Debi and I have a background that provided us with a lot of information about pregnancy and childbirth, so we thought we were at least somewhat knowledgeable about having children (yeah, not really).  I teach a class on the Sociology of Human Sexuality (using this text: Understanding Human Sexuality), so I knew the basic outlines of what to expect as far as pregnancy goes.  Debi is a health and medicine guru who spends a lot of time perusing PubMed and has for years as part of her job.  Granted, she knows a lot about what can go wrong with pregnancy, particularly when it comes to genetic problems, but in order to know what is wrong you have to know what is “normal.”  So, combined, we thought we knew quite a bit about pregnancy, childbirth, and child development.

To add to that, I’ve read a few books on the topic and skimmed a couple more:

  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth
    • When they say “Complete Idiot” they really mean someone who is not at all knowledgeable about pregnancy and childbirth.  This book basically just covered the stuff I cover in my class, but not quite in as much depth, so not much new stuff here for me.
  • The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Fatherhood
    • Again, the title suggests the target audience – those who know next to nothing about pregnancy, childbirth, and being a dad. There were a couple of useful things in here that I hadn’t considered, but otherwise it wasn’t any more informative than the class I teach.  If you’re going to read either of these, I’d go with the first one, which has more information for both mother and father.
  • Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads
    • As a former Boy Scout, I really liked this book.  It does have some good advice and it covers lots of thing you wouldn’t think of otherwise, but it does it in a very humorous way that clicked for me.  I’d recommend this one.
  • The Joy of Fatherhood: The First Twelve Months
    • I’m actually still reading this one as it gives suggestions and an outline of what to expect month-by-month for the first year.  It’s a nice book to have on hand just so you are aware of your child’s developmental milestones.  I’d also recommend this one.
  • How to Make a Pregnant Woman Happy
    • This book is actually meant to be skimmed as it is designed to address specific issues when they come up.  So, if there is a problem with, say, swelling feet and ankles, you turn to that chapter and it tells you: (1) What is normal, (2) what you can do to help, and (3) and when you should get medical help.
  • The Baby Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance
    • This book is similar to Be Prepared in that it turns pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare into something more understandable by men (I hate to stereotype, but it’s kind of true).  It’s kind of like a car owner’s manual, but for babies.  Since I’ve never been that into car’s, Be Prepared resonated more with me.  But engineers out there may get a kick out of this one.

Additionally, Debi has read several books:

  • On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep
    • This book talks about what you should do to get your child to sleep through the night.  FYI, parents who get more sleep are a lot happier with their choice to have a child and with their relationship (reference available upon request).  Without committing the ecological fallacy, we are hoping this is true and that we can get Toren to sleep through the night.  We’ll see.
  • New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding (American Academy of Pediatrics book)
    • Debi read this, then re-read it.  Considering all the problems she had producing milk (see below) and getting Toren to latch properly, she probably has this book memorized.
  • Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (American Academy of Pediatrics book)
    • We actually received this one for free when we signed up for the Baby Club with our local Publix (kudos to them for sending an American Academy of Pediatrics book).  This book is enormous and covers a lot of stuff.  Plus, it’s from the APA, which means it’s based on peer-reviewed literature, which we always like.  Debi has skimmed through a large section of this already.

In addition to the above books, we’ve read, combined, dozens of peer-reviewed articles and spent quite a bit of time online searching through forums and other websites.  One website I’ve found particularly useful is  If you sign up and fill in the requisite information on their website, including the expected due date, they will send you weekly emails telling you about how your unborn child is developing and what you can expect.  And once the baby is born, they continue to send you weekly emails with information on developmental milestones, etc.  Together, I think Debi and I have read almost every page on that site.  It’s a nice, kind of passive way, to have information delivered to you.  (NOTE: It is ad supported, but some of the deals they have are pretty good.)

