Going into parenthood for the first time, Jen and I researched, talked to people, and tried to do everything we could to get ready. Jen was 10 and 15 when her younger sisters were born, so she thought she had a decent idea what to expect. All the same, there were simple and apparently common things that totally blindsided us. We found plenty of information once we started searching, but, strangely enough, it all started with someone saying, “Help, I don’t know what to do!”
Of all the things you’d think you might get warned about, this one’s a biggie. Apparently, at some point between 1-6 months, almost every baby has a fussy time where they cry for no apparent reason for a couple of hours each day. This is not colic. It’s not gas. It’s not hunger. It MIGHT be fighting sleep. The first time this happens, you spend hours searching online in worried parent mode, only to find out two things: it’s normal, and experts have no idea what causes it. Seriously, fussiness with no cause that starts and stops on its own, and nobody thinks to warn the new parents? We heard plenty of glowing comments about how we would soon be able to understand Morgan’s every cry, but never a mention that there’s one cry that just means, “Nope, nothing you can do about it, I’m just gonna cry.”
Oh dear god, clusterfeeding! Neither Jen nor I had ever heard of clusterfeeding before Morgan started doing it. It often coincides with “fussy time,” and it is absolute hell on the mother while it happens, because the baby is essentially grumpily snacking almost constantly for anywhere from several hours to the entire day. Even in non-fussy babies, clusterfeeding is very common during growth spurts. To give you an idea of how rough this is, I’ve also heard it called “Little Devil Syndrome.” If a mom doesn’t know it’s coming, it can be devastating to her confidence. Even if she does know it’s coming, the first thought is that she must be doing something wrong or her body must not be producing enough milk. Nothing is further from the truth, and this is perfectly normal. It goes away in a few days and things get back to normal, but the stress on mama in the middle of a clusterfeed time is incredible, and it can be terribly frustrating for women who are used to being independent, because clusterfeed days become almost exclusively devoted to feeding and comforting.
The difference between formulae:
You may be planning to breastfeed, and if you are, that’s awesome. If you can feed and pump and do everything that way, by all means, do so. But you may find you have trouble with your milk supply, or maybe you have trouble producing for a breast pump, so you may find yourself supplementing formula. Or you may decide not to breast feed at all, in which case you are going to rely solely on formula. Then you go into the baby formula aisle at the grocery story. That’s right: formula aisle. You may have a baby with a stomach of steel who doesn’t care if you buy the cheapest crap in the aisle, or you may have a baby that suffers from reflux or, god forbid, GERD. The good news is that babies with reflux and GERD get over it. The bad news is that, until they do, trying to find the right formula is going to feel a lot like something out of The Exorcist. Similac and other high-end companies make formula specifically designed for spit-up and GERD. Not surprisingly, it’s a lot more expensive. A quart of Similac’s alimentum (supposedly the best formula for GERD and reflux) is usually about $3-4 more than a quart of standard formula. That adds up fast.
The thing is, though, your baby may not need the most expensive formula if they are spitting up badly. The first thing you should try is simply switching from powdered formula to ready-to-drink formula. Ready-to-drink is thicker, and that thickness is often enough by itself to fix the problem. Even if it’s not, get small packs of several types of ready-to-drink formula to test. Morgan spits up frequently with alimentum, but she handles the cheap Gerber Good Start formula just fine.
This is a weird one, but Jen and I both noticed that the parenting advice given to us post-partum, especially the written advice, quickly turned from the happy, joking advice we had received leading up to Morgan’s birth to a very dark place. The pamphlet the hospital sent home with us suggested in all seriousness that, on those days you feel like throwing your baby against the wall, you should lay her down in another room, leave her crying, close the door on her, and retreat a few rooms away so that you can’t hear. Jen saw similar advice from several more post-partum advice sources. Besides being somewhat scary that parenting advice has to mention feeling like you want to throw your baby against the wall, it seems like this advice (likely designed to help mothers who are dealing with post-partum depression cope with some of the issues above) goes to an even darker place than a PPD mother already occupies, to say nothing of the fact that this could start parents trying to force their kids to “cry it out” way too early (most research shows that the “cry it out” approach simply teaches a child that her parents do not care about her and will not listen to her – especially when that child is still learning how to differentiate her cries enough to communicate. Essentially the body of research now thinks that making a baby “cry it out” does not teach them independence, it simply demolishes their spirit).
There are plenty more things that blindsided us, and I’m sure even more will come in the future, but these were some of the big ones that may just help someone else be that much more prepared when their own son or daughter gets here.