How to get a baby to sleep

When people ask me how I am these days, I tend to answer the same way. I point at my fourteen-month-old and say, ‘For the past two months, this one has been staying up till at least midnight every night, often till two or three in the morning, and I have no idea how to get her to sleep. All she does is scream and scream. I’ve not had a single night off in over a year and I’m physically and emotionally wrecked.’

I figured that response was fine, since it was true. However, since I can hear like a bat, I’ve started noticing people talking about me in other rooms – family and friends and whatnot – saying how I’m always moaning, I’m never happy, I’m always going on about how tired I am, etc., etc. Yes, I have become ‘that guy’. Sucks to be me.

But it’s a real problem nonetheless. She’s too young to be disciplined, threatened, bribed or reasoned with; too old to cry herself to sleep because she can stand up – and special as she is, stand-sleeping is beyond her.

Since I’m clearly not allowed to be honest, and my family, friends and whatnot don’t have the insight to realise my moaning is a cry for help, I thought I would offer the pearls of my wisdom to other parents who find themselves in a similar position: stuck with a screaming child that won’t sleep, and clinging to the end of their rope by a single breaking fingernail.

Here are the tactics and the techniques I’ve tried, considered and/or been recommended to get my daughter to sleep. Use them wisely and with a pinch of salt.

1. Don’t let her nap during the day.

Upsides: It makes her tired.

Downsides: By ‘tired’ I mean ‘cranky’. You get no down time during the day, and now she’s too irritable to sleep.

Overall verdict: Counterintuitively, kids need to be less tired to sleep, so a baby who has regular naps and is well rested goes to bed easier than one who is exhausted. The more you know.

2. Move her bedtime back a couple of hours.

Upsides: You defer the problem till later.

Downsides: You defer the problem till later.

Overall verdict: You still have to face the horrors of bedtime, only now your kid is even more tired and irritable

3. Let her stay up till she goes to sleep naturally.

Upsides: You don’t have to do anything.

Downsides: Where the hell is my evening?

Overall verdict: Who’s the parent here anyway?

4. Give her a bath.

Upsides: It’s fun!

Downsides: It’s too much fun. She’s more awake when she gets out than when she got in.

Overall verdict: A great way to kill an hour. Not a great way to get her to sleep.

5. Leave her to ‘cry it out’.

Upsides: None.

Downsides: It wakes up the rest of the household and makes you want to die. After ten minutes, she’s choking and hyperventilating and it then takes you thirty minutes to calm her down, which makes it counterproductive anyway.

Overall verdict: Might work with earplugs and sociopaths, but painful for all concerned.

6. Shout and scream right back.

Upsides: It feels good.

Downsides: It doesn’t help get her to sleep.

Overall verdict: The only people you should be shouting at are reality TV stars and politicians. Or when they’re both.

7. Take her for a drive.

Upsides: You get to see interesting places, people and wildlife, and avoid watching teleshopping.

Downsides: When you get home after an hour speeding around the countryside, she’s more awake than you are.

Overall verdict: Save your petrol money, pay for a nanny.

8. Take her for a walk.

On these mean streets? In the dark? You must be joking.

9. Give her Calpol.

Upsides: When she’s ill, it soothes her enough to sleep.

Downsides: Unless she’s ill, why are you giving your kid painkillers, you psycho? It’s not a freaking sedative!

Overall verdict: If you think drugging your kids to make your life easier is acceptable, you’re at the top of a slippery slope that leads to sprinkling benzos on their breakfast cereal and fixing their ouchies with ketamine.

10. Spike her evening milk with rum/gin/whisky.

Upsides: Your elderly relatives will respect you for following their advice.

Downsides: Are you freaking kidding me?

Overall verdict: If you think drugging your kids to make your life easier is acceptable…

11. Cuddle her on the sofa.

Upsides: It’s nice, she goes to sleep, and you get to catch up on a box set..

Downsides: It is physically impossible to get her from the sofa to her cot without her waking up and starting to scream.

