New Parenting For Geeks

A few weeks ago I became a father for the first time, welcoming our cute little boy, Jack, into the world. This is Jack:

‘sup ladies

One of the things I have learned ever since Erica got pregnant is that there are many different perspectives on how to raise a child. Some people get pretty worked up about these different considerations. Cloth or disposable nappies/diapers? Do you use a dummy/pacifier? Breast or formula feeding? The list rumbles on.

Now, Erica and I are two weeks into this, and although we have our own views, we would certainly not profess to be experts. Our approach here has been all about information. We are both pretty pragmatic people, and when faced with this myriad of choices, we want our decisions to be informed, and based upon information, data, and the experience of other more experienced parents.

I just wanted to share a few useful things and toys that we have learned about that might be useful for new parents.

Information Is King (or Queen)

If there is on thing we have repeated to each other over and over since we brought Jack home is how insanely useful the Internet is for new parents.

I can only imagine how much more nerve-wracking it was for our parent’s generation who, when faced with the many silly little questions we had, would need to depend on their limited supply of parenting books or balancing out the importance or concern of the question with whether it was worth calling the doctor.

With the Internet we don’t face these limitations. We have an endless knowledge-base available to us and no matter how small or seemingly silly the question is, we are not bothering anyone when we look it up online (which is nice when you have a question at 3am). This is tremendously reassuring when…with the blink of an eye…your life suddenly has a lot more responsibility in it. Sure, there is the pregnancy building up to the birth, but the true, visceral nature of the responsibility hits you when that baby comes hurtling into the world in what literally feels like the blink of an eye.

Astonishingly, the Internet has given us an answer to pretty much every question we have had. We are thankful to not only the many websites that provide static content (such as Baby Center, LiveStrong, Circle Of Moms, and Mayo Clinic), but also the many forums, message boards and Yahoo! Answers, and the thousands of parents who have both asked and answered our questions.

A huge saving grace here has been the use of a tablet. As a new parent, I want to have access to this information right away without lugging around a laptop or going to a desktop computer. Having a tablet at the side of the bed and being able to read it while soothing a baby, has been hugely helpful. When it is 4am and you have another question, or are simply soothing your baby and want to keep yourself amused while he/she sleeps in your arms, the tablet is a godsend. Seriously folks, if you are having a baby, buy a tablet; you won’t regret it.

Also, here is another quick tip: buy a simple sheet music stand and a pair of headphones for next to the chair where mum will nurse the baby. It makes a perfect stand to hold a tablet and armed with Netflix, life is good. :-)

Tracking Jack’s Vital Stats

As soon as Jack was born the doctor asked us to track many aspects of his first few months of life. This includes how many feedings he has, how many wet/dirty nappies/diapers, how often we bathe him, and which vaccinations he receives. This information is used to ensure he is getting his little digestive system in shape, feeding well, and putting the weight on he needs to.

When we were at the hospital they gave me a sheet of paper to make these notes on. This involved using this thing called a “pen” and a skill called “hand-writing“. As anyone who has seen my hand-writing will testify, it is bloody awful. Screw that; no legacy writing device for me; we live in the modern era of technology and indoor toilets.

This is where technology played it’s part. The tablet we are using right now is an iPad (in the absence of a full Ubuntu tablet) and we found an awesome app for the iPad called Total Baby that provides a means to track all of this data (and more). With the app Erica can track when she nurses and how long on each side, we can track the wet/dirty nappies/diapers, and also other things such as when we bathe him and when we give him gas drops when he is mad-facing to the rhythm of the trapped gas rumba.

You could also use a spreadsheet to track this if you like.

To be honest, someone could write an Open Source equivalent to this app in next to no time; it is a simple data entry and reporting app, but it is tremendously useful, and having all of Jack’s vital stats on a device means we can easily keep track of his weekly goals (e.g. the number of wet/dirty diapers and how many feedings he should have), and it also provides a nice portable collection of data that we can give to our paediatrician (or on-call doctor if needed) so they have access to Jack’s details in one place too.

If someone is interested in writing a similar Open Source app and wants some input on what the app would need to do for a new parent, I would be more than happy to provide some input; just let me know.

Monitoring

For those of you who have not had kids, it is difficult to explain the feeling of bringing your baby home for the first time. To be honest, I wasn’t really nervous about how to take care of him, but I was definitely anxious to ensure he was comfortable and safe. As with anything so new and significant, it is easy to worry that something will go wrong, and you fear the worst a little.

