Archive for category Tips & Techniques
This is the thing everyone knows that toddlers do. They ask “Why?”
It’s one of the things that cartoons and sitcoms love to show little kids doing that is actually a real thing that happens. Little kids love to ask “Why?” Joshua started doing it a few months back. I don’t think he had any idea what he was asking when he started, and frankly I’m not entirely sure he does now either. But he does know that it is a question that gets a response.
Though, I think that’s maybe too simple an explanation, because it implies there are questions that he asks that are ignored, which isn’t the case. It might be that each time he asks, he tends to get a different answer, despite the fact that the question is always the same. Whatever the reason, he keeps asking away.
Now, in a cartoon or sitcom, the child will ask this until the parent is driven mad. They’ll blow up and stop answering and the mischievous child grins because of course this is what they were after all along. But not in our house.
In this house, Joshua gets an answer every time, no matter what. That’s our job. His is to ask. Ours is to answer. What does it say to the little man if his first and most trusted source of information is unwilling to engage? Do I want to teach him, however subconsciously, that there is a limit to his curiosity and, by extension, maybe even his ambitions? No, I’d rather teach him that if he wants information we are here to explore with him.
It’s true that sometimes I get dead-ended, though:
“He probably wasn’t looking where he was going.”
“Umm. I think it has to do with the rotation of the Earth, maybe? And magnetic fields? Basically it pulls everyone to the ground.”
That’s when “Because Science” is about the best I can come up with. Liberal arts degree! *jazzhands*
Babies are gross. Straight up. This is not a choice they are making (yet), but they are. They poop and then sit in it until someone notices. They drool constantly and with great relish. They put anything they can pick up into their mouth. They vomit on themselves constantly. They are basically that friend you all had in college that couldn’t handle his booze.
As a parent, part of your solemn duty to care for your baby is to keep him clean. This is more of a constant affair than you might think. Your baby has no notion of what it is to be clean and will not care in the slightest that you’ve been taking measures to help him get to that point. Here are the major areas you’ll need to watch for and some tips, techniques and equipment that will help you get there.
Drool is an omnipresent thing. Your baby should never be without a bib. We tend to associate a bib with protection from foodstuffs for clothing, but that’s a pretty narrow interpretation. A bib is just general protection from grossness. And protection of the clothing itself isn’t a big deal. You’re going to need to wash baby clothes all the time. Worrying about how clean and sturdy you can make them overtime is a bit of a losing battle. What you should be worried about is keeping wet cloth away from your baby’s skin as much as possible.
If your baby is anything like Joshua, he can soak the front of a shirt several inches in all directions away from his face in a matter of minutes. If you don’t change his clothes then, you’ve got a baby with wet cloth on his chest for the rest of the day. Your skin likes to be dry, so a wet onesie is not optimal for your baby. Everyone loves to tout the fabled softness and pristine nature of a baby’s skin, but this is a bit of a myth. Baby skin is indeed soft, but it is far from blemish-free. You’ll find many scratches from little finger nails and plenty of little red bumps resulting from irritation from dampness rubbing against skin. Some of this will be inevitable, but it’s important to try and minimize the impact.
So, keep a stack of bibs on hand (Joshua has something like 30, and we go through at least 3 every day just during the time of day that he’s not at daycare) and try to have burp clothes on hand around your house as well. These are useful also for the next bit.
A note on bibs: There are bibs, and then there are bibs. When you are picking a bib, try to go for one that seems sturdy. Many bibs are a single layer of standard cloth. A baby will wet that in under two minutes and the wet bib will immediately begin to create wet clothes. Those are only good for blocking a food mess, and are not meant for long-term wearing. Some bibs clearly have a couple layers of cloth with some sort of magical absorbent layer inside them. Go for these to protect from drool as they will provide protection from your baby’s Face Faucet, which is a term Janelle came up with and is, for the record, hilarious.
Calling it vomit just doesn’t fit. Vomit has more verve behind it. Spit up is just something babies do. Be worried if it’s large amounts for a prolonged period of time (or if there are tell-tale things like blood in the spit-up), but otherwise, it’s just par for the course. Bibs are useful for blocking spit-up from getting on baby clothes, but a burp cloth is going to be better because then you don’t have spit up just hanging out and drying inches from your baby’s face.
It’s not that spit-up is some dangerous substance to avoid, but it is nasty. Depending on when it happens, your baby is basically just producing spoiled milk. It will smell delightful. So, having a cloth to wipe it away instead of having it sit on your baby’s bib to ambush anyone who might pick him up later is a good plan.
Also, it will be a fairly regular thing that you baby will spit up, but not with enough force or volume to have that spit-up leave his mouth. So, you’ll notice the next time he opens his mouth he has a bunch of little white curdled milk chunks just chilling in there. That’s when you get a little invasive with the burp cloth to wipe out his mouth. It can’t taste good. Help the little dude out.
Burp clothes are of course useful when burping your baby to cover your lap and his lap while burping after feeding, when spit up is most likely. However, it’s also useful during playtime right after a feed. If you’re going to lay your baby down and play and your baby is apt to wiggle around or roll over and put pressure on his tummy, making spit up more likely, it’s a good plan to have a burp cloth under him. This protects whatever play surface he’s laying on, as that thing will get gross enough over time as it is (see: Drool).
#1 and #2
By and large, diapers have this covered. They are absorbant enough to handle most things that your baby can throw at them—but this is pretty much the pee department. I’m not going to cover handling when to change a dirty diaper, that’s pretty obvious. Babies aren’t too subtle about pooping. But a wet diaper is something that can be overlooked and can result in a very unhappy baby. It’s a safe bet that you’ll want to change your baby basically after they wake up from every nap. But, with an older baby that might not be napping as much, just try and get a good sense of what a saturated diaper feels like from the outside. If you give a poke to the diaper’s front, you should feel a certain amount of give. If you’re meeting a lot of resistance, you have a wet diaper. Along the same lines as clearing up drool, you want to make sure to change a wet diaper. You’re not going to want a baby with irritated skin around those sensitive areas.
