Baby care: what you should know

Looking after my second baby girl, now twenty days old, I really feel I have a handle on what this baby-rearing thing is all about. While all babies are unique, it seems to me to be a difference of degree rather than of kind. As I’ve said before, baby care is mostly a case of putting stuff in one end and cleaning it up when it comes out the other, and in the interim making sure she isn’t too hot or too cold. If you keep that in mind, and don’t sweat the small stuff, you should do fine.

That said, becoming a parent for the first time is an incredibly scary, difficult thing. I know that some of my readers are planning on having children, and some are soon to become parents themselves, so for your benefit I thought I’d share my take on parenting – all the facts you need to confidently raise a baby. At least, the facts as I see them, and the things that I’ve found invaluable in my own life.

The General Stuff

  1. There’s a lot of sentimental guff spoken about babies. You hear people on the way out of the delivery room saying, ‘I love her so much, she’s perfect in every way, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’ There’s this expectation that you’re going to feel an instant connection. In my experience, new born babies look like asthmatic Smurfs – blue-skinned, gasping for breath, and stuffed into oversized hats. You look and think, ‘What on earth have I done?’ If it takes you a few days to warm to the little creature, a few days to work out how you feel, a few days to get your head round things, that’s okay. You’ve got a lifetime of emotions to come – don’t expect too much too soon.
  2. New born babies feed every couple of hours, sometimes for a couple of hours. If it feels like you’re always feeding your baby, you are – their stomachs are very small and with all the growing they do, they use up what they’ve drunk very quickly. Luckily, it settles down and they get into a pattern, sometimes having a big feed and a three hour sleep, sometimes cluster feeding every thirty minutes before drifting off. And when they’re finally asleep, I have one word of advice: sleep!
  3. Baby poo changes rapidly over the first few days, from black tar to green whole grain mustard to yellow mush. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
  4. Babies aren’t made of porcelain. They’re designed to make it through the birth canal, so unless you’re really clumsy, you’re probably not going to break them. But don’t put that to the test!
  5. You might not think of yourself as a particularly violent or jealous person, but you may find that when people pick up, touch, or even look at your baby, you feel like scratching out their eyes. This is normal, but try to remember you’re not the only one excited about your child, and you’ll have more opportunities for cuddles than anyone else can ever hope for.
  6. Even though they seem to prefer lying on their front, when you put your baby down to sleep, always put her on her back. If your relative tells you that the advice in their day was to put them on their front, ignore them – the advice was wrong. Babies on their front are eighteen times more likely to die of cot death than babies on their back.
  7. Though it is lovely to let your baby fall asleep on you, and such cuddling is to be embraced, be sure to transfer them to the cot or Moses basket for a proper sleep – you don’t want to get to the point where they will only sleep on you, or you’re setting yourself up for a very tiring couple of years.
  8. Babies communicate. Try to learn the little signs that they’re hungry (rooting, poking out tongue) or need burping (fidgeting, gasping) or need changing (a slightly shocked facial expression accompanied by the smell of sour milk), and deal with these things before they start to cry – it makes life much more peaceful.
  9. Babies cry as a form of communication – mostly because you haven’t met their needs quickly enough (i.e. within about thirty seconds!). It can be distressing for a parent to hear their child wail, seemingly in despair, but don’t take it to heart – it’s how she’s talking to you. It’s your job to figure out what she needs.
  10. Babies only have a handful of needs. They need to be fed; they need to be winded; they need their nappy changed. Do these things and they are normally happy.
  11. Babies are sometimes unhappy. When they have belly ache or a non-disclosed need, or simply want to hear their own voice, they can cry and keep crying. This can be upsetting for you, but there’s not really a lot you can do about it except rock them and hug them until they fall asleep.
  12. If you suspect something more serious is wrong, don’t be afraid to get advice or seek help. If you go to an out-of-hours doctor or A&E, they’re jam-packed full of new parents with young babies. It’s part and parcel of being a new parent, so don’t ever feel like you’re being neurotic.
  13. In the womb, babies are lulled to sleep by movement, light and noise (i.e. during the day, when mum is busy), and come awake when all is still and quiet and dark (at night, when mum is exhausted). Why, then, do we expect them to sleep in a dark, quiet room? If you’re struggling to get your baby down at night, a Moses basket on a rocking stand at the bedside, a night-light and some quiet music or a radio tuned to static can really help give you some well-earned rest.
  14. Make sure you have plenty of everything. Taking off a poopy nappy at 3am to discover it was the last one is nobody’s idea of a good time. That said, there will be occasions when you need to buy something in a hurry, so be sure to locate a good 24-hour store long in advance of actually needing it.
  15. You’re going to be tired, you’re going to be crotchety, and the baby is going to push your buttons. That’s just the way it is. If you ever feel yourself at breaking point, put the baby into the cot or Moses basket – somewhere safe, at least – and walk away. Take some deep breaths. Make a cup of tea. Ask for help. Don’t keep going until you break.
  16. Forget the housework. Sure, do enough to keep the place ticking over, but you don’t need to live in a show home. Provided it’s clean, don’t get too hung up on it being tidy or spotless, unless you’re prepared to add extra stress to your life in pursuit of perfection.
  17. Babies are better off being too cold than too hot. Older people are paranoid that your baby isn’t warm enough, but being too hot is actually dangerous for babies as their brains are vulnerable to increases in temperature. In fact, the recommended temperature to keep your home with a baby around is 19 degrees centigrade – colder than we like it.
  18. Eat. Drink. Sleep. You might think you can keep going forever, but trust me – if you neglect your own needs, eventually you’ll be good for nothing.

