As if having a baby wasn’t exhausting enough, the received wisdom on looking after the little blighter is a nightmarish minefield of theory and counter-theory. The chief debates are these:
- ‘On demand’ vs ‘routine’. Theorists abound and create whole industries around their bestselling books. On the left, I give you attachment parenting: William Sears, Margot Sutherland et al. They say a baby should be given everything it needs when it wants it, and favour things such as co-sleeping (see below) and carrying them around everywhere in a sling. The debit side is that it can be very punishing on parents, and leaves their needs forgotten. On the right, the ‘controlled crying’ etc brigade, led by the dreaded Gina Ford, who advocates dividing your day into 10-minute chunks and forcing the baby to fit in with it, heedless of neurologists’ observations that night waking/feeding helps babies’ brain development.It’s notable that Sears has 8 children, and apparently Ford has… none. Tracy Hogg (‘the baby whisperer’) claims to tread a middle path, but is really a Fordite as far as I can discern.
- Breast vs bottle. Paediatricians don’t seem to give a toss for the breast, and in hospital happily try to foist formula on anyone who isn’t producing milk, or whose baby is ill and needs extra feeding (we were lucky as Oxford has a ‘milk bank’ and a stern ward sister arranged for donated milk). Meanwhile midwives are ardent breastfeeding campaigners and it’s hard to get them to admit how miserable and gruelling it can be, or help you consider alternatives.
- Dummy or no-dummy. Dummy use has been shown to be a preventative factor against cot death, but then again it can also lead to more ear infections, and in some babies seems to cause ‘nipple confusion’ making breastfeeding even more complicated than it already is.
- Co-sleeping or separate room. Western cultures don’t like the former as it disrupts the mother-father relationship in bed, and there’s the fear of squashing the mite (though this is extremely rare unless alcohol or drugs are involved). There are potential cot death risks for either argument, and in practice most people have a cot next to their bed.
Oh, and a special note for Dunstan Baby Language, whose nice-little-earner-DVD identifies 5 different cries baby makes and claims that all their needs can be met by spotting them and responding appropriately. Yeah, right. (There does seem to be something in it – but babies need more than five things.)
There’s probably more I’ve temporarily forgotten, addled with sleeplessness as I am. Anyway: it’s all bloody depressing, and I suppose going with one’s intuition is as good as anything. Of all the books I’ve looked at so far, one called Fatherhood… The Truth, although somewhat melancholy, is by far the sanest I’ve read. It’s by Marcus Berkmann – yup, the one who used to write for Your Sinclair. Surely, surely, if you can program a Spectrum, you can raise a child.