In the middle of the night, as my baby is cry-whining, angling for some boob, I pull out my phone. A swipe and a tap, checking an app, and then pop my son on for a middle of the night feeding.
When he starts nursing, I push a button. I doze or look at Facebook or maybe read a book until he’s done. Once he unlatches, I push another button, hoist him up to my shoulder for a halfhearted attempt at a burp, before depositing him back in his bed. Before I go back to sleep, I push yet another button on my phone.
Since my son was born, I have tracked almost every feeding and almost every nap and nighttime sleep. I even tracked diapers for a few weeks.
I know I sound like a neurotic mom, but I promise I’m not.
When my daughter was born three years ago, I downloaded an app to keep track of breastfeeding. In those bleary early days, I could never remember which side I'd nursed on last, and I needed a way to keep track. Lost in the throes of cluster feeding, the app was both a blessing and a curse. Every time I logged in to see which side to nurse on, I’d note the time and think, "Ah yes, child, I can see how you might be starving. It has, after all, been 40 minutes since you last ate.”
Eventually, the cluster feeding slowed down and we developed a routine. I was starting to see a pattern. I always fed on demand, following the recommendation of every breastfeeding organization and website out there, but I realized my daughter was demanding every two hours, almost on the dot. I never put her on a schedule, but a schedule emerged nonetheless.
Knowing her schedule helped me be a better mom. If she started to cry and wasn’t easily consoled, I’d check the app. Was it under two hours? If so, maybe she was tired and needed a nap. Or maybe she needed a diaper change. Maybe she was bored of the floor or the play mat or the bouncy seat. Maybe she just wanted mommy. If it was over two hours? Boob.
But it also helped me see anomalies. Was she inconsolable and under her usual two hours? Maybe it was a growth spurt. Maybe she was sick.
After a few months of tracking breastfeeding, I started tracking sleep. At the time, my daughter would only nap for twenty minutes at a time, thirty if we got lucky. After researching extensively, I learned about wake times, the length between when one sleep finishes and the next one starts. I started tracking when she woke up and when she fell asleep to see if a pattern emerged. It did. I set alarms to let me know when it was time to start winding down and soon after, her naps started getting longer.
I especially liked tracking feeds and sleep when I went back to work and my husband became a stay at home dad. We both downloaded the app and synced throughout the day. I could look at my phone and know if my baby was eating or taking a nap. I felt involved in her day, even though I was an hour-long commute away.
By the time we weaned at 22 months, I wasn’t tracking feeds any more and hadn’t for a while. But at nearly three years old, we do still track sleep. Just to know. Because knowing that she only napped for 20 minutes helps us predict how the rest of the day will go and prepare for an early bedtime. We could probably stop, but we’re so used to it, and it's been so helpful.
When my son was born in October, I immediately set up a profile for him. My hospital gave me a piece of paper to track feeds and diapers shortly after he was born. Instead, each time the nurse came in and asked when he’d last eaten, I pulled out my phone and gave an exact time. When we went to the pediatrician a few days later and they asked about output, I was able to let them know that we were having plenty of dirty diapers.
My son is a very different baby than my daughter was and looking at the feeds over the course of a few days, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to his schedule. Sometimes he nurses every hour. Sometimes he can go three hour stretches without needing a feed. But when he started nursing for four minutes at a time, seeing that he was doing so consistently kept me from freaking out that he wasn’t getting enough. And it’s still helpful to know which side he nursed on last, because chasing a toddler while caring for an infant has made it harder to remember the little things. And if we’re out in public, fondling my breasts to see if one feels fuller can be tricky.
Keeping track of sleep has helped us develop a habit of long naps from an early age. When he hits his wake time, we head to the crib. Knowing when nap time will be also helps us decide whether we’ll all take a family outing or if we're setting ourselves up to be out with an exhausted baby.
I’ve gotten the side-eye from other moms more than once when I’ve told them about keeping track. It sounds like I'm a micromanager worry wort. Is he eating enough? Is he sleeping enough? But it’s not like that. It’s just another tool for me to use. Another way for me to know my son’s schedule – the schedule that naturally occurred – and plan accordingly.
I don't know how much more or less neurotic I am than other moms. I just know that I’m just a mom that found something that works for me, so I use it. Sometimes doing what works is the only parenting style we really need.