Parenting 101 – the basics of what happens to you

Zoe and the perpetual mess

Zoe and the perpetual mess

Dear readers: One doesn’t need to get too medical or too technical to know that parenting is one heck of a job. Well, curiously enough, before the thing hits you on the head, you don’t really appreciate the fact that having a child takes up most (if not all at times) of your resources and faculties – it occupies your time, it stands your sleeping habits on their head – you no longer sleep – you nap, it deprives you of the most of your (former) social life, it gives you that recognizable pale-looking face of exhaustion so you resemble more a hospital patient than a happy parent, you start hearing voices of babies even when there are none, etc.

The so called ‘bundle of joy’ turns into a bundle of messy diapers, sleepless nights and hearing loss from perpetual screams that mean 17 different things (read: demands) but all sound the same – and then, just like that, she gives you one quick smile and a cackle and you forget everything else, you forgive her for having puked all over you a minute ago and you melt away, ready to do it all over again.

They are sneaky little creatures them babies – they know exactly how to manipulate you and there’s nothing you can do – it is in your genes and from that (at least for now) there’s no escape.

So, how come no one’s ever warned us about it all?

Oh, well, they have but even warnings come wrapped in a cellophane of PR – it’s difficult but it’s rewarding, yeah they give you a hard time but they are the best thing in the world, they drive you nuts but you had driven someone nuts too.. and, sure, it’s all true but let me tell you, raising a child is tough – it is one tough business; and the devil is in the details:

You’re gonna have to change those diapers but how many times a day?

It’s anywhere between 5 and 15 and in the beginning you are even doing it at night, and you do it until your back breaks.

Here’s a tip – never do it at night unless the baby poops and wakes up – then you do it but otherwise – don’t wake her up, not for anything; it’s a common mistake that turns your nights into hell.

General tip: if a baby is calm, quiet and otherwise seems content DO NOT change anything, not even if she’s hanging upside down like a bat.

You don’t need (almost) anything!

People (friends, family, strangers etc) and advertising will tell you to get this and that and to have a list of the many things you absolutely require for the baby, without which it will seem to you that the baby’s gonna die the first night – but let me tell you: none of it is not even remotely essential and most are just a waste of money, time and space.

What you need is a hairbrush, baby shampoo, some diaper ointment and a towel (diapers of course). The rest is optional and I suggest you figure it out as you go.

They cry and they scream and they growl, that’s their job – don’t be scared

Every baby has it’s own thing – you bring her home and the first night you are freaking out because she’s making some weird sounds that resemble some animal – mine sounded like a piglet and I thought she was choking – I was up for hours on end checking if she’s breathing.
Others will sound like a dog barking, or some bird or any other representative of the vast animal kingdom – this is all normal.

A baby can go from a perfectly happy state into a screaming fit in a matter of seconds (sometimes even faster) – it’s what they do and it’s not your fault – don’t freak out too much. Just go over a list of things that could be causing it and deal with it:

Is she hungry – offer her some milk, or other food if she’s a bit older and see; they’ll refuse you if that’s not what they need.

Is she thirsty – give the child water, don’t listen to wise guys telling you your baby doesn’t need and shouldn’t drink water! We are mostly water (not like watermelons though but still) so how can it be bad? Just offer the water and if she takes it, let her drink.

Do you need to change her diapers – like I said, you’re gonna be doing this lots.

Is she tired – some babies will rub their eyes as a sign of tiredness (others will just scream) – if you miss that time when she’s ready to sleep, she’ll get over-tired and then screaming will intensify because babies don’t know how to just fall asleep when they are too tired, they need help and this confusion makes them scream.

Is she bored to tears – babies get bored so fast (partly if not mostly due to us) so change something, however small.

Does she need to burp – in the first months (up until say 9 or 10) babies need to burp after feeding so you got to help her – if not, she’ll scream until you do.

Finally, is she in pain – most of them will have cramps and gas so give her something to mitigate this (don’t wait for cramps to develop – act pre-emptively with Espumisan or Infacol, whichever works for you!); growing teeth will give most babies some pain; infections like viral cold, ear infections and similar will give her fevers and pain – paracetamol (Acetaminophen) will relieve pain and fever but consult your doctor.

If nothing seems to be working go over the list again. There’s nothing else you can do.

One last resort though is to take her out, if possible. Sometimes babies will respond well to a total change of atmosphere; or, let someone else take her for a while – a change in energy also helps sometimes.

Other times, nothing helps… you just need to put up with screaming for a while and carry her around, perhaps for hours, until your hands, neck and back go numb.

It will hurt – and I’m not talking about the baby

Have some pain meds stashed away because as your baby grows heavier every day, your hands and back will bear the brunt of it – you will be waking up with tension headaches, stiff back and hurting joints and that’s all part and parcel of this parenting adventure.

Try not to get her used to being carried around every time she squeaks a little, especially when you’re outside for what should be a pleasant walk – if you take her once, just once, when she’s fussy in her stroller, it becomes a rule for her, the one she’ll try hard to enforce for weeks to come.

Don’t be a tyrant though, if screams continue for longer than a few minutes, comfort her in your arms (this is especially valid in the first 6 months and at night – don’t let her cry her self to sleep).

Anyways, whatever happens, you will end up with some level of pain in your back and numbness in your arms – no getting away there.

Do you think anyone’s ever told me that my back was going to break and that my bundle of joy will make me sore?

Just have some acetaminophen ready.

Her routine will be yours too – or else you’re done for

Babies love routines and schedules, that’s a well-tested fact – so make sure you give her that.

Do not change her routine for anything or anyone, seriously – not for anyone.

If she’s used to a quick bath and a feed just before bed time at say, 8 or 9 pm you make sure she gets that every day – don’t keep changing those times to accommodate your friends or family or your own indulgences – changes will make her feel insecure and will give her hard time and then she’ll give you a hard time to remember.

Yes, this is why your social life dwindles and you end up hanging out at occasional coffees strictly during a day with other parents – don’t be surprised, these are the only people in the world who can understand you.

Even if you do manage to get a night out, you will most likely still have to get up early and take care of her the next day so hang overs are out of the question if you have any sanity at all (and want to keep it).

I keep telling my baby-less friends to think twice before deciding – there’s a lot to sacrifice and many things change – your entire life undergoes a thorough overhaul from the largest of perspectives like life plans and goals to the smallest of detail like how many minutes you can spend in the shower or in the can but (here’s a bit of PR from me) it is worth it; suddenly your phone is filled with hundreds of photos of your baby and everything you do revolves somehow around her – you may like this or not, but it’s the fact.

Just do not think for a second that anyone is interested in an endless stream of more or less the same photos of your child – people just don’t want to be bothered with more than one or two photos (if at all).

Don’t make your social network’s profiles into your baby’s! Your friends are interested in you and not in whether or not your toddler has pooped 4 times today – that’s just plain boring.

All babies look the same to other people anyway.

One last thing for this post: time is what matters most!

It’s not how fancy her clothes are or how nice are her toys or if she has the best stroller on the block – it’s how much time you spend with her that counts the most! You being with your baby is the only thing she needs and wants – don’t ever rob her of that beautiful luxury.

Give her all the time in the world and if you don’t have it – make it.

I know what I’m talking about.

Dr. Mo