Leap 4: finding his voice

Guest blogger: Christine Verdonck

Ah, the dreaded 4th Leap. I remember from Issac that this was by far the most challenging leap, because it coincides with – or is the cause of – the 4-month sleep regression. And I know that it’s really a developmental progression and that Luke’s cognitive development and change in sleep patterns is the cause of the sleep issues. But I’m not sure that makes the sleepless nights any less sleepy. At least Wonder Weeks warned me that this was “the most troublesome leap of all”. 

But what does make things easier, at least for us, is understanding what’s going on with our baby’s little brain and body. Being able to remind myself and my husband about what is happening with Luke and therefore why he’s fussier or not sleeping makes it a bit easier to bear.

I predicted this leap would hit when Luke was between 15-16 weeks old, and sure enough that is exactly when the fussy phase started. So far, he has been right on schedule with every fussy phase and leap so that gives me confidence in knowing when to expect further changes.

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Sucky Sleep

With this leap, it was like a switch flipped in Luke. It was at 15.5 weeks that he started to fuss at naptimes, when before we were able to give him a quick snuggle and either he’d be out, or we could lay him down and he’d be asleep in minutes. We found that he needed longer to drift off and later in the day he would fuss and cry even when we nailed his wake-windows exactly. He also wasn’t as happy laying and playing by himself as he had been, he wanted to be held or interacted with. If someone was playing with him or talking to him or holding him, then he was happy, but as soon as they walked away he started whining and fussing again.

About a week later, he started having real difficulty with sleeping. His naps got shorter and shorter and his last nap of the day became a downright battle. There were a few days when the only way we could get him to sleep was to put him in his carseat and go for a drive. This lasted for about a week, when we found ourselves gearing up for naptime and taking turns which parent had to go and deal with putting Luke down.

Getting Quieter

We also noticed that Luke got quieter. After the last two leaps (leap 2 and leap 3), he was quite chatty, making lots of happy sounds. In the early weeks of this leap though, those sounds were much less frequent. He had seemed to learn some new tricks – namely blowing raspberries with his tongue – but the conversational chats that we had been having had gone silent.

He also wanted to be held more, and was less happy sitting on his own. I used to be able to put him in his bouncy chair, and he’d happily watch me and play with some toys while I folded laundry or attempted some other household task. I found that once we had entered the fussy period he wouldn’t sit quietly very long on his own, but if I took him into my lap he could last longer. Out of the 3C’s, we definitely had the ”clingy” part down pat.

Eating Challenges

Luke never really had any trouble eating – in fact, in the first two months he gained weight too fast because he was overeating and not listening to his ‘off switch’. So, for us another telltale sign was that his appetite had definitely diminished. He wasn’t nursing as long, and was distracted and fussy at both the breast and bottle. He also started eating more frequently at night; he was down to one feeding at night, and for a few days he wanted to eat more often. 

Finding His Voice and his name

Right on cue at 19 weeks, I realized that we were coming through to the other side. One day as I was feeding Luke, he began to talk. It wasn’t the same as the pre-leap babble, it was clear that he figured out that he could control the sounds he was making. He would repeat a single sound, and then try making other ones. He wasn’t really trying to have a conversation, it was so sweet to watch the excitement on his face as he realized that he could control his vocal chords to make all these fun new sounds.

He also has started to recognize his name, and look towards whoever is saying it. This has been helpful when trying to keep him awake in the car if its not naptime. I can call his name in a variety of tones and volumes, and every time he hears it his eyes pop open and he looks at me in his carseat mirror.

Things he’s interested in

Once we noticed Luke’s new vocal abilities and realized that he was coming out the other side of the leap, we began paying closer attention to the other things he had learned. 

He is once again perfectly happy to sit up and observe everything around him. He loves watching his big brother play, and when Isaac shows him a toy, he now focuses on it and deliberately reaches for it to grab. When he’s sitting on a lap, his head is on a constant swivel to look around and see what others around him are doing. He especially loves books. When we read, he reaches for the book and touches it with both hands, even sometimes seeming to grab the pages to bring it closer so he can see, or to eagerly turn the pages. We have some books with different textures, and now he knows that when I take his hand to feel the fluffy or bumpy or smooth part of the page he opens his hand to feel it with his fingertips.

He has a couple of toys that he really loves. One has some sticks connected with elastics with small bells on it. It is light and easy to grip, and makes a wonderful noise when he shakes it. Whenever it is placed within view and reach, that is the first thing he goes for, moving his hands deliberately to grab it. He also really loves examining our hands. He will grab our hands and fingers and bring them close, then turn them over to see the other side. He seems fascinated with how they move.

Luke has definitely become more grabby since going through Leap 4. Hair and jewelry are other easy targets, and when he’s sitting on my lap while I’m folding laundry he grabs for each new item I pull out of the basket. He has also started to grab at my face when he’s eating or settling for sleep so we have to work extra hard to keep his little nails trimmed short!

What I’m Learning

When I review the checklists in the Wonder Weeks book of what kinds of games the babies might be interested in, and what kinds of skills they might have developed, I sometimes find myself disheartened because it feels like I’m not checking off much for Luke. I think “have I done enough to help him grow and develop?” and feel like maybe I’m not spending enough time with him. I don’t know if he likes some of those games – because I’ve never even tried playing them with him! Of course I worry that he’ll be behind in school and life, and then I remind myself that just because I don’t name his body parts when I tickle him does not mean that he won’t succeed in 11th grade biology. And even more importantly, I remind myself that he will focus on what he is most interested in, and my job right now is to observe that and do what I can to encourage him. 

Those lists aren’t meant to have every item checked off; instead they help show patterns so that I can better identify what he’s interested in at this stage in his development. For example, Luke is not doing much in the “body control” section, but I’ve checked off many of the skills and activities in the “grabbing, touching and feeling” and “watching” sections. So I know I have a little observer on my hands, who wants to understand the world around him but who is less interested at the moment in moving through it or talking about it. And knowing that allows me to focus my energies and time with him on those skills to keep him engaged and interested.

We Survived

Writing this blog a few weeks after the Leap 4 fussy period began, it’s a relief to be able to look back and see that we survived. It’s a good reminder that, as with everything parenting, it’s just a phase and it will pass. The sleep challenges were definitely the hardest part of this leap, especially juggling the work it took to get Luke down with the demands on our time that Isaac places. Admittedly the sleep transition turned out to not be as bad as I was imagining – thank goodness. Luke had about a week of rough sleep, when napping was prefaced with a lot of tears and fussiness and he was up more frequently at night but it could have been much, much worse. I know that because Issac’s sleep changes during Leap 4 made for some memorably sleepless nights.

 It has been nice to move into the easy period where his sleeping is a bit more predictable, and we’re able to catch up a bit ourselves – likely just in time for Leap 5!

Photo credit: Jalisse Photography

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