First, Seth and I have decided to tell people who ask that we named H. after Henry Hill from Goodfellas.
Second, here’s everything I know so far about having a baby:
When a baby is brand-new, especially if he’s extra-tiny and kind of reminds you of Gollum, you don’t want onesies. You want kimono shirts. Once the baby hits eight or nine pounds and has a little bit of head control, onesies are great, and prevent the problem where the shirt rides up above the pants. But at first you’ll feel like you’re going to break him. Also your baby will insist that by pulling clothes over his head, you are KILLING HIM.
(Seth here, in the first of many interruptions/guest contributions to this post. If you live in an aggressively cold climate, like upstate New York or Chicago or the moon, I recommend the Classic Pooh bear-shaped snowsuit, available at Target in blue and pink for newborns or brown for older kids. Look, trying to “layer” your baby in jackets and mittens and stuff is just asking for crying. The polyester fur on this baby suit was, I heard, developed by Jacques Cousteau for dives under the polar ice cap; it covers the whole baby head to toe; and it has, of course, the added benefit of making your baby look like an adorable little bear. Seriously, get one. We have two.)
I just want to say that although we are serious about breastfeeding and it has many benefits (health, not having to buy expensive formula, getting to continue to be lazy and not having to tackle bottles and washing them, etc.) I can now also understand why people embraced formula when it was introduced.
Breastfeeding on demand is really limiting for the mother. I can imagine that later on when a baby goes longer between eating and is more reliable, schedule-wise (“My baby usually eats at 11 and then again at 2.”) it’s different, but when you have a new baby, you are tethered to him BY YOUR BOOBS.
Seth is leaving for a few months of Army Skool in a few days, so yesterday the three of us ran around doing errands. We mistimed the final errand; we hadn’t been out of the house that long, we’d fed H. just before leaving, and he was snoozing in his car seat. Surely we could make the last stop and get home before he needed to eat again? WRONG WRONG WRONG. I came back to the car to find Seth trying to soothe a screaming baby who was sure that he was STARVING, ABSOLUTELY STARVING, WHY WERE WE DOING THIS TO HIM. It was dismaying.
So, yes, in some ways breastfeeding is more convenient (when I go somewhere, I don’t have to bring a big system of bottles and water and formula) but in other ways, it’s just not: you can’t count on an infant’s tiny tummy to be able to go more than X minutes from the start of one feeding to when he needs to eat again, so there’s pretty much a circle that radiates from our house in terms of where I can go and what I can do.
The other thing I didn’t realize is the sheer time volume sucked up by breastfeeding. A couple of weeks after H. came home I dutifully logged every minute he spent breastfeeding, because I LIKE DATA, OKAY, and discovered that he was eating for 7+ hours in every 24-hour period. That’s a lot of time. That’s basically like having a job, only it’s a weird and low-paying one where your job is to stay close to someone and whip your breasts out whenever they start crying.
I get the impression that a lot of stuff has to come together for breastfeeding to be as relatively easy as it is for us: you need support and to be surrounded by people who think it’s normal and ordinary instead of weird and OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU PULLING OUT YOUR BOOBS. I feel blessed that I grew up around hippie ladies who thought that breastfeeding was normal. And I feel blessed that my mom and my mother-in-law both breastfed their babies and are really helpful and supportive. And that the nurses at the hospital were supportive. And that my husband is supportive. Because as much as sometimes it’s weird to be kind of like Ray Liotta in that movie where he had an exploding torque around his neck and if he past a certain invisible line, THAT WAS IT, I’m very happy the human dairy has worked out for us.
(Seth again. One thing we’ve worked out as a strategy is that if it’s been a really bad night and he’s been getting Elana up every hour to nurse, I like to get up earlyish and take him downstairs so she can sleep in peace. Unfortunately, sometimes I don’t time this right and he’s ready to eat again. He starts crying inconsolably, and I’m faced with choosing between my kid, who’s HUNGRIER THAN ANYONE HAS EVER BEEN HUNGRY, and my wife, who’s starting to get that Gitmo-crazy-eye thing happening ’cause she hasn’t slept more than 90 minutes at a time since November. At such times, I’d like nothing more than to fill the kid’s belly with Simulac. And opium.)
