I have a newborn son. He needs to be fed eight times a day. Each session of feeding him takes roughly 30 minutes, 20 if I'm lucky. I am usually not lucky. That's four hours of the day dedicated to sitting in a chair with a bottle, begging the baby to drink faster. A newborn's life is dedicated to sleeping and eating, but you would be shocked at how incompetent they can be when it comes to both those tasks. Here now is brief guide to everything you need to know about feeding a newborn.
BREAST FEEDING. Bossy lactation consultants and La Leche League Nazis agree that nursing your child is the only way to go. It's natural and it's cheap (provided you don't count the cost of breast pumps and nipple shields and milk bags and nursing bras and other assorted tit-hoisting devices). The problem is that some women have trouble with it. While there are women out there who can readily spurt out a gallon of tit milk every five minutes to feed babies and make into curdled yogurt, not every woman is so keen on the practice. It hurts and it's time-consuming. Worst of all, men can't help. The woman has to get up every three hours while the man stays in bed like a fucking DOG. And that, more often than not, leads to MURDER.
BUYING FORMULA. No breastfeeding means you have to buy formula. When your child is born at the hospital, one of the big formula manufacturers will provide you with a little goody bag that includes 2 oz. bottles of ready-made formula, coupons, and a bunch of other crap. Basically, their goal is to hook your child on THEIR product so that you'll buy it for an entire year. They usually achieve their objective. They're like crack dealers, only crack tastes better.
My kid was in the hospital for a month after being born and thus got hooked on ready-made formula, which is a million times easier to use than powder (seriously, it feels like you're riding in a private jet when you use it, it's so luxurious) but three times more expensive. I've been trying to wean my kid off that shit and back to the powder, but he is a swaggy bro and accepts nothing but the best.
The average big can of formula will run you about $20 to $30 unless you buy in bulk at Costco or someplace like that. But some babies (just kidding, ALL babies) get acid reflux and can't tolerate normal formula, so some of them have to go to soy-based formula or, and this is your worst nightmare, PRESCRIPTION FORMULA. If your kid gets sentenced to prescription formula, you may as well start collecting stray bits of wood to heat your home because you are about to get WALLETFUCKED.
USING FORMULA. So you've got your formula, now you have to carefully take one level, unpacked scoop of the shit and add it to two ounces of water. They sell bottle warmers to help you warm up the formula for your kid, but I use warm tap water because I like to live DANGEROUSLY. In a perfect world, I would use pristine filtered water distilled from a distant lake in Finland, then lovingly mix the formula inside a Hamilton Beach blender in order to ensure consistency. But it's 5 a.m. and there's a baby in my hands that's screaming to the point of bleeding out of its fucking eyes, so that plan goes out the door. The baby will get 2.3 ounces of fluid and a half a jigger of powder, served CHUNKY STYLE.
I do my best to mix the powder completely into the water. I even take care to swirl the formula rather than shake it (air bubbles mean more gas!). But inevitably, I end up with a bottle full of formula that features two or three boulders of wet formula chunks floating around, like matzo balls in soup. It's terrifying. I will sit in my kid's room at 3 a.m., wondering if I fucked up the formula ratios. Did I use four ounces of fluid by accident? Did I add a dash of Crystal Light? Oh, well. YOU WILL SURVIVE, BABY.
Formula, in any incarnation, is fucking repulsive. Tina Fey once wrote that formula smells like, "someone soaked old vitamins in a bucket of wet leaves, then dried them in a hot car." She's not wrong. And it's even grosser when it comes back up out of the baby six seconds later.
SITTING. To feed a kid properly, you need a comfortable chair. Sometimes, I'll try feeding the baby at the dinner table because I don't want to stop eating. I sit down, I hold the baby in one arm, I stick the bottle in his mouth, and I either wrap my hand around and feed him that way, or I pin the bottle to his mouth with either my chin or my boob, and I use the other hand to eat freely. This, shockingly, NEVER goes well. But I think it toughens up a child to have hot chicken and dumplings falling on them.
Anyway, you're supposed to sit in a recliner or a glider or a rocker. We have a glider in our house. We've used it with three kids and it has so much old dried barf on it that I think we managed to invent a new color on the Pantone chart. The most comfortable way to sit with a baby and feed it is to hold it in the crook of your arm. The problem is this causes the baby to fall asleep, which is annoying because the baby will fall asleep during the feeding but never AFTER it's over. After the feeding's over, it's always like OH HAI LET'S PLAY DICE.