Overall verdict: It’s great for killing time on the long evenings when she just won’t settle, but you’re simply deferring the problem till later. And worse, now she’s slept for a few minutes, she uses it as a springboard to propel her past midnight and into the early hours. Depends how much you want to catch up on Game of Thrones, I suppose.

12. Rock her in your arms.

Upsides: Really effective and gives you biceps like Dwayne Johnson.

Downsides: Cramp, boredom, and you’re still left with the problem of transferring her into the cot.

Overall verdict: Can work if she’s really tired, but if she’s not, get ready for her eyes to pop open and her lungs to fill during the transition.

13. Sing to her.

Upsides: You get to practice your aria with an uncritical listener.

Downsides: Pretty hard to get the right pitch and intonation when someone’s screaming at you.

Overall verdict: It can work, but you’d better keep singing because the second you stop, she’s going to give you feedback, and you probably won’t like what you hear.

14. Read to her.

Upsides: You get to do something interesting and she gets to work on her grammar.

Downsides: You have to have the light on. And even if she does fall asleep, you face the awkward prospect of having to get up and creep across the creaky floorboards without waking her up.

Overall verdict: quite good, but it can take a long, long, LONG time.

15. Stay in the room with her.

Upsides: You get to sit there and completely ignore her. You have the power!

Downsides: If she’s anything like my kid, she starts off quiet, then starts talking, then starts shouting, crying, screaming, choking, hyperventilating and then dying, until you have to sort her out. End result: she wins.

Overall verdict: She wins.

16. Bring her into your bed for the start of the night.

Upsides: She goes to sleep happily and easily.

Downsides: You still have to transfer her back to the cot, and since she’s been so happy and comfortable, it makes her doubly angry when she wakes up mid-transition and even less likely to settle.

Overall verdict: It’s better to avoid the aggro.

17. Bring her into your bed for the whole night.

Upsides: The easiest technique of all.

Downsides: Where do I begin? You have the same bedtime as a baby; you’re going to get kicked in the nuts and punched in the neck half of the night; babies are a real passion-killer; you’re paranoid you’re going to roll over and squash her.

Overall verdict: Don’t. Do. It. Once you’ve started, how and when do you stop? It might seem like the easy option in the short term, but do you really want your ten-year-old still sharing a bed with you because she never learnt to sleep by herself? Jesus, cut the apron strings.

18. Give her a relaxing massage.

Upsides: A great way to bond with your child.

Downsides: She giggles the entire time like it’s the funniest thing ever, which isn’t relaxing at all.

Overall verdict: If laughter makes you sleepy, go right ahead. If you’re normal, might be best to skip this one.

19. Give her a slap.

Upsides: I’m not even going there.

Downsides: If you want her to stop screaming, slapping her probably won’t achieve that. Well, I guess it depends how hard you slap…

Overall verdict: Not an effective tool for bedtime, or daytime, or any time, actually, unless you like the look of prison.

20. Knock yourself unconscious.

Upsides: You sleep.

Downsides: She doesn’t.

Overall verdict: Doesn’t solve the problem.

21. Put her on her back in the cot, slip your arm through the slats, place your hand on her chest and pin her to the mattress.

Upsides: You’re in the room with her; you’re in physical contact with her; she can hold onto your hand; she’s reassured that she’s not been left alone; she’s lying down and can’t stand up; when she whines you can rock her gently; you can sing to her at the same time; and eventually when she goes to sleep, you don’t have to transfer her because she’s already asleep in her cot. Job done!

Downsides: This can take up to forty-five minutes; depending on the size of your forearms and the gap between the bars, your arm will probably ache after three; once she’s asleep you’re faced with slowly removing your hand from her chest without waking her and you still have to get out of the room; and if she isn’t tired after all, you’ve just wasted three-quarters of an hour.

Overall verdict: It works. It’s time-consuming and labour intensive, but my God, it works. Most of the time. And it’s the only way I’ve figured out to get her to sleep these days. You might as well try it – what have you got to lose?