Becoming a parent is so humbling! Before I had a kid, I thought that I would probably use cloth diapers when he was born. Here was my reasoning: I am of the opinion that environmentally, cloth diapers and disposable diapers are kind of a wash. It’s kind of popular in cloth-diapering circles to claim that cloth diapers are way more green, but I think that’s questionable. Yes, disposable diapers clog landfills and take eleventy billion years to decompose! But cloth diapers have to be washed in lots of hot water and rinsed in lots more water, and traditional-style cloth diapers are made of cotton, and non-organic cotton farming is really hard on the environment. And then there are all those newfangled cloth diapers that involve little in the way of natural fibers. So I don’t know what the math is there: yes, you’re not throwing out disposables, but it’s made from petroleum. It’s not like this puppy biodegrades in four months or anything.
BASICALLY I SHRUG IN CONFUSION.
(There are apparently some hybrid-style diapers that use a flushable insert that comes apart in the sewer system, and some disposable diapers that are biodegradable, and some others that are compostable. So those might actually ultimately be the better option, environmentally. I don’t know. Also I don’t have time or energy to research those or seek them out, HAD I MENTIONED THAT I BREASTFEED FOR LIKE SEVEN HOURS A DAY.)
The other things I considered, when I was an untested pregnant lady who KNEW NOTHING, were ease of use, comfort for the baby, and cost.
Cloth diapers win on cost, but much more so if you’re using traditional cotton flats or prefolds you own, and much less if you’re using the newer all-in-one diapers that run about twenty bucks each- you have to do some creative math to make that worth it, I think. Even so, I’m interested in NOT SPENDING MONEY, so this part is still appealing to me.
Ease of use, disposables win by a narrow margin. Cloth isn’t hard. Seth is better at it than I am, but it’s not difficult once you do it once or twice: take off the used cloth diaper; put on the new cloth diaper; you pin it shut or use a Snappi to close it (or if you’re Seth you just casually lay it in the cover); you put on the waterproof cover; you put the used diaper into a waterproof “wet bag” or pail; you put it out for the diaper service once a week, or you wash the diapers yourself every two to three days.
Not rocket science. But compare to using disposables: take off the used diaper. Throw it away. Put on the new one. Occasionally buy some more. That’s it.
Comfort for the baby, I don’t know: you definitely feel that the baby is wet much sooner in cloth than you do in disposable diapers. Ultimately I can see how that would be a boon if you’re trying to potty-train earlier. People used to say “How would you like to sit around in wet paper?” about disposable diapers, but Today’s Disposable Diapers aren’t wet paper. They have absorbent gels or something in them. They don’t really feel wet even when they ARE wet.
So. In using both cloth (my in-laws kindly bought us cloth diaper service, and we’ve been doing a part-time setup, using cloth when we can during the day, and disposables at night or when we’re out of the house) and disposables I have reached the conclusion that
DISPOSABLE DIAPERS ARE OBVIOUSLY THE VASTLY SUPERIOR TECHNOLOGY. I mean, come on! You don’t have to juggle bags and laundry and covers and pins! You use them and throw them out! They have those insane little gel crystals that absorb liquid! They never feel wet! You can fit your baby’s pants over them!
I can still see why you would use cloth: it’s undeniably cheap if you go with the right set-up, and you’re not producing as much waste, and honestly I could see how for the right person it would be kind of an exercise in thoughtfulness, a kind of diaper-based spiritual discipline. I hope we can revisit the cloth diapers when we’re more organized, because I do think they have cool aspects. (But being “easier” is not one of them.)
(One other factor — cloth diapers don’t really smell like anything, because they’re, you know, cotton. Disposable diapers, on the other hand, come in a wide array of scents, from “chemical weapons factory” (Target store brand) to “nuclear talcum” (Pampers Swaddlers). Strangely, the best diapers we’ve used so far, in my opinion, were the CVS store brand. They didn’t have any noticeable smell, and (unlike the Huggies we tried) they didn’t leak any weird absorbent crystals onto Henry’s skin.)
