Having a Baby. Lessons Learned the First 9 Months.

Baby Shaw's Lessons Learning
Day #1: Caleb, Laura and Baby Shaw

Shaw on his first day

We found so much good information on the Web as we researched having a baby, and once we had successfully had baby that I wanted to add our experience to the mix.  Shaw was born at our home on April 29th, 2012. We live in Southern Vermont. We are both teachers. Laura is on leave from teaching elementary school and I teach educational technology at Marlboro College.

Lesson Learned.

Listen. We do best when we pay attention to what baby Shaw is trying to tell us with his limited vocabulary. Crying can mean I’m tired, I need new diaper, I’m frustrated,  I need some alone time (near you), I’m hungry. Hold me. Try them all! He’s constantly communicating, but in a new language.  He gets loud before he gets tired. He coos when he’s curious. He squeaks when he’s excited. His legs stiffen right before a poo. Waking up is a sign that he’s going to pee within 10 minutes. Half cries mean pick me up, I want to check in, and then maybe go play more, etc.

Pick him up. It may seem strange, but I sometimes forget to pick Shaw up when I should. Simply holding him for a few minutes usually fixes most anything. Shaw clearly understands he’s vulnerable sitting on the floor among giants, or penned in a crib. His instincts are to latch and ride, especially if he’s feeling off. He likes to feel body heat, breath, heartbeats. Sitting next to him, cuddling for a few minutes next to him to get him ready for bed, etc. Also, sometimes I’m lazy and I think that lying next to him, or sitting with him snuggling, is the same as tightly holding him, or using a carrier on my chest. It isn’t the same.

Follow our instincts, especially the quiet nagging ones that come first. Just try it. Then try something else, even if it didn’t work yesterday. Shaw is a learning machine at his core. We get a new baby every few days and it has taught us that we can’t figure it out and coast along. Figuring things out is the constant.

Take him with us. From day one, the more we strap baby Shaw to our bodies and then go about our business as much as possible, the calmer he is. We take him on errands, to parties (safe ones and early), on walks, to work in the garden, walks to town, visits to my work where he has tummy time on the floor, etc. As long as he can feel our body heat, or see us and knows we’re here, he seems good. He likes meeting people and seeing new things. Our lives don’t have to to stop, only change, and he’s along for the ride.

1st Week, 1 or less activities a day. The first week or so we stayed at home and didn’t do much. We felt very primal. I found I wanted to go out, walk around the house (protector instinct?) or stock up on food and things (provider instinct?) and Laura found she wanted to stay in, eat a lot, nurse, be quiet and intensely bond and learn about the baby (mothering, protector, provider instinct?). One activity, or visit, from friends or family each day was enough, even for just 30 minutes.  Basically I cooked healthy food and puttered around the house, Laura recovered and we both lounged with the baby. When we did more, we felt wasted.

Go Outside. Walking outside calmed Shaw almost every time, or placing him by window so he could see the skyline hit the treeline. In the younger months, he loved the black and white contrast. At 9 months, he still likes the far away sights, colors, and fresh air.

2 weeks old

Shaw at about 2 weeks old.

Bedtime. About 4.5 months in we got a routine down. When he seemed tired, usually around 7:30, Laura nurses, changes diaper, and quietly passes off to Caleb who takes him to his sheep skin lined co-sleeper in a dimly lit room. Quiet play, staying very close ensues. Singing, talking, quietly with some baby massage or holding a hand on his chest so he can feel it. A few cries, maybe squirming, and then he’s asleep – usually. BUT, then he changed a little every week! We ended up modifying the routine to: change diaper, put on PJs, which he usually hates, and then nursing, passing off to me, and I put him down. Basically though, if we were paying attention starting around 7pm, we could get him down quietly. Or if we put him on our bodies with a carrier, he’ll also fall asleep out at a restaurant even, but it’s a dicey gamble because you’ve got to get home, and put him down again. At 8 months we started nursing about 6 times a night, which drove Laura crazy. We then tried waking him up when we go to bed and nursing him, (aka “tanking him up”) and that helped him sleep longer.

Nursing. In the beginning lots of consistent pain Laura was having turned out to not be normal, despite what other women said. He was thriving and in the 95% of weight gain, but it was taking 45 minutes of very painful nursing every hour or so. Laura kept researching and seeing lactation consultants and doctors until she found he had tongue-tie! We got it operated on (very quick procedure), and she still could tell he wasn’t latching well. She found a specialist and drove two hours to see him. He cut more and found some upper lip tie too. He used a laser. Shaw’s nursing went to only occasional pain and 5 minutes every few hours! We often didn’t feed him when get got fussy right away because we thought, “you could not possibly be hungry now, you just ate. You must need to burp or have a poopy diaper.” He could be hungry. He was. He was telling us the only way he could. Feed him in any position that will work. Babies seem to want to nurse when sometimes other things are up, like poopy diapers, stomach issues, etc.  Might be stomach bug if he’s cranky. Pump the big breasts down if he’s freaking out. Let him be at the breast, if he’s not agitated, even if he’s not latched.