AS, Parenting and Mental Exhaustion

Now that Izzie is crawling, standing, climbing and talking (albeit gibberish), people keep telling me how this is the best, most exciting, and most rewarding time of raising a baby. Those first months where she slept and cuddled and needed, needed, needed were boring, challenging, the hardest slog, but now that she’s interactive and starting to give something back, you can enjoy it. Now it gets interesting.

I have to admit, I feel the opposite.

It’s my belief that Asperger’s Syndrome is at root a problem with information processing. We have no problem taking in vast quantities of information, but our brains are so structured that we compartmentalize this data. It’s in trying to interpret it – to work out how it relates to everything else and what it all means – that we struggle.

I can explain it much better using an orange.

Imagine that each piece of information that goes into making a concept, activity or understanding about the world is a single segment of an orange. A neurotypical person only needs to see one segment, or at the very most two or three, in order to realise they’re parts of an orange, and since they know what an orange looks like, they can construct the orange – the concept, the understanding – without needing to find the rest of the segments or even really thinking about it.

Not so if you have Asperger’s.

You get a piece of information – a segment – and you store it in one part of your mind. Then you find another piece, and even though it relates to the first and is part of the same orange, you don’t have the faculties to realise this, so you store it in a totally different part of your mind. And you keep going like that, and even when you have all the pieces, and you’ve seen an orange before, you can’t work out what it’s meant to look like, so you cram these segments together, trying to work out how they fit, and throwing some things out, and adding bits that aren’t supposed to be there, and ultimately making something you’re happy with but that, to anybody else, looks nothing like an orange.

Thus, in order to compensate for our deficits and function on a daily basis, people with Asperger’s Syndrome have to expend huge amounts of mental energy. What comes naturally to so many neurotypical people, we have to consciously process, and like a computer, we only have a limited amount of processing power.

This is why socialising is so exhausting. Interpreting what people are saying, how they’re saying it, what they mean, in what way they mean it, what you should say, what you shouldn’t say, when you should say it, is your voice too loud, too quiet, do they understand you, are you standing too close, are you making too much eye-contact or not enough, what’s the relationship between this person and that person, how are you coming across, and what does it all mean, while trying not to get distracted by music, other conversations, traffic noise, light bulbs, their deodorant, the way the sun is reflecting off someone’s forehead, and the fact their DVD collection isn’t alphabetized, is excruciating. It’s no wonder we so often become overwhelmed and suffer burnout. And why we need extended down time to recover.

So how does this relate to being a dad?

I liken it to the old people’s home I used to work in. Those upstairs were frail and grumpy, but were compos mentis and had simple needs – toileting, bathing, dressing, eating and sleeping. After working seventeen straight hours without a break, I’d be physically exhausted but mentally quite alert. Other than latent old-fashioned racism (‘That dark girl has stolen my pearls.’ ‘You’re wearing them, Gladys.’), it was a breeze.

Downstairs, behind code-locked doors, were the Alzheimer’s and dementia residents. Most of them were able-bodied, and so working with them wasn’t nearly as physically tiring as working upstairs. Mentally, however, it was like being hit with a crowbar.

You’d have a suddenly-naked ninety-year-old man charge at you with his willy in his hand, turn around to find a woman trying to remove non-existent make-up with cutlery. You’d try to console a former naval officer sobbing over a cat that had been dead for fifty years, before bathing a woman who screamed at the top of her lungs all day long. You ever tried shaving a man who’s spitting at you? Fighting off the advances of a woman who thinks you’re her long lost lover back from the dead?

I’d go home after a shift downstairs and my back wouldn’t ache, my feet wouldn’t hurt, and I’d be capable of running a marathon, but good golly, my brain would be mush. Trying to process the assault of noise, colour, emotion, attempts at communication – it left me useless for the whole night and into the next day.

And that’s how it is with Izzie.