(Seth from here on out, so I’ll relinquish the italics gimmick.)
As you may have read, the State of New York is very concerned about how our baby sleeps. And I’m going to report to you, right here and right now, that not only does our baby sleep in the bed with us, but he sometimes sleeps on his stomach. Yes, that’s right — the Back to Sleep campaign is a joke. On his back we get ten minutes, max, before he’s awake with reflux and spit-up and NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT.
I know two pediatricians: Dr. S., with whom we’d like to hang out socially because he’s so cool, and My Sister The Doctor. And both of them, when sleeping on the back comes up, act slightly embarrassed. Yep, they say, the research definitely shows that back-sleeping lowers the incidence of SIDS. But longtime observation shows that tummy-sleeping pretty consistently yields better, deeper sleep.
(I’m not sure these two things are unrelated — remember the scene in Monsters vs. Aliens where Bob forgets to breathe? I think babies might be about at that level, developmentally, and maybe in the throes of deep sleep they, you know… forget to breathe. Hey, I know a blonde joke about that! So this blonde walks into the doctor’s office for a checkup. She’s wearing earphones and a tape player that she refuses to take off….)
Anyway, both pediatricians, when I brought up the “Back to Sleep” thing, admitted that although they counsel their patients to put the baby on his back, they’re glad they had their children before that advice became the standard.
So Henry sleeps on his side. Sometimes on his tummy. Screw you, SIDS nazis.
Elana: man, people are going to write and yell at us. HENRY DOES NOT REALLY ROUTINELY SLEEP ON HIS STOMACH. Sometimes he falls asleep during “Tummy time” (I think of this as his time at the office) but we don’t put him to sleep at night on his tummy.
But, ah, I cannot deny the thing about sleeping on his side. I’M SORRY.
Also, as long as you have him in bed with you, our kid is a pretty great nighttime sleeper and although I long for the days when I got 8 hours in a stretch, I do know that we really have nothing to complain about. He goes to sleep, he wakes up and eats a few times, that’s it.
Slings. If you are at all handy, I highly recommend you make at least one device for carrying your baby around hands-free. If you are not, you can buy one. While your baby is new and has no neck muscles, you will need a carrier that doesn’t require him to hold his head up. We have three. One is about fifty feet long and requires several costumers to put on, but at the end of it you have a sort of samurai garment that securely immobilizes the baby against your chest. He will sleep UNBELIEVABLY deeply in this thing, but be warned: he will oversleep his hunger cues and wake up ravenous and confused. (“You know I like to eat! Why didn’t you wake me up??”) I don’t have a picture of this one because I don’t know what it’s called, but email Elana if you want details.
Elana: it’s a “stretchy wrap” (wraps are just really long pieces of cloth you wrap around you and your baby, and they come in stretchy and non-stretchy varieties. Stretchy wraps are easier to use with new babies and new parents, I think. But non-stretchy ones are probably more supportive if you want to carry a bigger baby.) and it looks something like this (although this isn’t ours, just a picture I STOLE. From the internet. Ours is off-white.):
We call ours 'The Obi-Wan'
Recently we were in a restaurant, and Seth started to put on the Obi-Wan (which is indeed a little bit of an event) in preparation for sticking Henry into it so we could eat, and afterward a man came over and said “When you started doing that I wasn’t sure if it was for the baby or if you were about to conduct Mass!”
A stretchy wrap is so easy to make I don’t know why you’d buy it, but a company that sells them is Moby. If you want to make one, you buy 5 to 7 yards (depending on how big you are) of cotton or cotton-blend knit fabric. It has to be in one piece! Seams would make the wrap less sturdy. And then you cut a long strip, 20 to 30 inches wide. You can taper the ends if you want less bulk, but you don’t have to. That’s it. No sewing need be involved.