 The Controversial Stuff

  1. Breast is not always best. Since breastfeeding has become something of a sacred cow these days, you might be treated like a pariah by the sisterhood if you shun its self-evident benefits. But not everyone can breastfeed, despite their best efforts, and you shouldn’t be made to feel a failure because of that. Faffing about with nipple shields while you’re tired, the baby’s tired and hungry, and you’re both crying does not help either of you. It can harm your self-esteem and mental well-being, and make it more difficult to bond with the baby. If you don’t feel you can cope breastfeeding then switch to the bottle – it’s as easy as that.
  2. Dummies (pacifiers) shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Like bottle-feeding, these simple tools have earned the opprobrium of the ‘all-natural’ brigade, but unfairly so. It’s not a means of making a baby shut up but of meeting her needs. Sometimes, between feeds, a baby needs to suck to soothe, and giving either the nipple or the bottle is inappropriate. As with anything, it’s a personal choice and nobody has the right to judge you for what you decide is best for your baby and family.
  3. Never underestimate the utility of swaddling. A fidgety, unsettled baby can be transformed into a contented sausage roll by wrapping her in a blanket and gently rocking her.

The Little Everyday Stuff

  1. When a baby breastfeeds, if done right, the first part of its body that comes into contact with its mother’s boob is its nose. If you’re breastfeeding, using a bottle or trying to keep a dummy in, and having little success, rub the baby’s nose – it often triggers the baby to latch-on.
  2. If your baby is distressed, has a rock-hard belly but isn’t able to poop, sit with your knees up in front of you and rest her in your lap, facing you and leaning against your thighs. Using two fingers, rub her belly in a clockwise direction centred on her belly button. After a few minutes, switch to gently pushing her knees up towards her chest. Alternate between the two. If this fails to work, pick her up under the armpits and allow her to stretch out in the air – oftentimes, gravity will cause the world to fall out of her arse.
  3. Whether male or female, while changing nappies you will get explosions from front and back. Before removing the nappy, be prepared: make sure you have cotton wool, water, nappy bag, clean nappy, and toilet paper. Keep them out of the way so that if things do go flying, they don’t get soiled too.
  4. Urine has a chemical in it that can’t simply be scrubbed out of the carpet with soap and water. I’ve tried. A couple of days later, you start to smell stale wee and go mad trying to locate the source. If there’s an accident and baby champagne goes everywhere, you need to use a proper cleaning product. I recommend the spray cleaners sold in pet shops as they contain enzymes that neutralize the odour while also disinfecting the area.
  5. When bottle-feeding a baby, an armchair or a sofa with a cushion – or even putting your knee beneath your elbow – prevents you getting a dead arm. Make sure you’re in a comfortable position that you can maintain before you start feeding or you’ll regret it.
  6. Always burp your baby after feeding. Babies have immature digestive systems and inefficient swallowing reflexes, so gulp down a great deal of air along the milk – air that causes wind and discomfort. It’s sometimes tempting in the middle of the night when the baby falls asleep at the breast or bottle simply to place her gently down and return to bed. Don’t. You’ll be getting up again in 5-10 minutes to burp an unhappy baby, right when you’re falling asleep, making both of you grumpy.
  7. Check out Dunstan Baby Language. This is the idea that all babies are born with five ‘words’ that they use for the first three months – ‘neh’ (I’m hungry), ‘eh-eh-eh’ (I need burping), ‘eairh’ (I’ve got belly ache), ‘heh’ (I’m uncomfortable/please change my nappy), and ‘owh’ (I’m sleepy). Though this hasn’t been scientifically scrutinised, it has undoubtedly worked for both of mine, especially the first three words. It makes it so much easier to know what she wants, and this leads to a calmer household.
  8. Make a record of every time she eats, poops, sleeps, for at least the first couple of weeks. You can very quickly spot patterns to her behaviour, and knowing when she last ate or had a bowel movement is very reassuring. It’s also helpful to be able to tell to doctors, midwives and health visitors, in case there is anything wrong.

