The following is a post for one particular reader who was asking me about baby rearing. I'm far far FAR from an actual expert, but thought I'd use my blog for a bit of an info dump of what I do know (or what I think I know).
Disclaimer: The following rules are in no particular order, and only seem mostly true to me over the past six months. Also keep in mind that my wife does about 99% of the real work, while I hover on the perimeter, picking up things, fetching items, like a modern day Igor.
Rule Number 1
Anything can and will strangle your baby in a deathless grip if you let it. Strings, toys, fluffy blankets, pillows, a well intentioned greeting. Babies seem intent on some suicidal pact to off themselves with any available item. Therefore you should try and keep items away from baby, unless you are watching them like a hawk. A hawk on ritalin. A hawk on ritalin with a keen ambition to join the NSA.
Rule Number 2
Babies suck at conversation. So they cry when they need help. Try not to attach too much emotion and attachment to the cry. It's the only option they have. I'm sure if they could, they'd tap you lightly on the shoulder and say "I say old chap, mightn I bother you for a spot of breast milk. That's a good show." But they can't.
Rule Number 3
They don't really want to be here. They just came from a really groovy place that was warm, just humid enough, close to mom, where they never, ever felt hunger. Everwhere else is a downgrade. So it's pretty easy for them to get uncomfortable. Be it too hot, too cold, hungry, gassy, wet (diaper), or whatever. These are pretty intense sensations when you take into account their previous experience was warm, nourished, comfortable, ALL THE TIME. See rule number 2.
Rule Number 4
Babies suck at sooo many things. Eating, sleeping, waking, keeping their head up, commenting on current affairs vis a vis the IMF and it's seditious involvement in the WTO. Therefore they need help. So much help. Gigantic, patient, heapings of help.
Rule Number 5
There aren't many things that bother a baby. The thing is, they are pretty senstive, and they have absolutely no recourse if something is wrong. Try and imagine if you were hungry. And you were locked in some cell. Not much recourse except to holler eh? Or if you were sleepy, and didn't know how to put yoruself to sleep. See rule number 4.
The things that bother a baby are, off the top of my head:
OVERSTIMULATION (something missed by many middly grandparents)
LACK OF STIMULATION
DISCOMFORT too cold, too warm.
Rule Number 6
Whatever you have tried might work 10 seconds from now. So you've tried feeding her, you've tried changing her diaper, you've tried putting her to sleep, she's totally comfortable (no sweat on the back of her neck, she seems to have enough layers), she's not interested in toys or songs. Well guess what bucko, try feeding her again. Suddenly it's like she has been hungry ALL THIS TIME AND WHY HAVEN"T YOU BEEN FEEDING HER!?
Rule Number 7
Improvise- Adapt- Overcome. The Marines were obviously fathers at some point. See rule 6. Especially the adapt.
Rule Number 8
The world and indeed otherwise pretty friendly folks are here to make you feel like the worst parent since child sacrifice had been outlawed.
Rule Number 9
All rules are rubbish, given the right circumstance.
Rule Number 10
To mitigate the guesswork of Rule 6, one school of thought (there are many) on the issue of baby minding suggests a certain order to activities. The book is The Baby Whisperer, the order is
E : eat
A : activitiy, songs, being held and chatted to, a brisk game of gin rummy
S : sleep
Y : you, or also known as Sleep Damnit, While You Have the Time. Sleep!
You'll notice this makes a nifty acronym to put first time parents at ease. You'll also realize that acronyms never helped anyone. They are lazy like that.
It is, however, a good rule of thumb. If you keep a log of what is happening and when, you can prety much guess what's going on. If they have just eaten,
Rule Number 10
You can meet the needs of your baby pretty simply:
Feed. Bottle, breast, whatever
quiet, dark, and swaddled
quiet and dark, soft soothing voices. Sometimes you'll need to get out of whatever public area you have braved to bring your baby to.
the ultimate display of parental love
hang out with her, just chill
LACK OF STIMULATION
depending on age, but it can be as simple as looking at you, ro something new. It graduates to toys, songs, books. It can vary from 20 minutes of activity to much, much longer.
add and remove layers as needed. Note that the baby loses most of (70%) of their heat through their gigantic oversized head.
Burp them. Rub them gently or pat them on the back.
There are lots of specifics for each action. Read a book, most any book on child rearing for the details.