The Baby Expert

New parents beware: sightings of the lesser spotted baby expert are at an all time high. Found in streets, parks, shops, pubs and your own home, as well as on the internet, this genus of the family interferus feeds by offering unsolicited advice and passive-aggressive criticisms of your parenting techniques. They are best avoided when tiredness makes it harder to hold your tongue, though as babies attract them, there is no known repellent that works.

The lesser spotted baby expert can be further divided into a number of species: the judgemental acquaintance overfamiliarus, the childless spinster that used to be a nursum, the earth mother organica, the internetus anonymous, the never had kids but I have strong opinions on the subjectumthe my daughter/friend/hairdresser/person I saw on TV had it much tougher than you but they’re still breastfeedingo, and, possibly the most pernicious of all, the had a baby forty years ago and in my day we did it like this and even though it goes against everything the midwives and health visitors and paediatricians say it didn’t do our kids any harmus. This last, often known by their common name of ‘Lady Macbeths’, can become quite offended if their advice is not immediately heeded without question. Best fobbed off with the line, ‘We’ll consider it.’

Unfortunately for the would-be baby expert watcher, no two have the same song. Use a dummy, sings one; never use a dummy, sings another. Teach her to suck her thumb; don’t let her suck her thumb. Cure constipation with laxatives; don’t use laxatives, give her boiled water; change to a different formula; use orange juice; yoga; massage; a cotton bud up the backside. Hold her like this; like this; like this. She’ll be too hot; too cold; too much sun; not enough sun; let her sleep; you have to wake her; you’re feeding too much; you’re feeding too little; too often; not often enough; make her sleep in her cot; she’s okay in your arms; she’s having too much stimulation; she needs more. This makes things rather confusing, and not a little annoying.

What the new parent must remember upon being accosted by the lesser spotted baby expert is that these creatures are experts on their babies, and on babies in general, but they are not experts on your baby. And while they insist on getting involved, the only people responsible for your baby, the only people qualified to make decisions that affect your baby, and the only ones who will have to deal with the consequences of those decisions, are you, the parents. The baby expert will fly away when it detects the scent of another baby elsewhere, and the parent must be able to look themselves in the mirror each morning, or evening, or whenever in the day they can find the time to look at themselves in the mirror, and be comfortable with the decisions they’ve made, and know they made them for the right reasons and not because the baby experts browbeat them into compliance. If you can’t justify it to yourself, just don’t do it.

Libraries are full of what other people think – all that matters is what you think. So during this upcoming season, watch out for the lesser spotted baby expert. It can be a nuisance, but it is more noisy than harmful. And if it gets too much, there’s no harm in reminding it that you are the only expert on your baby whose opinion matters.

On Bodily Functions

The procedure for looking after a baby is nowhere near as difficult as you imagine. So long as you’re putting stuff in one end and clearing it up as it comes out the other, the rest mostly takes care of itself. I’ve stopped feeling for Izzie’s pulse every thirty seconds, and I sometimes go a whole hour without checking she’s still breathing. Providing she’s fed, winded and in a clean nappy, there’s not a lot that can go wrong.

So far, so simple. You’d think.

But putting stuff in one end and clearing it up as it comes out the other can be a friggin’ minefield. And when stuff comes out the end it’s meant to be going in, and stops coming out the other, it throws everything out of sync.

We were following a wonderfully modern, touchy-feely thing called ‘demand feeding’. It is exactly as it sounds: you feed the baby when she demands to be fed. Because babies aren’t machines. Sometimes they want a light snack, sometimes a five course dinner followed by an all-you-can-eat buffet. And sometimes they want to take it in their mouth just so they can spit it back out.

I think it’s a fundamentally decent principle. On my travels I met a dreadlocked German girl in a hostel/hippy commune above the ocean who lived by the rhythms of her body. She ate when she was hungry, slept when she was tired, and spent the rest of the time knitting beanie hats, as far as I could tell. She told me to get rid of my watch, listen to my body, because my body knew best and would never steer me wrong. She seemed so in tune with the vibrations of the world I thought I’d give it a try.

I lasted around three hours. Despite what Lizzie might tell you, my body doesn’t talk much, or perhaps I’ve lost that connection with my instinctive animal nature. So I’m all for Izzie keeping in touch with her body’s desires.

Her natural inclination is to cluster feed. That’s where, instead of leaving a few hours between feeds, she wants to feed, feed, feed, with only fifteen or twenty minutes between, and then sleep for five hours, before waking to feed again. Left to her own devices she’d cluster feed all morning, sleep all afternoon, cluster feed again from tea time to early evening, then settle into more regular feeds overnight. It might not be ideal for everyone, but it worked, and other than some griping in the evening, we had a very contented baby.

Except for the constipation. We give her laxatives morning and evening, but still her belly goes rock solid, she lifts her legs, sticks out her tongue and turns purple as she strains to squeeze out a thumb-sized nugget. It’s horrendous to watch, actually, and no matter how many times I put her on her back and do bicycle movements with her legs, it doesn’t seem to help.

The Health Visitor came a few days ago and told us that as we’re no longer breastfeeding, we shouldn’t be demand feeding anymore. Instead, we need to get her into more of a routine, feeding her three or four ounces of formula every three hours. She’ll feel more secure and it’ll help with the constipation too.

Pardon my French, but what utter, total bull-plop!

The last couple of days Izzie’s morphed into a wild beast that claws at our necks, rips glasses from faces, breaks necklaces and grabs collars while screaming at the top of her lungs, and she hasn’t pooped once. Because she doesn’t want to feed every three hours. Between each feed she’s unsettled and agitated. And at night she’s inconsolable.

Friday I fed her at ten and it took until one in the morning to settle her. She woke up three minutes later as it was time for her next feed. Afterwards, she was so unhappy it took till half-two and skin-to-skin for her to stop screaming, whereupon she burped and threw up the whole of the last feed over my bare chest. And because she’d vomited, she was now insatiably hungry again. Showering sticky milk vomit out of your armpits at three in the morning is sure to put you in a bad mood, especially when she’s up at five screaming again!

Last night was just as bad. I’m averaging three hours of broken sleep a night, and perhaps an hour during the day. They say you reach a point where if someone offered you £1000 or a full night’s sleep you’d take the sleep. There’s no contest: I’d take the money and use it to hire a nanny for a whole week of nights.

Since making this change to feeding, Izzie is miserable, Lizzie’s confidence has taken a massive leap backwards, and I’m on the verge of hallucinating about fluffy white pillows and bed linen. Perhaps, in the long term, getting Izzie into a routine is a good thing, but from where I’m sitting, the ‘chaos’ of her natural bodily rhythms was far easier than the vomit and tears of this artificial routine.