doing chinups while wearing the baby (silly I know), but by the time I managed to do a chinup again (a few weeks ago), the baby weighed 11 kg, so that ship has sailed. The ab muscles below my ribs were pretty reluctant to get back to work after everything I did to them. I was excited to manage a one-minute plank on my elbows 5 months postpartum (after a lot of iterations of postnatal pilates videos on Youtube).
Overall, the first year has been quite a ride! Thanks Daniel for being a chill and awesome baby, we are lucky to have you :). Looking forward to many more exciting years together.