Before the baby comes, part two: baby cues and cries

When I was in my final weeks of pregnancy, one of my colleagues said: “Don’t prepare so much for the birth, prepare for what comes after. In the hospital you will have professionals looking after you, so you will get a lot of help. However, when you come home there will be noone to help you and no time to learn”. Good advice, but where to start?

I went on a bit of a binge reading exercise, gulping books about brain development and discipline, caring for a newborn and raising a bilingual child. However, initially, the thing that will be most helpful is to know why my baby cries (and how I calm him down). Deciphering the cues and cries is what my last 3 months were about.

First of all, this video about baby language has been immensely helpful. It is only 17 minutes long and it will save you a lot of guessing. It talks about five distinctive sounds all babies make in their first months of life (indicating that they are hungry, uncomfortable, sleepy, need a burp, or need to fart). Apparently, all babies make these sounds, it is based on reflexes.

THB-coverThen, if I were to recommend one and only one book for the first-time parent, it would be The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. This book tells you what is happening with your baby for their first three months, so called “the fourth trimester”. The author argues that all babies are born 3 months prematurely because our heads are too big and we won’t be able to squeeze through the pelvis any later. So the baby is often overwhelmed by the outside world and cannot handle all the sounds, movement and interaction just yet. The best way to calm her down is to emulated the womb environment in the following five steps: swaddle her tightly to reduce movement, turn her on her side or stomach (lying on their back makes babies feel as if they are falling down and activates the Moro reflex), shush her as this resembles the sound of blood moving through the vessels, swing her as she was swung all the time in the womb, and finally, give her something to suck on.

This book is great in many ways. First, it gives you an idea of what may be happening with your baby. The advice is actionable and lets you move through a routine which will be great for the stressed and sleep-deprived state you will be in. Finally and most importantly, it gives dad something to do and be useful.

If you don’t have time to read the book, it is also available as a DVD.

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series:

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Before the baby comes, part one: prepare for breasfeeding

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You would think that breastfeeding is something that should happen easily and naturally. After all, if it didn’t, humanity would not have survived, right? However, out of all things that I had to master with my newborn it was the hardest one. I knew it would be from my girlfriends, so I prepared for it. I attended a breastfeeding course with NCT, I printed a couple of articles showing the right latch and breastfeeding positions, I watched a few videos, I learnt “nose to nipple, tummy to mummy” mantra. This was all very helpful, but still I did not prepare enough.

What else could I have done?

First of all, I should have gotten an email and a phone number of a breastfeeding consultant (or a few) that I could call straight away if I needed them. I hoped that my sister-in-law (who works as a lactation consultant in Australia) would be sufficient. She was very helpful to call in the middle of the night, but you need someone locally, in your home, the same very day because your baby is not getting any food! Ask friends for a recommendation beforehand, ask a birthing center, ask your parent education instructor. I got a consultant from NCT and not only she was good, but she also charged reasonable amount (£80 per session). If you just search on the internet you will end up paying £250 or more in an emergency.

Secondly, I should have taken notice of the “breastfeeding clinics” in my area. Luckily, my husband found one through NCT – at that point I wasn’t capable of searching the internet. These are usually weekly drop-in sessions where one can ask questions and get advice on correct latch, etc. You will probably end up going there a number of times at different stages (i.e. in the beginning to correct the painful latch, check for tongue-tie, when your baby loses that latch every other minute, when you need advice on how to introduce a bottle, etc). They are much cheaper (or free) than getting a breastfeeding consultant, but we couldn’t get to ours in week one, as we could barely leave the house – that’s why we needed the consultant to come to us.

Thirdly, I should have gotten a good breast pump in advance and tested it. I got one from a friend, but the suction on it wasn’t strong enough. I found this out from the midwife who came to visit, so I ended up buying a breastpump in a hurry. You can also rent one from NCT (they have industrial strength ones). I bought one for the both breasts because I realised after sitting awkwardly crouched for half an hour 8 times a day that it is worth paying more.

Finally, I should have gotten some formula, bottles, nipples and steriliser all set up and ready to go – just in case. And also found out how much formula to give to the newborn – see an example here. You know, I didn’t want any formula at home because I wanted to make every possible effort to breastfeed. I thought that by not having formula I would remove the “temptation” to just give the bottle and persevere in breastfeeding. I was afraid that once the baby gets the bottle he will never want to breastfeed (rubbish! I had to bottle feed in the first week until we both figured out how to latch – and now my baby is happily sucking from the breast). What I didn’t realise is that you cannot teach the baby to take the breast, they need to learn. And they cannot learn when they are screaming their lungs out. Luckily, I had some formula at home after one couple in our mums & babies group almost had to go to A&E on Sunday night. We had to rapidly sterilise the bottles and teach ourselves how much extracted milk and formula to give to the baby.

