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Muslin cloths: WTF?

I’m starting to see that parenting is surrounded by a lot of dogma.

Before V. was born, one of the essential items we were recommended to stock up on was muslin cloths.

“You can’t have enough of them”, they said. As far as I understand, their primary job is to clean up possett. Sick-up. Spit-up. Vomit. ‘Oopsies’. Whatever you want to call it. You assume, therefore that muslin cloths are essential because of their absorption qualities.

So we dutifully bought some and were gifted some (new).

And guess what? They don’t work. They don’t fricking work. We have two types – one from a major department store’s own label and some own-brand from a small, up-market chain of baby shops.
Both makes are 100% cotton. Neither work. You think, initially, well, cotton. That’s good, isn’t it? Cotton? For cleaning up babies. I mean TOWELS are made of cotton, right? But muslin cloths are more like large, thin handkerchiefs. They seem to actually repel liquid. I mean, I’ve watched V’s possett run down a muslin cloth and collect in a fold, as pool of liquid. It’s like watching mercury running over a surface.

If you are forced to use these things, don’t buy small sizes. You’ll need ones the size of a pillow case, so the cloth can cover from the chin to the feet.

If any parent has found an alternative to these things, I’d appreciate the heads up.

No, Mr Bond, I Expect You to Possett

Skyfall had been out a week and if we didn’t pull our finger out we’d miss it on the big screen. F. was not yet ready to give up V. to a babysitter and I understood what she meant: too soon.

So we decided to try out a baby screening. There was a mid-morning Baby Club screening at the Everyman cinema in Hampstead the next day so we booked ourselves a shared sofa-seat. The diaper bag was packed for the worst: extra nappies, an extra formula bottle, extra everything. It was a long film, plus we’d be taking V. on the Tube for the first time (I’ll write more about that, another time).

My expectation of the Baby Club was a constant barrage of crying from other babies or – an even worse scenario – from my own baby. These Baby Club events are often known as film screamings for a reason.

As we settled into our seats, I took a quick look around to count thirty tiny bald heads, bobbing on laps all around the auditorium. I expected mayhem, with me in the middle of it.

But as the film started, my own tiny bald head sat with her mouth agape at early scenes of Daniel Craig necking tequila. V. was quietly transfixed, like quite a few of the babies, at least for a little while. Inevitably the volume rose.

However, amid the waves of cries and shouts and laughter and cooing, something unexpected happened for me. I have always been scrupulously quiet at the cinema. Clucking disapprovingly at anyone still talking by the time the lights had dimmed. But for the first time ever, at this screening, I felt liberated. This time, I could sit back and rustle through my popcorn to my heart’s content without having to wait for a loud bit in the movie. I could clear my throat or talk to F., knowing that there would be no chorus of disapproval. So aside from missing a couple of lines from the movie due to the volume level of the film being kept lower than usual, I thoroughly enjoyed this baby screening.

Dads note, it did help that, when V. started to need a bit more comforting, F. let me watch his movie and took our daughter to the back of the auditorium or out to the lobby a few times. There was a 10% turn-out of dads in the audience and I didn’t see one of them take off up the aisle with a screaming baby. I would agree in advance who’s doing that particular chore and when.

By the end of the movie (better than Quantum, not as good as Casino), I was sold on the idea of baby screenings. It helps if the movie isn’t too erudite, but with a coffee and cheesecake served at your seat as part of the ticket price, you can’t ask for more.

As we made our way out of the cinema, we saw unused seats, aisles and laps transformed into makeshift changing tables. Breastfeeding and bottle feeding were all over the auditorium. And be prepared for the chaotic pram parking in the lobby; it was painful trying to get out of the building.

The ‘Tiger in the Tree’ Hold

Tiger in the Tree hold.Image reproduced from BABYCALM by Sarah Ockwell-Smith with kind permission of Little, Brown Book Group.
Tiger in the Tree hold.Image reproduced from BABYCALM by Sarah Ockwell-Smith with kind permission of Little, Brown Book Group.

I don’t think many new Dads know how to hold a baby. And even fewer know about the ‘tiger in the tree hold’. I had even forgotten about this position, when I first learned about it at an NHS  pre-natal class. The teacher handed out a grainy, photocopy of a line drawing showing this hold. A few weeks after my daughter was born, though, her mother and I were having difficulties soothing her. Rocking didn’t work and neither did patting her on the back or ‘shh-shh-shh-ing’ I discovered the NHS handout from under a pile of papers and we gave it a go with great success.

Usually, the tiger in the tree hold is recommended for soothing colicky babies. But we’ve been using it for weeks now with V, who doesn’t have colic. It can work a treat for a variety of my daughter’s gripes: from full blown apoplexy to nothing more than a mild case of squirrely baby syndrome. I just flip her over to lie in a prone position along my forearm, her chin resting in the crook of my arm, and she calms right down. Of course, I’m finding out in these early weeks that results with a newborn do vary. But like the man said; 60% of the time, it works all the time.

The only downside to this position is dribble on the forearm and an aching shoulder.

This hold was especially useful to discover as V. has not proven to be a fan of the classic ‘bum cradled in the crook of the arm’ position. This is the go-to hold for all the Grandparents. But perhaps tiger-in-the-tree is new to western society? Quite a few parents I’ve talked to either don’t know this hold, or seem reluctant to use it. And even after I have demonstrated the power of the tiger, the Grandparents still prefer to sit V. upright, chin resting on her chest like a grumpy Winston Churchill.

Here’s a decent video from Cheshire mum Claire Lancaster and another, more advertorial, video showing the same hold with more of a newborn infant (the hold is demonstrated from 00:30).




It’s a two-handed world

In the eleven weeks since V was born, there have been many times I’ve had to do chores around the house whilst holding the baby.  And I have very quickly found out that some chores are made way more difficult by baby-friendly products that turn out to be not very print-friendly products.

Baby feeding bottles, surprisingly, do not seem to be very parent-friendly. We’ve used three different makes; Medela, Tommy Tippee and, at the moment, Philips Avent. With each of them, they have worked very well with feeding V.

But when you are trying to make up a formula or breast milk at 2am, whilst holding a rapidly-waking child, these bottles become complex 3D puzzles. For some reason, they all come with caps that are too tight to flip open with a thumbnaill. You then need to unscrew the teat to be able to pour in water or add formula. But as the bottles are too wide to grasp between your teeth,  unscrewing the top is impossible without two hands. And finally, when the water and formula are in the bottle together, the teat needs to be screwed back on and the cap snapped into place to give the bottle a shake…

If bottles are to remain screwtop, snap-fit and wide, then I suggest someone designs a rubber mount that attaches to the kitchen counter top. The base of the bottle slips into the mount, holding it firm like a vice. You can then screw and unscrew the bottle with one hand.

In the meantime, my advice is to completely make up the formula, shake it up then leave the cap loosened before going to get your baby.