FOUR MONTH MONSTERS: WHY BABIES CHANGE AT THIS AGE
BY: YVETTE O’DOWD
She is the delight of our lives – charming, endearing, bringing smiles wherever she goes.
She is a happy, contented baby who hasn’t got a worry in the world.
But last week everything changed.
My granddaughter turned – FOUR MONTHS OLD!
And after all my years of experience around babies, I know that just about all the wheels are about to fall off, big time!
If there is only one thing I know, then it is to expect the unexpected between ages 4 and six months. Just when the clouds begin to clear after the early daze, your life starts to have some pattern and your baby becomes more confident, interacting and enjoying life – Mother Nature shifts things up a gear and it all goes back to square one again!
So what can my daughter anticipate over the coming weeks?
After early breastfeeds taking up to an hour of concentrated sucking, around four months, babies begin to notice that the world doesn’t stop while they eat and they keep stopping to check in case they miss something! Their growing brain hasn’t given much attention to distractions during feed times: TVs can blare in the background, conversations roar, appliances scream and the younger baby just sucks away, oblivious! But now – in the period before they develop the ability to screen out unwanted distractions, they respond to every single one. Someone opened a door – oh, did you want me to smile at you? The cat walks along the couch – hey cat, looking for me? Mummy opens a new
page on her mobile device – ooh, bright lights, look! Big brother plays with his toys – what was that? Basically, let alone tune anything out, they tune everything in!
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Accept that daytime feeds are less effective, so more nighttime feeds might be needed.
- Minimise the distractions you can control and accept the impact of those you can’t.
- Be reassured that babies at this age are very efficient feeders and get lots of milk in those short feeds.
- Look forward to the next stage of development, when distractions aren’t so interesting.
Short attention span and easy frustration:
Just a few weeks ago, it was all about the hands – reaching, grabbing, holding. Now that those skills are fairly well achieved, babies can be frustrated when they fail. The missed swipe at a dangled toy is irritating, not challenging. The dropped toy is frustrating, not forgotten. The attempts to roll are tiring, not fun. Tummy time gets boring, as does lying on your back. The swing was fun this morning but now it isn’t. Don’t pick me up, I want to lie down. Don’t lie me down, I want to be carried! ARGH! I am a growing brain trapped in a stalled body – help!
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Accept that this is a frustrating stage for your baby and support him as he goes through it.
- Wear your baby in a carrier or sling when you have stuff that must be done – he will like the view.
- Try not to add your own frustrations! There is no point both of you getting upset!
- Remember development comes in stages and this too will pass. Independent moving is just around the corner!
Increased appetite and interest in eating:
With all that is going on in both brain and body, it is to be expected that your baby may want more of all that he gains at the breast: more energy, more relaxation, more comfort, more reassurance. As always, your body continues to make all the milk he needs and, even though his feeding behaviour may have changed dramatically, you can be confident you will continue making exactly what he needs – after all, nature intends babies to breastfeed for years, not months, so there is no reason to anticipate failure.
However, as the time for introducing other foods to your baby’s diet approaches, he is starting to learn the skills and abilities needed to consume and digest them. You may start to notice the external ones – increased saliva production (which dribbles out of his mouth); practice movements of hand to mouth, as he gains the coordination needed to put food in his mouth; awareness and interest when others are eating, as he learns through observation. In Australia, it is recommended that infants be exclusively breastfed until around 6 months of age when solid foods are introduced.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Continue to breastfeed as often as your baby needs, especially if he wants to feed more frequently. He knows what he needs and your body continues to listen to his feedback.
- Avoid starting solids too soon – keep in mind no food other than your breastmilk will meet all his nutritional needs until around six months. Consider using the “Baby-led Weaning” (Solids) approach, which more naturally allows your baby to begin learning about foods and beginning to eat them.
Increased waking and changed nighttime feeding patterns:
Although it is normal and natural for babies to wake for breastfeeds during the night in the first year and beyond, it is also natural for adults to want uninterrupted sleep! In recent decades, the myth of self-settling infants and negative attitude to night feeds has led to confusion, conflict and guilt in a society that rates parenting ability by how soon a baby “sleeps through the night”.
Nobody really “sleeps through”. We all wake multiple times as one sleep cycle ends and another begins. We are disturbed by noises, movement and other external stimulus and we respond to feedback from our bodies to drink water, empty our bladder, adjust bedding, make ourselves more comfortable or stop a spouse from snoring! Babies are different only in their shorter sleep cycles and physical inability to independently do any of these things, plus the addition of a rapidly growing and developing body on duty 24 hours, requiring refueling day and night.