So, we’ve tried to become fairly knowledgeable about having a child.  But all of the above aside, there are a few things that no resource has mentioned.  So, here’s “What we’ve learned having a child”…

  • Women can produce blood instead of breastmilk.
    • Yep, you read that right.  Given the fact that none of the regular nurses who helped us while we were in the hospital, none of the OBs in the office where Debi went, and none of the pediatricians who work in the office where Toren goes had ever heard of this, it has to be pretty uncommon.  Only one lactation nurse had ever seen a woman produce blood instead of breastmilk, though some of the other lactation specialists had at least heard of it.  Turns out, it has a name “Rusty Pipe Syndrome” (I didn’t say it has a good name, just a name.)  I actually found the name and information on it via the internet and diagnosed it before anyone else did in the hospital (this isn’t me giving myself props but rather me pointing out how rare this is).  Also, just so other people are aware if they happen upon this page searching for information about this, most websites that mention rusty pipe syndrome say that you can either pump for a day or two to clear up the blood or let the baby drink it if there is just a little bit of blood.  They make it out as though there is just a small amount of blood in the milk and not just blood.  FYI, as is the case with most conditions, there is a continuum of severity for this condition.  For some women I’m sure it’s just a small amount of blood.  In Debi’s case, she probably pumped 15 to 20 ounces or more of almost straight blood from each breast before they cleared up (they started to clear after about 3 to 5 days).  We kept one breastmilk bottle with about 2 ounces of straight blood in the hospital room with us for a couple of days just to show all of the medical personnel who came to visit so they would believe us.  Unfortunately, we didn’t take a picture.  The blood also didn’t completely clear out until about 5 to 7 days after Toren was born.  Yeah, this isn’t covered in any of the books we read.
  • Babies can learn to breastfeed days and even weeks after they are born.
    • Yes, it’s easier if they start breastfeeding right away, but if you try hard enough (it is not easy to do), you can make it work up to a several weeks after the baby is born.  Most of the literature Debi read on breastfeeding gave the impression that if you didn’t start breastfeeding the very first day it was next to impossible.  FYI, Toren didn’t breastfeed for almost a week and he is now exclusively breastfed.  So, it’s certainly possible to teach a baby to breastfeed after some time has passed, which was not covered in any of the books we read.
  • Breastfeeding can be very hard!
    • Yeah, so, no one will probably listen to me write about this, but I listen to Debi as she does it and the truth of the matter is that it isn’t necessarily easy to do.  From what she’s read, for some women it is.  But it depends both on the baby and the woman.  In some cases, neither the breasts nor the baby want to cooperate.  Ergo, breasfeeding can be very, very challenging. That said, there is pretty good scientific evidence that breastfeeding is much better for your baby than is formula (reduces sickness and is correlated with all sorts of advantages later in life).  If you have the patience, it’s worth fighting for.  But it can be a fight!
  • It’s not easy figuring out different baby cries.
    • We’ve read in a number of places that “the sensitive mother will be able to tell what her child wants based on the child’s cry.”  Whoever wrote that line should be shot!  As if new mothers don’t have enough stress trying to be perfect, to then assume that cries are easily distinguished and that you are not sufficiently sensitive if you can’t distinguish between them is just mean.  Sometimes Toren cries as though he’s hungry but he just has reflux.  And sometimes Toren’s cry that seems to indicate he’s experiencing reflux is actually him saying he’s hungry.  It’s not easy to figure out the difference.  We think we have it down, but, of course, that’s when Toren mixes things up.  Argh!  And then occasionally he will cry like he is hungry just to be held by mom and use her as a human pacifier (though we caught onto this and don’t let him get away with it, whch is why we introduced the actual pacifier).
  • Kids are remarkably resilient!
    • While Debi’s Mom was here she told us about the advice she received when she was having her kids.  She was told to give her oldest, Brian, canned milk and corn syrup.  For a period, pediatricians recommended that all newborns be bottle fed.  And, parents were supposed to have their kids sleep on their stomachs, not their backs.  All of this advice has changed based on better scientific evidence. The take home lesson: even if you really screw up, your kid will probably be fine!  That doesn’t mean screw up, but be glad there is some leeway here.
  • Raising a child is not an exact science.
    • We were in the pediatrician’s office the other day with Toren talking about something.  I don’t remember exactly what it was (it could have been the finer details of baby poop or how to deal with reflux), but whatever it was, the pediatrician basically ended up saying, “Do what works.”  Really?     Really?    My response, “Well, I guess raising a child isn’t an exact science.”  She laughed.  As a social scientist you’d think I’d know better than most that raising a child is not an exact science, but apparently not.  It turns out you can’t simply diagnose a problem and then instantly find the cure in a manual.  Sometimes you just try things and hope something works.  And you may not actually be treating the root of the problem but just one of the symptoms.  I think that’s what happened with Toren and his reflux.  We initially thought he was just gassy and that was why he was so uncomfortable and screaming/fussy.  So, we started giving him Mylocon with every feeding (per our pediatrician).  It didn’t seem to be helping, but we were optimistic that it would.  Then one day it kind of dawned on us that the gassiness could be due to reflux.  It wasn’t like we immediately figured it out – Toren was in pain for a few weeks before we realized his stomach acid was burning the inside of his throat, causing him lots of pain (which is why he was arching his neck and back).  Sure enough even though he was not actually spitting up hardly at all, it was coming up partway and then going back down.  So, we treated the wrong thing for a while, hoping it would work only to realize we weren’t treating the real problem.  Once we figured it out, the solution was fairly simple and appears to be fairly effective (the answer is Maalox, 1 ml per feeding – no more pain, but I’m not an MD, so talk to your pediatrician first).  The Maalox does not actually fix the reflux, but it does neutralize the acid so it is not so painful when it does come up and this has helped the fussiness and screaming tremendously.
  • Finally, we don’t actually know anything about raising a child despite our reading.
    • While the initial delivery was pretty dramatic, almost equally traumatizing was when we did finally get to our hospital room and they brought Toren in.  There I was with a wife who had just undergone major surgery and who was still woozy from the drugs and now I had a newborn infant who several hours earlier had nearly died.  Despite everything I read, nothing told me exactly what to do at that moment.  The answer is actually pretty simple: improvise.   As the last point hopefully made clear, this isn’t an exact science.  You do your best, read what you can, and hope it works.  If your child is gaining weight and reaching developmental milestones roughly on time, you’re doing fine.  And even if your child is not, it may not be something you did.  So, do your best, talk to your pediatrician often, and try not to worry too much (you’re going to worry).