As such, the first week I spent many of the nights checking on him every few minutes, listening for any unexpected noises, and fearing the ugliness that is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (also known as cot/crib death). Unfortunately, there is still no categorical evidence of what causes SIDS, but common theory suggests it is when babies get their airways blocked by cushions/blankets/sleeping on their front and suffocate as well as theories that overheated babies can have respiratory problems.

I read everything I could about SIDS and we follow the guidelines of ensuring Jack sleeps on his back, keeping the room at 68 degrees, and not having any blankets or items in the bassinet with him. Irrespective though, the new-parent worry of SIDS was keeping me up at night for the first week.

I then discovered this awesome little device called the Snuza Hero (previously known as the Snuza Halo):

Not Pictured: Jack.

It is basically a little device that clips on the front of his nappy/diaper and has a sensor that touches his tummy. Every-time Jack breathes the Snuza detects it and a little green/amber light flashes (this in itself is useful when you are trying to check if your baby is breathing OK while it is dark…and babies can be light breathers).

When the Snuza doesn’t detect a breath after 5 seconds it vibrates which should jolt him into breathing again. If for some reason the vibration doesn’t cause further breathing an alarm on the unit goes off, causing both parents to wake up, leap out of bed, and check if the little one is OK.

I can’t begin to tell you the peace of mind this little device gives me, and the $110 was well worth paying for such reassurance.

One night the alarm actually went off and I don’t think I have ever moved so quick out of bed. It was fortunately a false alarm: the waistband on his nappy/diaper had come loose and the Snuza slipped off. At least we know it works. :-)

Speaking of sleeping, for the first week and a bit we had Jack sleeping in the bassinet in our room. As we started getting him into his night-time bath, story, feeding routine we wanted to move him into his room. This is when our Motorola Baby Monitor came into play.

As a bit of a nerd, I love gadgets and I was excited to pick a good baby monitor system for when he is sleeping. Some baby monitors are audio only and some have cameras attached too. Out of one part baby safety and one part pure nerdery I naturally wanted the camera. After reading around we plumped for the same unit our friends Meg and Dan have:

This thing is pretty bad-ass. it has a camera that sits next to the baby’s bassinet/crib and a wireless color receiver. From the receiver you can see and hear the baby (it includes night-vision). You can also remotely move the camera around the room and it also has an intercom to speak to the baby (or parent) as well as the ability to play melodies to him remotely too. As a nice touch it also shows the temperature of the room to ensure it is within the recommended range to reduce SIDS.

We have found this unit to be pretty awesome. One slight issue we had at first was some interference with our wireless network (and likely our neighbor networks too). To solve this problem I found an great little tool called Wifi Radar in the Ubuntu Software Center. It simply lists all your wireless networks as well as the channels that they are on:

Network names hidden to protect the innocent.

I knew the baby monitor was on channel 6, so I tried to find a channel as far away from channel 6 for my own wifi network and it solved the problem. Now I have Internet and baby-vision. :-)

Oh one other tip, don’t watch any of the Paranormal Activity movies before getting a night-vision baby-monitor. You will spend the first few nights looking for ghosts on that familiar green screen.

Getting Out

When you become a new parent you feel a little trapped at first; you are so busy wanting to take care of your little one that you won’t find yourself getting outside all that much. Also, if mum is breastfeeding, she is going to be feeding every few hours which makes leaving the house less of a priority; it is way more comfortable to feed at home.

Something we discovered after about a week at home is that getting out every day for a walk is really helpful. Just getting out the house for an hour to get some fresh air and take Jack for a stroll was great for Erica and I to get some exercise and have a natter. It really helped, and we also discovered some awesome local trails that are great to walk along.

With this in mind you need to have the things you need to take your little one out safely.

Much as I love the gadgets, searching for a stroller was an ugly and endless task. There are hundreds of strollers from the simple to the insanely expensive and complex. As a new parent you want the best for your baby, but you also don’t want to get sucked into some of the “for your baby to be really safe, you need to lay down $600 for a stroller” nonsense.

After spending hours searching I think I found the perfect combination of quality, convenience and price-point in the Baby Jogger City Mini:

Xzibit, will you pimp my ride?

