Sunday, December 26, 2004

Baby Books

I'm a big reader. Any time I need to undertake a new project, be it developing software or cooking a turkey or whatever, I like to read a lot about it and reduce the chance of making easily avoidable mistakes.
But for some reason, when Sofi was on the way, we got eight books on pregnacy and only two books on raising children. I guess we were kind of focused on the pregnacy thing while we were in it, so maybe it's understandable, but in hindsight it's retarded. The ratio should have been reversed; pregnacy is basically a funhouse ride that leaves little room for making a mistake, but dealing with a baby is a real challenge.
While pregnant, it seemed like delivery was the goal we were shooting for, but really it was just the ordeal that marked the beginning of a much longer ordeal.
Making matters worse is those first couple of weeks of baby-dealing-with we didn't have much free time, so even though we got a couple more books on babies we had trouble finding the time to read them.
At this point I've read parts of four different baby books, and I have never seen such contradictions in any other body of work I've read. Software engineers are, in general, an agreeable, consistent lot compared to the authors of baby books. Keep the temperature at 68. Keep the temperature at 72. Dress the baby warmer than you. Dress the baby the same as you. Use a pacifier. Don't use a pacifier. Pick the baby up whenever she cries. Let the baby cry herself to sleep. Feed the baby every three hours. Feed the baby whenever she wants. After the fourth book, Cathy, fed up with the new set of contradictions, said, "That's it. We're not reading any more of these books."
I, on the other hand, want to keep reading more. For one thing, it's comforting to know that there's such a wide range of "right" answers. It seems like no matter what you do it's hard to screw up your baby! Secondly, sometimes the contradictions can be resolved: one book might be talking about babies of one age, while the other book's talking about babies of another age. Sometimes, the contradictions can be explained because they're part of a system. For example, the night before last my mom and I were cooking chicken parmesan and our recipes collided. My recipe called for fresh breadcrumbs, eggs, and flour - her recipe called for store bought, stale breadcrumbs and that was it. We compromised on just the fresh breadcrumbs. Turns out stale breadcrumbs will stay on the chicken by themselves, freshbreadcrumbs require the egg and flour. Neither answer is wrong; it depends on the context. Likewise, it's not wrong to feed your baby on a schedule or on demand, but either choice may conflict with other factors.
Anyway, I'll quickly review the books I've read, and if you have suggestions for ones I should read, let me know:
Dr. Spock: the classic. Very easygoing and permissive. You don't have to warm up your bottles, you don't have to give her a bath every day, you don't have to feed on a schedule. It's half instruction manual, half ego stroking.
The Happiest Baby on the Block: You have to read this one. I don't know if I agree with the theories, but the techniques work. They work so well it's scary. Magic. For us anyway. The only problem is when you stop using the techniques, the baby usually starts crying again. So keeping the baby from crying requires an act of constant maintenance on our part. (Except when we put her in a separate room and crank up the white noise...which we aren't totally crazy about doing because we start feeling like chickenwire parents.)
Those were the two books we had read when the baby was born, and they led to a problem: Dr. Spock is very big on breastfeeding. The Happiest Baby on the Block provides great techniques for making your baby stop crying. The problem was, we were starving our baby. We were breastfeeding her but she wasn't actually getting any. Dr. Spock says that the weight loss is normal, and the Happiest Baby gave us the techniques to get her to stop crying even though she was starving to death. Fortunately, we were required to see the pediatrician a few days after we left the hospital, and she caught that the baby was running on empty, and got us supplementing.
So, time to read more books: at this point, I kind of wanted to read a book that focused on ways you could kill your baby and how to avoid them. I even imagined doing some research and writing one myself: it would be called "One Hundred Ways To Kill Your Baby", and it would go through the most statistically likely ways a baby could die in the United States, starting with auto accidents and SIDS and whatever and working its way down to bladder infections or having refrigerators fall on them. It turned out "What To Expect In Your First Year" was just the sort of alarmist book I was looking for, with strict, Confucian advice on everything. It's a dense, dry work: I've only read up to month two, figuring I'll stay one month ahead of baby and everything will be fine.
Finally, there was "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer" - I'm not sure how good this book is for baby but it's been great for us. With it, we've finally gotten the baby on a routine where we have some free time to ourselves. On the surface, it seems to conflict philosophically with the Happiest Baby book: this book says, "Don't just calm your baby; try to figure out what's bothering her first" - but looking deeper they seem compatible, with this book being the first line of defense against an unhappy baby and "Happiest Baby" being more of a last-resort arsenal.
So...what should I read next?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Nothing to do with Religion

Normally I write about videogame development, but since these last few weeks I've been on paternity leave for my new daughter, my thoughts haven't really been there. But I do feel like writing still. So here it is, a blog that will no doubt have a much smaller readership, possibly limited to my wife and family. Or maybe even smaller.