When she was little, it was physically demanding but mentally easy – she spent half the time asleep and the rest of it feeding or pooping. Her needs were simple, her sounds were few and explicable, it was easy to know what she wanted and to cater to that. It was like she was an extension of myself and I loved it, because I was good at it and it worked.

Now, however, she has morphed into a person, entire of herself and completely separate from me. Since my problems revolve around interactivity, having a suddenly very interactive child is something I’m struggling with. She’s become incredibly complicated. It’s like I’m behind those code-locked doors again, downstairs in the dark.

These days, Izzie is in near-constant motion from six in the morning till gone seven at night. Instead of cuddles and sleep, she’s climbing on the furniture, chasing after the dog, throwing tantrums if you take the TV remote off her, fighting you when you change her nappy. Mealtimes are complicated affairs where you try to get enough nutrients and fluid into her while getting it spat and flung back into your face. You can’t take your eyes off her for thirty seconds or she’s unplugging the telephone or ripping the pages out of your favourite book. And no matter what you do, it seems to be wrong.

She’s learning at an astronomical rate, discovering new textures, tastes, sounds, skills, vocalizations, facial expressions. She laughs, she shouts, she reaches for you, she pulls your hair, and you spend all day right there with her, trying to keep up. And every new texture, taste, sound, skill, vocalization and facial expression, I’m trying to interpret it, trying to process it, trying not to get left behind. Am I doing it right, how do I keep her safe, what does she want, what does she need, why’s she doing that, is this right, what should I do, has she eaten enough, I’ve got to catch her if she falls, what rules should I make for this, and that, and the other, and what does it all mean?

And that’s before we factor in visits from family and friends, health visitors, nursery nurses, social workers, care coordinators and support workers, and the everyday trivia of shopping, cooking, cleaning, writing, working, which create a whole bunch of processing issues of their own.

Mentally, I’m mush.

This interactive stage, before babies can express themselves but after they have a need to do so, is by far the hardest part of parenting I’ve experienced. Lizzie is loving it, but I can’t help counting down the hours until Izzie goes to bed, and that’s making me feel like a crap dad, especially as I keep being told that this is meant to be such an amazing period. By the time I’ve got Izzie down, I’m not fit for anything in the evening but staring numbly into space, my brain trying to make oranges out of everything I’ve seen and done. Throw in a touch of SAD and I can feel the Black Dog circling ever closer to me again.

I have an adorable daughter and I seem to be doing a good job of raising her. Physically, it’s easier than ever. But oh my gosh I’m finding it mentally exhausting at the moment.

Perhaps this is just something I’ll have to get used to.

The Truth About Parenting

Izzie is three months old today, so I’ve been a dad for a quarter of a year. It is one of those milestones that encourages you to look back, assess, evaluate, decide what you did well and what was wrong. I don’t believe in regrets, but there are a few things I could have done differently and that I wish I’d known about before Izzie was born. And with that in mind, I feel I’m qualified to tell prospective parents and new parents how it really is, and offer some advice from my experiences.

(FYI, I’m not going to refer to the baby as ‘baby’ in this post because that smacks of a 70s midwifery handbook (‘pull baby out, turn baby over, smack baby on the bottom’). Likewise, alternating between he and she is confusing while s/he is just plain annoying. Thus I will use ‘she’. Half of you will be pissed but the other half perfectly happy.)

