The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond.


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When my son was born, 15 months ago, I was under no illusion that I had any idea what I was doing.

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But I did think I understood self-help books. I even wrote one myself, specifically aimed at readers who — like me — distrusted the hyperbolic promises of mainstream self-help. After all, I knew that advice books in other fields often contradicted each other, and indeed themselves, and so should never be taken too seriously. My own book, The Antidote , argues that trying to think positively reliably leads to more stress and misery.

Their cover designs blurred even more. Yet for all this certitude, it rapidly became clear that the modern terrain of infant advice was starkly divided into two opposed camps, each in a permanent state of indignation at the very existence of the other. On one side were the gurus I came to think of as the Baby Trainers, who urged us to get our newborn on to a strict schedule as soon as possible, both because the absence of such structure would leave him existentially insecure, but also so he could be seamlessly integrated into the rhythms of the household, allowing everyone to get some sleep and enabling both parents swiftly to return to work.

This is the busy, timetabled world in which we live, the Baby Trainers seemed to be saying; the challenge was to make life with an infant workable within it. There is also a subgenre of books aimed specifically at new fathers, but since they are an almost uninterrupted wasteland of jokes about breasts and beer, this article will give them the attention they deserve, which is none.

It may be no coincidence that hostilities between camps seem to rage most furiously in those areas where there is the least scientific evidence to favour one or another technique. In online discussion forums, the battles reach their most frenzied over the question of whether letting your baby cry itself to sleep is sensible or tantamount to child abuse.

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Rather, it is a vehicle for the yearning — surely not unique to parents — that if we could only track down the correct information and apply the best techniques, it might be possible to bring the terrifying unpredictability of the world under control, and make life go right. But a brand-new baby makes it possible to believe in the fantasy once more. Baby manuals seem to offer all the promise of self-help books, minus the challenges posed by the frustratingly intransigent obstacle of your existing self.

T he essential challenge confronting any would-be parenting guru is this: nobody really knows what a baby is. This is obviously true of the panicked new parents, suddenly ejected from hospital to home, and faced with the responsibility of keeping the thing alive.

But it is barely less true of the experts. The assumption that whatever worked for you will probably work for everyone, which is endemic in the self-help world, reaches an extreme in the pages of baby books. For example: are they clever or stupid?

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Nothing struck me more forcefully, in my early months as a parent, as the sheer strangeness of the new houseguest. Where had he come from? What was his business here? Sitting in our glider chair, rocking my son back to sleep at 3.

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There were many more references to angels. Will you be ready when that big moment — and that little bundle — arrives? Other authors promise to eliminate the uncertainty inherent in the situation by making inexcusably specific claims about how things will unfold. For example: at 46 weeks old, the authors declare, you can expect your baby to start to understand sequences, such as the steps involved in fitting one object into another. Typically for the genre, The Wonder Weeks tries to reassure readers these stages will unfold naturally, while strongly hinting there are specific things parents must do to make them go well.

But it is difficult to imagine anything more profoundly reassuring to the first-time parent of a one-week-old than the possibility that they might. This same urge to recast a baby as something fundamentally mundane and familiar suffuses the debate over sleep, where hostilities between the Baby Trainers and the Natural Parents are most acute.

Or we could respond within seconds to every cry, sharing our bed with our baby, resigning ourselves to years of multiple nighttime wakings for breastfeeding, all of which the Natural Parents felt was the least a loving mother ought to do, not to mention the instinctive thing all mothers had been hardwired to do — but which the Baby Trainers warned would lead to brain-dead parents unable to properly discharge their duties, plus a maladjusted child incapable of spending five minutes in a different room from them, and probably also divorce.

In reality, there is no persuasive scientific evidence of long-term harm from sleep training; I lost count of the number of times I followed a link or footnote provided by one of the Natural Parents, only to find a study about rats, or babies raised in environments of severe and chronic neglect, such as Romanian orphanages.

It was obvious to me that our son was neither a dog nor a miniature adult, yet each analogy had its appeal. Eventually, around six months, after agonising over the question for several weeks, we decided to try sleep training. We re-read the relevant chapters, assembled the alcohol we planned to use to suppress our instinct to intervene during the inevitable hours of screaming that the books foretold — and steeled ourselves to feel like monstrous parents.

But more strangeness was in store: the baby cried mildly for about four minutes, slept for 10 hours, and woke in a buoyant mood. I spent much of the night awake, convinced something must be terribly wrong. None of the books had suggested this turn of events; my son appeared to be following an entirely different manual of instructions.

P eople have been dispensing baby-rearing guidance in written form almost since the beginning of writing, and it is a storehouse of absurd advice, testifying to the truth that babies have always been a source of bafflement. But it is barely less true of the experts. The assumption that whatever worked for you will probably work for everyone, which is endemic in the self-help world, reaches an extreme in the pages of baby books.

