Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Face Time

Bonding with your baby is supposed to be easy. You were there when she was born, or shortly afterwards. You cuddled her close and explained who you were. Then she was put back in the plastic crate and the next time you saw her, after a hospital visit or two, was when you brought her home. You don’t feel like you’ve bonded. That’s fine. You probably haven’t yet. You’ve just got a bit of catching up to do.

So, how can you make up for lost time? You can’t breastfeed. You can change a nappy or change her clothes. But most of the time she’ll cry when you do this. If you’re lucky, you might get to give her a bottle from time to time. But what about when you can’t? The answer for me was this: give the baby face time.

I can’t remember when I first started doing face time, probably when Nancy was a month or so old. The best way to do it is to put the baby on the floor, ideally on something soft like a changing mat, and kneel on all fours over her. If she’s got her eyes open she’ll almost certainly react to seeing you. Babies, girls especially, love faces. Even before they can see properly, they can make out the shape of a face. Let her get used to you. Don’t worry about not having anything to say. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like singing. She won’t mind. Just look at her.

Do this a few times and see what happens. She might even make a noise when she first sees you, which is encouraging. Try moving your face close, rubbing your nose on her nose. Rock forwards and backwards. Play peekabo with your hands. Blow gently on her forehead. Kiss her under the chin or tickle her ears. It’s all good stimulation and she’s already getting the message that you’re fun and interesting. Let her play with your hands. Babies find hands and fingers fascinating. They’re the world’s cheapest toys. She’ll spend ages just holding your fingers, or more likely trying to put them in her mouth.

Face time doesn’t have to last long. A few minutes a day will probably do. Sometimes you’ll get absorbed and you might be there for ten, twenty minutes. Especially when she discovers how to smile. It’s a great moment and you’ll never get bored of how her face lights up when she sees you.

Later when she’s strong enough to hold her own head up, you can give her face time sitting on your lap. When you walk into a room, she’ll hear your voice and look for you. She knows who you are. But what’s equally important is that through face time, even before she can speak, you know who she is. When you do the occasional nappy or feed, you can use the same tricks on her that you learnt in face time.

Before you know it, you’ve bonded. She’s the most important thing to you in the world. Close you eyes and you can still see her face, even at work. It’s like falling in love all over again.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Welcome To The Sofa

Welcome to the world, little baby. Welcome back mum. And welcome to the sofa, dad. It’s where, if you have any sense, you’ll be spending quite a bit of time over the next few weeks.

I’m not just talking about chatting to visitors or dandling the wee one on your knee. No, I’m on about the twilight hours of the morning when the baby wakes for the fourth time in a night and you really need to get a solid couple of hours of sleep before the alarm goes off for work.

The sofa is your refuge, your own quiet space. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have a spare room far enough away from the baby’s nursery not to be able to hear the particularly piercing wail emitted by the hungry newborn who thinks he’s been abandoned to the wolves. If not, it’s the sofa for you, my man.

Your wife may well decide it’s less troublesome to have the baby in your room. She may even feed the sprog in bed. Forget trying to sleep through that. The combination of sighs, suckles, kicks and shhh’s will make it absolutely impossible.

So get the hell out of there. Go west, young man. Fetch a spare duvet and a pillow and run away to the sofa. Don’t feel guilty. It’s about survival. You need sleep. You’re probably working harder than you ever have before on far less energy than normal. And now would be a really bad time to lose your job. You need the sofa. You know it makes sense.

But don’t think it’s all one-sided. Your poor partner will probably be even more knackered than you. If she’s breastfeeding on demand then she’s getting up every single time the baby wakes, which can be five or six times a night for half an hour. After each feed, it could take twenty to thirty minutes to settle the baby off to sleep again. It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out there’s not much time left for her to actually sleep.

That’s where the sofa comes in again. Once in a while the baby should join you in the living room. Let mum keep the bed. She needs the sleep more than you, believe it or not. You sleep on the sofa, the baby in its basket or cot next to you, or just on a blanket on the floor.

If you’re bottle feeding the baby, or if your wife can express some milk into a bottle, you can do the hideous 3am feed. Even one or two nights off a week will give her a chance to recover enough to function the following day.

Although at the time it feels like it’ll go on for ever, this tricky sleep-deprived time really only lasts a little while. For me it was about two months.

Of course you’ll miss the warm embrace of the Mrs during this time. And she’ll miss yours. But don’t worry that you’re missing out on anything else. She won’t want you anywhere near her for a good few weeks yet.

So, as she cradles the new little love in her life, you can give in to yours. There is no love on earth like the love between a man and his sofa.