One item to cover for a dirty diaper is containment failure. Since your baby will be sitting in all sorts of weird positions, sometimes that will mean that poop doesn’t just go down to hang out in the diaper. It may be forced up or out. Most often, it will be forced up and you’ll be left with a baby with a back covered in poop. Adorable, I know. This is something that Janelle finds super gross (I do, too, of course). It is, for some reason, more gross than washing off poop that gets on you directly. It likely goes without saying if you know how to do laundry, but wash poop out of your baby’s clothes as soon as possible and get some stain treatment on there posthaste.
And now to switch gears to the universal cleaning measure, the “nuke the site from orbit” of baby cleanliness:
Bathtime is something that we used to do with Joshua every couple of days, but we’ve since made it a daily occurrence. This is because Joshua began to output so much drool it became necessary, but it also makes a nice capstone to his day. Every night now, he has a bath, gets changed and ready for bed, we read a small story or portion of a story to him, and he goes to bed. The bath is a great event that gets him prepped for the notion he’s going to sleep soon.
There are lots of ways you can tackle bathtime, and it’s totally up to your preferences. For us, I get into the bath and fill it up to a baby-friendly level. Then Janelle hands Joshua to me and I hold him in the bath while she washes him down with a washcloth. With more of an immersion in the water, we’re able to keep Joshua from getting cold, and because I’m holding him the whole time it’s bathtime/playtime, so we don’t end up with an angry, fussy baby before we even try to get him dressed for bed.
NB: When washing a baby, treat him like a tiny, morbidly obese person. In short, you need to wash between the fat folds. There will be all sorts of little fuzz and nernies that will get in there. A major spot to get is the neck. “But, Michael, my baby doesn’t have a neck! His head just transitions into shoulders!” I understand what you are saying, but your baby does have a neck, it’s just buried under chub. A fun trick to get your baby to expose his neck is to take a washcloth and wipe at his nose, just over his upper lip. Your baby will likely lift his head to avoid the cloth and expose his neck, that’s when you can strike because, man, baby neck gets pretty gross.
I can hear the “I told you so’s” approaching. It has been some time since I last posted, for good reason. Babies take up a lot of time.
Joshua has started daycare and is starting up his fourth week there (more on that in another post). This means that both Janelle and I are now back at work and no one is watching the homestead as their full-time occupation. This means that our time in the evenings is at an all-time premium and that weekends are Shangri-la. I never understood fully why people went so gung-ho for Saturday and Sunday. I’ve never been much of one for partying hard, so being able to stay up late and sleep in late over the course of the weekend didn’t hold much allure to me. The weekend was basically just a longer version of every evening after work. But now I find myself counting down to quitting time on Friday.
He’s only four months old, but we’ve begun what could end up being a decades-long process of ferrying our child(ren) around and spending all time not doing that work prepping for their next event. And Joshua only ever does one thing: sit in a room with other babies.
As part of my on-going effort to give you an accurate view of what child-rearing is like so that you are steeled for the experience (no, I am not trying to terrify you), here is every single day of our week now:
5:00-5:30am – Wake up! Janelle showers. Michael eats cereal and is on-call in case Joshua wakes up and needs tending to.
5:30-6:00am – Shower swap. Janelle is now ready enough prepping for the day that she can tag out on Joshua duty. Michael showers. Baby-permitting, Janelle has breakfast and continue to prep for the day.
6:00-6:30am – If Joshua isn’t awake, it’s time to start waking him up. Janelle feeds Joshua and, if all other prep work is done, we watch something off the DVR while he eats.
6:30-6:50am – Get Joshua changed into his clothes for the day. Pack up necessary daycare items (diapers, clothes, bibs, bottles). Get everything loaded and into the car.
6:50-7:10am – Drive to Daycare, drop Joshua off and wish him a good day.
7:10-7:30am – Leave for work.
7:30am – Janelle at work.
7:45am – Michael at work.
7:30-4:00 – Work day!
4:00-4:45 – Commute to daycare.
4:45-5:00 – Get Joshua from daycare and bring him home.
5:00- 6:00 – Play with Joshua!
6:00-7:00 – Nap-time for Joshua
7:00-7:30 – Feed Joshua. Michael tackles miscellaneous prep for the next day.
7:30-8:00 – Playtime!
8:00-8:20 – Bathtime!
8:20-9:00 – The bedtime cycle (sometimes fast, sometimes takes the whole time)
9:00-10:00 – Relax, go to bed.
During the periods of free time we have (there are about 3 hours total, since I am free to do things while Janelle feeds Joshua), we have to ensure that we do the following: make lunches for the next day, do laundry, clean the dishes, cook dinner, sterilize Janelle’s breastpumping equipment, clean and prep Joshua’s three bottles for the next day and anything else like talking to parents or running errands. That means that, if we’re being generous, we have 90 minutes each day of bona-fide leisure time.
I would say it took us about two and a half months to get ourselves back on a routine. Well, that’s not fair: To get myself back on a routine. Going back to work full time necessitates that in part, but the rest involves making use of negative space.
I have friends who, rightfully so, laughed at me when I talked about the things I would accomplish after Joshua was born. For a while, they were most certainly right. Almost nothing got done in our house outside of caring for the baby. That included basics like cooking and cleaning. It’s less that there’s no time for working on anything when caring for a baby and more that it is difficult to get into a rhythm.
