Friday, 31 July 2009

The baby dropping festival

And you thought Michael Jackson was bad.

On the surface, flinging your terrified toddler from a great height is pretty weird. In fact, it's fu**ed up on lots of different levels.

But this ritual at the Baba Umer Durga in India has been going strong for 700 years. Apparently it brings a lifetime of health and luck to the babies. And with parents like that, those kids need some luck.

I'd like to reassure all my friends and family that Luca will be doing no flying or falling any time soon, he'll be lounging on the sofa, which happens to be one of his dad's favourite activities. That's my boy.

Stop being evil!

So you're a new parent. Life is a potent cocktail of joy, mayhem and incessant, niggling questions about what is best for baby. Adverts like this beam out at you, beacons to the insecure.

'Don't worry,' they coo, 'everything's going to be fine. Just give us some money and we'll boost your child's immune system.'

Or, to take it to its logical conclusion: 'If you don't buy this, your child will almost definitely die of swine flu, you scumbag.'

We know adverts can be misleading. As a bumbling youngster I learnt the hard way that wearing several gallons of Lynx deodourant will not, it turns out, lead to sex with a bevy of untamed beauties on a Pacific island. Shaving with Gillette razors did not make me a hero, and my last Rolo meant fuck all, no matter who I gave it to.

Adverts twist, lie and exaggerate. It's the nature of things. This one says it will make Luca healthier. Surely they wouldn't lie about that? But Cow & Gate's claim is unsubstantiated. Their poxy follow-on milk does not support the immune system. Despite a frantic effort to prove otherwise to the Advertising Standards Authority, they were forced to pull this ad.

This is a depressingly familiar story. Nestlé still agressively markets it's formula milk around the world, despite its campaign directly contravening World Health Organization guidelines and provoking a 30-year boycott of the company. They stand accused of not only failing to help babies, but actually damaging their health on a global scale by undermining breastfeeding.

Nestlé, Cow & Gate, if you are reading this: Stop. Being. Evil. That is all.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

This book will save your life

Luca has been going to sleep on his own, and staying there, for a couple of weeks now. We have a 'routine' that seems to work: bath, play, baby lotion, big bottle of expressed milk, quick burp, bed.

If I knew how smooth this could be three weeks ago, I wouldn't have believed it. So if you have a baby, and he's being a nightmare, things will improve. Believe.

When he drifts off he takes most of our troubles with him. He sleeps, so he's happy, so we're happy, so we're relaxed, so he relaxes, and so on. The cycle continues; life broken down into the essential elements, everyone getting what they need.

And the mornings are glorious.

Me and Mum are getting time alone together, wine, beer, uninterrupted dinners, wine, telly, online poker, beer and wine. It's my perfect family scenario, like the opposite of Eastenders, with more wine.

The truth is that he's just a really good, easy baby. But my policy has always been to credit our brilliant parenting for the triumphs, and blame nature when things aren't going so well.

We also owe a small debt to Sleep: The Secret of Problem-free Nights. I had my reservations. It looks like it's from 1962, and tends to dictate rather than suggest: "From the first time he sleeps a core night, never feed your baby again during those hours."

Not even if it's 2.3oam, he's screaming like a Banshee on fire, you're too tired to know who or where you are, and he's giving a look that clearly says "Mummy, daddy, what have I done to deserve this? Why are you starving me?".

Because life's tough, son. It says so right here in this book. Bollocks. Obviously when this happened Mum just fed him.

But the book's mantra is right, and I recommend it to all new parents: babies want to sleep, and you just need to find a way to let them do it.

This means putting him down while he's still awake, and letting him go to sleep on his own. Then when he wakes up he isn't surprised by where he is, and can see himself back to sleep.