The Annoying Stuff

  1. If you’re female and you go out with the baby, nobody will bat an eyelid.
  2. If you’re male and you go out with the baby, you’ll be stopped by every old woman you see. But they’ll only ever ask you how the mother’s coping, and then congratulate you on ‘doing your part’.
  3. People will give you advice. Lots of advice. Much of it will be wrong and directly contradict what you’ve been told by the midwife. Much of it will be against your principles. Luckily, advice is free and is not mandatory. You might as well listen, smile, and say ‘I’ll think about it.’ And then do what feels right for you.
  4. People will give you opinions. Lots of opinions. You will feel judged, because they are judging you. But the only expert in your baby is you, and everyone else can bugger off, because opinions are like arseholes – everyone’s got one and they’re mostly full of shit.
  5. People will make out like modern parents are useless because when they were parents, they never had car seats and parent/child parking, or washing machines or paternity leave or Perfect Prep machines. They’re just resentful they didn’t have these conveniences, and criticising us makes them feel better about the fact that their infant mortality rate was about ten times what it is today.
  6. You will feel patronised because people will be patronising. This is my second baby, yet I’m still told to ‘make sure she’s warm enough’ and ‘support her head’, as though without these instructions I would somehow flush my baby down the toilet without realising I was doing anything wrong. Unfortunately, there’s no way I know of not to get annoyed by these ‘helpful’ comments.
  7. Your family and friends will no longer talk to you, except about the baby. They’ll come to see the baby, but not you. And they won’t listen. You can break off mid-sentence and nobody will notice. You’re not going to have a grown-up conversation for a while.
  8. Unless you’re really weird (or single), you and your partner will argue. You’re both tired, you’re both under stress, you’re both trying to adjust to this new life you find yourselves in, so don’t expect your relationship to be perfect. In my experience, you’ll have a crap time for a few months but it’ll pass. Don’t take your disagreements too seriously. Don’t throw in the towel too quickly. It all works out in the end.

The Good Stuff

  1. Being a parent is awesome.
  2. Looking after something that is entirely dependent upon you for its very existence is an honour as well as a responsibility.
  3. You get to use parent/child spaces.
  4. When you hop about, sing, dance and act like a clown, you can say you’re doing it to ‘entertain’ the baby.
  5. You gain a new understanding of your own parents.
  6. You watch more sunrises than you ever knew existed.
  7. You get the morning news before anyone else.
  8. You realise it’s the best thing you’ve ever done and you’re grateful to experience the ever-changing miracle that is your child.

And that, mums and dads, is baby care in a nutshell. Here endeth the lesson. Now go forth and multiply!

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Becoming a dad for the second time

Having become a dad for the second time a grand total of four hours after my last post, I would like to announce the arrival of Rosie Grace Drew into the world. Weighing in at 7lbs 13oz, she was born in a blisteringly quick six hours from start to finish, meaning I was finishing my blog while my wife was in labour – shh, don’t tell her! In my defence, I thought it was another false alarm, such as we’d had the day before, during which we’d spent eight hours in ‘labour’, including five in hospital. Also, I was timing the contractions while hiding on the landing to write, so…no. No excuse. My bad.

Anyway, becoming a dad for a second time, and in such a quick and easy fashion, has given rise to a number of observations.

Firstly, your understanding of birth clearly relates to the manner of birth you experience. After the traumatic arrival of our first daughter, my impression of birth was as an incredibly stressful, dramatic and terrifying ordeal, a medical process involving tubes and tools, a score of specialist personnel, massive aftercare, and the ever-present fear of death. Indeed, whenever I heard about people giving birth at home, I’d think: are you freaking nuts!?!

This second birth couldn’t have been more different. When we arrived at hospital, my wife was 3cm. Ninety minutes of sweating, shivering and grunting later, the midwife said, ‘You know what? I don’t think you’re in established labour yet. I think we should probably give you some pethidine, you go have a sleep, and then we’ll resume this – it’ll be hours yet.’