There are a great many distractions and small interruptions with a baby. There’s the crying and the pooping, and that’s just Mom (hiyo!). You’re not going to want to keep working while your baby is doing something cute. There’s always the chance that you’ll miss seeing a first anything. And believe me, the first everything is important to you. First spit bubble. First uncurled fist. First noise that sounds like “guh”. If Mom needs to use the restroom, you might be on baby duty if he’s not calm. If Dad goes to work, he’ll likely only be home in the evening long enough for a single baby nap period and there are likely chores or things like dinner to take care of during that time.
It’s very much a matter of “water, water everywhere…”. There are pockets of time all over your day that you could use for work, it’s just impossible to string them together, at least while everyone is awake.
I began to get antsy to get back into a routine. I’ve gained some weight (a journey I began once I left high school — let’s not talk about what my driver’s license says I weigh), and I stopped basically all creative writing. I was better about the blog in those days, but there was such a flood of new parenting info that I had to output it somewhere. Plus, I wasn’t working then. After a couple of months, I knew it was time to start working on a routine before what stuck with me was simply not doing anything.
The immediate dilemma was when I could possibly work in my own personal projects. If I wait to wake in the morning until the kid wakes us up, I’ll have enough time to shower and get ready for the day before it’s time to take a turn caring for Joshua and then I leave for work. When I get home in the afternoon, there’s usually enough time for dinner, playing with Joshua, catching up on any chores and then maybe there’s an hour or so before it’s time to put the kid to bed. So if the span of my regular day doesn’t accommodate working on projects, the only choice left was to work outside of it.
So now my day begins at 5am. I wake up and come downstairs and have a snack and maybe check some e-mail for about 30 minutes while I wake up. Three days a week I start into a light morning exercise routine that I’ll ramp up into more serious exercise over time. Then it’s time to shower, care for the kid and hit work. The other two days I write for another 30 minutes until it’s light enough outside to take a long-ish walk. Then it’s shower/baby/work.
At night, I basically shove the notion of working on projects out of my head because it’s time to play with the kid and connect with Janelle. Then, once they’re in bed, it’s back to work. From whenever Joshua gets laid down until 10pm, I write.
True, I continue to have the nasty A.D.D. habit of checking e-mail and social networking sites like a trained lab rat while I work, but it’s a routine and it guarantees me at least two hours a day to handle personal projects while still working in around 7 hours of sleep, which is the amount I was consistently getting before Joshua was born anyway.
Being left along with a baby for an extended period of time can be a harrowing experience for a new father. At times, this is simply a lack of exposure. But even for a Dad down in the trenches, running solo is always scary because you will inevitably run into the food dilemma.
If you’re formula-feeding your baby (or supplementing), Dads are far more likely to be battle hardened for solo time with the baby. This post is assuming that you’re opting for the breastfeeding route.
Prior to introducing a bottle (which is another one of those highly variable things — some parents will need to introduce a bottle early on, some may wait — but the wisdom handed down by doctors and books dictates that you should probably start thinking about introducing the bottle around 6 weeks and slowly ease the baby into it. Too early and he might get confused about bottle vs. Mom. Too late and he might decide he doesn’t want to ever like it), there’s simply no way that a Dad can go too long without Mom around. This becomes a pretty nice security blanket. You know that you’re never more than a couple hours from the cavalry arriving.
But after the bottle is in the picture, you’re no longer insulated. I figured today (Saturday) was a good day for me to write this post, as it will help me commit details to memory and psyche myself up for the coming challenge. Janelle will be off for a day of bachelorette events for a good friend of ours. She’ll be leaving around 2pm and returning at 9pm or later. I’m pretty excited she’ll be getting an outing, as I feel guilty that to date the extended absences have been mine alone. But the fact remains that this will be the longest period of time that either of us have been alone with Joshua, and the honor is falling to the journeyman.
Just because I relish the notion of wading in waist-deep for alone-time with Joshua doesn’t mean that the prospect isn’t vaguely spine-chilling.
Today will be the sixth instance where I’ve fed Joshua from a bottle. Three of the previous times went smoothly. Two of them did not. I will explain why and how in each case, but first, some critical information regarding breastmilk, an almost mythical substance, for new Dads.
Breastmilk, after being expressed and stored by Mom via pumping (which is 100% weird to watch happen), can be left alone, at room temperature, for about four to six hours. This is room temperature at around mid-70s, by the by. None of your Arizona heatwave shit. If you choose to immediately refrigerate expressed breastmilk, it will stay good for around three days.
Frozen breastmilk can be kept for six months (be sure to label it clearly with the date). Once you remove breastmilk from the freezer and place it in the fridge to thaw, you must use it within approximately 24 hours. Once you’ve heated breastmilk (whether by running the bottle under hot tap water or boiling water on the stove – do not microwave it as the milk may end up being deceptively hot in contrast to the cool bottle exterior and may not be a uniform temperature throughout) you need to use it within about 30 minutes of the heating.
The tricky part about getting ready for a bottle feed, unless your baby isn’t too picky, is timing heating the milk. You don’t want to start too early, especially if your baby is sleeping, as you don’t want to interrupt a nap just so you can use the milk you heated up. But start too late and you run the risk of having a very, very angry baby while you stand around and hope that physics will hurry up. Your best bet is to have a pot with water waiting on the stove and when you hear those cries that mean an awake baby is imminent, fire up the burner, drop in the bottle and then go retrieve your kid. Once you’ve checked and/or changed a diaper and gotten your feeding area all set up, that bottle should be most of the way, if not all of the way, heated. Some babies may not care about the temperature of the milk, but Joshua 100% does. Two of the times I had trouble feeding him the milk was warmed up… but still slightly cool. And he basically demanded the waiter send it back to the kitchen to be heated better by screaming very loudly and generally drooling milk everywhere.