Looking back at our first week with a newborn, we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress. Our baby screamed a lot and we didn’t know why. I suspect it was hunger. Once we sorted out breastfeeding (in week 2) the loud screaming stopped. So next time instead of shushing and rocking I would try feeding first.

Resources about breastfeeding:

  • Kelly Mom – terrific resource on breastfeeding covering all sorts of topics like increasing milk supply, pumping, reflux, baby allergies (myths and truths), cluster feeding, etc

  • Australian Breastfeeding Association – has a lot of useful information, including videos

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series:

Three things that made my life with a newborn much easier

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I am not going to write about obvious things that most new mums know they need, such as loving family, breastfeeding consultant and nappies. I am going to write about three things that I have discovered after my baby was born – and I’m very glad I did! This was a baby events tracking mobile app, next day delivery and baby hammock.

1. Baby events tracking – Baby Connect

Baby Connect is an app where you can record feeds, sleeps and nappy changes your baby has. It has many more functions, but these are the ones I ended up using most. It exists both on Android and iPhone and allows to sync between multiple caregivers. My husband can check during the day how we are both doing, he knows whether our son is due for a nappy change or whether his cry is a hungry one because he ate 3 hours ago. I also like to analyse the data and find some patterns. For instance, I discovered that my baby often goes 2 hour and 15 minutes between naps and the easiest time to put him to sleep is around this magic point. I can see that he is going through the growth spurt as the time of feeding increases. I can notice that I’m not feeding him enough from the right breast and rectify this.

2. Next day delivery – Amazon Prime

Full disclosure: I work for Amazon.

Amazon Prime is a service that for £49 a year offers the next day delivery all over UK on thousands of products listed on Amazon.co.uk. When you sign up for Amazon Family program you get three months trial of Prime for free.

I never thought that next day delivery was of value to me… until I got a screaming bundle that needs constant feeding and soothing. Breastpump? Yes – got it the next day. Running out of nappies? No problem, the delivery man knocks on my door the morning after. Forgot about a Christmas present? No need to rush to the shop. Incredibly convenient.

Watch out, it gets addictive!

3. Baby hammock – Poco baby

We got a Moses basket from our landlord and I wasn’t planning on getting anything else. I am an advocate of “less is more” and our London flat is small. But when you suddenly come home from the hospital and your newborn starts waking up every hour at night in his Moses basket… I was ready to do anything to get some extra sleep.

I know that retailers love new mums – and now I know why: your decision-making becomes incredibly quick. I searched for NHS cribs we had in St Mary’s hospital – the ones that rock when the baby moves and automatically soothe them. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I then looked for cribs that would swing back to front – and didn’t find any in the UK. There are plenty of them in Russia (where I am originally from), but surprisingly none here. And then I came across baby hammocks. There are a few brands I found in the UK, namely: Amby baby, Poco baby and Amazonas Kangoo. They all rocked from back to front and side to side.

I did quite a bit of reading on mumsnet (e.g. here and here) and other resources to see if the hammocks are safe and whether they actually work. There were a couple of SIDS reported in the US for Amby Baby hammock, but upon further investigation, the reason was that the hammocks hadn’t been used properly. Also, babies die of SIDS in their cribs too.

I asked an osteopath and an orthopedic surgeon whether it’s OK for babies to sleep in a hammock. They shrugged. They haven’t had patients with back problems due to sleeping in a hammock (too small a sample?). Though the orthopedic surgeon – my brother in law – have seen a lot of babies with hip dysplasia from incorrect swaddling – never swaddle your baby legs straight!

In some countries of South America and South East Asia generations of babies slept in hammocks. And the reviews from parents who bought hammocks were all very positive. Having weighed all pros and cons, I decided it will be OK.

I wanted to get an Amby baby hammock (out of three brands they have the best marketing), but unfortunately their only UK distributor was out of stock and was awaiting a shipment in a month’s time. So I ended up with a Poco baby hammock. I bought it from Kiddicare because they had the next day (free) delivery – yes, I know, next day delivery again!

Three months in, I am very happy with the hammock. The rocking added an hour to our son’s sleep straight away (we swaddle him as well). It fits nicely next to our bed. It is easy to store when we stop using it and it is easy take with us on a weekend break.