Surviving the Wonder Weeks

This post was written by Marcelle of 4Mothers.

In my earliest days as a new mom ten (ten!) years ago, I became active on a couple of parenting message boards. My eldest, who was an extremely intense, alert and, frankly, overwhelming baby,  seemed only to be still was when he was nursing. Desperate for confirmation from other mothers that, no, I wasn’t alone,  I’d nurse him in a chair in front of the computer, and typing one -handed, I reached out to other mothers whose children seemed to be missing an off switch.

At one point, Daniel stopped sleeping.  Never a great sleeper to begin with, he suddenly appeared to be totally disinterested in the whole concept.  Having failed to get Daniel to go down for a morning nap, and realizing that he was probably too wound up to settle (having been up every hour or so the night before), I hit the wall. I latched him on (for what seemed like the 20th time that day), signed on to my message board, and posted something that went something like this:

“HELP! Baby won’t sleep and I’m so tired and he’s so tired and he’s crying and all he wants to do is be held and nurse and he’s so frustrated and I’m frustrated and all I want is to sleep or for him to sleep or for SOMEONE to sleep and, and, and….!!1!”

I got the usual replies: set him down to cry it out (not our style). Swaddle him (tried that:  Junior Houdini says no). Play music (always nice, but nope).  Everyone was helpful, everyone was sympathetic, but nothing anyone said made me feel any better until someone posted this: “Oh! He was born in October, right? He’s probably going through a fussy stage”.

And then she linked to the website that became this book: The Wonder Weeks. Friends, it saved my sanity.

The Wonder Weeks is a guide to a baby’s developmental stages. The theory is this: all babies go through similar cognitive and developmental growth at roughly the same age — what the authors call “mental leaps”. These leaps occur roughly at 5, 8, 12, 17,  26, 36, 44, 51-53, 61-62 and 72-73 weeks post due date.   As a child starts to work through new information they’ve acquired about the world around them,  they are more likely to need additional physical contact with a caregiver. They’re also more likely to be easily overstimulated and to be what the authors call the “three c’s” — cranky, clingy and crying.  Once the learning is done, the child returns to a state of relative calm, until they begin to anticipate the next stage, and then the process begins again. The book explains what a child is learning, and when, and what you can do as a parent to help them through each fussy stage.

It was like an epiphany. My child, my darling boy, was only temporarily going to try my every nerve. Once this leap was accomplished, he would (and did) revert to his usual sleeping pattern. And every time he became more of something — more intense, more cranky, more weepy — a quick glance at the book confirmed that he was likely to be that way for about another week, and then all would be well. And it always was.

More so than my other boon companions of the parenting book world during those early yearsb(among which I count Dr. Sears’ Baby Book and Mary Sheedy Kurcina’s Parenting Your Spirited Child), it is The Wonder Weeks that I recommend to glassy-eyed new parents who, having survived the first five weeks of a child’s life, suddenly find themselves holding a child who is quite unlike the one they’ve held for the previous four weeks. Because at two in the morning when you’re holding a fussy child, the knowledge that all this fussing has a purpose (and a good one!) and an end makes all the difference to your sanity.

3 thoughts on “Surviving the Wonder Weeks

  1. Never heard about or read this one – but from what you say, I wish I had! I have a bunch of friends with new babies, though…so this might be a good gift. Thanks for sharing!

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