Check the milk’s temperature before you start. Just like you used to see in TV and movies, a couple drops on your wrist will do it. Get your baby positioned how you like. Any way that is comfortable for you and for the baby is workable, but it is advised to use a different setup (location and orientation) than the one Mom uses so you don’t confuse the baby. They should realize that this is a new thing happening, and not the usual. My only real notes regarding your position is make sure it’s one where you can, without too much jostling, adjust the angle of your baby. With a boob, he’ll just stay in one position until he’s done. With a bottle, you’ll want to be tipping that bottle up to get all the milk out, and at a certain degree of movement, you’ll pop it right out of your baby’s mouth if you’re not careful. Also, and this is something easy to neglect, make sure you’re set up to be comfortable for the next 15-20 minutes. Bottlefeeding is fast, but it’s more that it is faster than it is actually a fast process.
Before you bottlefeed, I recommend that you pay close attention to how your partner helps the baby feed. There are many, many particulars she is keeping in mind. You have it easier, but let’s try not to undo all her hard work, shall we? Most noteworthy here is how she sets up your baby’s lips when he’s feeding. If a baby is sucking poorly it’s not only likely he’s not sucking very well and getting in a sub-par amount of milk and potentially a lot of air for tummy problems later, he’s also likely causing Mom a lot of pain. If not now, later for sure. So, you want to do on the bottle the same thing Mom does on the breast. Pull his lips out. When a baby is feeding, it should look like he’s making duck lips. You want to ensure he’s not curling his lips in or clamping them down. Basically, you want your baby to look like, if you were to remove the bottle and keep the face the same, he’s doing his impression of someone with too much lip collagen.
Burping is going to be important. When you burp will be determined by how well your baby feeds on a bottle. Here’s where we get back to the couple times Joshua did not feed well. Because a baby has a tendency to take in more air feeding from a bottle, I wanted to make sure to get a burping session or two in during his feedings. However, it seems that once the initial flow of milk has stopped, that Joshua loses interest in going back on the bottle. Not quite as good as the real thing, I suppose. So, I wait until he’s finished entirely now, and hope that he doesn’t get so much air that his burping turns into spitting up. If your baby is less particular, I recommend stopping to burp about halfway through the feed. This way you can free up air bubbles, and also approximate the pause mid-feeding where Mom would be switching him from one breast to the other.
Don’t be alarmed if the feeding seems awkward. For starters, Mom’s had weeks of practice where she gets to clock in some hours six times a day. But you’re also trying to approximate a natural system with all sorts of foreign hardware. It’s going to be awkward. As long as the baby gets his meal, though, you’ve done a great job. Even if there’s squirming and spitting and crying and dribbled milk, as long as more of that milk ends up in the baby’s tummy than on a burp cloth, call it a win.
For a final note, there are a many types of bottles out there. What we went with was a brand called The First Years and their Breastflow line. The notion here is that the shape of the bottle top (very wide) will approximate the breast better in your baby’s mouth. Also, the double reservoir system in the nipple will slow down the flow of milk for your baby, making it more like the speed the milk is released from Mom.
Babies love a ceiling fan. It’s true. Go ahead and Google for it. I’ll wait. Not really. Little meta-humor there for you.
We have a ceiling fan in the center of our bedroom, which just so happens to be where Joshua spends all his nighttime minutes that aren’t spent sleeping in his crib in the nursery. When he wakes in the middle of the night, Janelle brings him into our room, changes him in the designated corner at the bottom of the mattress (designated by the bath towel he lays on – makes for a good poop guard in case of an overzealous rectum [this is the name of my band, by the way, Overzealous Rectum]), and then feeds him sitting propped up on her side of the bed.
Laying on the bed while being changed or while waiting for Janelle to get herself all situated, Joshua has a perfect view of the fan just above him, and he is mesmerized. He smiles at the fan almost more than he smiles at us. The people that GAVE HIM LIFE. Even if he’s upset, the fan is often enough to distract him for just the right amount of time that we can calm him down. We hear similar stories from our friends who have a 20-month-old (or thereabouts) who has always loved ceiling fans and who, now that she is old enough to talk a bit, will wake everyone up in the morning with her rally cry to bring in the day: “Fan! Fan! Fan!”
I mostly wanted to write this post just to point out that little detail, but it does bring to light some actual useful information to impart (outside of, “make your baby look at a fan”). Your baby enjoys looking at things. It’s important to stimulate them visually, because it’s basically the only thing that they can do: look at things. However, keep in mind a few things. Babies don’t really see color for at least the first month. Stick to high contrast items. Also, don’t make the items too complex at first. If you don’t know what anything at all is, you don’t want to kick it off by staring at a Dali painting. Go for bold, straight lines. Fits well with the high-contrast part, conveniently. Movement is another good thing. Not too fast, but making your baby work to track an item is helping improve his vision. Lastly, don’t be all up in your baby’s grill for too long. It’s easy for a baby to get overloaded, so a picture waved six inches in front of his face for any length of time is likely going to be just too damn much info to process. Babies look away from things when they get overwhelmed, and will often look at something with their peripheral vision so they can study it without taking in too heavy a flood of stimulus. Putting something too close to their face removes a baby’s option to escape from an info onslaught.
A fan hits all that criteria very well. It’s located a fair distance away, is usually a contrasting item (assuming you have a dark fan and light ceiling), moves around in a very regular fashion and, moving fast enough, is fairly hypnotic.
Raising an infant is hard work. The books you read will not tell you this. They will tell you how to solve problems, but they somehow manage to skirt around the fact that it’s not just the problems that are difficult. Everything is difficult. Judging how Joshua is now and how long I know it will take him to shed some of his pesky reflexive infant responses and gain actual control of his motor functions, it will be difficult for about 6-8 weeks. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not much time. But when you’re working 24-hour days, minimal sleep and staring down starting back up with real world things like jobs and errands and chores it may as well be several millenia.
It’s a tribute to how rewarding children become that no parents seem to remember how hard the start of things is for very long. I don’t want to scare anyone away from the idea of kids, but I also don’t like the notion of seeing people get blindsided. So, here’s a look at some of the hard numbers with raising a newborn.