The second type of sling we have is basically for lazy people, because it’s not that hard to sew (or at least, it doesn’t look that hard when my wife does it) and it takes about seven seconds to put on. It’s basically a circular trough of cloth that becomes a kind of sash. You put it over your shoulder and stick the baby in the pocket. Pretty much foolproof.
Oh thank God -- I can finally brush my teeth!
The only thing is that it’s not very secure. If you bend over, the baby swings out precipitously and, quite reasonably, startles. Also, he’s definitely tucked off to one side, so it’s not like you can stick him under your coat or anything.
Elana: people call this kind of carrier either a “sling” or a “pouch”. We call it “The Baby Tube”. Unlike a wrap, this kind of carrier isn’t usually adjustable and needs to be sized correctly for the wearer. Seth and I can basically wear the same size, but if your spouse is much taller or shorter than you are, you’d probably need two. A commercial company making these is Hotslings. If your pouch is the right size, it shouldn’t swing very far away from your body if you bend over, but I agree that it’s not as hands-free as the other options.
We also use the Mei Tai, which is an Asian invention that walks a nice line between simplicity and snugness. Much easier to put on than the giant one, but it still cinches the baby tight to your body so he’s not swinging around all over the place. Also, you can wear it in front when he’s a newborn and then use it as a backpack when he can hold his head up. It looks like this:
Swing. The swing is weird. Henry will sleep in it, sometimes for a couple of hours at a time… but he doesn’t seem to like it. He makes weird faces and seems to cycle up and down in irritation even as he’s being lulled to unconsciousness by the motion.
Elana: I have total buyer’s remorse about our swing. Swings are expensive! And people call swings “neglect-o-matics”, which is pretty exciting, because I enjoy neglecting my baby to do frivolous things like take a shower. But Henry will kind of humor you for three minutes and then indicate that he’d like to get out. (We do not actually put him in it for hours at a time. Sadly.)
Bassinet. Sounds cool, like some sort of creepy instrument you’d hear on a Jon Brion score. But not that helpful — Henry refuses to sleep in it. Actually, that’s just for us parents. His grandmother can get him to sleep in it somehow — I suspect voodoo.
Snuggle Nest. Also known, in our house, as “the cat bed.” I sang its praises in an earlier post, but I spoke too soon. After a few days, Henry refused to sleep in it anymore. While I’m away doing ARMY, Elana is trying to re-introduce it. if that works out we’ll let you know.
Elana: This is such a mystery! Henry will sleep next to the cat bed, but not IN the cat bed (not for longer than ten minutes, at least). I am conducting an experiment to see if proximity will desensitize him to how awful it is to lie in a snug little bed at a comfortable, reflux-soothing incline.
Bottles. I’d just like to give a little love to Dr. Brown’s “Natural Flow” bottles, which have a clever little tube to allow air to escape into the top of the bottle rather than your child’s esophagus. We only rarely use the bottle to feed H. expressed breastmilk, but these seem to work quite well. Plus they’re made of glass and the nipples are silicone, so if you’re paranoid about BPAs, set your mind at ease!
Car seats. Here I have no useful information. There seems to be no way to actually install one of these things according to the directions (“There should be no more than one inch of movement to either side”), so I say wrap your kid in bubble wrap, just to be safe. Also, unless you drive a Cadillac, chances are good that you won’t be able to put the front seat all the way back without hitting your kid’s car seat, so if you can, mount it in the middle of the back seat. Sure, your friends won’t be able to ride with you anymore, but you’ll be able to lean back in sweet compact-car luxury.
Elana: Car seats make me kind of annoyed. Apparently something crazy like 70-80% of all car seats are installed incorrectly, which is lunacy. If a relatively bright person can read the seat’s manual and the car’s manual and look things up on the internet and STILL BE UNABLE to install the seat correctly, I think that’s way beyond “People are stoopid” and deep into “This product does not actually work.”
But we of course use ours. Even though it’s tempting to just tuck the kid in a basket of clean laundry in the back or something.
(I AM KIDDING.)
That’s pretty much everything you need to know to be the parent of a newborn, I think. Good luck!