  1. Plan for it being pure hell with a few light points and you won’t go far wrong – make no mistake, this is going to be the hardest thing you ever do. If you have any illusions about it being fun, joyous, magical, you should get rid of them now. Being a parent is a wonderfully enriching, fulfilling experience, but it’s hard work and it’s draining, and you need to go into it with a realistic appreciation of what you’re about to face. If you mentally prepare for a worst-case-scenario and it’s not that bad, you’ve lost nothing, but if you’re not prepared and it is a worst-case-scenario, it’s going to knock you on your ass. The light points make up for the dark, but they don’t come often, especially at first. So be ready.
  2. Make sure you have plenty of muslins – I had no idea what a muslin was before Izzie was born, but these large squares of cotton are essential. Ostensibly they’re to mop up spillages during feeding (I use them as bibs) and for protecting your clothes from baby vomit while burping, but there are so many more functions. Because they’re thin and breathable you can put them over the baby’s face when transferring her to and from the car in the rain, or when out in bright sunshine without adequate shade. You can lie the baby on one when doing an emergency nappy change on the back seat of your car, or line the changing table in the public toilet so your precious doesn’t pick up another baby’s germs. You can fold them and put them under the baby’s head in their crib or basket to catch dribbles, meaning you don’t have to wash their bedsheets so often, and you can even use them for a game of peekaboo.
  3. Nappy changing isn’t that bad – this is one of the biggest fears of prospective parents and it shouldn’t be. Yes it’s gross, yes it’s smelly, and yes, it can spread all over her clothes and yours until you’re both sitting in yellow poop. But if you’re changing ten nappies a day, by the time she’s 13 weeks you’ve changed 910 of the things and that’s enough to make anybody an expert. What at first takes ten minutes rapidly becomes a ninety-second piece of nothing. So don’t worry – you’ll get it.
  4. Caring for a baby is pretty simple – you think beforehand that babies are incredibly complicated little beings, but they’re not. If our ancestors could raise them in the wilderness without any instruction, there’s no reason you can’t, and the fundamentals haven’t really changed. If she cries it means she’s hungry, so feed her; windy, so burp her; uncomfortable, so change her; tired, so put her down to sleep; has guts ache, so lie her on her back and press her knees (gently!) up towards her chest to help her fart; or wants cuddles, so cuddle her. Mostly, a crying baby means she’s hungry, because they’re always hungry. And if you get into a routine of feed, then burp, then change, then cuddle, then put down to sleep, you avoid much of the crying.
  5. Caring for a baby is mostly horribly repetitive – if you think caring for babies is exciting and varied and confusing and intellectually stimulating, it’s not. It’s a chore like any other chore. You sterilise bottles, make up bottles, feed, burp, change, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Unless you’re breastfeeding, in which case you’re getting sore expressing milk all the time. That’s what you need to realise from the outset. What you’re doing over the first few days is what you’re going to be doing again and again and again and again until it’s second nature. And it’s not exactly exciting. It is what it is, but it has to be done while you wait for the bright points.
  6. You’re not going to break her – babies are surprisingly resilient and often simply bounce without much harm if dropped. But I’m not advocating you treat her as a basketball either. New parents carry their babies like they’re china dolls with cracks in them, but you should really carry them the same way you’d carry a rabbit or a puppy – firmly but fairly. Babies settle easier if you hold them with confidence, not like you’re worried you’re going to drop them.
  7. You will learn to function despite the lack of sleep – this is another of the main things prospective parents worry about – how will I cope when the baby is up every couple of hours? If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll get through the first six or seven weeks on adrenalin, no problem. But after that, the tank runs dry and you still have to get up, still have to deal with things in the dead of night, with no energy and eyes glued shut with sleepy dust. The next few weeks you get through with good old-fashioned gumption and bloody-mindedness. There is nothing physically keeping you going but will power and determination. But the good news is that you reach a point around eleven or twelve weeks where you don’t feel as tired. You look like crap and your mind isn’t anywhere near as sharp as it ought to be, but your body has become accustomed to the strain and you can survive. It’s all about surviving.
  8. Don’t worry if the love is not ‘immediate and unconditional’ – I always thought I’d feel an overwhelming surge of emotion when my daughter was born, and was a little concerned that I didn’t. This is, however, completely natural – by the time you’ve got through labour and birth with all the screaming and all the blood and they hand you this swollen pink bundle that looks Mongolian, you’re in too much of a daze trying to take it all in to feel very much of anything. But it comes later – a few hours in my case. And it grows over time until you’ll look at your baby and would rather die than be apart from her. And that’s when you’ll bore everyone to death about how much you love your baby.
  9. Babies play havoc with relationships – no matter how well you get on with your partner, or how much you love them, one day you’ll look and them and think, ‘My God I hate your face!’ This will be followed by niggles, passive-aggressive barbs, digs, arguments and full-scale blowouts. The stress, responsibility and exhaustion of raising a baby, the heightened emotions, fear, pride and possessiveness, along with adjusting to the changes in your life, leaves your nerves frazzled, your patience worn and your temper fierce, and the person you’re most likely to take it out on is the person right beside you. Mostly over things so minor that afterwards you can’t work out what the fuss was all about (‘What’s wrong with you? You told me there were three bottles sterilised. There are only two. Wah, wah, wah!’). If your relationship is strong, you’ll be fine because you make allowances for each other and know you’re in this together, come hell or high water. If it’s not and you think a baby will bring you closer together, start packing your bags. I don’t mean to be harsh, but the strain a baby puts on your relationship is intense, and if there are cracks in it before the birth, they’ll be gaping chasms afterwards.