Assuming your baby is getting a good amount of food and is processing it well, you’ll be changing a lot of diapers. Formula-fed babies less so, but with a breastfed baby, you can expect to be changing from 6 to 12 diapers every day. Joshua runs a pretty steady 8-10 every day. Changing a diaper is not a complex process, but it is hazardous. Moreso with boys. Babies will pick very inopportune times to relieve themselves. With Joshua, it tends to be when I’m picking his legs up to clean his bottom. This gets him in perfect position to pee directly into his own face. He has done this three times in as many weeks. To fix this issue, I’ve perfected a hold that gets fingers around each of his feet while I lift him and another that tangles a washcloth up and keeps in place so that when I lift him, if he pees, he pees into the cloth that can no longer slip out of the way. It’s a good thing I’ve learned this hold, else he’d have peed on himself 5 or 6 more times.
Babies also have a hard time figuring out where to focus when they’re pooping. Well, nothing like a jolt from a cold baby wipe on your bum to remind you that that’s where the magic happens. It’s pretty common that wiping your baby clean will be just what prompts your baby to have to go again. Since things with breastfed babies tend to be pretty runny, you’ll want to make sure to clear the blast radius. You can expect distances of 6-8 inches if your child is ambitious. My face managed to not escape the spatter zone once. I know better than to kneel in front of him while changing, even if I am tired.
Lastly, babies don’t like to be cold. Everyone has this image of babies that love to be naked and love bathtime and other such nudist activities. Well, newborns don’t really regulate temperature well, and they like it warm. Removing clothes upsets that delicate balance. Chances are your baby will be very angry when it’s diaper time. This will involve kicking and flailing and crooked limbs and general unpleasantness. This does not speed up the process.
All told, with the warm up (prepping your materials – have your new diaper open, your wipes ready, your washcloth and ointments at the ready), the undressing, the change and clean-up, the new diaper and the redressing a diaper change is a minimum 5 minute affair. Things get complex or messy and you could be seeing 10 minutes. We’ll split the difference and assume 7 minutes. So, 7 minutes and an assumed 10 diapers a day (wet diapers and messy diapers alike), that means you’re changing diapers for 70 minutes every day. Just diapers.
This one is super variable. It depends a lot on your baby and how well he feeds. Joshua is a sleepy snacker. He starts out eating vigorously for about 5-10 minutes and then dozes off. Then he sucks on and off as we poke at him. Until we had him weighed at the lactation consultant’s office (they weigh the baby before he feeds and then again right after to see how many ounces of milk he’s been taking in), we had no idea if he was getting enough milk when he would feed. So, since he would sleep so much, we’d keep him on a long time. This mean our feedings lasted 40-60 minutes. Remember the time between feedings is measured from the start of the feed. We’ve found that Joshua lasts between 3 and 4 hours between feedings before he gets fussy.
With that kind of spacing, that’s roughly 7 feedings each day. At the outside then, that meant that Janelle would spend 7 hours in a 24-hour period feeding Joshua. 35-hours a week is, in most surveys I’ve ever seen, enough to qualify for full-time employment. 7 hours. Just let that soak in. That’s a lot of time.
But, as I said, very variable. Now that we know Joshua is eating well, and we have some more tricks we try with him, we’re down to shorter feedings. Shorter still means about 30 minutes of feeding, which is still 3.5 hours every day, and that’s if everything goes well, or if he doesn’t get hungrier more than normal.
It’s not expected that a baby will sleep through the night until they weigh around 12 or 13 pounds. It’s at this point the baby’s stomach is presumed large enough to hold enough milk to allow them to not feel hungry in the middle of the night. Babies average in at 7.5 pounds at birth, and doctor’s hope to see them gaining an ounce a day in weight. 16 ounces to a pound. That means you’re looking at about 72 days until your baby is likely to sleep through the night. At just under 21 days, we have a long damn way to go.
Even allowing Joshua to set his feeding schedule at night, he’s never gone more than 5 hours between feedings, which means the most sleep we’ve been able to get in a solid chunk since he was born is about 3.5 hours. But wait, you ask, if feeding took you at the most 60 minutes, why didn’t you get 4 hours of sleep? Ah yes. You assume that your baby has a regular person brain and wants to sleep when he is tired. Watch now as I laugh at you.
The great dilemma of the infant is that when a baby becomes overtired, as in: so tired they are upset about it, they will actually be unable to sleep. Yup. So tired you can’t sleep. Ahhh babies. Your best bet at this point is that they get so angry that they exhaust themselves and just plain give up.
That’s the worst case. Even in the best case, though, putting a baby down is hit or miss. Sometimes we put Joshua down immediately and he goes right to sleep. Sometimes this is because he is already asleep, but sometimes he’s just peaceful enough to lie awake and then soothe himself into dreamland. More often, though, I will rock him about for 5 minutes or so until he seems drowsy, then I will place him in the crib. I will hover there for a couple minutes, keeping a hand on him to reassure him and shushing lightly in his ear. Then I’ll wait for 3 or 4 minutes to see if he’s happy lying down. Then I’ll head back to my bedroom and read a book for a couple minutes and listen to make sure he’s still okay before I get into bed. Then I get into bed and look at the ceiling for a bit. Then I close my eyes. Then he starts to cry.
So, be prepared to spend as much as 90 minutes a night trying to get your baby to sleep and only around 4 reliable hours of sleep a night yourself.
You have been warned.
Breastmilk vs. Formula
When doing research about raising a baby, you’ll find a lot of equivocation surrounding many controversial topics. The books tend to tread lightly so as not to seem too polarizing and thereby limit their audience. A chief area where you’ll hear a lot of back and forth is the debate between breastfeeding and formula feeding. I’ll break it down square for you.
