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!

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…

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!)