Happy Fatherhood

What to do with a baby

Show a man any gadget and he'll try to work it out without the manual, so you might think he'd be totally at ease with a gadget (like a baby) that came with no manual, but no. I always assumed my parents somehow knew how to be parents from somehwere, that we'd get some sort of divine insight now that we were parents, but no.

What you do is make it up as you go along.

The basics of it are simple though: the baby wants to feed. Usually, your lady is equipped to feed him. What she feeds him will pass through eventually, and this will put you off peanut butter for a while. Keep him warm.

Bottle feeding complicates things, but gives Dad the opportunity to get involved. The opportunity to get involved often arises at 3am, so it's a good idea to have some 'breast is best' arguments prepared. Here's some amo:

For the baby:

* The bottom line is that formula milk tries to come close to breast milk, but can't as some of the substances in it can not be identified.
* The baby gets his antibodies from breast milk so will be better able to fight infections
* May also protect against developing allergies and asthma later on.
* Lower incidence of diarrhoea or constipation among breast fed babies.
* Babies who are breast fed allegedly have a higher IQ by 5-10 points.
* Less likely to be obese
* Jesus, Buddha and Gandhi were all breast fed. Hitler, Stalin and George Bush weren't.

For the mum
* Breast feeding mums return to the pre pregnancy shape much quicker.
* She's freer to go out and about
* It's free

The good news is that there is a half way house between bottle feeding and breast feeding, which is for your wife to express the milk, and you can later give it to the baby through a bottle. Being able to express a bottle full of milk is no mean feat for your lady and she deserves a round of applause.

As human beings, we give birth to the most helpless young of all. The reason is that we have the double whammy of disproportionately large brains, and we walk on our hind legs resulting in a smaller pelvic opening, so in order to get the bigger head out of the smaller gap, the foetus itself has to be relatively undeveloped.

If the helpless stage, where all you get for your love and selfless sacrifice is a face full of wee at 4am, seems to last forever, accept is as the price for having offspring that will eventually be able to play football and beat you at chess.

When the health visitor vists, they'll want to check if the baby is jaundiced. The test is to see if he looks yellow. Jaundice in young babies is normally harmless. If there are other symptoms such as lethargy, refusal to feed, or a fever, get the wee one to a hospital, otherwise don't worry. The cure for jaundice is normally to expose them to plenty of sunlight. In the UK, we don't have enough of that, so they put them under sun lamps in the hospital.

The colour charts used to check for Jaundice are based on white skin. My wife is Asian, I'm white. If you mix the two colours together, you get a sort of jaundiced yellow effect, which even in multi cultural Britain, throws the health visitor every time. The result of this misdiagnosis was that they wanted us to take Finn to the hospital where they could extract sufficient blood to determine:

a) Was it really jaundice?
b) What type of jaundice is it?
c) Are they sure?
d) And a bit spare

That's a lot of blood to take from a two week old baby, particularly if the nurses taking it keep spilling it, and jabbing him in the wrong place. It was distressfing for all concerned and if I'd had a bit more knowledge, I would have insisted they took only enough for a) at this stage. It's important to remember that the NHS are working for you. You can say what they can or can't do to your baby.

It's also worth pointing out that if your baby is fighting like Jackie Chan, the blood stealing monsters are most likely wasting their time as he's probably fit and healthy. I had hopeful visions of him winning and the nurses (there were 3 of them) ending up with needles stuck in their jugulars, but it didn't turn out that way.

The other thing the health visitors are concerned about is which way up the nipper is sleeping. I'm not a doctor, so make your own checks, but it's possible this isn't quite as important as the health visitor would have you believe.

When I was a baby in the seventies, the prevailing advice was adamant that babies ought to sleep on their front, so that they can't choke on their vomit. Nowadays the advice is just as adamant, but babies should now sleep on their backs so they can't suffocate on the mattress. In fact, you can even buy restraints to keep them on their backs.

The reason the advice has changed is because of a study which looked at the incidence of cot death (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS) in cultures where the baby traditionally sleep on their backs, versus cultures where they traditionally sleep on their fronts. Very clever you might think. The trouble is that the major culture where babies traditionally sleep on their backs is China, whose output of stats are normally taken with a pinch of salt, though curiously not this one.

Even if the Chinese statistic is genuine, there could be other factors in play. For instance, it is known that the incident of SIDS increases from one sibling to the next. A phenomena that can't occur in China, as you can only have one child. There are a great deal of other diet and lifestyle differences which, in my view, render this study questionable.

It is cited that the incidence of cot death in the west has reduced since the advice changed to sleeping on the back, but so have other factors - not least the awareness of SIDS.

I'm not trying to undermine the official advice (well, maybe a little), but if your baby insists on sleeping on his front, as ours did, don't worry about it too much.

If you tell your health visitor that your baby sleeps on the front they'll tell you you're a bad parent, and make a note of it to bring out in court later.

What I didn't tell the health visitor (she didn't ask) was that he often slept on my chest too. This is also against official advice as the baby can roll off onto the floor. This didn't happen, but what did happen was that I went a little insane.

I often ended up cuddling a bundle of duvet in the night when he eventually slept in a cot, and then realising in my sleep that he wasn't there, and thinking that he was under the duvet somewhere and so ripping it off the bed while my wife slept, waking her up.

Having the baby in bed is very convenient for night time feeds though as nobody has to get out of bed. They say that you're likely to roll over and squash a baby sleeping in bed with you, but most of the world do it this way.

THey'd like to communicate better, but their vocabulary is pretty limited to quiet contentment or howling rage. First up, have a look in the nappy and see if there's anything in there that you wouldn't want in your pants. Failing that you could try winding him; this doesn't mean punching him hard in the stomach, but holding him in such a way as to encourage a belch.

Lots of crying for no apparent reason is called collic. Obviously collic covers a lot of conditions and two cases are likely to have different causes. Maybe it's indigestion; maybe it's muscle cramps; maybe they don't like the decor in your house. Taking him outside to get some fresh air did wonders for Finn, but not every time.

Sometimes, they just want to cry. It's pretty good for them; they get some excersize, they breathe deeply. The important thing is not to follow them into their dark muddle. Some people do this by nature, but some people, like me, really need to make an effort not to empathise to the point of distress.

If a friend of yours had been crying for three solid hours over nothing at all, what you might be tempted to do is give him a hearty shake and yell "pull yourself together, man", particularly if sleep deprivation has frayed your nerves. While an acceptable way of getting through to a friend, it's not the way to calm a baby down and may cause lasting damage.

Having a baby around is pretty stressful; you'll get less sleep than usual, you might be worrying about less money coming in if your wife is taking more than the minimum maternity leave, and more money going out if she's not. The fact is that while you need the most patience you have the least.

For some people, the crying becomes too much. If you're unable to comfort him, and he's driving you nuts, you can put him down somewhere safe, and go outside, and get some fresh air. If you get enough fresh air, when you go back into the house the baby will be asleep. Bliss.

As babies get older, their needs get more complex. A newborn will be happy with a feed and a nappy change; a 6 month old wants a cuddle and a smile from his mum, a three year old wants a toy car and a cookie. As far as I can tell this process peaks in middle age when you want a house with a pool, a Porsche, and to be earning a little bit more money than your neighbour. By the time you get to your nineties, it's back to a feed and a nappy change to bring bliss.

Posted on 2011-02-20 06:34:25

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What to do with a baby
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>What to do with a baby 2011-02-20 06:34:25