Constraints


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.

Diapers

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.

Breastfeeding

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.

Sleeping

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.

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  1. #1 by Chelsea on July 18, 2010 - 11:32 PM

    “Watch now as I laugh at you” should be the name of your book.

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