Fighting. We’ve had some very stressful fights over how to care for Shaw. Usually this revolves around what seems to be a common core. Laura is much, much more affected by Shaw’s crying than I am. And on a visceral level. If Shaw is crying a lot and I’m with him, she comes in angry and looking to take care of the baby directly, not help me take care of the baby. My nerves are frayed, so I need help, but don’t get it.  Figuring out how to cope with this recurring scenario has been very challenging for us. It’s very hard for Laura to handle her strong emotions diplomatically. It’s very hard for me to feel like a failure and not get help. But the reality is that I’m a better helper to Laura when he’s crying a lot. And it’s better for her to have the baby right away when he’s getting hysterical. The trick for us is to try and keep adjusting and communicating. For example, Shaw often cries right before sleep. I am usually on “wind down and sleep duty,” to give Laura some time to herself and me to have some time with Shaw. When he starts to cry, I instinctual lay next to him and cuddle him, but he keeps crying sometimes. Laura can hear it anywhere in the house. She valiantly tries to let me handle it, but isn’t happy at all about how I’m handling it. I think I can get though it and he’ll be asleep soon, and I’m right there with him, so the crying is okay. She comes up finally, takes the baby into the chest carrier, he calms down and goes to sleep. I sulk away, rejected, failed, and not helped to do better. Then we then fight, both feeling different parts of angry, betrayed, misunderstood, marginalized, incapably of getting it right, etc. But recently we thought, “this isn’t quality time.” So, why don’t I just get off my lazy but and put Shaw in the carrier right away when he starts to get cranky. And, if he cries more, get Laura immediately. I was able to hold him tight, standing up and rock him to sleep tonight on my own. It sounds simple, but in the fog of war…

Things the Baby Books Didn’t Hammer Home

Baby Shaw, about 7 weeks old, reminding us to listen him with a stern look.

We read a lot of books. Laura read even more. But the didn’t cover everything. Here’s our list of “I wish they told us that!” things:

You get a different baby every few weeks. It’s a big set of phases, not one “baby.” Books go through this, but they don’t quite drive home that this means you can’t every say for long “we figured it out!” It’s more figuring out how to constantly modify and change. We guess that the next phases of Toddler, Kid, Teen, Adult will also be full of phases. Figuring things out is the only constant.

Major phases we noticed:

  1. Larval: First three months. A little cooing larvae pod. Can’t move at all. Not much awareness. Looks about slowly for milk and mama. Personality emerging in glimpses.
  2. Animatronic Teddy Bear: Moves, grabs, rolls around, responds, smiles, looks around faster, starts to show a personality more.
  3. Puppy: Follows you. Begins to plot menacing the house. Goes with anybody who will pick him up.
  4. Cat: Might follow you, or might crawl right past you on the way to menace the potted plants in the other room. Personality comes out more. More suspicious of strangers for the first few minutes. Watches, plots more menacing, sometimes wants to play alone.

Pushing is so very different from labor and active labor. Just when you think the moaning and screaming is at the peak, it changes to pushing, which is much more intense,  involuntary and chaotic. The books and classes don’t quiet hammer that home.

Home births result in way more laundry, sacrificed linens, and cooking work, possibly equivalent to the  price difference of having a baby in a hospital where they do all the laundry and cook!

Little pieces of cloth. Wonder why you get so many cloth presents? breast pads, receiving blankets, wash cloths, swaddles, wipes…because you’re going to need every one! Especially simple little cloth burp cloths.

Don’t nurse panicked, hungry, or angry. Really, just calm down yourself, then nurse, or he’ll also panic. Caleb often walked the house with Shaw until he was distracted while Laura got ready to nurse. This worked to help Laura relax before nursing. A few days in, Engorgement happens. It caused panic in Laura, trying to nurse too aggressively as if he was crying because he was starving, she was failing, and if he didn’t nurse, her breasts would get infected. This set Caleb into annoying calm mode. Fights ensued. In reality, he was eating OK as he was learning, her breastmilk could be expressed to keep them healthy, and there was nothing really to panic about. In the end, both realized that this early nursing, which is a tough time of learning to nurse, should be done after mother is calmed, awake, together and baby is awake and not in hysterics. Caleb should focus on this, not on giving advice until both parents are breathing and ready to tackle the nursing problem.

A milk engorged breast, or two, makes all the ridiculously large boobs in the media suddenly make sense. In the yore of our lives, when the milk came in, we faced, literally, these monsters as babies. We were very impressionable and new to the world. They were massive cartoon breasts. We remember as kids, and the media creators know this.

