The year 2016 was transformative in many ways for my family. My wife and I were blessed with a baby daughter in April and as the ubiquitous term goes, our "lives changed forever." As the year turns and our daughter turns nine months, the relativity of time makes itself known. The days (and sleepless nights) at first seemed never-ending when she came into our lives. In retrospect though, as she grows into a new developmental milestone every few weeks, time seems to zip by. I very often find myself wishing I could hold her to the part of her infancy that has just ended...
I had planned on documenting my parenting perspectives much before, but thought it wise to add the distance of time to my thoughts. Distance often brings perspective and enables one to exercise more objectivity. Here are key thoughts or ideas that I have gleaned from my experience. I hope new parents will find them useful and prospective ones will not feel too scared about what is to come!
1. Fed is best
As my wife and I read up on the demands of parenting and attended pre-birth classes, the criticality of mother's milk was hammered into us. The formula vs. breast milk debate continues to rage. In the 70s and 80s, formula feeding was considered superior but the pendulum has shifted back to towards breast milk now. At out birthing centre, the superiority was made clear by a poster that listed close to 100 useful nutrition sources that breast milk provides compared to the five listed against formula.
We were lucky to not have any breastfeeding issues but when the occasion demanded, we never thought twice before opening the formula packet...
But here is the rub—breastfeeding is hard and takes time to cultivate. As parents, and especially as a new mom, the pressure to breastfeed is enormous. Yes, breastfeeding is important but even more critical than that is that the child should not go hungry and if you have to supplement breast milk with formula, feel no shame. My wife and I quickly settled on this rule—our daughter would never go hungry. We were lucky to not have any breastfeeding issues but when the occasion demanded, we never thought twice before opening the formula packet to ensure our baby had a full stomach to sleep on.
2. Trust your instincts
Parenting is an art, not a science. Books and videos can prepare you but cannot teach out how to handle a wailing baby when he/she is not responding to anything. The influence of your personality shines manifold in parenting. Things will fall apart very often but trust your judgement and your instincts. If there is a nagging sound at the back of your head or a hunch you have about something, go for it. Babies can't speak and most experiences with them are hit and trial experiments.
My wife and I never hesitated in changing feeding schedules or sleep patterns if we felt something was not working for our daughter. Give your parenting hunches a chance and you will realise that more often than not, they are actually correct.
3. The internet is your friend...
I often wonder how our parents raised us in the non-connected age when access to information was limited and all the knowledge about parenting flowed either from books or from the paediatrician's office. The internet has opened us to real time information and support groups. Sometimes access to information can overload you and offer conflicting opinions. You may suffer from a mild cold but on the web you can guide yourself to believe that you are infected with a chronic illness. On the whole though, the web has more pros than cons for new parents.
Support forums on Facebook made us realise that the behaviour patterns our daughter was showing were not unique to her but happening to every other kid of her age. Multiple blogs and websites guided us to our choice of a stroller, baby carrier, swing and every other accessory in our daughter's life. Some of useful ones are Bump, Parents and Lucie's List.
4. ...and an even better friend is Amazon!
Can there be anything better for a time-stressed parent than to avoid trawling through aisles of multiple stores and simply clicking a button to order everything they need? We have had an Amazon box related to our baby needs arriving at our doorstep every week. Perhaps the biggest resources were the user reviews, truly demonstrating the power of the community and the market platform that Amazon is. Reading them enabled us to filter products and be aware of what "use cases" to avoid.
5. There are no rules
Young babies evolve rapidly. Whenever we thought we had a feeding pattern, schedule or behaviour locked down with our daughter, she would surprise us with changes within a few days. Every week we could notice her being different from the last, either in terms of her reaction to stimuli, attitudes to food or in social situations.
As a parent you are signed up to a certain level of weariness perpetually. Take it in your stride...
As a parent, you will find yourself in frustrating situations of having to rework feeding patterns, being surprised by crying and waking up at unearthly hours like 4am or having the little one make a ruckus in a restaurant. The only way to console yourself is to acknowledge that all babies pass through these phases and living with unpredictability is a job hazard of being a parent.
6. Go cheap, stuff expires
With babies, it is safer to go with the bare minimum. You could spend a lot of money, buy luxuries for your child and watch them evaporate within a few months as he/she outgrows them or you could simply choose the "good enough" over the "exceptional". As young parents we often feel a drive to not short-change our newborns and get them the best. But know this – you have 20 years (or maybe more!) to spend on the needs of your child and you certainly do not want to exhaust your financial resources right away.
Babies grow rapidly and clothes, toys, swings and car seats get outdated very soon. Our daughter was gifted a bunch of clothes at her birth but within three months we realised that she had outgrown many of her newborn sets that hadn't even been touched. Besides there is one big advantage of being a utility shopper as parents to newborns and infants—they are too young to understand or complain!
7. Be patient, there are bad days
No matter how much you try, there's no escaping bad days (and nights) with a newborn. We have had occasions when our daughter refused to sleep easily, woke up at unearthly hours in a playful mood, became recalcitrant with respect to eating food, spilled stuff on the carpet, puked her meals out or simply exhausted us from her screaming as she suddenly discovered the power of her vocal chords.
Establishing sleeping rules and associations makes it easier for babies to follow routines and for parents to manage their own physical exhaustion.
As a parent you are signed up to a certain level of weariness perpetually. Take it in your stride, try never to lose your temper (as my wife reminds me, children can sense your mood more quickly than you think) and tell yourself that these are phases—these too shall pass.
8. Keep a paediatrician close
Young babies need frequent paediatrician check-ups and as a first time parent there will be many a moment of panic when your first tendency will be to rush to the doctor. While not every incident or change in behaviour is a case of emergency, it helps to select a paediatrician who is easy to reach—ideally within walking distance. The last thing you want to do with a sick and wailing baby is to subject them to a long commute in traffic.
9. Be firm and sleep train
The best thing you can do to make life easier for yourself is to sleep train your baby. The mind of a baby works by association and as parents you can influence them the most. It took us a while but my wife and I were able to instil some level of sleep training in our daughter. It demanded a certain set of non-negotiable rules to reach there though—bedtime was fixed and could only be moved on long weekends; at bedtime lights had to be switched off to link darkness with night sleep and there was to be no chatter or playing with the baby. If she woke up at night, we would monitor her but avoid intervening or feeding unless absolutely necessary and let her soothe herself back to sleep. For the most part, it worked. We got lucky that temperamentally our daughter is a good sleeper but I do believe that establishing sleeping rules and associations makes it easier for babies to follow routines and for parents to manage their own physical exhaustion.
10. Have fun!
If the nine points above make you believe that having kids is like signing away your life to a permanent mental and physical ordeal, do remember that it has its bright sides that can far outweigh the stresses. Nothing beats those first moments when your child comes into the world, when they start cooing and recognising your face, when the babbles begin, when they roll and sit up or when they struggle to stand up on their feet. The tough times seem long in the instant but rarely stay in memory while the happy moments will stay with you for life. Don't stress too much and just enjoy the smiles on your child's face.