Fun Fact of the Week: Babies are born with 300 bones, but by adulthood only have 206 since they fuse together over time.
Amongst Alika’s many great qualities, we rate highly her ability to sleep for nine to ten hours through the night.
Our paediatrician reckons “this is just normal.” I am starting to suspect, however, this is his answer to everyone about anything. It may have to do with the fact that he also just had a baby, and is extremely sleep deprived because his child isn’t as gifted as ours in the sleep department.
Our child’s talent may be due to our amazing parenting skills, and we are thinking of cashing in on this with a few books and a video series on how to make your child sleep. It could also be plain good luck.
Or our child could be lazy – no guesses which side of the family she got THAT from – and maybe we shouldn’t be cultivating this part of her personality by allowing her sleep so much in the mornings. If she sleeps this much now, imagine what she’ll be like as a teenager.
Anyone childless reading this is probably thinking what’s the big deal, I always sleep 10 hours a day.
Amongst our friends with children, this much sleep is rare. An Italian couple we know with two kids told us that each child didn’t sleep through the night until they were two and a half years old. That’s five years without a proper night’s rest. I asked him if he wanted another baby – being the sensitive inquirer I am – and he said he would rather kill himself.
To illicit such a view shows how important sleep is not just to a baby’s brain development, but more so to the sanity of the parents. It’s no surprise then to find an immense amount of thought, theories, opinions, arguments, articles, experiments, anthropological compassions, books, CDs, videos, herbal substances, therapy groups, counsellors, and medical literature on this subject. It’s as though a thousand chefs congregated in a tiny kitchen, each with a highly vocal opinion on how to boil an egg.
In more enlightened times, one hundred years ago, life was simpler and experts on childcare advocated strict feeding and sleeping regimens and discouraged parents from playing with their children.
Unfortunately, we live in a more complex time, but how best to get your child to sleep can generally be split into two schools of thought:
a) I’m not a cruel heartless bastard, I just think that a kid doesn’t need rushing to every time it makes a stupid noise at night and b) a kid should be comforted and smoothed to sleep no matter for how long, and no I’m not trying to compensate for my insecurities as a parent.
And then there are subgroups, such as if the child should sleep in the parents’ bed and for how long.
Overall, as any parent will tell you, the more information and tips the better. But from reading a number of online forums dedicated to this subject the views get highly defensive against opposing vicious attacks. It’s not a sharing experience anymore but a full on culture war, or a “mummy’s war.” And any tips given for sharing have the characteristic of an ultimatum rather than advice. I was surprised by the many views given that ended with “and now my children are happily adjusted adults” as if that alone proves their approach.
Each child will be different and requires its own approach depending on its temperament and what keeps the child awake. No one approach is better than the other and will not be a factor to how they behave as an adult, despite what many write in the forums. We have many chances to mess our kids up, but it’s not going to happen in the first few months.
I feel genes will play a bigger role in a child’s life than what methods we employ to get them to sleep. Each child born is already a “paragon of animals” and “infinite in faculties” and full of amazing potential.
Our simple role is not to improve them but, to misquote Philip Larkin, just not fuck them up.
And finally, here is a sentence about poo just for Mr Professor, because I was amazed last weekend when he was able to tell me exactly how many times I wrote about poo in the blog; a number hitherto unknown to me. It reminds me of the story about Samuel Johnson, creator of the Dictionary of the English Language (1755).
Mrs Watson: Dr Johnson, I am shocked by how many crude words you included in your dictionary.
Dr Johnson: Mrs Watson, I am shocked you were looking for them!
Fun fact of the week: Babies cry in the key of A
Before our wedding ceremony in Scotland, my wife and I had to give our birth certificates to the local authority to prove who we were.
Neither of us had this at hand, so we had to ask for the original certificates from our respective governments. I ordered mine from the Australian government’s website, and it arrived by registered post one week later from Canberra.
In Bulgaria, you couldn’t order a birth certificate over the web. Instead, my wife asked her mother to get one from the local authorities where she was born.
There they refused to give my mother-in-law the birth certificate, stating that this document was confidential, despite the fact that, obviously, she was present at her daughter’s birth and pretty much generated all the info on the said certificate.