  10. You will become paranoid – all those things you did unthinkingly before like pulling out into traffic, crossing the road, stroking strange dogs, going out without a jacket – suddenly these things are risks that could harm the baby. You look around for hazards and you see them everywhere. If you’re walking under a clear blue sky you take the rain cover just in case. You triple check seatbelts. You start to look at the cat as the predator she is. When people you’ve known for years want to hold the baby you wonder when they last washed their hands and if you’ve ever seen them drop anything. This is, again, totally normal – you’re meant to worry about keeping your child safe. Just make sure it doesn’t reach such an extreme that you wrap her in cotton wool and refuse to leave the house.
  11. Don’t lose your identity completely – it’s very easy to become a martyr, and perhaps you even want to, but it isn’t healthy and it doesn’t make you a good parent if you burn out. From now on, people will see you as the baby’s mother or father and not as a person in your own right, so don’t make things harder on yourself by becoming nothing more than a parent. Pick one interest, one thing that defines you as you, be it cycling, reading, fishing, knitting, and try to keep doing it. You probably won’t be able to do it as often as before, but it’s the best way to stay sane and to remain anchored in your life at a time when you feel as though you’re being swept away. Plus people who can only talk about their kids and nothing else are really freaking boring.
  12. Learn Dunstan Baby Language – this is the main thing I wish I’d known about from the start. I’ve mentioned it before in a post (Baby Talk) and was rather dismissive of it, but it’s actually really useful. It’s the idea that all babies have five ‘words’ when they’re born, such as crying with an ‘n’ sound means they’re hungry (‘nargh, nargh!’), a staccato ‘eh, eh, eh’ sound means they have wind and need burping, while a drawn out ‘eairh’ sound indicates lower abdominal pain (i.e. they need to fart). Whether this works for you or not isn’t important – the very idea that different cries mean different things means you can listen to your baby, learn her cues, and cater for her needs so much better than before. The first two months, when Izzie cried I had to work out why; after discovering Dunstan Baby Language, the second she cries I can tell whether to feed her, burp her, change her or massage her belly, and that not only saves time, frustration and tears, it helps you bond with your baby because you’re actually communicating, and that is priceless. I can’t recommend it enough.
  13. Find a good 24-hour store – I know you think you’re too organised and well prepared to run out of something essential, and before the birth you’re probably right. After the birth, however, you develop ‘baby brain’, a condition typified by forgetting which day of the week it is, let alone being able to remember to maintain stocks of cotton wool, baby wipes, nappies, Milton (sterilising solution), formula, nappy cream, etc. You’re absolutely sure you have another packet, no doubt about it, until you reach for it at close to midnight and discover you opened it last week and it’s the one you just finished. And that’s avoiding the fact that things break, the dummy gets chewed by the dog, all the muslins are in the wash, the sleepsuits are suddenly too small, or the online community recommends using Vaseline on her nose to help with her cold. So get ready for a few late night excursions.
  14. Be flexible – you may have decided beforehand exactly how you’re going to raise your baby. Breastfeeding, no dummies, co-sleeping, ‘cry it out’ – you may have the perfect plan for raising your perfect baby. The truth is that babies don’t conform to plans, and as soon as your plan hits reality, one of them has to bend – and it’s not going to be reality. It’s okay to adapt to changing circumstances, in fact that’s what it means to be a parent. You do what’s best for your child, and you, and the family as a whole. The saddest thing is seeing parents stubbornly clinging to something that doesn’t work because they are unable to let them go. Breastfeeding, for example – if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. So stop making everyone miserable, including the baby, and find an alternative. Reality is better than any plan you can make anyway.
  15. Pick up tips – it doesn’t matter where they come from, listen to them all and give them a try. Some will work, many won’t, but they can make life so much easier. Like, for example, to stop your baby spitting out her dummy, rub her nose –  it stimulates the suck reflex since the nose rubs against the breast while breastfeeding. Or when you’re cuddling her, patting her on the bottom soothes her. Or if all else fails and your baby won’t stop crying, the best position to hold her is face down along your forearm, the side of her head in the crook of your elbow and your hand cupping her bottom between her legs. At least, these work for my baby. Yours will likely be different, so find what works for you.
  16. Don’t miss out – if Izzie is anything to go by, your baby will develop so rapidly that every day brings a new facial expression, skill, sound or movement. Izzie, at thirteen weeks, is trying to hold her own bottle, straining all the time to sit up, can both whisper and shout, and is (terrifyingly) able to pull the cord on her dangling toy to start the music playing. People who think babies are boring or unable to do anything are missing out. You need to treasure this time, because it goes by very quickly. And every smile, every giggle, every time your child recognises you and responds with affection, is a gift that you cannot buy. All too soon she’ll be answering back, and then you’ll be embarrassing, and then she’ll hate you, and be off to university, so cherish this time. It’s hard but it’s the best thing you’ll ever do.
  17. Trust your instincts – you’re a parent. Whatever you think is right for your child is right. It doesn’t matter what anybody else says or thinks or does, only what you believe. The responsibility, and the honour, is yours. And so long as you listen to your instincts, you’ll do fine.