Here we go again, I thought. But she decided to check before administering the drug.

‘There’s your show, and there’s your waters, and you have no cervix so you can push anytime you want.’

And four pushes later, out plopped Rosie. These experiences don’t really give you confidence in NHS midwives, do they?

As a result of this birth, which was quick, easy, and entirely carried out under my wife’s own steam, I now see childbirth – the uncomplicated kind, at least – as a very natural, everyday process. An incredible process, to be sure, but a biological function rather than a medical intervention. Having a baby at home? Why wouldn’t you have a baby at home?

In fact, she arrived so quickly, we weren’t ready. We were waiting for something to go wrong – for my wife to be rushed off to theatre by people in blue scrubs, for our daughter to be put in a perspex box and dragged off to NICU, for weeks of eating petrol-station sandwiches and trying to sleep in hospital chairs – but we had none of that. Instead, we sat in a room with a baby that only a few minutes before had been inside my wife’s abdomen, and were left alone. We’d only been in hospital two hours. We could have gone home after another hour. It all seemed rather surreal.

After the first birth – at least, one the way we had it – you see childbirth as an awful thing. After the second, we saw it as a beautiful thing. As with everything, I imagine the truth is somewhere in between.

As we’re a high-risk family, we had to stay in for 48 hours for the baby to be monitored, lest she develop respiratory problems (she didn’t). It was on the postnatal ward that I realised that having a second child is completely different to having the first.

It’s amazing how chilled you are the second time round. You really notice it when you’re surrounded by first-time parents hovering over their babies, stressing about every little thing, treating them like porcelain dolls that’ll break whenever they touch them, constantly checking to make sure they’re still alive, struggling to feed them, agonising about whether breast truly is best or if they should switch to the bottle, and being thoroughly unprepared for being up half the night, every night. You know, all the stuff I did first time round.

I did none of that this time. Other than ensuring she’s neither too hot nor too cold, looking after a baby is mostly a case of putting stuff in one end and cleaning it up when it comes out the other. So while we were in hospital, I fed little Rosie, burped her, and put her back in her cot, waited three hours, changed her nappy, fed her, burped her, and repeated this for two days. In between I’d watch the other parents fussing around their kids, freaking out over every cry, and fretting through lack of sleep, and think: I’m so glad I’m a second-time dad!

Having experience makes the return home that much easier too. The first child, it’s like someone swings a wrecking ball through your life. Everything changes, and until you manage to adjust, you get caught in a baby bubble where the baby and your status as a parent are the only things that matter. No matter what you do – driving her in the car, bedding her down in the Moses basket, taking her out in the pram, giving her a bath – it’s the first time you’ve ever done it, so it seems like a massive obstacle you need to overcome.

Taking Rosie home was no big deal, because we’ve done all of that hundreds of times before. Nor do we worry so much. Having been a good feeder, she’s suddenly grazing every hour around the clock and is incredibly unsettled, but instead of panicking, we simply carry on, aware it’s just the day-ten growth spurt. It’ll settle down, as it always did with Izzie. (Note to first time parents: watch out for growth spurts, and try not to worry!)

In fact, coming home with a second baby is something of an anti-climax. Partly this is because instead of the mountain of cards, banners and balloons that greeted your first, your second is met with widespread indifference, but mostly it’s because you’re expecting hell, ready to march through a field of flames for the foreseeable future – but it isn’t anywhere near as bad as that. The only real hardship I’ve encountered is that the nights seem to take more out of me now than they did two years ago, probably because two years ago I was fresh, while this time I’m starting on the back of around 800 nights of broken sleep. But hey ho, I’ll adjust.

But there’s one thing that is exactly the same no matter how much you worried about it – the amount that you love them. You don’t love them the same way, because they’re not the same, but you love them just as much. It took me a couple of days to get there, I’ll admit – I didn’t feel as strongly for her the moment I set eyes on her – but your fatherly instincts kick in soon enough and you realise you’d die for the second just as you’d die for the first.

And like the first, she’s already a daddy’s girl, and beautiful to boot. What can I say? I make great babies.

Toddlers, on the other hand…but that’s another story.

Parenting mistakes (to avoid)

All parents make mistakes. Sure, we think we’re great and we’re doing it right, because it feels right and because we’ve read the right books, but in actuality we’re making mistakes we know nothing about until it’s too late.

Too much love, too little, too much leeway, not enough – the consequences of these will not be known for decades, or at least until the teenage horror that was once your child picks up a psychology book and says, ‘Wah, the reason I can’t get a boyfriend is because you didn’t hug me enough/give me enough freedom/discipline me enough as a child!’ and all that crap. I guarantee that in twenty years time, everything we’re doing now will, apparently, have been wrong. But that’s the joy of parenting, guys!

