Parenting Babies

TL;DR

Raising children is a huge life decision with unbelievable risks and monumental rewards.

Prepare as much as you can both mentally and physically, though keep in mind that you’ll never be fully prepared.

Your relationships will change because you’re a new parent, and other people will give unsolicited advice.

Babies require a large list of various needs, but the experience is a slow transition.

Note key milestones and celebrate them with photos and mementos.

Why raise children?

As much as they’re a choice, raising children is one of the most significant decisions you can ever make.

However, any healthy marriage will mean it’s not possible to prepare for or prevent having children:
  • The chances of a woman conceiving is highest at the peak of her fertility cycle.
  • Beyond abstinence, birth control never has a 100% chance of preventing conception.
    • Most of them are about 99% effective.
    • Condoms in a wallet for longer than a month have a 50% chance of breaking.
  • If you can’t conceive and want a child, consider adopting.
    • In an industrialized society, you can usually adopt more quickly and affordably from a poorer foreign country.
    • Try to adopt directly through people you know, since some adoption agencies and foster care systems will steal children from high-quality biological parents.

There’s no “ideal” number of children:
  • Some people stay married but never want children.
  • Many urban and suburban cultures expect one or two children and consider three excessive.
  • Most rural and impoverished cultures expect at least four children.
  • Generally, the timing of the children defines how much work they are more than how many (e.g., twins are harder than two children three years apart).

Parenting is high-risk, high-reward because children directly mimic the positive and negative traits of their guardians:

Mentally preparing

Any preparation beforehand is worth the effort, but you’ll still be overwhelmed:
  • New parents always lose sleep, feel unappreciated, and must assume new responsibilities.
  • Mothers tend to feel an intense protective instinct and affection for their infant.
  • Fathers will often feel resentful toward their wife for neglecting him through constant preoccupation with the baby.
  • Keep your relationship a priority as you adapt to new responsibilities.

Research and experience babies before having them:
  • Spend as much time as possible around babies and small children before you have one of your own.
    • Even if you don’t take on the responsibility of raising children, you can still make a profound difference in the children of your friends and family.
    • Volunteer at a daycare or church’s childcare.
  • Hundreds of great parenting books and articles will teach almost everything you need to know.
  • If you haven’t conceived yet and don’t trust your capacity for responsibility, get a pet.

Pregnancy is preparation time:
  • You’ll be “nesting”, which is full-range preparation for the child, but not always sensible.
    • Stay aware of whether your instincts fit the occasion.
  • A pregnant lifestyle often imitates habits that come after a baby is born.
  • Bring a set of preventative items wherever you go:
    • Always bring extra water and food that won’t make you nauseous.
    • Keep bags available for morning sickness.
  • Adapt your exercise regimen to lower-stress workouts.
  • Anticipate losing sleep and under-performing at work.
  • Avoid or limit any major life decisions like moving, buying a house, or changing jobs.
  • Plan for your new tax situation, and consider setting up a college/marriage fund.

Mentally preparing is more important than stockpiling:
  • Babies will learn and grow naturally if you simply keep feeding and playing with them.
  • The baby industry is a bit like the wedding industry, with endless overpriced consumer products for any perceived need.
    • Most baby products are designed for parents more than babies, a bit like pet products.
    • Babies, especially newborns, don’t take much room and spend years without the motor skills to use what you give them
    • Plus, babies develop slowly enough that you can buy things for them as they grow.
  • Outside of food, you never need to amass debt for a baby’s needs.
  • Your ability to learn happiness while stressed and stay mindful of yourself is more important than anything you can buy or learn.

Anticipate the experience:
  • You will feel overwhelmed, starting with delivering the baby.
    • Your child will give you more stress and will temporarily sabotage your satisfaction with life.
    • Parenting has many happy moments and reprieves, but they’re sometimes intermittent.
    • Set low expectations and keep them low.
    • Since it’s a waste of energy, only worry about each day as it comes.
  • After children, you never have as much downtime.
  • For at least 4 months, you won’t sleep for more than 3–4 hours at a time, so consider shifting to an alternate cycle to minimize stress.
    • The work is easy (feeding, diaper changing, and holding) but it doesn’t stop for months straight.
    • While your routine will normalize later, your pre-planned tasks for the children may rob sleep.
  • Children are a steady drain on resources.
    • Until they leave the house, your scarcest resource will be time.
    • Children drain energy and make messes as they learn to grab, crawl, run, and open, so the house will never stay consistently clean.
    • Since they’re usually mimicking you or something they’ve seen, you’ll spend a lot of effort self-reflecting and educating.