Breastmilk is without question the better choice for your baby. It is not, however, the most convenient choice and nor is it a choice that every woman will be capable of choosing due to various physiological reasons.
Formula has made many strides over the years, but there are vast quantities of helpful agents that are present in breastmilk that simply cannot be synthesized with modern medicine. Rather than break down all the particulars, I’ll give a quick anecdotal illustration. Breastmilk produces antibodies to fight illness. Let’s say Dad goes out to the store to pick something up and manages to have a flu bug latch onto him while he’s out. He comes home, the baby is exposed. When the baby nurses with Mom, she is also exposed. Since breastmilk is just this side shy of magic, when the mother is exposed to this flu bug, her breastmilk will begin to fill with antibodies to that illness, which are then passed onto the child while nursing. There’s a good reason why breastfed babies don’t get sick nearly as often as formula fed babies.
When the question of “What is best for the baby?” is in play, the answer is always breastmilk. But breastmilk sometimes just isn’t possible. Some babies can be allergic (a very small percentage), some mothers don’t produce enough milk for a baby to gain weight properly, some mothers have nipples shaped in such a way to make breastfeeding impossible. In many of these cases, using a breastbump to express milk and then bottlefeeding is usually a fairly simple solution (which also has the benefit of shifting some work over to Dad). The only issue with the pump is that it simply isn’t as effective at maintaining a mother’s milk supply as a nursing baby.
So, while formula is far from a bad choice, it’s just not the best choice. Is it wrong to choose formula over breastmilk? No. It’s just not the best choice.
That being said, I’ll really only be speaking to breastfeeding, as that’s my area of exposure.
The Useful Facts
Janelle and I had a hell of a time getting consistent info regarding breastfeeding. Here’s the info you need:
In situations where babies may not be gaining weight as easily as hoped, babies should be fed every 2-3 hours. You measure intervals between feedings from the start of one feeding to the start of the next (rather than end of one to start of the next).
Once a baby is confirmed to be gaining properly (usually this is determined to be once they have gained back their birth weight, or close to it), it is safe to allow the baby to sleep until they are hungry. However, it is still a good idea to feed every 2-3 hours during the day to ensure that the baby sleeps longer at night. Even allowing your baby to sleep at night, though, don’t expect more than 5 hours between feedings for a couple months.
Do not introduce bottles or pacifiers earlier than 6 weeks, to prevent nipple confusion. If a baby learns to prefer the firmness of an artificial nipple, or the ease of feeding through a bottle, he will begin to turn away from the breast.
Do not wait longer than 3 months to introduce a pacifier or a bottle. At that point the baby will fight taking those items.
Babies have growth spurts around 2 week and around 5-6 weeks. During these times your baby will likely be hungrier than normal. Feel free to feed more regularly as well.
Every time a baby cries, it doesn’t mean he’s hungry. If your baby is crying and turning his head and opening and closing his mouth like he’s searching for a breast, he’s hungry. If he’s not crying, but is sitting around opening and closing his mouth and smacking his lips, that’s your first sign he’s hungry.
There’s no real problem feeding a baby before they exhibit signs of hunger… but don’t feed them too often. Feeding every hour (as a rule, not during a growth spurt, where this may be needed), may train your baby to eat in small, snacky doses. This is bad due to the composition of breastmilk. There is foremilk and hindmilk. The hindmilk is what holds most of the calories your baby needs to grow, and he will only reach this with longer feedings.
If your baby sleeps during feedings, it’s not a big deal, and doesn’t mean that he’s not getting milk. He may be an efficient feeder. Imagine if you ate real fast and then had someone snuggle you up all warm and cozy. It’d be nap time for you, too. However, to ensure that you baby isn’t dozing too quickly, the easiest way to keep him active as a feeder is to lift his arm. If he looks asleep, but upon moving his arm around you feel some muscle resistance, he’s still awake and the disturbance will likely prompt him to begin eating again. If you move his arm and just get no resistance at all, you have a sleeping baby. At that point you may want to try switching breasts, or (PROTIP) use this sleepy time to change his diaper. You may be able to get in a fuss-free changing and then get him back on the breast just as he’s waking up for some reinvigorated feeding.
It’s important to note that poop from a baby on breastmilk matches many of the descriptions books will give you of diarrhea. Baby poop from a breastfeeding baby will be green, yellow or sort of mustard-orange and will seem to have little sort of pellets in it. This is actually milk curd. It will be fairly runny. Diarrhea will likely just be a more liquid form of the same. But again, with a breastfed baby, chances of diarrhea are low.
The perception of breastfeeding is that’s something strictly for the mother. Bonding time that she has alone in a quiet, dark room with her baby while the father does something else in the other room. Well, believe me when I say that this sounds much more exclusionary before having a baby than after. Afterwards, you may relish the notion of some downtime. But I digress…
Breastfeeding certainly does not need to be a female-only affair, and at the start probably should not be. Breastfeeding is difficult. There are many factors for the mother to keep track of. Is she seated comfortably? Can she support the baby for the length of the feed? How is the baby positioned? How are his lips positioned? His tongue? Is he swallowing? Is he still awake? On and on. Performing poorly means that your child doesn’t thrive and that you will be parcel to some unpleasant side effects like cracked or sore nipples or afflictions like mastitis. Until things become second nature for Mom, it’s best if Dad is around to help out.
For Janelle and I, it started out very much as a team effort. While Janelle would get situated, I would get Joshua prepped. Getting him unswaddled and undressed (skin to skin contact helps babies with the nursing process). When she was ready, I would hand him over and let her get him positioned. I would hold Joshua’s hands out of the way to make sure he didn’t interfere with his own lunchtime, which he is apt to do. When breastfeeding begins, Mom’s breasts will be very firm and the milk will not come easily. It needs to be massaged out until her tissues get more accustomed to just releasing it naturally. So, to keep her arms from getting too tired, I would massage her breast tissue and help with expressing milk. Then while Janelle would get cleaned up, I would change Joshua’s diapers and get him redressed. It made things less stressful for Janelle.
