Sunday, January 13, 2013

Six things they don't tell you about babies

Despite my extensive reading and research, there are still things I didn't know about babies until we had one (and now two) living in our house.  Mysterious creatures, babies.

1. They don't arrive knowing how to eat
I read a lot of articles about breastfeeding, and had honest friends who shared their struggles, but I didn't pick up on one important detail.  It's not just about the mama learning the "womanly art of breastfeeding". The babies don't know how to do it either. They need to figure out how to latch, how to suck, and how to eat and breathe at the same time.  The same is true about drinking from a bottle, which is a different set of skills.  All those Sesame Street videos of people feeding baby animals with bottles made me believe that it was something babies just knew how to *do*. Not so much.

2. A baby is not a function box
When I was learning middle school math, our book had a photo of a "function box" to get us to understand inputs and outputs of algebraic functions.

Function box, courtesy of
One Mathematical Cat

I imagined a new baby would be like this function box and it was my job to figure out the right input to get the desired output.  Baby crying?  Maybe it's a messy diaper.  Deliver clean diaper, then baby should stop crying right?  HAHAHA. Not really.

Sure, sometimes it worked, as I figured out the baby's patterns for hunger and sleep.  But many times, she cried for no reason at all.  Friends of mine have graphed and journaled sleep patterns for weeks, and found no useful correlations.  The function box doesn't cover that.

3. Each one is a special snowflake
This is a twist on the previous lesson. We've had two newborns, and even with our tiny n=2 sample size, I can tell that babies are born with different preferences and personalities.  Again this was something I had simply not considered prior to becoming a parent. I just figured babies were mostly alike until they got older.

BabyT loved the pacifier and drank happily from a bottle.  BabyM says no to both.  BabyM really prefers to be held or at least talked to when she's awake, while BabyT was happy to sit in her bouncy seat and amuse herself for long stretches of time.

Keep that in mind when helpful friends and relatives tell you what to do that "always worked for their babies". Yours may hate it, and it's not because you're doing something wrong.

4. Physical development takes a top down approach
Our awesome pediatrician mentioned this in passing, and I think it's so cool. I never thought about it that way until she brought it up.  First they learn to use their mouths to eat, then get control of their head/neck, then their arms and hands, then they can roll over, sit up, crawl, stand, and finally walk and run.

Obviously not every baby will do it exactly this way (see special snowflake, above) but it's a rough guideline and a neat, logical pattern.  So much is illogical in the world of babies that I latch onto what I can.

5. Photoshop is your friend
Everyone thinks babies are born all cute and cuddly. Not so much. They have weird skin issues like baby acne, cradle cap, and birthmarks that disappear in varying amounts of time. They spent 9+ months squished inside someone's belly.  They are also skinny and take several weeks to plump up.

see how this was taken from really far away?
and artfully blurred?

Photoshop and Instagram filters will save you in these uncertain times.  Around 3-6 months, babies usually deliver the goods and get really cute as promised.

6. Oh god, the laundry
So people do talk about how babies exponentially increase the amount of laundry they do.  Especially those folks who launder their own cloth diapers.  And I do find myself always behind on laundry these days, but it's not the baby's clothes that are piling up - it's mine.

Sure, we have the occasional diaper blowout or spit up incident that requires a full baby outfit change and maybe also the changing station covers. In general, though, babies who don't move don't get dirty so ours tend to wear outfits for more than one day.

The biggest increase in laundry is MY clothes.  I've still got a limited wardrobe because I didn't lose all the baby weight in 3 weeks as advertised.  Breastfeeding means I need to wear easy-access clothing, and I don't have many nursing tops.  Not to mention all the reusable nursing pads that need to be washed and every last thing the baby spits up on.  Most of my shirts meet their demise that way - I put on a clean one, and 15 minutes later, the baby spits up on it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Maybe there's someone out there who benefits from this list, and remembers it at 3am when they're feeling like a failure because the (fed and diapered) baby just won't stop crying and go to sleep already.  Or maybe that person will cut herself some slack when she has to decide whether to wear the sweatshirt with the milk spot or the spit up on the shoulder, because nothing else is clean.

It definitely gets better.


  1. Funny on the photoshop. With the first baby you take all these photos right away. With the later ones, you realize that this is not peak cute time. I always thought 6 months was just about perfect. They can hold their heads up, sit (if with help) and they look like the Gerber baby...and they can't move. That lasts like 2 weeks, but it's awesome.

    1. Yes, the Gerber baby stage is pretty awesome. In some ways, T's gross motor delays was a benefit - we got that "cute but doesn't move" stage for 9 months ;)

  2. So many points that had me nodding my head in agreement. We had a good baby who does not like sleep and still feels that way at nearly three. I used to think it was me but it really is her - she loves to be touched and sleeping alone is not a good source of that!

  3. Great post!! Especially love the photoshop part LOL just a very few of them come out totally cute... :-)

    1. A friend of mine says they mostly look like aliens as newborns :)

  4. I've got a nearly 6 month old so I was nodding along in agreement with this!! I have to admit I've given up changing my top every time it gets sicked on! Becky x

  5. So true, I'm still trying to figure out my 16 month old! ;)

  6. Great list! Love your insight!

  7. (LOL) I love this! It is so true. And the sleep thing. I never knew exactly how little they sleep. :)
    I worked for Parents as Teachers as a Parent educator for five years. Mostly with first time parents. I loved being able to help them sort through these types of things!

    Another one to remember is that in addition to developing from top/down, it is also inside out. They are stronger in their trunk and then they eventually develop skills out to their extremities. Did not know this til I worked for PAT as well!

    1. Ooh, the "inside out" thing is really cool. I'll have to remember that one.

      And sleep is so puzzling. Our 3yo pretty much STOPPED sleeping through the night in Sept. After years of doing it. Sigh.

  8. Yep. Nicely done. I've got a six week old and a four year old, both boys, and all these totally ring true.

  9. This is all so true! I still don't understand the "crying for no reason" part - it makes me so frustrated. :(

    1. Oh yeah, I hear you. At 3mo, we're getting past that now, and I am grateful.

  10. I have a 13 and 9 year old and I still haven't figured them out and the laundry keeps growing every year as they get bigger lol


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