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?


Anonymous said...

We have What To Expect The First Year, and yes, it's a manual of terror, which is great as a reference when needed. I also read The Expectant Father and The New Father, and they were pretty arse. At the risk of offending, I don't trust anyway who plants a tree over their child's placenta.

Becca is pretty accomodating so most of our reading most recently was about sleep cycles after Becca went through a rough patch of poor sleep. Jude has Sears' The Baby Book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and Healthy Sleep Habits Healthy Child. Jude sez: "Sears is a hippy book. No-Cry is similar to Healthy Sleep but they don't recommend letting them cry while Healthy Sleep is all about them crying it out." You're a few months out from worrying about sleep routines, though.

For the most part our information intake now is anecdotal or professional--talking to Joe/Mark/Bill or our pediatrician. When we were navigating the byways of breastfeeding we called a lactation consultant a few times, very helpful although mostly as a reality check; we never had one come out.


Anonymous said...

Jimmy James -

There's nothing you can't figure out after a few trials-and-error. I've figured out that when Owen's fussy, he'll actually go to sleep, but only after I go in and check on him twice. Not once. Not thrice (he'll wake back up). But twice. No baby book is going to tell you the particulars for Sofia. Get used to that.

I do like the idea of for the "100 Ways" book, however.


Anonymous said...

Jamie! Holy cow, I had no idea. Congratulations.

Regarding books, the Sears books are like the OED of babies. i.e., you don't read them cover to cover, but as reference.

Also, I highly recommend The Scientist in the Crib. About cognitive development in several areas (things, people, language etc), when certain leaps are made and why. I read it twice, every page.

- George Wolf

PS: Our #2 due in two weeks.

Jamie said...

Tree over the placenta? Jesus Christ.

Thanks Andy.

Hey George! Damn it's been a long time. Congratulations to you as well.