Wonder Week

Little Z has seemed a little extra fussy the past day or so. He wants to be held more. This morning, he had a four-hour stretch where he didn’t nurse — usually when he’s awake, he gets hungry every couple hours. He didn’t take much milk throughout the rest of the day. What’s going on? Is he getting sick?

No, he’s just started going through a “wonder week.”

If you’ve had children, you’ve probably noticed that they grow in spurts. You just wake up one day and their clothes don’t fit anymore — it’s like they gain a quarter of an inch overnight. The same is true for a baby’s mental development as well. They’re going along fine and then — BAM — they undergo a dramatic neurological change and their brain reorganizes itself. Once that happens, they are suddenly able to experience more of the world. From their perspective, they wake up and everything seems different, the world isn’t the same as it was before.

That’s enough to make anyone upset.

Fortunately, a husband and wife research team collected 35 years’ worth of data on the the development and behavior of babies (and other primates as well; they started out with Jane Goodall observing infant chimpanzees). Once they had analyzed all their information, they found that babies experience fussy periods at predictable times that coincided with their developmental leaps and the resulting change in behavior.

What’s even more fortunate (for me, anyway) is that they wrote a book for parents about all this called The Wonder Weeks.

The Wonder Weeks is usually the first purchase I recommend to new or prospective parents. I figure other people will give them good recommendations for more standard things, but no one else is likely to mention this book. A crying baby is one of the most difficult things to endure as a parent, and it’s made even worse when you can’t figure out the source of your child’s distress. Knowing that my baby was undergoing a developmental leap — one of those wonder weeks — gave me immense relief.  Even if there wasn’t anything I could do, at least I knew why and I knew it was a phase that just had to be weathered.

Any time they go through a wonder week, your baby will have a period where they cry a lot and are extra clingy. It’s the kind of behavior that can get annoying to even the most loving, patient mommy or daddy. I was able to be more sympathetic towards my little ones when I knew this was because their universe was being upended and they needed comforting.

A newborn only experiences things in the moment and doesn’t know much beyond their basic needs. But just when you, the new parent, get the hang of meeting those needs, they suddenly acquire more without letting you know. Your child becomes able to be bored. They start to have opinions about things they didn’t seem to even be aware of before. They grow capable of understanding that when they don’t see Mommy in the room it means that she’s gone and they are powerless to do anything about it. Imagine what it’s like for a baby when that realization sets in. Sorta explains why one would suddenly start crying whenever Mommy’s not right there, huh?

Little Z is now going to be able to experience things about his environment he wasn’t able to notice before. Once he gets over the shock of that, he’ll also find he has a new set of skills he will slowly start to grow into. To the rest of us, he will start to act differently and have a wider range of behaviors.

According to my copy of the book, the signs of the particular leap Z is due for include: craving more physical contact (check), crying more easily (maybe), taking longer to get used to new people (dunno, haven’t had the chance to test that), wanting to be entertained more (not that I’ve noticed), and wanting to be breastfed a lot but not really drinking much (that’s a big “yes”). The Wonder Weeks also tells me some of the new skills or behaviors we’ll start to see in him. Sure enough, he’s holding his head up much better, shifting his weight forward while sitting up, making short grunts or repetitive sounds.

The book devotes an entire chapter to each developmental leap, detailing the new way your baby sees the world and the new things he or she has going on in that expanding mellon. There’s a handy section on how you are likely to be feeling when your tyke is going through his cranky period (here’s a hint: it’s not any different than when your child has been a wailing mess for any other reason). It also includes activities and games that will emphasize the new skills he will start to develop now that he’s leveled up. If your three-week-old doesn’t seem to particularly get it when you play peek-a-boo, just wait another three months.

There is a Wonder Weeks app, which is no substitute for the book but is a handy accompaniment. You can put in your baby’s birth date and it will make up a calendar to track their state of wonder weekage. When Z was extra fussy and not really eating, I remembered to whip my phone out and check the app. Sure ‘nough, the chart had him at the beginning of a stormy phase. I could skim the abbreviated information the app had until I had a chance to pull the book out and read the relevant chapter.

The good news is, he should only be a mess for another eight days or so. The other news is there’s another wonder week due right on heels of this one. And so it goes for the next year.

In fact, it looks like he’ll start perceiving “the world of events” during our upcoming trip. Speaking of which, I likely need to downshift my posting rate soon as we will be on the road. But stay tuned! I’m sure to have some tales about our first time flying with three children that will be hilarious to those who didn’t have to live through it.