She therefore had to get a power of attorney signed from Maria. Now, powers of attorney are not a big deal – you go to any notary public and they will do it for you in a matter of seconds. Not for the Bulgarian authorities, however – the only power of attorney they would accept was one signed by the Bulgarian consul in Switzerland who, very conveniently, sits in the Bulgarian Embassy in Bern.
We live in Geneva which is about a two-and-a half hour train ride from Bern and the Embassy is only open for three hours in the morning on working days, which basically means that Maria has to take a day off work, get up early and manage to do everything before the Embassy closes.
Luckily, in countries like Bulgaria, there is always “the other way” – a visit by Maria’s mother to the civil affairs office revealed that it was currently headed by a primary school classmate of Maria’s. The power of attorney was no longer needed and we had the birth certificate shortly after (well, after it was first sent to Sofia to be officially translated, and then legalised by a separate government department…call this “shortly” a month).
The saga was much longer (and did involve a trip to the consul in Bern this time) after we got married and Maria was trying to change her surname on all her Bulgarian documents. It also resulted in a very puzzled Scottish Borders registrar whom we asked for various “To Whom It May Concern” declarations she had never had to draft before. Too painful to even go into.
With some upcoming trips to take, we now have to get Alika a passport. As she is entitled to both nationalities, we thought it expedient to get her one from Australia and one from Bulgaria.
The Australian procedure is quite straightforward and, considering the importance of a first passport, still rather quick – I first had to send off some forms to the Australian High Commission in London to ascertain Alika’s Australian citizenship (takes up to 5 working days), and once this is acquired, I can apply for her passport in the Australian Consulate in Geneva (up to 10 working days). Not once do I have to show Alika to an Embassy official. All that sufficed was to provide a couple of passport photos signed on the back by an Aussie friend who only had to write that this super cute kid was in fact mine.
We just got back from the Bulgarian Embassy in Bern. Mentally exhausted.
We took Alika with us because the Embassy insists that they see her in the flesh, as this obviously proves that she is our daughter. We dolled her up and all but they did not even bother to look at her when we went there.
First, Maria had to obtain a second original Swiss birth certificate, which had to be additionally apostilled by the State Chancellery in Geneva and then signed off by the Bulgarian consul. Then she had to fill in a bunch of forms on behalf of Alika. These forms were general forms for all situations, not just for registering a baby. Hence, the Embassy worker angrily kept sending Maria back to the waiting room to refill them in as there was information missing that the Embassy required, but it was not actually asked for on the form. Maria stoically kept her cool.
Then I had to sign a couple of legal documents; one was a power of attorney form and the other, I have no idea. I couldn’t read either form as they were in Bulgarian. Maria tried pointing this out to the Embassy worker but she just said “it doesn’t matter, just show him where to sign”. Being a good disciplined lawyer, Maria mumbled under her breath “you do realise those cannot be legally valid then?” when giving them to me. I signed them anyway.
The couple in front of us, also with a newborn, tried to give a box of expensive chocolates to the Embassy worker presumably to speed things up, which was refused because, Maria reckons, there was an Australian in the room watching. I didn’t realise I was a corruption crusader.
We handed over a wad of money (with a receipt) to pay for a temporary passport (valid 6 months, one-entry only) that should arrive to our Geneva address in a week or so. Note that this is neither proof of Bulgarian nationality nor a proper passport, but merely allows Alika to enter Bulgaria – a passport can only be applied for in Bulgaria. Good luck to Bulgarians born in New Zealand or Chile or Canada.
Only once we are in Bulgaria, we can start the long and sanity-challenging procedure to obtain Alika’s passport. It starts with translating and legalising – again – Alika’s much stamped already birth certificate, this time in the consular office in Sofia.
Then we have to apply to the Ministry of Justice to issue her with an “EGN” (roughly, a national security number; takes four – five working days). Then that security number needs to be registered in the police database (takes 14 days). Then the procedure moves to the municipality where Maria was born, where they confiscate Alika’s Swiss birth certificate (thank God we asked for two originals!) and give us a Bulgarian one instead (now, I expect this one to be very handy). Once we have her Bulgarian birth certificate, we can go back to Sofia and apply for her passport.