Fight some of your impulses:
  • Most parents are afraid of their child getting hurt and over-compensate.
  • Biologically, children are adults at age 12, so parenting is a twelve-year project to normalize them to typical adult behavior.
  • While it runs contrary to most parents’ advice and your protective instinct, they must suffer the logical consequences of their actions, except when it might permanently harm them.
  • Your rules define their world during childhood, which should transition toward how they experience the rest of the world (ideally in adolescence when they work their first job, or at the very least when they make decisions about college).

Expect 38–42 weeks of pregnancy, though babies very often survive premature birth anytime after 28 weeks (third trimester):
  • Get routine checkups to make sure the baby is healthy, but make sure it’s all covered by your insurance to avoid going into debt.
    • Because pregnancy is so delicate, doctors are powerless to do anything except recommendations, supplements, drugs, and invasive surgery.
  • If you wish to know the gender beforehand, get an ultrasound at 20 weeks.
    • Any guess is only about 50% accurate, even the mother’s.

Physically stockpiling

Many baby products are convenient, but unnecessary:
  • A baby monitor will ease your anxiety that your baby is crying from another room, but you can keep them in their bed in your room and transfer them when they’re old enough.
  • A bassinet is merely a flat, padded surface at working height with guardrails.
  • Baby toys are designed to distract, but training a baby early to typical colors has long-term benefits to their development.
    • Babies can’t differentiate between the toy and the packaging until at least 12–18 months.
    • “Edutainment” toys aren’t as educational as spending time with them, going to a new place, or giving them common household objects.
  • A crib is merely a convenient way to confine the baby from things you’re worried they may put in their mouth.
  • Don’t bother with baby life insurance, since it’s only to cover burial expenses.
  • Avoid over-protecting the house with safety equipment.
    • You can put bumpers on every sharp edge, safety gates for rooms, and door locks on cabinets, but you can save tons of money and frustration by letting them learn firsthand that some objects are painful and focusing your attention on safeguarding legitimately dangerous things (e.g., bleach).
    • Even if you’d rather not address discipline, prepare in advance for when they creatively disrespect your boundaries.
  • You won’t need baby food after they’ve weaned off milk/formula.
    • A baby can eat almost anything whatever you’re eating if you run it through a food processor or tear it up into little pieces.

However, you will need a wide variety of standard items:
  • If it’s too much of a strain on your budget, you can usually find creative equivalents.
  • Useful everywhere:
    • Assorted washcloths, rags, and burp cloths
    • Baby wipes
  • Health/hygiene needs:
    • Brush and comb
    • Cotton balls and cotton swabs
    • First aid supplies, baby pain reliever, medicine droppers, nasal aspirator, teething medication, thermometer
    • Humidifier or vaporizer and vaporizer fluid
    • Find a good pediatrician.
  • Bath needs:
    • Baby lotion, baby soap, and tearless shampoo
    • Soft-bristle baby brush
    • You can use adult-grade hygiene items, but the baby’s bath experience is more enjoyable with less harsh items.
  • Food needs:
    • If you’re nursing, you’ll only need a nursing pillow and, if you want to pump, a breast pump.
    • Baby formula may be necessary if you can’t breastfeed.
      • Formula isn’t as nutritionally beneficial to them, but helps the mother stay more productive because they don’t have to pump and anyone can feed them.
      • Get an abundant supply of formula to save constant trips to the store.
      • Bottles, bottle brushes, and drying rack
      • A bottle sterilizer and bottle warmer are very convenient, but you can use a dishwasher and microwave.
  • Clothing needs:
    • They’ll need clothes, but never buy them new.
      • Until they’re a year old, they’ll outgrow everything they wear within a month, so used clothes never wear out.
      • When they’re too young to crawl (under 3 months) their clothes are mostly decorative, but diaper changes and vomiting require at least a dozen outfits.
    • Baby caps (for the first few months) and hats
    • Booties and socks
    • Coats, jackets, sweaters, and shirts
    • Gowns, stretchies, and one-piece footed rompers
    • Receiving blankets and sleeper outfits
  • Diaper and waste needs:
    • Baby oil or rash ointment, baby powder
    • Diapers, diaper bag, and diaper pail
      • The cost for disposable versus reusable diapers is negligible, especially when you consider how much time it takes to clean reusable diapers.
  • Nursery needs:
    • The cheapest crib you can find is a Pack and Play, which often has a changing station and converts from a bassinet to a crib.
    • Crib blankets, sheets, and changing pads
    • Changing table and dresser if you need the extra storage
    • Crib, crib mattress, and crib mattress pad
    • Optional: play mat, rattle, teething rings, simple baby toys, swing
  • Other needs:
    • Absorbent bibs (at least a dozen) and drop cloths
    • Pacifiers
      • It’s much easier to recondition them off a pacifier later than their thumb.
    • Plenty of dishwasher detergent or dish soap
    • Baby car seat (if you have a car)
  • Needs for later:
    • High chair
    • Infant spoons, plates, utensils, and spill-proof cups