One tip we heard from someone once was that you want your stroller to be easy to set up and collapse, particularly for my vertically-challenged wife. With the City Mini there is a single handle you pull up and that’s it…collapsed. It fits in the back of the car perfectly. It is also simple to steer, has plenty of storage, and supports lots of different car-seats to be useful from newborn to an older child.

The car-seat support feature is really handy. Again, researching car-seats can be a nightmare, but after extensive research we plumped for the Chicco KeyFit 30 and the City Mini Car-seat Adapter. This now means we can use the same car-seat for the car as well as walks, and this is more convenient for us and him. We have found this combo works great. :-)

Also, you are going to want to ensure your car-seat fits snuggly in your car. If you have a newer car you should have a LATCH system built in, otherwise you use the seat-belts. Irrespective, many localities have a service for checking car-seat installations; I took our car/seat over and the guy checked the seat base was snug and gave us some great tips (such as using blankets down the side of the car-seat (under the seat wings) to fit your newborn more snuggly).

Also, one final tip. In my first few weeks of fatherhood I have been astonished at the gravity-defying capabilities of baby shit. We took Jack out to a local reservoir for a walk a week ago and towards the end of the walk he started crying pretty intensely. We took him back to the car and he had managed to not only fill his nappy/diaper, but managed to squeeze that badness out at such a force that it went all the way up his back, all while fully clothed in a onesie and securely sat in the car-seat in the stroller. It was mind-boggling.

As such, buy a nappy/diaper bag, and put in it some wipes, nappies/diapers, a changing mat, a dummy/pacifier…and importantly…a spare onesie. Whenever you go for a walk, stick the bag on the base of your stroller and you are now prepared for the physics-bending bowel movements of an infant.

Simulating The Womb

Something we learned pretty early on is this concept called the fourth trimester. In a nutshell, your baby has been in this warm, comfortable, snug place for nine months and is then thrust into the world kicking and screaming. This can be pretty unnerving for a baby, and therefore recreating the environment of the womb is reassuring and will help them sleep. This is what you do in the fourth trimester.

At first I was a little cynical of this, but it really does work. There are a few things we have learned that I really recommend:

  • Get The Happiest Baby On The Block (I prefer the video). Although a bit cheesy, the techniques in this video are awesome (this is where the concept of the fourth trimester comes from).
  • Get a white noise app for your phone or tablet – the sound of the white noise is really reassuring for a baby. We have an app for the tablet that we put near his bassinet and it really soothes him.
  • Babies love to be swaddled like a burrito baby (this is where they are tightly wrapped which keeps them snug like in the womb as well as not letting their little hands and arms wake them up as they flap around). You can use regular blankets for this, but we find the Halo Sleep Sacks are rocking for this. We call it his little flying squirrel outfit and he loves being in it.

The combination of these techniques has helped to keep Baby Jack nice and comfortable and contributing to him only waking up a few times during the night.

Amazon Prime

One final thing I wanted to mention. Amazon Prime has been hugely helpful for us too. I know that Prime is not available in all countries, but there are a number of things we have found it really helpful with:

  • We have bought huge amounts of baby crap before and since he was born (bottles, bottle warmers, blankets, clothes etc) and the free two-day shipping is awesome.
  • The Amazon Videos are great for watching on a tablet while feeding/soothing.
  • Amazon also allow you to have auto-shopped orders. This is great for things such as coffee and other food products so that you never run out when you are focused on raising a baby.
  • Their baby registry is great for those relatives and friends who want to contribute to your new parenthood (particularly if mum throws a baby shower).

Wrapping Up

As I mentioned earlier, Erica and I are still new at this parenting business, but we are having a great time getting to know our little boy and learning how to be the best parents we can be. The tips above are things I wish I knew when we started so I hope they are helpful to those of you who are about to become new parents. Please share your tips in the comments!

Thanks!

  • Martin Owens

    The need to buy many things was highly minimised here with boxes of second hand items and very well organised baby showers that provided most things; some things we made ourselves like the tiny flannel nappy inserts. The expense of running a child was further reduced with good health insurance, using cloth insert nappies, breast milk up until we fed her from our own plates and taking some great advice from friends and family about organising time which is especially important to illuminate the need for day care.

    The tablet though as you rightly say, is an amazing resource to have around raising a child.