Now, a couple weeks in, she’s practicing tackling these changes without me, since I’ll be returning to work months before she does. But I was part of the process. I helped get breastfeeding established and I know that while it would have happened without me, there would have been far more tears and frustration. So, I’m happy enough to sit on the sideline while Janelle gets her alone time with the little guy because I’m aware of how to contribute to the process. All father’s should consider helping Mom out with the breastfeeding, just to get an idea of how tricky it is.
While “Is he eating enough?” might be the biggest dilemma for the breastfeeding mother, “How can we get through the night?” is likely the cross of the new father to bear.
Sleep is a precious commodity as a parent. Your day is no longer measured from sunup to sundown. Your are on a 24-hour clock and you need to sleep when you can. That sleep will come in fits and starts, as well. At the start, expect to see anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes of sleep at a time at the most. Anything else means you are lucky, an outlier (unless you’re getting less, in which case you are unlucky). And while sleep is precious to Dad, it needs to be even moreso to Mom, and she likely isn’t as focused on it as she needs to be.
Mom will be concerned about the baby and want to ensure that he gets down to bed properly. You can have her wait in bed and try to sleep while you tend to the infant, but she won’t be able to sleep, not while he’s crying. But she needs to sleep. The production of milk turns new mothers into factories. Just sitting on the couch and eating bon-bons, Mom is now burning 500 extra calories a day producing milk. To give you an idea of how much that is, I’ve gone to the gym and run (not jogged, RUN) on a treadmill for 30 minutes, covering several faux miles, and only burned in the neighborhood of 300 calories.
Do not think of the baby as a barrier to your own sleep. If you think about the process as being one of problem solving, regardless of the timeline. You’ll do fine. As soon as you expect a result, or view the baby himself as the obstacle, you’re on the road to frustration and ruination. Come prepared to not sleep until he sleeps and you’ll be golden before you realize it. According to this piece from Runner’s World, Janelle would have to run over 6 miles to equal that kind of caloric burn rate were she not breastfeeding. What the what?! Basically Mom is training for a half marathon on about 4-5 hours a sleep a night, assuming things aren’t going too poorly.
So not only is getting through the night important, but the responsibility of making it happen is something that falls chiefly to Dad. How to manage and control an infant that cannot be controlled? It’s mostly a matter of managing expectations. If you go into your nighttime routine expecting that your baby will go down to sleep quickly and easily and will be calmed quickly and easily should he awake in the middle of the night then you will be primed for disappointment and frustration.
Be ready when you go to put your baby down that you’ll be spending 15-20 minutes getting him calm enough and sleepy enough to actually feel like falling asleep. Similarly, expect the same each time you need to wake up to help him get back to sleep. If you expect things will take a good bit of time, any time that it happens faster is a bonus. Not only have you earned some more sleep for yourself, you get a nice little confidence booster for being so awesome.
Also be prepared to be mobile. Calming a baby in the crib will only work for the most minor of fusses. You can either just lay down some calming shushing noises, or turn the baby onto his side for a bit (they like the side—beats me) and let him calm himself down. More likely, though, you’ll have a potential crying disaster on your hands and it will require more drastic actions. When you pick your baby up from the crib, try and do it gently and quickly. You want to be quick to act, but you don’t want to jostle and take him farther away from sleep. To start, see if body heat, some gentle shushing and simply the innate reassurance that someone is there to help try and calm the baby. Failing that, you might need to bust out the fancy tricks. Swinging him around, bouncing him, burping him. Maybe you need to head out to the living room and let him sit in his bounce seat. Maybe the car seat is magic. Maybe the car seat and a ride around the block in the family sedan is the thing.
How do you discover the magic nighttime tricks that will put your baby to sleep? I don’t suggest midnight experimentation. You’re likely tired and probably on your way to frustration. Not the best breeding ground for great ideas. Take note during the day of what does the trick. The two times that I’ve put Joshua into a front carrier and taken a walk around the block with him he has passed out hardcore. Mental note. Extra blankets for extra heat tend to make him nod off easier as well. Good to know. He likes to sit upright, and likes to be swaddled. Sounds like a car seat to me.
Once your baby is in a deep enough sleep, you don’t need to continue your tricks until dawn. Place him back down, walk away and cross your fingers. Chances are you’ll have to pick him up again, but again, try the gentle approach first. If that fails, though, start the cycle over and keep going until he’s been down enough times to get the point.
Now, the problem here is that I’m writing to the assumption that your baby is being fussy for the sake of being fussy, or because he’s tired. That’s really the only time that any tricks or tips will get you anywhere. All the other reasons will require a specific response. Dirty diaper? Gotta change it and hope that doesn’t cause more problems than it fixes. Hungry? Time to wake Mom (assuming the timing is right—check out the next post for tips and tricks on breastfeeding). Upset tummy? Well… you’re just screwed aren’t you?
The upset tummy is one of those things that you just can’t do a damn thing about. Similarly, while the above tricks may work and are good starting points, there’s no fast guarantee that they will get a baby to stop crying. Most of the methods described are reasonably foolproof as they activate triggers in the baby’s brain that they should be cool. Did the kid throw any tantrums in the womb? Nope. Why not? Tight space. Warm temperature. Well fed. Rocked constantly. Perpetual white noise. Using any of these tools is likely to send your baby back to the good old days when he lived in a luxurious square foot apartment. Likely—but not guaranteed.