Being a first passport, we cannot use the fast (3 working days) or express (24 hours) procedure. Oh, no – only the “ordinary service” is available to us. That is 22 working days.
All this should take about two months. Unless we find “the other way”. Or, more reliably, unless we ask the Australian consulate in Geneva to save an Aussie citizen in distress and send Alika’s Australian passport to Bulgaria by DHL.
Otherwise, we’re stuck in Bulgaria for a while.
So, if anyone knows someone working in the passport office in Sofia, we have a box of chocolate they may want!
To be continued…
Fun Fact of the Week: A breastfeeding woman produces in one year three times her body weight in milk.
Babies cry a lot. A parent’s conciliation prize is the widely held notion that after a while they will be able to understand these cries. It is a secret promise of unique communication to compensate for the lack of common language – an insight into a baby’s mind despite their propensity to seemingly stare into empty space.
In case the parent is tone deaf, there is an iPhone application that, and I quote, “…within 10 seconds, the app translates the sound and identifies the emotion, and then gives parents a set of tips to calm the child.” The application can “identify one of five emotional states — hunger, fatigue, annoyance, stress or boredom.”
Furthermore, the company states, “There is a tremendous amount of research supporting that babies who are responded to consistently and appropriately will cry less and develop stronger social and cognitive skills.” Fairly general statement, but you better buy this application or your kid will be a social outcast for the rest of its life.
Well, I don’t own an iPhone. I can’t, however, tell from Alika’s different cries what she wants. They generally seem to oscillate between quiet whimpering as if she’s lost her car keys, to outright exhausting screaming as if she’s realised she just slept through Christmas.
I generally know why she’s crying through timing. We know her schedule well, such as when she wants to eat or sleep, and can smell when she needs changing.
Her body language gives much away. When she’s constipated and thus very annoyed – to put it mildly – she’ll raise her legs, spread them apart, turn red, scream for a few minutes, close her eyes, and then after a while, farts in quick sequence before falling back into restful and contented sleep.
This happens usually in supermarkets. While she screamed and turned different hues of red in the bread aisle, a gentle interfering old lady approached the pram and peered in.
“Oh, elle est mignonne. Mais je crois qu’elle a faim. Donnez-lui un peu de nourriture.”
“Non. Elle est constipé. Elle essaie de faire un caca gros.”
“Ah. Errrr…Ok. bonne journée.”
More important than crying and body language is recognising the different ways by which Alika sleeps.
She has a deep sleep, where she can be placed anywhere and loud music played without waking her. Another form of sleep is very light, she can’t be moved, and you know that when she wakes, she will stay awake for a while, and requires an intervention. Another form of sleep is in between the two. I know if she wakes from it, it will only be a while, and the worse thing to do is intervene, such as hold her, as it will wake her too much. Here she will scream a bit but then fall back to sleep quickly. She has other forms of sleep, but I won’t bore the reader more.
Of course you’ll never find a sleep application on an iPhone. Its just not sexy enough, requires a lot of observation and instinct, and anyway, a sales pitch that states knowing your kid’s sleep will stop it being a social outcast has a hollow ring to it compared to the promises made by the crying-recognition application.
Which leads me to the issues of sleep and babies. I thought that there was nothing more judgemental and subjective than the spurious arguments concerning the pro’s and con’s of breastfeeding. But that was before I delved into the on-line articles and forums concerning how babies should sleep.
But I shall leave that for another time because it’s a biggie, and I haven’t had enough coffee today to adequately mock some of the ideas I’ve read. I’ll keep that powder dry for a later day.
Quote of the week: “I can’t believe he didn’t seem concerned about the throwing up, the smelly farts, the coughing, the spitting, or the hiccups. He said that they’re all normal!!” Maria, returning from the paediatrician.
My wife – bless– said that the blog should provide more news on Alika that family and friends want, and less inquiry and 4am ruminations on the cornucopia that accompanies the observance of an inchoate and developing child.
Thus, in respect to the supposed portmanteau character of this blog, I am happy to report that Alika seems fine, spending her days in a supine position, and of a blithe disposition, despite her parent’s languid movements as we wait in attendance.
Anyway, enough deference to my uxorious nature, and on to the interesting stuff.
