Friday, 14 January 2011

a word of advice

I STILL feel a bit resentful about the peanut butter thing, to be honest.
When I was newly pregnant, I craved the stuff but was sternly warned against eating it for nine months lest it give my baby a deadly nut allergy. Within the year, the health visitor was merrily recommending peanut butter on toast as a weaning food. 'Oh, that's all changed now,' she said airily, when I looked confused.
The thing about parental guilt is that if you only wait long enough, half the cast iron official advice you have been worried sick about disobeying turns out to be wrong anyway. Last week it was the turn of weaning, when a team of paediatricians said the commandment to wait six months before giving anything but breast milk might be wrong, leaving yet more anxious new mothers confused.
Trust your instincts, everyone says, which is all very well but meaningless: I don't have any deep, primal instincts about peanut butter. The truth is that a lot of parenthood is just about winging it, doing roughly what your parents did (if you feel that turned out all right) and crossing your fingers - and remembering that if it doesn't work, you usually have time to change tack.
So here, for what it's worth, are the three best pieces of parenting advice I was ever given, all of which have withstood if not the test of time, at least four years.

1.'The key is to get used to never exactly finishing anything.'
Sentences, say. Cups of tea before they get cold. Work, before having to leave the office on time. The house you have only half done up. If you like leaving things neat and tidy with no loose ends, it's important to realise that life isn't really like that any more.
2. In response to me asking what would be the most useful thing to do in the last few weeks between stopping work and having the baby: 'Absolutely bloody nothing. Maybe watch a boxset.'
Or put more traditionally, in the first few weeks of having a baby, never stand up when you could conceivably sit; never sit when you could conceivably lie down; and never just lie down when you could conceivably be asleep. Less is more. This quite possibly works for parenting teenagers as well, I imagine.
3. On looking after a tiny baby: 'Start the day with just one thing in mind that you'd like to have achieved by the end, to make yourself feel in control.' Me (hopefully): "What, like go to an art gallery?' Her (pitying expression): 'No, like get dressed.'

What was the best baby advice you ever got?


  1. Breastfeed for six months.

    Seriously, breastfeeding was soooo easy once the initial "oh s**t ow ow ow" phase was over - I could go anywhere at any time without having to plan ahead, and if the little tyke got hungry, I could just lift my shirt. Also, I could breastfeed at night without waking up - try doing that with a bottle (I also pumped and so did have an actual bottle/breast comparison).

    At this point I should say that I live in a country where breastfed babies *are* checked for iron levels, and therefore the concerns about the latest bit of advice are easily ruled out. And while the plural of anecdote is not data, I seem to have a voracious omnivore with no allergies.

  2. The best advice I ever got is that 'everything is a phase'. Definitely true of babies, and even true now that my boys are four and five.

  3. Croup will terrify you. Your child will be wheezing, inconsolable and you'll be terrified and dialling 999 before you know it. So, take a deep breath. Take your child into the bathroom. Shut the door and window. Turn on the shower, as hot as it will go. But the lid down on the loo and sit with your wheezy child on your knee. Wait ten minutes until the room is full of warm fog and viola! Your child's breathing will be back to normal, the screaming/wheezing will have stopped and your blood pressure will be back to normal. (If this doesn't work - then dial 999!!!). This saved us more than one cardiac arrest.

  4. Some petty things like the fact that the reddish/orangish urine that may come out in the first days is just normal; to relax about breastfeeding (that is, if you intend to breastfeed...); not to spare them a relatively non-invasive medical test (the GP was reluctant to orden an x-ray and lucky that I said I did not mind because the pneumonia kept him for a week in the hospital, what if more time had elapsed!); always wear more napkins, towels, milk and clothes that you expect to use, one never knows what can happen (this is specially true if you take a plane and your luggage does not fly with you). Sure a lot more can come to my mind but I hope these are of use.

    And your number 2 and the one about croup Graybo posted are definitely in my top 10 (my second suffers from it and the sole difference here in Spain is that they urge you to place him in a cold atmosphere...)

  5. Having read the BMJ article, what they actually said is what we've all been told that all babies are ready for solids some time around 6 months and go with them being ready and that there might be some indication its a good idea to start by 6 months but its still a terrible idea to do before 4 months

    The iron thing is to do with the different absorbancy rates of iron in breastmilk (c.70%) vs, iron in cows milk (c.4%) - its not comparing apples with apples

    Oh and best piece of advice, you'll never regret time spent cuddling your baby - do more of it

  6. 1) Enjoy the moment while they are so small because they will grow fast and it will be all over before you know. How true, I realised 5 years later.
    2) co-sleeping with the whole blessed part of breastfeeding while asleep at night (pity I was told only with son nr. 2 and that both of them kept me sleepless for almost 5 years - breastfeeding, teething, making each other awake at night, the whole lots)
    3) Stop feeling guilty, you do just fine (like your example, getting dressed is a hell of an achievement, especially if it goes with having clean underwear for 4 every single morning)