With an upset tummy, all you can really do is hope. Try burping your baby, try laying him on his back and pumping his knees up to his chest to help with gas. Trying switching up positions to crunch his tummy and push those air bubbles out to the surface. But consider the very real possibility that you just need to ride it out. Just as babies don’t know how to use their limbs for some weeks (hell, they don’t even realize those arms belong to them for awhile, something just keeps hitting them in the face), they don’t really know how to poop or pass gas. There’s a good chance that at the same time you kid is trying to push down to work out some gas he’s also clenching his little butt for all he’s worth to keep it in. Now if that isn’t just the picture of hell, I don’t know what is.
Expect putting your baby to sleep to take time. I’ve found that I need to stay awake while Janelle feeds so that when it’s time to put Joshua down, I’m awake and ready for the throwdown. If I tried to sleep until the main event, I would wake up both groggy and on stage and I would just be too damn grumpy to do either of us any good. I’d ask him why he felt the need to be so difficult and what, after all, the big deal was. He’s a baby. Life can’t be that bad. But a Michael that’s awake and ready to go is a Dad that’s ready to be patient and keep trying different positions to hold the little dude until it’s actually bedtime.
Crying it Out
Letting a baby cry themselves to sleep at night is not something I ever considered an option. It is, however, a fairly popular idea thanks to the research of Dr. Richard Ferber. Ferberizing a baby isn’t quite as simple as letting babies cry until they fall asleep. It involves staging up the amount of time you let a baby cry before you soothe them, and when you soothe them the point is not to pick them up. This is intended to teach a baby to calm itself and to sleep through the night.
But, really, what’s the point?
The Ferber method assumes that you child is a manipulative little monkey. The presumption is that your baby likes to be held and so will wake himself up from sleep and cry just to get you to come and comfort him. So, you take your infant and you begin withholding care from him. If you’re going to go ahead and make the assumption that you baby knows enough while this young to mess with you, then you also need to make the assumption that your baby knows enough to understand that you’re simply not coming. That’s not a lesson that I like the sound of. I’m not trying to raise John Connor here. “Learn to sleep while you’re young, little dude. No one will be there to hear your screams in the middle of the night.”
It’s not even an approach you can really consider economical, as it involves ever increasing intervals where you wait before trying to calm the baby. You start at, for example, 3 minutes. Then up to 5, then 7, then 10, then 15, then 30, etc. You’re looking at an hour of essentially hoping that your child stops crying. What if their tummy is upset and what they need is being held upright for 3 minutes so it can settle? Or if some extra body heat will be just the thing to push them over the edge into sleep? Picking a child up and trying a few options to see what calms them down or puts them to sleep could be the kind of thing that takes you 2 minutes.
The notion is that the Ferber method will train a child faster to sleep through the night, but considering that you’re looking at a couple of months before the kid is ever going to be likely to do that anyway, you’ve probably got an idea of how to calm him anyway. So… why abandon those methods?
Trying to prepare for the baby itself is nigh impossible. There’s just too much you can’t know about the little ball of chaos. You can’t know about personality, illness, temperment, sleep schedule and on and on. You just can’t really ever prepare fully for the big arrival. What you can do, though, are rack up little victories where you can.
There are some things you can say very concretely you are ready for. You either have a crib or you do not. You either know how to install the car seat or you do not. You either know how to prepare a meal, or you do not.
I did not, but I wasn’t thrilled about it.
I’ve been pretty lucky to live my life to date with good cooks. My Mom, my Dad (who was not the primary cook in the house, but as I got older was called in to reveal some of his signature items) and Janelle. Growing up, I didn’t do any cooking, because, well, how many kids do the cooking in their household? In college I ate as most college kids do. I prepared typical college meals that consisted of dumping a couple of packets of something into a pot and then mixing and heating them up. After Janelle and I moved in together I didn’t cook because I wasn’t really allowed to.
Janelle really enjoys cooking and baking. Janelle also really enjoys having things done her way, dammit. So, every night, almost without fail, I would ask “Do you want me to help you make anything?” and I would get a “Nope” in response. It’s basically impossible to complain about this arrangement, but it’s my way of justifying that I am 28 years old and don’t really know how to prepare anything but the most basic dishes for myself.
I can follow directions, so recipes are certainly something I could tackle. However, I’m a bit of a nervous learner. When dealing with something where I cannot very easily wave a wand and undo my work, I’m very hesitant to proceed. So, despite the fact that if I ruined some food I could just go out and buy more ingredients and try again, I’d be very reluctant to start out uncoached just because I’d mess it all up the first go. True or not, the feeling would be impossible to escape. Plus, what I want is the ability to throw down spontaneously. I would like to pick up Janelle’s ability to walk into a kitchen, look at what she has in front of her and just freestyle it into something tasty.
I first got the idea into my head that I wanted to cook more after watching a video from Robert Rodriguez (warning: harsh language) where he talks about how every man should know how to cook, and then proceeds to give a lesson on cooking one of his favorite dishes. The thing I found most appealing was his concept of having his own personal menu. I’m a fan of it in an intangible way, but it’s pretty awesome that he also has a little laminated menu guests can look it. I would like to have myself a signature set of dishes.
Being able to cook is a huge boon. It will keep you healthy when there’s no one else around you who will cook. It makes for great romantic evening fodder. And it sure as hell is going to help when, for months after the birth of our baby, Janelle ends up needing to be up all night long, every couple hours, to feed the baby. It’s nice to think about prepping and freezing meals in advance to make it easier to cook when the baby is here, but our freezer is big enough to hold maybe three days of food. Maybe.
So, I’m on a journey to learn how to be a better cook. I need to, in a couple month’s time, be ready to be able to cook a full, balanced meal and to do so in a manner that doesn’t involve my nagging Janelle for help every couple steps and doesn’t leave her sitting on the couch mulling over how I’m probably in there messing everything up.
I have no idea what I can expect from the baby. What I do know, though, is that I can make a pretty tasty side of asparagus spears, rice and boil some eggs. They may be small victories, but they are victories nonetheless. Maybe this weekend I’ll make some chicken.