The obvious blognames are already taken: dadblog, dad, father, blah, blah, blah. After many seconds of thought, I chose fatherjamie, although that does have some unfortunate religious connotations.

I'll start things off with a bang, by writing down an actual useful thought, that I wish somebody had told me before I became a new father, and that actual useful thought is: you don't need to buy all of these baby products!

Something I realized at Babies'R'Us was that they had us over a barrel: we had no idea which items we needed and which we didn't, and out of fear we went crazy and bought everything. (Or registered for everything for shower gifts, anyhow.) One example: they sell cloth in about a hundred different shapes and sizes, and each different cloth has its own name (washcloth, burp rag, lap pad, something-or-other cover, blah blah blah) - "Honey, do we need a something-or-other cover?" "I'm not sure, better get one just in case."

One of our good friends was no help either, as she gave us a huge list of all this useful stuff we could get. Did we need most of it? No. What we needed was a filter, someone to say to us, "You don't really need that. You don't really need that."

So, now that the baby is born, our house is full of crap we don't need.

In fact, I think the only thing we absolutely *did* need before the baby was born was the infant car seat. We needed diapers, sure, but the hospital gave us a bunch to start out with. They gave us plenty of blankets, and even some clothes.

For example, we didn't need a crib: we co-slept (Co-sleeping means to sleep with the baby in your bed. Very popular in some cultures and circles. Although there was apparently a report in 1999 that 64 infants in the United States that year died from co-sleeping related issues, I'd have to know how that number compares to infant-death-from-car-accident, infant-death-from-sids, etcetera, before I lost any sleep over it.) up until last night. (Sofia was born on the 27th of November, and it's now December 21.) *Now* we need a crib, it's true, so it didn't hurt that we bought one already, but there are some things we don't need that we wish we hadn't gotten.

For example, the glider chair: this is a sort of rocking chair that supposedly allows you to soothe yourself and your infant while breastfeeding. It turns out that breastfeeding is really hard to do. The last thing we needed was to try it in an unstable chair. Our ideal setup turned out to be a dining chair with a footrest in front of it and a carefully placed array of pillows. Not to mention the particular glider we bought squeaks, so the other parent can't sleep.

Speaking of soothing chairs, the "bouncer" is a chair that vibrates and is also supposed to soothe baby. Allow me to paraphrase Dr. Karp, author of *Happiest Baby on the Block* - these chairs are not for soothing but for maintenance. Once you've gotten your baby to stop crying you can, in theory, put them in the chair, and the chair will keep them calm. Dr. Karp recommends playing loud white noise while they're in the chair, as well. Well, our baby will stop crying if we crank up loud white noise - we just have to turn the radio to a staticy FM station and blast it. Pantera, Metallica, and Powerman 5000, all seem to work as well. So what do we need the chair for?

Not to mention, we have a crib mobile that also generates white noise. It is *way too quiet* - and possibly overstimulating. I'm not sure if I'm reading Sofia correctly, but she almost seems fearful of the thing.

And speaking of breastfeeding, the "Boppy" is a horseshoe shaped pillow you can rest the baby on while breastfeeding. It didn't work for us. At all. But the "Kidcozy" did, a different brand of horseshoe shaped pillow, did. We had one sent to us priority mail and threw the boppy out.

All in all, if I had it to do over again, before Sofia came I would have purchased only the products I was *sure* we were going to need: crib, infant seat, diapers, wipes, clothes-for-newborn. And registered for the products that I was *almost sure* we'd need: bottles, nipples, diaper champ. Everything else, like breastfeeding accessories (who knew we'd have to take so many unnatural measures to perform this supposedly natural act?) we'd get on an as-needed basis.

Not the end of the world to have more stuff than we need of course. Better safe than sorry and all that. It just irritates me that we're taken advantage of by the baby product industry. (And it irritates me that our tiny apartment is now dominated by baby paraphenalia.)