So, naturally, when developmental peaks happen night waking may increase. Not only do babies wake for feeds, but they may wake due to physical disruption as they try to roll or crawl in their sleep or mental disruption as a busy brain tries to process the input of the day. And once they wake, they need help to return to sleep in the way nature intended: feeding at the breast. In one shot, they get food, drink, relaxation, reassurance and quickly return to the next sleep cycle.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Accept that infant developmental stages can lead to sleep disruption and continue to do so beyond infancy.
- Continue to meet your baby’s needs by breastfeeding as often as they need, night and day.
- Find ways to support your own sleep needs during the night and day, such as co-sleeping and naps.
Weight gains, plateaus and those charts!
Recently, news reports have shown us some huge variations on the average human birth weight – babies born two or three times the size of most are always headline grabbing news! But, for the most part, the birthweight of human babies, born full-term to healthy mothers after normal pregnancies vary only within a few pounds of each other. Since the first baby was placed on the first scale, birthweight has given family something other than the child’s gender and appearance to report and has no more influence on the child’s life than they should! After all, a foetus has to fit within its mother’s womb and though we might all benefit from a longer gestation, we have really maxed-out the capacity when it comes to safely reaching the outside world!
However, once born, we each depend on two things for our potential growth – nutrition and genetics. Unfortunately, modern society has tended to focus on the first to the detriment of the second. In efforts to reduce infant mortality and increase child health, our goal has focused on measuring input via growth but often overlooking the normal variation in human size. This imbalance was made worse when babies in the mid-late 20th century were measured against a scale based on the unnatural growth patterns of non-breastfed infants from a narrow population! Thankfully, this was amended with new growth charts, but old habits die hard and we are still a society that compares babies growth and expects equality.
We all come from families who tend to look very similar, not only in facial appearance, but body type. Short, Tall, Lean, Well-padded, Broad. Narrow. And after the early weeks of life, when most babies tend to be similar in size and shape, a few months down the track, genetic patterns begin to show themselves. The short, petite build of Asia. The long, lean one of Africa. Tall, broad northern Europeans. As we migrate and blend more and more, we come to forget the origins of our forebears. However they shine out when you assemble any group – and particularly when that group consists of children of the same age. Suddenly, there are inches in difference in height and noticeable variations in shape. We expect this in skin and hair colour but forget genetics are clearly visible in body shape and height as well.
So, when we start to compare our babies growth in weight and length, we start to see greater variations and they may start to appear during this time period. As babies go through growth spurts, they may seem heavier or lighter, taller or shorter when compared to others. Especially when we visually compare them all as they play alongside each other in a group! But when all we see is a line that rises or falls on a chart, we tend to see that line as “normal” and rate our babies against it.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Remember that your baby’s weight and length are only part of the information used to assess your child’s growth and development; don’t be fooled into using them in isolation.
- Keep in mind that growth happens in spurts; weight may increase one week, with length catching up the next. An assessment is only a snapshot of today and is an indication only.
- Resist the competitive side of parenting; the reason your friend’s baby is two kilos heavier than yours at the same age is more likely related to genes than parenting skill!
- Understand that times of rapid development of the brain and central nervous system aren’t measured on charts; milestones matter as much as measurements!
- If your baby’s growth slows, don’t assume there is a problem with your breastmilk. The most likely cause is the baby; brain development, new mobility and increased activity might simply mean energy is being used elsewhere…
Of course, I use the term Four Month Monsters in the title of this post with jest! In fact, this can be a fantastic stage of your baby’s life as they begin to show their unique personality and interact with the world and everything in it! I love every minute of watching my granddaughter grow and develop and this next couple of months will be no exception. I just wish I had known more when my own three babies went through these stages, so I could have relaxed and gone with the flow. It is absolutely a very demanding time but also a time to be relished, for the next stage is mobility and suddenly, all those hours on the couch constantly breastfeeding are fond memories as you chase your baby throughout the day!
Yvette O’Dowd probably isn’t your typical grandmother.
This purple-haired mother of three and granny of one has been a breastfeeding counsellor for more than 20 years, runs breastfeeding education classes for parents expecting twins and more, facilitates local babywearing and natural parenting groups and writes for a popular parenting website.
Yvette lives in her Frankston home with her husband and son. Her daughters and their families live nearby. In her spare time, Yvette is a keen photographer and scrapbooker and is keeper of a fairy garden.