For example: are they clever or stupid? Nothing struck me more forcefully, in my early months as a parent, as the sheer strangeness of the new houseguest. Where had he come from? What was his business here? Sitting in our glider chair, rocking my son back to sleep at 3.

There were many more references to angels. Will you be ready when that big moment — and that little bundle — arrives? Other authors promise to eliminate the uncertainty inherent in the situation by making inexcusably specific claims about how things will unfold. For example: at 46 weeks old, the authors declare, you can expect your baby to start to understand sequences, such as the steps involved in fitting one object into another. Typically for the genre, The Wonder Weeks tries to reassure readers these stages will unfold naturally, while strongly hinting there are specific things parents must do to make them go well.

But it is difficult to imagine anything more profoundly reassuring to the first-time parent of a one-week-old than the possibility that they might.

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This same urge to recast a baby as something fundamentally mundane and familiar suffuses the debate over sleep, where hostilities between the Baby Trainers and the Natural Parents are most acute. Or we could respond within seconds to every cry, sharing our bed with our baby, resigning ourselves to years of multiple nighttime wakings for breastfeeding, all of which the Natural Parents felt was the least a loving mother ought to do, not to mention the instinctive thing all mothers had been hardwired to do — but which the Baby Trainers warned would lead to brain-dead parents unable to properly discharge their duties, plus a maladjusted child incapable of spending five minutes in a different room from them, and probably also divorce.

In reality, there is no persuasive scientific evidence of long-term harm from sleep training; I lost count of the number of times I followed a link or footnote provided by one of the Natural Parents, only to find a study about rats, or babies raised in environments of severe and chronic neglect, such as Romanian orphanages.

It was obvious to me that our son was neither a dog nor a miniature adult, yet each analogy had its appeal.

Eventually, around six months, after agonising over the question for several weeks, we decided to try sleep training. We re-read the relevant chapters, assembled the alcohol we planned to use to suppress our instinct to intervene during the inevitable hours of screaming that the books foretold — and steeled ourselves to feel like monstrous parents. But more strangeness was in store: the baby cried mildly for about four minutes, slept for 10 hours, and woke in a buoyant mood. I spent much of the night awake, convinced something must be terribly wrong.

enquiprocriesi.ml None of the books had suggested this turn of events; my son appeared to be following an entirely different manual of instructions. P eople have been dispensing baby-rearing guidance in written form almost since the beginning of writing, and it is a storehouse of absurd advice, testifying to the truth that babies have always been a source of bafflement. New mothers have been advised to smear their newborns daily in butter or lard, or to ensure that they were always put to sleep facing due north.


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Whiskey and even morphine were frequently recommended as solutions to the pain of teething. The genre expanded greatly during the 19th century, as urbanisation and industrialisation broke apart the extended families through which advice had previously been communicated, from grandmothers, mothers, and aunts — and as male paediatricians, who were starting to preside over a field traditionally dominated by midwives, sought to burnish their authority with parenting systems bearing the hallmarks of modern science.

Today, their advice seems horrifyingly chilly: mothers and fathers alike were standardly exhorted to pick up their babies as infrequently as possible, to resist the urge to play with them, and to refrain from kissing them. Less physical contact meant less chance of communicating dangerous diseases, and there was a psychological rationale for not getting too emotionally invested in any one child. Child mortality began to decline precipitously from the turn of the century, and with it, the life-or-death justification for this kind of advice.

But the result was not a new generation of experts urging parents to relax, on the grounds that everything would probably be fine. But they were still half a century away. Thus began the transformation that would culminate in the contemporary baby-advice industry.

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Yet the anxiety remains — perhaps for no other reason than that becoming a parent is an inherently anxiety-inducing experience; or perhaps because modern life induces so much anxiety for other reasons, which we then project upon our babies. P erhaps it was inevitable that this process, made possible by the advance of medicine, should end with a crop of parenting philosophies rooted in the passionate conviction that the era of modern science and technology has led us astray.

After all, what if we ought to be doing it? Admittedly, the story of its origins inspired little confidence. In the s, I learned, a part-time model from Manhattan named Jean Liedloff met a beguiling European aristocrat who persuaded her to accompany him on a trip to Venezuela in search of diamonds.

William and Martha Sears, and their paediatrician sons James, Robert and Peter, have now published more than 30 books between them. Why assume that childcare practices that predate modernity are inherently superior? Even if they were, why assume they still would be when transplanted into an environment for which they were not designed?

The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond. The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond.
The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond. The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond.
The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond. The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond.
The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond. The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond.
The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond. The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond.
The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond. The Baby Manual. Your Guide Through Pregnancy, Birth And Beyond.

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