Model behavior you want. We sat with Shaw in a high chair at dinner, even before he was eating. He was very interested in our eating and could last about 20 minutes before getting restless. It was the only time we sat him in a high chair during the day. When he started eating, he was used to the ritual.

Devices. He loves computers, screens, phones. He learned which side of the iPad to touch, and how to drag at 9 months. It’s spooky how much he lives to touch keyboards and screens. Sometimes think this is because he watches how much we use them and like them. But also, they are just so bright and shiny and interactive (He also loves to turn the pages of kid picture books since he was about 8months). Sadly, this means I feel obligated not to use computers, phones, etc. too much in his presence, as he clearly gives me the “interact with me please, I’m right here. Go away from me you’re going to flaunt that iPhone in front of me and not let me use it too!”

Stuff We Love The Most

Books

For us:

For him:

  • Star Trek Book of Opposites
  • Bright Baby Trucks
  • Baby Touch and Feel Animals

Diapers and Wipes

  • Pampers bionic new born diapers saved us in the first few weeks, amazing absorbency.
  • More small pieces of cotton wipes in every corner of the house than you can possibly imagine. Spit up, etc.
  • Eco wipes on changing table. But also small cotton wipes with water worked well.
  • Chinese Alva snap diapers are amazing washable, adjustable, diapers. Not organic or cotton, but so well designed and about $5 with cover and insert if your order directly from China on Ebay or alvababy.com. Look for “AIO all in one Reusable Washable Alva cloth diapers.” This link might work.
  • Cloth prefolds held up by elastic band for around the house during day.
  • Biodegradable natural paper disposables for night time (less leaking). Same cost as regular diapers, better for his skin we think. Napy or 7th Generation.

Bedroom

  • Sheepskin! The single best, and only, purchase over $100 we made. We spent $120.00 on a full size sheep skin from a local farm. We’d heard they neutralize urine, and we knew they were warm and soft. 6 months later, after many pee leaks, and zero washings, it doesn’t smell! Cotton would have smelled in two days. Lanolin in sheep hair is a pee neutralizer.
  • Co-sleeper, which I made on the side of the bed.
  • Co-sleeper crib. A crib with one side taken off, attached to bed at same height.
  • Flexible LED reading lights for night time walking around. Can hold in teeth and pick him up.

Misc

  • Born Free bottles and valve nipple system
  • Diaper rash stuff
  • Baby Bannana teething toothbrush. Natural silicon, great design
  • Calendula brand cream for diaper rash
  • Camomile teething tablets
  • Baby Tylenol for bad teething nights occasionally.
  • Thermos for warm milk. I could give mama a break for an entire night and have warm milk right by the bed. Warming up milk in the middle of the night with a screaming baby is rough on the nerves.

Carriers and Strollers

  • Used Super Pram! Italian monster. Takes a 8″ curb with ease. We mostly used it in the house though, as a crib that can roll from room to room to be near us or a window view. It’s at table height, and flat. Invaluable!
  • Used Maclaren brand umbrella-style stroller after 6 months.
  • Ergo. Used consistently, daily, for walking, and simply strapping him on to have him fall asleep, or be able to do things. Tried the others, Didn’t like wraps.
  • Used Jogging Stroller. $45, goes over field, stream and beach sand. Sun shade.
  • Used Car Seat Stroller. For facing toward you and using a car seat when they are young. Normal plastic small wheeled stroller that fits the car seat. Works well, but tricky tacky plastic and bad on rough surfaces.

Toys He Uses The Most

  • Narwhal the stuffed old sweeter whale
  • Sophie the French giraffee (natural rubber).
  • Paper or cardboard: A piece of printer paper, with the corners crinkled up. Loud, cheap, malleable. Boxes. Envelopes, etc.
  • A block of natural cedar wood. We used the top of a fence post, about 4″ long. He’ll chew it for hours.
  • Metal kitchen colander
  • Baby Banana teething tooth brush
  • Baby books at floor level that he can take off the shelf and play with like blocks.

Clothes

In another life I made a million selling baby clothes! We bought almost exclusively used. But if we had to pick only a few clothes, we’d pick:

Summer: Diapers, t-shirt, hat and other sun protection and a light sleep sack. The rest is superfluous.

All other times: Wool! Wool is the best fabric for us because he’s like a sailor, often wet, but needing to stay warm. And it the Lanolin in wool helps neutralize pee smell from little constant leaks he has.

  • Wool short legged pants “longies” with chest high top. Keeps his core warm, but feet and hands free.
  • Thin wool long sleeved shirt. Mobile, warm, tough.
  • Leg warmers look funny, but make diaper changing a breeze because there’s no pants to take off.
  • Sleep sacks

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