[To any sleep-deprived new parents who were emailed this post: the potentially important stuff is at the end, numbered 1-3 in bold. What precedes it is by way of introduction.]
Wow. You did it. Nice job. Very nice job. Cute baby. Isn’t it amazing how helpful and sweet everyone is? Doors are held. Gifts are delivered. Strangers offer warm, encouraging smiles.
Veteran parents have such fond memories of the first few weeks of parenthood. Their eyes twinkle with nostalgia for the fragility and implausibility of a newborn. This is because they have no memory of that time. The first weeks are so exhausting that virtually everyone emerges in a haze of oblivion. This is what makes second children possible.
Weirdly, new parents are offered all kinds of opinions, but little in the way of practical advice. Sure you can cover the basics through a mixture of books + friends/family + internet. But you are essentially left to figure out the details for yourselves. It’s like someone tells your wife she’s the pilot, makes you the co-pilot, and then says, “Now fly this plane.”
You’ll compare notes [gauge progress] with similarly situated friends. (Isn’t it bizarre how many of your friends seem to have had babies around the same time? All the babies will be friends! Let’s start a commune!)
Those friends of yours who’ve been parents awhile will wish you luck, exchange knowing smiles, thinking, “They’ll figure it out. We did.” They’re right of course. Everyone improvises more or less successfully. But it’d be nice if someone fed you your lines from just offstage.
Of course, there is one source of expertise: your parents. Unfortunately, not only are all of their instincts wrong, they’re lethal. So unless one of your parents is a pediatrician, do the exact opposite of what they suggest.
They will do their utmost to fill you with doubt. Your partner’s mom will helpfully ask if what you’re doing is intentional, [with arms crossed, head slightly cocked, and eyebrows raised innocently] “Oh, do you pick her up every time she cries?” Just bear in the mind the following:
- Your parents’ generation put their newborns to sleep on their stomachs. Nowadays that merits a house-call from Child Services.
- Your parents fed you Nestlé formula. Now you must breast feed until your baby would qualify as a lactation consultant. If for practical reasons your wife cannot breast-feed, she must loudly proclaim profound feelings of guilt and have a ready-made explanation.
- Your mom smoked – throughout pregnancy, and especially during delivery. Also while pregnant, your mom thought nothing of eating bleu cheese, raw egg, canned tuna, and she popped aspirin like it was going out of style. (In fact it did go out of style. But it came back.) Then again, you turned out fine, (didn’t you?) so maybe all this healthy living crap is overblown. And in all likelihood, everything you are currently practicing will be discredited by the time your kids have kids.
Fortunately there is Dr. Google. It’s an utter mystery how children survived before the internet age. But Google is only good for what Donald Rumsfeld called the “known unknowns.” The internet cannot address the “unknown unknowns,” because we don’t even know to ask.
Consequently, you should feel free to demand that all parents you encounter offer up at least one piece of parenting wisdom. Something you didn’t already know. So it wouldn’t work to say, “Sleep when you can.” Oh good idea. I’ll cut back my time at the racetrack. Or “Remember to do tummy time.” Yeah, tummy time. Alliteration. We got it. For my part, allow me to offer up three bits of wisdom, in the hope that at least one will be new to you.
1. Do not clip your newborn’s finger- and toenails. But why the hell not? They grow so damn fast… and they’re sharp as fuck for such an otherwise harmless creature! True. But if you clip your baby’s nails before the age of three months, they will bleed. This won’t actually cause your baby pain, but you will be racked with guilt and your wife will glare at you. This glare is to be avoided.
Instead, go to a well-stocked pharmacy and buy some infant nail files. Newborns’ nails are a bit papery, and won’t fare well under the abrasion of a regular salon-grade emery board. The infant nail files barely do anything, but they do enough.
2. Umbilical stump. Holy crap that’s not cute, right? Don’t worry about accidentally grazing it. It’ll fall off about a week or so after birth. But you knew that. What you didn’t know is that one or two days before it drops, the stump gives off a really rotten smell. The first time you smell it, you’ll wonder what the funk that is. Then you’ll be like, Oh yeah. It’s that nasty-ass stump. You may be tempted to nudge it off. Don’t. You may also be tempted – once it’s finally fallen off – to feed it to the family dog. Do. After the dog has eaten of your baby’s castoff flesh, legend holds the canine will protect your baby with its life.
3. The Super-Swaddle. In the hospital they tell you about swaddling your newborn. But they don’t stress its importance. The traditional swaddle allows your baby to wriggle out over the course of a night. The Super-Swaddle wraps her up tighter than a crab’s ass. You remember that last burrito you had? Not tight enough. You know how James Brown & the J.B.’s used to sound midway through a set, with the whiskey and weed settling in? Still ain’t tight. Remember how your feet felt the first time you buckled on downhill ski boots? You’re almost there. Try and forget that you’re swaddling your progeny, and instead pretend that you’re prepping Hannibal Lecter for a prison transfer.
For best results, use a large, light, gauzy blanket. Your baby will fuss while you swaddle her, but she’ll settle down within seconds of being wrapped. Follow the instructions on pages 114-117 of The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp. He has great technique, plus a no-fail, five-step trick for soothing a crying baby. (Spoiler: it involves swaddling.) Don’t feel compelled to read the book in its entirety, as it is mostly his five-step technique repeated in various permutations. (I would detail the technique here, but space + decency + copyright law dictate that I refrain.) And read his explanation of the “4th trimester.”
That’s what I got. I can’t imagine how you found the time to read this, but I’m flattered. Now get some rest. As if.