Build a monthly or yearly tradition with them:
  • Write a letter to them every year around the same time, add a small amount of money to each envelope, and give it as a graduation present.
  • Reserve a great email address for your child and send them pictures, notes, and messages, then share the password as an 18th birthday present.
  • Take a picture of them every birthday, with them holding last year’s photo.

What others will do

Don’t worry too much about timing the pregnancy announcement:
  • After you announce a baby, you don’t have to make pregnancy-related excuses (e.g., declining alcohol, exhaustion).
  • But, if there are complications or a miscarriage, you’ll relive it when you have to tell everyone about it over and over.
  • The easiest method is to share the news in the flow of conversation.

Some things you feel about parenting are taboo to address:
  • When you’re pregnant, you must talk about the baby in almost every conversation.
    • Even with the rest of life, society expects you to revolve all your purposes around your children.
    • At the same time, miscarriages are uncomfortable because most people have trouble discussing death.
  • You should say you fell in love with the baby when you saw them.
    • You probably felt confused and overwhelmed, and the baby might have been ugly, but nobody likes to admit it to others.
    • Love is a developed skill through caring for them, not a binary affection that triggers upon conception.
  • You’re not allowed to express how parenting has made you lonely or unhappy.
    • Feeling alienated from society is typical, especially after the constant attention during the pregnancy.
    • Since many cultures imply perfection from children, many people can’t understand how a child can give misery.
  • Thankfully, you can still discuss everything with other new parents or authentic people.

If it’s your first child, expect your relationships to change:
  • All your single friends will notice you don’t have time for them.
    • Some of them will be oblivious to the fact that you must plan for everything.
  • Many of your friends will disappear for no apparent reason.
    • Disassociation is typical, and usually from their desire for a child or anxiety about babies.
    • Some of them may wish you well but don’t care for your company anymore.
  • Work to maintain any friends who stick around after the baby is born.
    • Some friends, especially women, will be obsessed with your baby.
    • Set proper boundaries with them and let them babysit when you need a break.
  • Most of your parent friends will respect and connect with you more.
    • Parents with children around the same age as you will be especially close and will likely try to arrange play dates.
    • Don’t take offense if parents of older children try to impose themselves as mentors.
  • Be prepared for grandparents to involve themselves more, especially if they’re new grandparents.

Keep your marriage a priority:
  • Give the child routinely to a babysitter for one-on-one time.
  • Husbands will typically feel less important than the baby.
    • The issues won’t resolve with time, so it’s the wife’s responsibility to address his concerns.

Caring for babies

When they cry, don’t panic:
  • A baby’s cry is biologically designed to inspire panic.
  • Most of the time, their reason isn’t panic-worthy:
    • They’re hungry.
    • They’re tired.
    • They’re in pain, feel sick or need to be burped (colic).
    • They feel discomfort from being too hot, too cold, or a soiled diaper.
    • They’re lonely and want someone to hold them.
    • They’re bored and want to play, want attention, or want their environment to change.
    • They want to suck something.
    • They’re not swaddled and feel like they’re falling.
  • You’ll slowly learn which types of crying are severe or unimportant.
  • If you’re overwhelmed or getting angry, ignore their crying and walk away from them until you’ve calmed yourself.
    • Their spine is mostly cartilage, so shaking a baby in anger will permanently injure them.
  • Babies must learn to self-soothe (though it’s controversial), so experiment with comforting them and letting them “cry it out”.