I’ve held Alika in front of the mirror to see if she can pass the self-awareness test. She fails miserably in this test compared to dolphins, elephants, magpies and some orders of primates. This test generally determines if animals can recognise their own reflection in a mirror.
First you show an animal a mirror, and then put a blemish on their nose, such as some Vegemite, and watch if they try to remove it by watching themselves in the mirror. In all fairness, humans don’t pass this test until 18 months or so, but we’re hoping Alika sets a new world record by constant practice, bigger mirrors and maybe a private tutor. Granted though she is still near sighted.
I have had more success with making her recognise certain sounds that consequently correspond to a particular action.
After many late nights and early mornings practice, when I tap the milk bottle four times with my fingernail Alika generally looks to me and slightly opens her mouth. She won’t salivate like Pavlov’s dog, and sometimes she refuses to play the game and screams for the milk, but it amuses me at 4am.
Less practical is watching her hiccup and yawn. I had no idea that babies do this.
When she hiccups, I know generally she’ll stop regurgitating her food over my clothes. She’ll yawn, however, at any time, and unlike adults, she doesn’t find it contagious. I can yawn at her all morning – as generally I seem to do after an uneasy night – and she never repeats the action.
What makes all this interesting is we have no idea why adults yawn or have the hiccups. There must be, however, a physiological reason for these two actions if babies are doing these things constantly, and from such an early age.
My guess is that in the undeveloped body, yawning is an important way to get air into the lungs faster than what the small nose can deliver, as babies as far as I have read don’t actually breathe through their mouths, or at least prefer to breathe through their noses. (No, I have not been allowed by Alika’s mother to test this by holding her nose closed). For hiccups, it seems a way for the undeveloped stomach to somehow caress the food around to ease digestion once the food has settled. Pie in the sky ideas maybe.
But I do like the thought that, as adults, when we yawn and hiccup, we are retaining some neonate and infancy habits that we no longer need but never left us.
Men have few expectations put upon them during their partner’s pregnancy or in the first few months after the birth.
We’re there to help but out of the limelight. A phrase oft repeated to me was “you’ll be alright in the first few months because if your wife is breastfeeding, there is not much you need to do.” More extreme is being told, “you were there at the conception, so your role is over for a while!”
Additionally, people decide if a man is going to be a good father within five minutes, and based on nothing deeper than if you like children or if you’re a nice person.
Not so for women, it seems.
I felt that others judge mothers’ competence from the pregnancy, depending on a narrow definition of values, such as commenting on a mother’s weight gain, diet, preparations in the home, how many mood swings, what baby books purchased, or how much time taken off work.
After the birth people judge the mother by how long until she returns to work, general mental state, how soon they become social again, how many knives thrown at their husband, whether she had a caesarean or natural birth, or even the name chosen for the child.
These are the badges of responsible parenting, determined by individual subjective criteria.
Nothing causes greater external interest, or internal pressure, than breastfeeding, and the expectation that all mothers should succeed at this endeavour, for the good of both her and the baby.
Why the pressure? Here I feel unqualified to comment. But I do have observations.
Some mothers in the maternity ward shared by my wife cried relentlessly to themselves when their child didn’t take naturally to the breast. Through my years I have come across many similar stories and scares; without the breast, the baby’s health won’t be the best.
Even the World Health Organisation recommends mother’s breastfeed for a minimum of six months for the health of the baby. Tall order considering that few counties provides that length of maternity leave.
There is a recognised bonding as well associated with breastfeeding that can’t be quantified. Yet, for some reason in evolution, the rate of children not taking mother’s milk is high, or mothers who could breastfeed were in such pain they didn’t bond with their baby until they started using baby formula. Yet the feeling of failure is, naturally, high when these scenarios happen.
So what’s in this pressure cooker of a substance? Mother’s milk is a miracle of the human body. It’s alive, it changes composition depending on the needs and growth of the child, and impossible to replicate in a laboratory. As one chemist stated: “All the people I’ve dealt with in the industry are honest, hard-working and dedicated. In spite of that, we are still unable to make formula that comes very close to human milk.”
No need to apologize mate. Mother’s milk is actually a big mystery. We understand the basics – it contains carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and white cells – but the actual chemical properties are unknown.
For example, if you add oxidant stressor i.e. something bad, in breast milk, it fights off the stressor better than formula milk. This is despite the fact that formula contains more antioxidants.