Making mistakes we’ll be blamed for in the distant future is one thing; making mistakes with consequences in the here and now is quite another. For the edification of new or would-be parents everywhere, here are ten avoidable mistakes that I have made in my extensive ten months of parenting:

1. The muslin game.

Description: you throw a muslin over your baby’s head, and she pulls it off. You repeat with delight, and over time replace the muslin with sleepsuits, blankets, tea towels, nappies (clean), and whatever else is within reach: newspapers, books, telephones. What fun and what harm?

The unintended consequence: can we get Izzie to wear a sunhat? Put it on her head all you want, hold her hands, tie it under her chin, she thinks it’s highly amusing taking it off and flinging it away. After all, that’s what you’ve taught her with your fun and games!

How to avoid: don’t play with your child.

2. The bath plug

Description: at the end of a bath, you think it would be kind of cute if you let your baby pull out the plug. What a productive member of society she’ll be then.

The unintended consequence: the first thing Izzie does when she gets in the bath is pull out the plug. Because though you taught her how to pull out the plug, you didn’t teach her how not to pull out the plug.

How to avoid: don’t bath your child.

3. Dropsy

Description: when she’s in her high chair, your baby drops her beaker. You bend down, pick it up and hand it back to her. Well done! You’ve invented the game of dropsy.

The unintended consequence: twenty times a mealtime, every mealtime, Izzie drops her beaker on the floor. If you don’t pick it up, she screams; if you do, she immediately drops it again. What great fun!

How to avoid: don’t give your baby fluids.

4. Swimming

Description: you throw a toy out in front of your baby, she flaps her arms and you carry her through the water as though she’s swimming until she grabs hold of it. How can teaching her to swim possibly cause a problem?

The unintended consequence: when Izzie’s sitting in the bathtub and wants a toy that’s floating out of reach, she thinks she just needs to flap her arms to get it. This creates plenty of splashing, but strangely the toy doesn’t get any closer. You’ve taught her to get water all over the bathroom for no appreciable gain.

How to avoid: don’t teach your child to swim.

5. Raspberries and wibble-wibbles

Description: you know what’s just adorable? Teaching your baby to raspberry. First with just the lips, and later with the tongue. And teaching her to use her finger on her lips while humming to make that wibble-wobble sound: people just die when she does it. How cute is your baby?

The unintended consequence: you know what isn’t just adorable? When Izzie raspberries or wibble-wibbles with a mouthful of food, and either sprays it all over daddy or rubs it up her face. These are not memories to treasure.

How to avoid: don’t teach your baby to make sounds.

6. Yuuuuuuummmmmm and nom-nom-nom

Description: when your baby refuses to open her mouth and take the magic aeroplane spoon, what could be more natural then holding it to your own mouth and pretending to eat with a ‘yum’ and a ‘nom-nom-nom’? Your baby’s like, ‘Damn, that looks like it tastes good, I want me some of that!’

The unintended consequence: every time Izzie eats anything, she goes,’yuuuuuuuuummmm nom-nom-nom’ until she swallows. Then she takes another mouthful, and it’s ‘yuuuuuuummmmm nom-nom-nom’, and no matter how many times I tell her the other kids will think her weird if she moans over every mouthful, she steadfastly refuses to listen.

How to avoid: don’t feed your baby.

7. Feeding off your plate

Description: when your baby sits on your lap as you eat your dinner, you find yourself tempted to answer the question: ‘Would my baby like broccoli? A chip? Jalapenos?’ (NB for any social workers reading this, that last one’s a joke). So you pick up a morsel of food from your plate and find that, lo and behold, a love of barbecue pork ribs is another thing you have in common.

The unintended consequence: from now on, everything you have on your plate, no matter what it is, where you are, or what time of day, it’s fair game. That little chubby hand will reach for cutlery, crockery, burning hot potatoes, boiling stew, spicy curry, burgers, ice cream, pizza (you can see I have a great diet). And if you tell her it’s your food, and she’s already eaten, it’s like talking to someone who doesn’t speak English. Who’d have thought it?

How to avoid: don’t feed your baby (see point 6 for further details).

8. Wafer bribes

Description: your baby screams whenever you put her in her play pen. So you decide, quite naturally, to give her a wafer to munch on when you put her in there. That way, she’ll associate the play pen with happy thoughts, and won’t scream.