So these are a handful of observations from a three-month dad. Hope they help.

(And to my regular readers, I’m on holiday for a few days, so this blog will be going quiet for a week. I’m sure you’ll cope!)

The Physical Toll of Parenting

When someone says ‘new parents’ the first thing you think is ‘chronic tiredness’ because that’s the image we have of newborn babies – noisy, smelly sleep deprivers. Indeed, we hear mainly about the emotional and psychological effects of fatigue, and that’s not wrong because after eighty-nine consecutive nights of broken sleep I can only ascribe the mistakes I’ve been making recently to the fact I’m shattered – yesterday I put the butter in the cupboard and marmite in the fridge, spent five minutes using fingernails, keys and a penknife to pry the lid off my thermos cup only to discover it’s a screw top, and this afternoon somehow dropped my phone in a mug of coffee.

But I’ve realised of late that there’s a physical toll to parenting over and above simple exhaustion.

We all know that for women there are stretch marks and stitches to contend with (along with hormonal changes that cause them to grow scales and breathe fire, but the less said about these the better). But after twelve weeks of looking after a baby, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female: the only thing holding your body together is sticky tape and determination. And perhaps a little each of caffeine and codeine.

I have white hairs in my beard. Not grey – white. They definitely weren’t there twelve weeks ago. I’m missing a stage and jumping straight to silver! And my face seems to have lost some of its buoyancy – it’s not bouncing back with boyish elasticity after sleepless nights like it used to. I look tired.