Interestingly, there is an old nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet, sitting on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. When breast milk is digested, it breaks down into two byproducts: curds and whey. The curd is white and rubbery, and the whey is liquid. Coincidence?
My favorite property of breastmilk is called hindmilk, which makes babies fall asleep.
The best formulas on the market are way behind in replicating such sophisticated substance. Formula is basically cow’s milk. Since we can’t digest cow’s milk, its stripped and pulled apart, redesigned – generally with more proteins and less fat – and some other goodies added.
Some of the more interesting ingredients include; Palm olein oil as a substitute to palmitics, which makes up 20 to 24 percent of the fat in human milk. The slightly different arrangement of triglycerides causes constipation in many formula-fed babies; Mortierella alpina oil, which is extracted from Mortierella fungus. This oil supplies arachidonic acid. Bodybuilders use this to bulk up their muscles. Infants use it to bulk up their neurons; Ferrous sulfate, which is among the best-absorbed iron compounds; and Inositol, an enzyme activator, a cell growth factor, and a component of cell membranes. Breast milk is loaded with the stuff, so it makes sense to put inositol in formula. Studies show, however, that the formula version doesn’t last as long in the bloodstream.
Cruise through baby websites, and the view is unequivocally breast is best, and if you can’t do this, there are milk banks available. Sites generally make such unarguable statements such as “It contains the perfect balance of nutrients that the baby can easily digest.”
So it is all fairly clear. Actually far from it.
Some “breast-is-best” critics argue that women are conditioned to view breastfeeding as such an important experience that they are spending more time and energy with a breast pump than they would with their baby (which is at least half the point of breastfeeding).
More interestingly, the scientific research doesn’t support the statements made in the popular literature. Firstly, researchers have difficulty quantifying the advantages of children who are breastfed because it is nearly impossible to separate out other factors such as the family’s economic status and educational background.
Secondly, much of the research, as the Journal of the American Medical Association states, “…do not demonstrate a universal phenomenon, in which one method is superior to another in all instances.” Another review, in the medical journal Pediatrics, said, “Even where consensus is mounting, the meta studies—reviews of existing studies—consistently complain about biases, missing evidence, and other major flaws in study design.”
A 2005 paper from Health Services Research, focused on 523 sibling pairs who were fed differently, and its results put a big question mark over all the previous research. The authors compared “rates of diabetes, asthma, and allergies; childhood weight; various measures of mother-child bonding; and levels of intelligence. Almost all the differences turned out to be statistically insignificant. For the most part, the “long-term effects of breastfeeding have been overstated,” they wrote.”
Alika is currently on both, starting on breastmilk for a few hours, and if she’s still hungry for more, which invariably she is, we give her the bottle.
It was stressful at the beginning when she was not putting on weight. My wife, despite high education and a logical sound mind, was distraught – to put it mildly – that the calories in the breastmilk wasn’t enough for the baby to gain weight. Now Alika, however, has the best of both worlds, and we can be a bit more flexible how she feeds and hence when we go out while getting the benefits of natural milk. And the father gets involved.
And the male point of view. All my friends I asked about the subject said the same thing as I feel. We’re just happy the baby was born healthy, and however the mother wants to feed it works for us.
At the end of the day, you have to trust a mother’s intuition and needs, wherever this takes the family. After all, us blokes are just there to help and support with a few fingers on the tiller – for the short term.
Things Your Partner Should Not Do During Dinner No. 12: Attempt to show them a website on different types of baby poo, complete with high-definition pictures.
A One-Act Play by Harold “Debs” Pinter
Scene: Geneva Hospital
Act 1 – Hospital reception (translated from French)
Receptionist: So the appointment is for Alika?
Receptionist: Ok, I’ll just call and see if you need labels. Calls on phone
No labels needed. You can go up now.
Scene: Children’s Ward
Nurse: Do you have the labels for Alika?
Mother: They said we didn’t need labels.
Nurse: No. You do. Can papa go and get them from the receptionist?
Scene: Hospital Reception
Father: Can we have the labels for Alika?
Receptionist: You don’t need them.
Father: Apparently we do.
Receptionist: Let me check. Calls on phone. No. And anyway, I don’t give out labels.