The unintended consequence: now, whenever Izzie goes into the play pen, she looks around with a ‘where the hell’s my gosh-darned wafer?’ kind of expression on her face. Then screams. You’ve merely delayed the inevitable.

How to avoid: leave her free to roam around the house.

9. What’s in a name?

Description: every parent wants their baby’s first word to be them. So you walk around saying ‘dad-dad-dad-dad-dad-dad-dad’ while your partner warbles ‘mum-mum-mum-mum-mum-mum-mum’ and you wait to see who’ll win.

The unintended consequence: Izzie walks around saying ‘dad-dad-dad-dad-mum-mum-mum-mum-dad-dad-mum-mum’, with no idea what either means. Now that she says mum and dad a hundred times a day, how the hell are we going to know when she says it and really means it?

How to avoid: don’t teach your baby your names.

10. Afternoon naps

Description: it’s half four in the afternoon, you’re feeding your baby and she falls asleep between mouthfuls. You think to yourself, ‘It’s okay. She’s so peaceful I’ll let her have twenty minutes kip. Poor thing’s so tuckered out.’

The unintended consequence: congratulations! Your baby will now be up till midnight.

How to avoid: never let your child sleep. Ever.

And there, in a nutshell, are my tips: don’t ever feed your baby, give her fluids, play with her, bath her, let her sleep, teach her your names, or sounds, or how to swim, and be sure to leave her to run free with no restraint whatsoever. Then you’ll be a perfect parent and avoid making any mistakes at all.

But nor will you be a parent for long…

Travels With Baby, Part 1: Facilities

The main thing I’ve learned from taking Izzie on holiday to the Isle of Wight is how baby-unfriendly the world can be. And that’s not just the occasional person muttering, ‘F**king babies,’ as you squeeze the pushchair past their rotund frame on the pavement – it’s the facilities, or lack thereof. If you’re a parent in general, or a dad in particular, they sure don’t make it easy.

Arreton Barns, for example. I asked about baby change facilities in the pub. They had them, but only in the lady’s. So can I go in? No. They brought out the changing mat and I was obliged to take it into the men’s loo and change her on the floor of a cubicle. Not the cleanest or most hygienic place to put my knees, or, for that matter, my baby.

Cowes: the baby change was in the public disabled toilet, which was locked with one of those special keys disabled people have, but that parents don’t have. Not overly helpful. So I went to the nearest pub, which didn’t have baby changing facilities but allowed me to change her on a bench out the back. Very good of them.

And Sandown is clearly still stuck in the 1960s since there are no baby changing stations in the men’s loos, forcing me to change her on the passenger seat in the car in the rain – not much of a problem except the seat slopes towards the rear of the car, meaning she keeps face-planting into the upright. But that’s better than Whitecliff Bay, which has no toilet facilities whatsoever, and doesn’t seem to mind you getting sand in your baby’s bits.

I’m starting to sound like a bit of a moaner, but in addition to the above, in the past week I’ve changed my daughter’s nappy in a doorway down an alleyway, in a lady’s toilet, in the boot of the car, on a grass verge beside a car park, and on the floor of a tent – though the latter was admittedly kind of unavoidable since we were camping. It’s not so much that I mind  changing Izzie in random places – after three months you’re a dab hand at changing a nappy – it’s that if people object to something as discrete and inoffensive as breastfeeding in public then how will the crowds of shoppers and tourists react when I pop her down on a bench in the High Street, whip off her clothes and proceed to wipe oodles of smelly green and yellow poo out of her creases? I’m going for ‘unsupportive’ at the very least.

I know there are people out there who’ll say, ‘There weren’t changing stations in my day, we had to make do with broken glass and rusty nails,’ but just because they suffered doesn’t mean everyone has to or the situation can’t be improved. Sometimes you’re quite a distance from the car with the baby in a sling when she drops a bucket of gloop in her nappy that starts to spill out and soak through her clothes and you just can’t wait. And it’s incredibly awkward trying to change a baby when you’re on a slope and it’s blowing a hoolie, with one hand holding her ankles, a second cleaning her up, a third hand trying to keep leaf matter out of her bottom, a fourth preventing her from sliding off the changing mat and rolling down the hill into a ditch where she’ll never be seen again – you get the picture.

So top marks to Osborne House for having an entire room in which to change your baby, and a large one at that, without a toilet in the corner and piss on the floor. Unfortunately, they lose points for their dashedly rubbish bottle-warming arrangements.