As for Lizzie, I’ve noticed far more grey hairs hiding amongst her dark locks, but more than that, her face has changed in some indiscernible way. I’m assuming it has something to do with gaining pregnancy weight, losing it quickly after the birth, and screwing up her face muscles for nineteen hours of labour until she can crush walnuts with her cheeks. The distances between her features all seem a little off – her mouth perhaps a couple of millimetres wider, her chin a trifle thinner – so that when I lean it to kiss her, or watch her sleeping on the pillow beside me, at times she doesn’t look like Lizzie at all but a stranger in my bed. Some might find that rather exciting – I find it a little unsettling. Nobody prepared me for the fact my partner’s face might change!

Psychological symptoms are having a major impact on my physical health. I look like I’m calm and completely in control, but inside I’m constantly fretting, and so I keep getting outbreaks of psoriasis under my beard – horrible, itchy, sore, red, flaky dandruff-type stuff that I’ve never had before but is driving me mad these days. I rub the baby’s nappy cream into my beard and leave it there, white and gloopy and sweet-smelling, because it cools the irritation. And having Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I’m a nervous pooper, and my nerves have irritated my bowels something chronic – I’ve had diarrhoea five days out of seven since Izzie was born. Everything I eat comes out within a couple of hours – I can’t imagine it stays in my stomach long enough to be digested.

But it does. I know this because I’ve put on a stone in weight since the birth. That’s just over a pound a week. I know the reason. Normally we eat three meals a day because we’re asleep for eight hours, but when you have a baby and you’re awake on and off throughout the 24-hour period, you realise just how gosh-darned hungry you are at three in the morning. So sneaking a fourth meal into your nightly schedule with a bowl of cereal, couple of slices of toast, or bar of chocolate at silly o’clock, really isn’t as beneficial as you might think.

I had my asthma check the other day. My peak flow is the worst it’s been for years. Admittedly, that might have something to do with the fact I’ve been neglecting to take my inhaler, but I’m not above using the baby as an excuse.

When I struggled up from my chair a few days ago, Lizzie laughed and told me I was like an old man. She’s not wrong. Given the pain in my back, shoulders and legs, I’m hobbling around like an octogenarian. My body is wrecked (I have to be careful how I say that, because I told a woman the other day that I was wrecked and realised it sounded like in answer to the question, ‘How are you?’ I replied, ‘I’m erect.’).

Part of the reason is that I sit sideways in the armchair, my back against one arm and my legs hanging over the other so that my knees are level with my shoulders. It makes it so much easier with the baby to support her against my thighs while I’m feeding her or massaging her belly or making bicycles with her legs. It just means I’m scrunched up in a position not very conducive to my own comfort.

In particular, the lower left side of my back is starting to kill me. Being right-handed, I tend to support Izzie with my left arm so I can use the other to hold the bottle, poke her in the nose, ward off the attentions of the dog, or else scratch whatever happens to itch. When I carry her in the sling, I similarly favour the left, with the straps running from my left shoulder to right hip. This means I’m always leaning slightly to the right in order to compensate, straining my muscles as they battle to keep my spine straight.

At least, I hope that’s what it is. The past five days, the pain has moved from the surface to the inside and I can feel it if I press on my front or my back, as though it’s sitting in my kidneys. Worse, it’s spread to my right side in the past couple of days, making me wonder if I’m dehydrated and my kidneys are aching.

And my left arm hurts too. Since Izzie is twelve weeks old, has been bottle fed for ten weeks, had ten bottles each day in the early weeks and around six now, if we average eight per day then she’s been fed in the region of (clasps his tongue between his lips as he tries to calculate it) 560 bottles. If we conservatively reckon I’ve done half of those, then I’ve held Izzie in my left arm 280 times in ten weeks. This might explain why it feels like my left biceps is torn in two, and is far bigger and harder than my right. If I keep this up I’ll have an Arnold Schwarzenegger leftie and a right modelled on Daniel Radcliffe – not attractive but great for hustling an arm wrestler.

So that is the reality of parenting – it turns you into a grey-haired, odd-faced, flaky-skinned, sore-spined, kidney-aching, stiff, limping, fat, lopsided Quasimodo with diarrhoea. We don’t mention that to prospective parents!