Father: You’re sure?
Receptionist: Yes. Go back up.
Scene: Children’s Ward
Mother: Where have you been? The nurses were about to send out a search party for you!
Nurse: Did you get the labels?
Nurse: We need the labels now.
Father: She won’t give them. Ok. I’ll go back.
Nurse: To mother: Is your husband an idiot?
Scene: Hospital Reception
Father enters jumping 10 people waiting in line
Father: Begging We really need the labels apparently.
Receptionist: Let me call. Ok. You need labels. Here they are.
Scene: Children’s Ward
Father: Here are the labels for Alika.
Nurse: Takes 4 labels out of 12 and hands them back to the father. Take the rest of the labels to the receptionist.
Scene: Hospital Reception
Father: They asked me to give the labels back.
Receptionist: That’s never happened before. Why are you giving them back?
Father: They asked me to.
Scene: Children’s Ward
Doctor enters: Ah…this is little Alika. Where are her labels?
Father: I gave them to the receptionist.
Father: I was asked to.
Doctor: We need them. I’ll go get them. Disappears never to come back.
Father, mother and Alika exit stage left realising they had accidently gone to a circus rather than a hospital.
Fun Baby Facts of the Day No. 1: Breastfeeding babies are hungrier during the night, because of the prolactin hormone produced by the mother.
This week saw an important milestone reached, one in which Alika, after 19 days, finally threw off the last vestiges of her previous life in the womb.
During a routine visit to the paediatrician, we had to undress Alika for weighting, and the remnants of her umbilical cord fell off. It is about an inch long, black and nasty.
Generally this is thrown out but in some counties – such as in Bulgaria – this little appendage could determine the course of your life. Wherever you dispose of it actually becomes very symbolic. For example, if you wanted the child to be an academic, you would take the umbilical cord to a university library and deposit it in a book, or more hygienically, bury it in the university grounds.
We haven’t decided what to do with Alika’s little piece of skin, though we are thinking of giving it to CERN (European Laboratory for Particle Physics) so she can become a famous physicist or sending it to the International Olympic Committee so she can be a great sportsperson. And to think I was planning to put it in the garbage.
Bulgaria has some other interesting traditions involving a newborn child, as they “must be given protection and a blessing by means of special rituals.”
One is that the Virgin Mary sits beside the new mother to protect her. When she leaves “The Mother of God should not be allowed to go away hungry though and hence the Virgin Mary loaf of bread. The latter should be kneaded and baked by a woman whose parents and children are alive, so that her good luck should be transmitted to both newborn infant and young mother. The loaf should be baked in a house other than the house of confinement and should be brought over when the baby is born.” (Quoted from Bulgarian Folk Customs by Mercia MacDermott.)
You also do not show the baby to the family or friends until the 40th day of life. Before then, the baby is considered “unclean” and not part of this world yet. This changes on the 40th day when the baby is baptised in church.
The other tradition worth mentioning occurs when the family and friends are finally introduced to the child. This can best be explained by recalling my conversation in the street with Maria’s cousin in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. We were returning from lunch to meet his sister’s recently born baby; it was the first introduction to the child for the extended family.
He mentioned casually to me, “when we get to the flat and see the baby, you must pretend to spit on her, and then say “ugly” (grozno in Bulgarian) or “may the chickens shit on your head.””
I turned to him to check his facial expression. “What?”
“Pretend to spit on her and repeat to her what I say.”
“Right. You want me to insult a child I’ve never met in front of all your family.”
“Yes. I’m serious. It is to keep the devil away.”
“You just want to embarrass me.”
“Ok. Watch me.”
“Oh, I will.”
And indeed, when we walked into the living room with all the family, he did what he said he would. By calling the child ugly – or wishing for chickens to shit on its head, which is the cousin’s personal favourite insult for babies – this tells the devil that the child is not worth touching. The more perfect the baby, the more the devil wants to take its soul. Therefore, you must confuse the devil and call perfect children ugly.
I like these traditions, which are so lacking in Anglo-Saxon culture. Sure we can play a mean game of cricket on the word stage, but we don’t have many of these tree-roots back to the past; from a time when life was simpler yet the portents for its safe continuation far more ethereal.