  • Mariano O. Cabrera

    Nice guide. One little thing, if your car does not have LATCH system built in, change it. LATCH system doubles kids protection compared to seat-belts.

  • Elfy Esquire

    I’m sure you’ll be fine – all of you, try and bear in mind that even though the internet is full of good stuff there’s some spectacularly bad stuff too :) First born never come with a manual – the next one does – it’s called Jack in your case …

    The best thing I could share is – whatever you do – will be right for you all.

  • Marcin Juszkiewicz

    LATCH is only in US cars iirc. If you live outside grab car seat with ISOFIX mounting. If your car does not have ISOFIX mounting, change it.

  • http://twitter.com/x1101 x1101

    Thanks Jono, with a little one on the way in short order ourselves, I am sure we will find many of these things useful!

  • Orrin Edenfield

    On the video baby monitor: I purchased a WiFi security camera that has all of the same features, even has things like multiple user accounts and is accessible via any browser or any device with a browser on my home network. Pan, tilt, infrared, audio… Works great on Firefox, apps or browser on iOS and Android.. And this thing is about 1/3 the cost of a “video baby monitor”. Did I mention that I setup forwarding on my home router and now I can watch the babysitter put our son to sleep while my wife and I are at dinner? Yep.

  • Matt Fischer

    You don’t necessarily needs apps and technology but you may need data on your wife as well as your baby. Our new baby used to spit up, a lot. We counted over twenty times in one day. We started tracking data about him and then about what my wife was eating. It turns out that when she (my wife) ate acidic foods (spaghetti, salsa, etc), the baby would spit up. We’d have never figured this out without charting it. We also determined that the baby cried more and had trouble sleeping when he fed after my wife took fish oil vitamins, they must have upset his stomach as well.

  • Lorelle Saxena

    Congratulations on your new baby! He’s a cutie.

    So many things you post about here totally mirror our experience with our little guy, who’s now sixteen weeks old. I completely agree with some of the indispensables you mention: Amazon Prime, a tablet, a jogging stroller (and yes, shopping for one was kind of a nightmare!) a useful diaper bag–all so helpful to us. And swaddling, as well as other tips mentioned in Happiest Baby on the Block, like shushing? HUGE for us.

    As a fellow geek parent and blogger, I’m looking forward to continuing to follow your journey!

  • http://maryamwebster.com/ Maryam Webster

    Fantastic guide Jono! I’ve shared this and am recommending it to friends in the same situation as a “Top Gear” go-to for baby goods. Thanks and congratulations to you and Erica – Jack’s a beautiful and lucky fellow! :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendytischler Wendy Tischler Thomas

    LATCH=ISOFIX=UAS. There are minor changes, but you can use a LATCHable seat in an ISOFIX car, and you can use your Canadian UAS anchors in an American car with LATCH. ISOFIX doesn’t have a top tether, I believe, and tends to have rigid connectors, whereas LATCH has some rigid, but mostly has flexible connectors. And always a top tether.

    (American carseat tech here)

    My car (2012 Mazda5) doesn’t say it has LATCH. It has ISOFIX tabs on the seats to indicate where the anchors are located. So ISOFIX can be in America as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendytischler Wendy Tischler Thomas

    Source, please? I’ve been a carseat technician for six years and this is not true. I’d love to see if you have a study that says it is. LATCH is supposed to be easier. Instead I have a 350+ page manual (the LATCH manual) dedicated to nothing but LATCH because it confuses parents so much. For instance, let’s say you have a 2007 Honda Accord and one child. You feel that LATCH is safer (it’s not) so you put your 45 pound child harnessed in the car with LATCH in the center, since the center is statistically safest. Honda doesn’t allow for center LATCH (most cars don’t) and they state a LATCH limit of 40 pounds. So now you run the risk of your child and seat being ejected. Also, does the careat allow for non-standard spacing? If you have a First Years True Fit the answer is no. So you have a carseat that doesn’t allow the spacing, a car that doesn’t allow for center LATCH, and a child over the weight limit.

    When in doubt use the seatbelt. They’re designed to hold in very heavy adults. LATCH is not safer. It’s supposed to be easier, and there are many who would argue it really hasn’t.

  • Marcin Juszkiewicz

    Thanks! I did not know it.

  • Daniel

    Which one did you get? We are 13 weeks along and I am starting to research them. I was thinking that a security camera might be more full featured as well.