Well, I think that does it for Volume 1 of what we’ve learned having a child.  If you can consider realizing that you know nothing the first step toward enlightenment, I think I’ve just taken the first step.  I’d sure like to know how many fracken steps there are though!

How to Make a Pregnant Woman Happy

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6 Replies to “What we’ve learned having a child – v1”

  1. This is great, Ryan. We’re obviously still in the same boat.  It really opened my eyes to what my own parents suffered! We may or may not have more children, but we’re grateful we have Ethan.

  2. Hey Ryan,

    That was very interesting, for the last 6 weeks eight ours a day I have done nothing but study about infant and toddlers. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what to do and every child is so different. I do have some really good books too if you are intersted I can give you the names of them.

  3. Improvisation is the key, isn’t it?  I am glad that Toren has such good parents.  You’re doing great!

  4. I’m pretty sure i’ve got everything figured out, but that was pretty good info all the same.
    (Ok, we all know i’m going to be a wreck when the kid shows up, so I liked the article.)

  5. Yay to Debi for overcoming such challenges to breastfeed!  It certainly isn’t easy, but I felt it was well worth the struggle with both of my boys.  (Matthew definitely being the more challenging breastfeeding experience of the two!) 

    And yay to both of you for realizing what is probably the most important lesson of parenting:  there is usually no right answer, just the best answer you can come up with.  I’m sure Toren will provide you with plenty of  “I don’t know anything . . . ” moments in the years to come!

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