It is also about not 'rewarding' him for waking too soon. In practice, this means letting him cry and feeling like an evil bastard. But it works.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Nappy changing - The Director's Cut

I changed the messiest nappy in the history of babies. I mean full to the brim. It was already a mess when I unwrapped him, and my beautiful little boy simultaneously pooed and pissed, again, on the changing mat, creating a little brown pool to dip his pyjamas in. He was serene throughout, and ecstatic after. Almost worth getting shat on for.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Swine flu and babies - don't panic

Swine flu is here. But before we all rush into an apocalyptic orgy of looting and happy-slapping, let's look at the facts.

Swine flu is different from the normal flu virus. It is new, so science and the human body have not had time to develop immunity - everyone is at risk.

In the UK, there are 100,000 cases and counting. Pregnant women and children under five are likely to be the most vulnerable.

In it's current guise, swine flu is not particularly deadly. The virus has claimed 29 lives in the UK; regular flu kills around 6,000 a year. It could mutate into something more lethal, but there is no sign of this.

News like this just didn't hit me before Luca. I'm not on crack, too soft to be in a gang, and I like my odds of not getting hit by a nuclear bomb. National and global threats seem to come and go without much impact. I watch the news, feel sorry for the victims and boo the baddies, but it never seems like I really need to worry about it.

Now I look at Luca; asking only for food, sleep and love. What do we do if he gets swine flu? More importantly, what can we do to stop him getting it? This is a haphazard summary of what I've gathered so far.

Wash hands frequently and keep kids away from crowds. If you or baby get flu-like symptoms, be ready to recognise them:
  • sudden onset of fever
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • diarrhoea
  • headache
Most of these are fairly obvious to spot. If you see the symptoms, visit the National Pandemic Flu Service website, or call them on 0800 1 513 513.

Stay at home so you don't spread it, drink lots of water and take paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve symptoms. The latter are available in baby doses, but ask a professional exactly what you should do.

Don't listen to scare stories. Do use freely available information from the NHS.

Most cases will clear up without drama.

Friday, 17 July 2009

He sleeps!

Luca is now sleeping in his cot, after I bottled-fed him his last meal of the day, which Mum expressed. I'm never one to overplay my own achievements, but move over Neil Armstrong, Diego Maradona, and Mahatma Fucking Ghandi, because I am the greatest. That's how it felt at the time anyway.

Mum makes this kind of landmark achievement almost every day, with grace and not a hint of self-congratulation. Good for her. I was part of something big tonight.

Incredibly ordinary situations, like drinking an uninterrupted bottle of wine with Mum, take on the glow of privilege. We are here, he is sleeping, all is well.

But I don't want to jinx it and condemn us to months of screaming, so I shouldn't get smug and complacement. Oops, too late.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Long day, little tantrum

I saw a man swear at the driver as he got off a bus and kick the door as it drove away, all with a sleeping baby in his arms while the mother watched. Fairly disgraceful behaviour. The main problem is that the man was me, and the baby was Luca.

Ashamed? Thoroughly. But what is wrong with London bus drivers? They are a miserable bunch of ****s, that's what. No, I shouldn't generalise. But they are. Each and every unhelpful, ignorant last one of them.

This particular driver point-blank refused Mum's request to get off through the front doors, forcing her back through an assault course of other prams, rowdy teenagers and elderly folk of limited mobility. All while I looked on helpless, trying to prevent Luca from waking up and realising how long it had been since he last fed.

Given the opportunity to ease the passage of fellow Londoners with the simple press of a button, most of us would press the button. Most of us.

It had been a long and hellish day - a round trip across London and through throngs of people on broken public transport, all on a 'glorious' hot and sticky day in the city.

Although it was worth it to meet a new arrival and Luca's youngest friend:

Getting on like a house on fire and not, in any way, slung together for a cute photo opp to amuse the grown-ups.

Mum sailed through the long, long day with her usual heroic calm. Luca was only mildly annoyed at the extended use of a boiling hot tube:

I thought I was fine. Then I threw my toys out of my pram, almost literally. You live and learn.