For those of you that don’t know, you make a baby’s bottle by mixing cooled boiled water (boiled water that has been cooled, yo) with some scoops of formula (powder) and either heating or cooling the resulting liquid to body temperature, since we’re trying to fool kids into thinking the milk comes from a breast and not an udder with additives.

But here’s the rub – the mixture is apparently only safe to drink for two hours and it’s impossible to keep stuff at the right temperature until you need it. So before heading out for the day you boil the kettle, fill a bunch of bottles with water, pack the powder and leave the house weighed down like a freighter. When little one needs a drink, you take a bottle of water, pour in the powder, shake vigorously and ask a nice waitress or waiter to bring you a small jug of hot water into which you can place the bottle until the formula is the right temperature. Simple.

Except when I asked for a jug of hot water, the man at Osborne House looked at me like I’d asked him for a mug of pure, unfiltered urine. He went away, came back and told me he couldn’t bring me hot water because of ‘health and safety reasons’. But he offered to take the bottle out the back and heat it up for me.

Now, the reason you see us splashing milk on our wrists is not because we like the smell of dairy – it’s to check it’s not too hot and going to scald her, or too cold and going to make her gripe. While there’s no real evidence that cold milk is necessarily bad for a baby, their digestive systems are still developing, and if from an evolutionary viewpoint we’ve evolved to drink milk at body temperature, at least for the first few months, then why mess with nature?

Yes, daddy, why?
Yes, daddy, why?

So how on earth was Mr Waiter Man going to get my baby’s bottle to the right temperature? Splashing it on his wrist? No thank you, sir, she’ll just have to drink it cold.

He then proceeded to serve us our teapots of boiling water without a trace of irony. Health and safety, my ass!

But then, perhaps he had a point. Two other places gave us boiling water in wine coolers. Great for the heating, but when it comes to getting the bottle out, it bobs up and down like a fishing float and burns your fingertips while red hot steam scalds your hand. But even that was preferable to the place that gave us a cup of hot water – a cup that was smaller than the bottle!

So, restaurateurs and city planners: you have the power to make the world a much easier place for us parents. A plastic changing table that folds down from the toilet wall, and half a jug of hot water – not a cup, not a wine cooler, a jug. That’s not asking too much, is it? Is it?

Night Feeds

Since around about the second or third week of her life, I have looked after Izzie overnight (my halo is in the post – I had to send back the original as it was too small!). But much as I complain about it, moan about how tired I am, and use it as leverage during the day (‘Can you sterilise the bottles? I was up three hours in the night.’), I must confess that I love my daddy-daughter time.

As part of my PADI training in a picturesque town called Kaikoura, I did a night dive. Kitting up on a long-abandoned wooden wharf on the headland, the van’s headlights pointed out to sea, snow-capped mountains silhouetted against the stars and the barking of seals resounding from the cliffs, it’s undoubtedly one of the most evocative things I’ve done. It was just me and my female dive instructor, no backup, nobody else to get in the way.

Linking arms so we didn’t lose one another, we stepped off the end of the wharf and descended into the inky black water. With your torches, all you can see is whatever comes into the ball of yellow light that extends a couple of metres around you. The whole world shrinks to the size of that bubble – all beyond, hidden in the cimmerian depths, ceases to exist. We became the only two people in the world as we swam along the seabed, alone but for each other.

We surfaced a couple of hundred metres out, the headlights mere pinpricks in a vast unlit universe. It’s weird being out in the water in the dark. You feel primitive somehow, in touch with your instinctive animal nature, experiencing the world through touch. And the person beside you is an extension of your own body. Night diving is the most intimate thing you can do with your clothes on – well, a neoprene wetsuit, BCD, air tank, regulator, weight belt, mask and fins, in any case. I’ve never felt anything like it.

Except when I’m doing night feeds.

At first, Izzie would go down around midnight and be up at half two and half five. Heading down to the lounge, Lizzie fast asleep, the dog snoring on the sofa and the cat purring on the bed, we were the only two beings in the world, daddy and his daughter.

Of course, feeding a baby isn’t exactly thrilling entertainment, so the first couple of weeks I’d switch on the TV and watch whatever was on – a documentary about a jaguar hunting a crocodile, perhaps, or how an American detective solved a murder case from the 1980s. After that, I started watching Monk  and Castle, half an episode at the first feed and the remainder during the second.

As time’s gone on, Izzie drinks larger amounts less often, so it takes a whole episode to satisfy her, but only once a night, around five am.

Now, every third night she sleeps right through from half eleven to seven in the morning. Of course, I wake up much more often than that, checking on her about every two hours – if she stretches, groans, breathes differently, I wake up in an instant. But our exclusive daddy-daughter night feeds look to be coming to an end.