Carrying them:
  • Babies are awkward to hold, especially when they launch their head back.
  • However, you can never hold a baby for too long.
  • Make life easier by investing in a sling, wrap or back-mounted sling.
  • When they’re older, you can have more fun:
    • Once they’re big enough, walk around with them inside your jacket.
    • Instead of pushing a baby in a stroller, roll them in a wagon behind a remote-controlled car.
    • Dressing children in overalls give you something to grab.

Comfort them:
  • Raise your eyebrows while holding them.
  • Stroke their head, which is how they comfort themselves in the womb.
  • Shush and rock them to distract them.

Talk with them:
  • Babies are learning language and human behavior insanely fast as they observe everyone around them.
  • “Baby talk” is teaching the baby a foreign language nobody knows, and it can harm their development if it’s frequent enough.
  • Once your child starts talking, you’ve moved into the most interesting part of parenting.

Help them (and you) sleep better:
  • They’ll become accustomed to whatever you do.
    • Try to avoid consistently rocking, caressing, singing or holding them to soothe them to sleep.
    • Use a night light to see them easily at night, but only if you want them to need one to go to sleep later.
  • From birth, make lots of the noise you usually make throughout your day.
    • Whatever sound you make will determine how deep they sleep for years.
    • To avoid disrupting them, play loud and high-energy party music when the baby first comes home.
  • Try not to sleep with the baby.
    • To ease their anxiety, sleep overnight with a baby blanket to put your scent on it.
    • Instead of sleeping with them, set the baby’s bed next to yours.
    • Give them pacifiers to help them fall asleep.
  • Honey is dangerous for infants, so don’t add it to pacifiers until they’re at least a year old.
  • Create rituals that put them to sleep the same time every day.
    • Carry them around more during the day if they’re particularly fussy.
    • A baby in your arms can sleep in any position.
      • Learn to hold the baby with only one arm or get a baby sling/wrap.
      • Eat on top of the baby or use your phone when they sleep face down.
  • Adapt your schedule as they grow.
  • Watch for allergies to synthetic sleepwear or airborne irritants.

Feeding them:
  • A newborn infant needs feeding about once every three hours.
  • Breastfeeding is ideal, but not necessary:
    • Babies have a stronger immune system while they’re breastfeeding.
    • You can still breastfeed when you’re sick.
    • If you’re nursing, don’t try dieting.
    • If you’re breastfeeding, don’t give babies pacifiers.
  • Bottle-feeding is far more convenient than breastfeeding:
    • However, baby formula is expensive.
      • Baby formula is almost as nutritionally beneficial as breastfeeding.
      • If you’re worried about their health, use filtered water in the formula.
    • If you use a bottle, burp them by patting their back while leaning them forward.
      • Burping often takes as much or more time as feeding.
      • If you don’t burp them, babies get colic and can’t relax or sleep.
      • Get a bottle vent to cut down on burping time.
    • If you don’t have a bottle warmer, put the bottle in a cup of warm water or microwave it.
    • Use a hybrid of convenience and cost by extracting milk with a breast pump, then feeding from a bottle.
  • Most babies switch to solid foods automatically.
    • “Baby-led weaning” gives them freedom to grab pieces of food, make a mess, and learn to avoid choking.
    • While baby-led weaning has long-term benefits over spoon-feeding, it’s messier and slower.

Diaper changes:
  • Newborn infants need to be changed about once every three hours.
  • Instead of a diaper, Eastern cultures will make a conditioning noise when the baby poops, then hold them over a toilet and make that noise.
  • Babies will need ointment when they get diaper rash.
    • Anything that heals skin works for babies, including bag balm or coconut oil.
    • Baby powder can treat diaper rash, but don’t let it get in their lungs.
      • Make an alternative baby powder by browning flour in the oven.
  • Children are often prepared for toilet training when their diaper is completely dry overnight, but you can try sooner.
    • Either invest in a trainer toilet or use an attachment for a full-size one.

Bathing:
  • First they hate baths, then they’ll usually like them after a few months.
  • Clean thoroughly around the neck, especially once they’ve accumulated some fat.
  • Cut down on diaper rash irritations by adding two tablespoons of baking soda to the bath water.
  • Put the baby and bath toys inside a laundry hamper in a full-size bathtub to give them something to hold.

