First month baby care – lessons learned

He turned the stiff pages in horrified fascination. They opened into another world, a world of quite stupefying problems… It was amazing, he decided after reading a few pages, that a swamp dragon ever survived to see a second sunrise. Even walking across a room must be reckoned a biological triumph… They lived on a chemical knife-edge the whole time. One misplaced hiccup and they were geography… Omnivores or not, what they must really live on was their nerves, flapping apologetically through the world in mortal fear of their own digestive system. [Terry Pratchett, “Guards! Guards!”]

Below are a few tips at which I have arrived via research and experimentation. These strategies have helped me, although there is no guarantee all of them will work with your baby. Do check with your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns.

Addressing the baby’s needs

As long as you can meet the baby’s needs before his signals escalate to an ear-piercing cry, you can keep your baby happy and yourself sane. The key to address the baby’s crying is to try a change of state. If he is unhappy about something within his current environment, we have to change it to get him comfortable again. Checking whether he needs to be changed, burped, fed, held, rocked, or be in a different position is relatively simple, as long as you remember that the fact that you just changed him 2 minutes ago does not mean you should skip the possibility of him needing a change again.

If none of these work, there are some other tricky possibilities: for instance, the baby might have painful gas and not be able to get rid of it (burping sometimes helps, but might not). The gas problem stems from the digestive system being immature during the so-called fourth trimester (the first 3 months of the baby’s life), and just like a swamp dragon from the Discworld, the baby is bound to have all kinds of digestive issues often with explosive results. Trying to burp the baby, change his position, or rock him might resolve the immediate discomfort. Another thing that seems to work at times is a belly massage going in clockwise circles (to follow the direction of the intestines). If you have a bouncer seat, the vibration mode might also help dislodge those painful gas bubbles.

If the baby is overstimulted or exhausted (which can happen when he is in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by new/loud/unexpected sounds or voices, too wound up after a bath, a play session, or any other energy-releasing activity), he wants to rest, but might not be able to get to sleep on his own. At this point, you can try holding and rocking him, or feeding him (as this provides comfort and allows him to fall asleep next to mom’s body with its familiar breathing and heart-beating sounds). Anything can interrupt the fragile state of being almost asleep, such as an inopportune phone call or a bout of hiccups. The baby is suddenly wide awake again, tired, and angry at not being able to rest. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get him back to the sleepy state besides retrying rocking or feeding again. This can keep going in cycles as there are many unexpected distractions, external (such as a door bell) and internal (such as a painful gas bubble), that can jerk the baby awake again. It might be possible to stop hiccups by breastfeeding the baby. To get him back to sleep, you can try rocking him, singing to him, or going for a walk (fresh air sometimes helps) if the weather allows.

Getting things done

They say that when you are taking care of a baby, you can try planning one not baby-related thing  to accomplish in a day, and if by the end of the day you are half way through it, you should consider it a success. This is especially true with high needs babies that require constant attention and are not happy when you put them down for even a moment, day or night.

In our case, some days I’m able to do more than others, but that depends directly on the baby being happy and cooperating, something over which I only have a limited amount of control. Here are a few productivity tips I have learned so far:

  1. Break up the activities into pieces that can be done in 10 or 15 minute increments, and can safely be interrupted and left half-done. Return to them when you have another 10 minutes.
  2. Involve the baby in the activity you are doing: for instance, you can sing a song while sorting laundry or put the baby close to you when doing yoga, so he can observe your movements. This will prevent him from getting bored.
  3. Have several projects set up and ready to be worked on: for instance, I have a belly cast set up in the basement that needs decorating, together with paints for it so I can paint a piece of the decoration whenever I have a few minutes; I have several books started which are strategically placed around the house to allow me to grab one when I’m feeding the baby or having a snack; I have a puzzle opened and set up on the table so I can put a few pieces in; the laundry bin is handy and all the dirty things are consistently put into it, so I can throw it into the washer at any time of day or night, etc.
  4. Have a to-do list with your projects broken down in small sub-tasks. A glance at the list will allow you to quickly pick a sub-task that can be done within the time you have available with the noise level you can allow for (in case the baby is asleep you might have to avoid the extremely noisy activities). This list will also serve as a reminder of the tasks that need doing, since it is too easy to forget things when you are existing in a constantly-interrupted state.
  5. Keep running shopping lists (by store) so you can quickly grab those and go whenever an opportunity arises to get to a particular store.
  6. Combine tasks that can be performed in close proximity to each other (such as in the basement, or in the kitchen) – it will save you time.
  7. Put things that need recurring attention to wherever they are easiest to remember. For instance, I have the infant vitamin D drops by the bed, so that when I feed the baby there I remember to give him his vitamin. If I had it stashed away in a medicine cabinet, I would rarely remember the vitamin or have a chance to retrieve it before a feeding.
  8. Don’t pick up the baby at the first peep – when a baby wakes up he often is content babbling to himself for a few minutes, which might allow you to get whatever you are doing to an acceptable state before attending to the baby’s needs.
  9. When you have a few minutes, do what is important to you first. If you cannot comfortably exist without a daily shower and your teeth being brushed, do it first so that you feel on top of things. If you are annoyed by clutter in your home, put things away, wash dishes, clean up – do whatever makes you feel more comfortable. If you would rather rest, exercise, read, watch a movie (be prepared to pause at any moment), do that, and do it guilt-free. The main goal is a happy parent and a happy baby (the latter is greatly affected by the former), so you should do whatever gets you there.
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