I never thought that I’d miss getting up in the middle of the night, the broken sleep, the days when your eyes hurt from forcing them open. But it’s our special time, when it’s just us and the rest of the world have no claim on anything we are. At night, things seem bigger, and more important, than they do during the day, and I wouldn’t trade this time for the world.

Parents moan about the night feeds, the tiredness and the broken sleep, but it’s actually one of the best parts of being a parent. There is no better way of bonding with your child than holding them in the night when you’re the only two people awake in the world. I say that I do the night feeds to help Lizzie get a good night’s sleep, but really I do them for me, for my daddy-daughter time. Because every time I feed her, I’m night diving off Kaikoura again. And that’s worth a lifetime of broken sleep.

The best-laid plans…

After three years of trying for a baby and finding out the odds were stacked firmly against us, we gave up and decided to get a puppy instead. We still wanted a baby, and if it happened one day, it would happen, but in the meantime we would move on with our lives.

The meantime didn’t last very long. Two months, in fact. Then Lizzie was pregnant.

I hadn’t planned to have a one-year-old puppy and four-week-old baby at the same time, but these are the cards we’ve been dealt and the hand we have to play. It’s hard, stressful, and exhausting, but Izzie will grow up with a devoted companion and within a couple of years our spaniel Ozzie will have a friend to play with who has roughly the same ball control skills and ability at maths. Who is to say that the way things have worked out aren’t better than the plans we made?

When you’re having a baby it’s normal to make plans. What I’m discovering, however, is that plans don’t survive contact with babies. The tranquil water birth turned into an operating theatre, the baby harnesses that worked so well with a teddy bear are rubbish for real babies, and ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ is only good advice for people who can afford cleaners and endless takeout.

The biggest change we’ve had to face is over breastfeeding. Everywhere you look you see posters exhorting that ‘breast is best’. There are countless books, support groups and websites providing practical advice and encouragement; midwives congratulate you for choosing to breastfeed as though you’ve decided to donate all your money to help build a new birthing unit; and random strangers slap you on the back and tell you, ‘Well done.’ Well, not strangers so much as acquaintances – if strangers came up to a breastfeeding woman and slapped her on the back, it would probably end in handcuffs and a public apology.

Though it isn’t explicitly stated, the flipside of all this focus on breastfeeding is that women who formula feed are looked down on as lesser individuals, unworthy of praise. Worse, they are failing their children by giving them an inferior product. Before the birth, we were warned that not all women could breastfeed, and with typical arrogance we pitied these unmotherly wenches who couldn’t feed their own children because, of course, we would be breastfeeding ours. Problems happen to other people.

We have stopped breastfeeding. It was a long, arduous journey to come to the decision, but it is what’s best for all of us. There were many reasons that it wasn’t working, not least that, after losing so much blood during the birth and having two transfusions, Lizzie’s milk doesn’t have the fat content to give Izzie the calories she needs. We had to top up with formula after every feed, and once Izzie realised she could get more milk with less effort from the bottle, she treated the breast as the appetiser before her main meal. Less stimulation meant less milk being produced. So that was that.

From an objective point of view, it is the right decision. Mother and baby were becoming increasingly stressed by the whole thing; Izzie is now putting on weight; I can feed her any time of the day or night and give Lizzie a rest; it’s easier to feed her in public; and she got the colostrum, the important stuff, in the early days so Lizzie did her job.

But you cannot look at breastfeeding objectively. It’s an emotive issue, and regardless of how much you know it’s for the best, it’s impossible not to feel that you have failed.

Lizzie is taking it particularly hard. We had always planned to breastfeed, and the fact we are using formula makes us feel like poor parents. As I keep trying to explain to Lizzie, and myself, the odds were always stacked against us: her mother didn’t create much milk so there might be a genetic basis; Izzie had a traumatic birth and forceps babies don’t feed as well; she spent four days being fed formula through a naso-gastric tube so was used to a full belly with no effort; Lizzie has to use nipple shields, which make it more difficult for Izzie and provides less stimulation to the breasts; mother and baby were on different wards for four days after the birth so everything was delayed; and this is before we mention all the trauma Lizzie suffered. Under the circumstances, that she managed to breastfeed at all is commendable, let alone for over three weeks. There really is nothing to feel bad about.

I think the key to surviving a baby is realising that ‘plans’ are actually ‘preferences’. Then, if things don’t go as expected, you haven’t failed: you’ve simply had to adapt to reality. And that is the best that any man, or mouse, can hope for.