Let them grow:
  • Babies need “tummy time” for a few hours a day to work out.
  • Constantly expose them to new places, new experiences, and things they’ve never done before, even a mundane experience like visiting a farm or going to a hardware store.

Plan for wherever you go:
  • You can still go wherever you want, but always keep a perpetual plan for the next 3–6 hours.
  • Bring enough of everything for the baby in a separate bag:
    • Diapers, diaper rash ointment, and baby wipes
    • A nursing cover or bottles, formula, and bottled water
  • On a long airplane or train ride, give out small gifts with an apologetic note to every passenger who will hear the crying baby.
  • At least one extra change of clothes for the baby and you.

Milestones

If you make a baby book, do it for all your children because the second-born and onward will feel rejected a decade later:
  • While you may want to be a “perfect” parent, set low standards for yourself to avoid the inevitable disappointment later.
  • More than one child creates constant back-and-forth chaos, so make a general habit of taking many pictures.

Infant development stages are approximate: some are faster and others are slower, and often both.

In the 1st month, children start learning basic motor skills and focusing on people.

At about one month, set them on their stomach for at least two hours a day.

The first 2 months are the most dangerous time for a baby because they frequently get sick and recover within 8–12 hours (instead of comparative weeks for adults).

Between 1–3 months, they start tracking people, making noises, and responding.

At 4 months they’ll start moving on their own, distinguishing emotions by vocal tone, and putting things in their mouth:
  • Since they know at this point what they’re grabbing, four months is the best time to start directing them away from bad things.

Before reaching 6 months, they can count things and understand what is and isn’t helpful:
  • Make a game by putting pennies in a pile of sand for them to drop into a piggy bank.
  • At about this time, you must decide how you want to approach disciplining them.

At around 6 months, their teeth will start growing and they’ll start eating solid foods:
  • Teething causes plenty of unexplained crying, and will happen about every few months for a few days.
  • Console them with a teething ring or amber necklace.

By 8 months, they should distinguish the meanings of sentences.

At 8–9 months, they should start eating hard foods.

At 8–12 months, they will sit up on their own and reliably grasp objects:
  • They’ll make noises that sound like words, body language gestures, and will start directly interacting with others.
  • They’ll begin to feel anxiety about solitude and may feel shy around strangers.

By their first birthday, they’re usually about 1/3 their full-grown height.

Starting with their first birthday, get routine medical checkups:
  • Most medical checkups are preventative maintenance, which means you don’t have to perform them, even if the government implies you do.
  • Some vaccinations aren’t worth the effort because of how fast the viruses mutate:
    • Influenza (flu)
    • SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)
  • 12 months
    • Chickenpox (Varicella) — 1st dose
    • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) — 1st dose
    • Hepatitis A (2-dose series, 1st dose at 12-24 months — 1st dose
    • Pneumococcal (PCV) — 4th dose
    • Blood lead test
    • Vision, hearing, and dental screenings
  • 15 months
    • Diptheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) — 4th dose
    • Verbal risk assessment/blood lead testing
    • Vision and hearing screenings
  • 18 months
    • Hepatitis A (2-dose series) (Hep A) — 2nd dose
    • Verbal risk assessment/blood lead testing
    • Vision, hearing, and dental screenings
  • 24 months
    • Blood lead test
    • Vision, hearing, and dental screenings
  • 30 months
    • Vision, hearing, and dental screenings
  • 3 years
    • Verbal risk assessment/blood lead testing
    • Vision, hearing, and dental screenings
  • 4 years
    • Diptheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) — 5th dose
    • Chickenpox (Varicella) — 2nd dose
    • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) — 2nd dose
    • Polio (IPV) — 4th dose
    • Verbal risk assessment/blood lead testing
    • Vision, hearing, and dental screenings
  • 5+ years annually
    • Verbal risk assessment/blood lead testing
    • Vision, hearing, and dental screenings

By their 2nd birthday, they’ll be about half their adult height:
  • Don’t give them any electronic media (e.g., TV, computers, tablets, phones) until they’re at least 2 years old, and only give them content you’ve already approved until they’re about 12.

Their last teeth will come in between ages 2-3.

From about age 3, the role of parenting takes on an entire different form.