One way to keep the baby awake during a feeding is to hold it facing you, with its head in the palm of your hand. Like you're holding Yorick's skull. This is a bit more effective, but I cannot stress enough that babies have big, massive, heavy-as-shit heads. Baby heads are like medicine balls. After five minutes of feeding a child this way, your biceps will tear and you will die from the resulting outpour of lactic acid into your bloodstream.
FEEDING. The first thing is to get the nipple into the kid's mouth, which is surprisingly hard because babies have tongues and they don't know what to do with them. So that tongue is lounging around all over the place and you have to spend five minutes wiggling the nipple around until it's finally in the right place. Sometimes, you have to gently pull the nipple out so that they suck harder. And yes, it is an uncomfortable reminder of oral sex! Especially when the formula leaks down the side! WHEE!
Sometimes, my kid will just stop eating and I have to sit there, praying he'll wake up and continue. I'll tickle his feet. I'll rub the underside of his chin (a trick nurses do). I'll flash a strobe light in his eyes. Then I'll pull out the bottle to see how much formula he's consumed. The rough thing about babies is that they always seem to drink more than they've actually taken in. You can sit there for twenty minutes with the baby sucking constantly, think he's downed the whole bottle, then pull it away only to realize he's not even close. Such a defeating moment.
BURPING. Just because the bottle's empty doesn't mean you've seen the last of the formula. Babies have to be burped in the middle of feeding, or else all the gas will build up inside them and they'll barf all over you right at the end of the feeding, forcing you to either start from scratch or toss the baby out the window.
There are several different ways to burp a baby, and none of them are guaranteed to work. You can hold it against you and rub its back. You can pat its back, which often turns into a full-fledged karate chop if you get impatient enough. You can rub the baby's tummy. You can even hold it over your knee and pat its back that way, which looks like you're punishing it but is perfectly innocent and caring. Either way, that baby can get real stingy with the burps. I've sat there for AGES trying to get my baby to belch, massaging its intestines like I'm trying to save it from choking on a biscuit. Come on, motherfucker, BURP! Burp, curse you! And it won't cooperate. Sometimes it'll exhale real loud and I'll be like THAT COUNTS! Then I'll go back to feeding it and it'll spew immediately thereafter. One time, the baby was done eating but wouldn't burp and I was like OKAY GOOD NIGHT! Then I tossed him in the crib and got the hell out of there.
SPEWING. Even if they burp, or when they burp, babies spit up all the time. And the demarcation between "spitting up" and "barfing like you're outside The Bear Bar at 3 a.m." is so blurry that some doctors can't even agree on it. One time, I finished feeding my first kid, held her up while laughing, and she barfed directly into my mouth. BABIES DON'T GIVE A FUCK. The important thing is to have a bib or a burp cloth tucked under the baby's chin, so that the barf doesn't get on their clothes and force you to change them into a new outfit, which takes forever. One time, my kid spat up and I was like OH NO YOU DON'T and I threw that burp cloth right in the kid's face, and the barf smeared all over his nose and cheeks and stuff. Total dick move, but it worked! The outfit was saved. My kid won't remember any of it.
Sometimes, my kid will burp and it totally looks like a barf is coming. He totally makes the spew face, even sticks his tongue out. But then, the belch will ring out and no barf will follow. That's always a dramatic moment. Like when bomb gets defused at the end of a movie. Real tension there.
For all the time I spend anticipating it, I never cease to be caught by surprise when a baby actually does barf all over the place. They barf all the time, and yet I still fall for it when I'm rocking with them peacefully and waiting for them to shut their eyes and then WHOA HEY HOLY SHIT HE'S BARFING PEOPLE.
THE MID-FEEDING DUMP. Most babies piss and shit while eating, which I totally want to do as an adult. Anyway, this complicates the feeding because you sometimes have to change them if they become uncomfortable. And they don't just shit ONCE. They'll lay down a little poopy here, a bucketful of tikka masala there. They're not sitting on a toilet, so it's not a session for them. They are free-form shitters. And you have to change them but that means they're lying flat which causes them to have reflux and then BRAAAGHHHHHHHH here comes the Chunky Soup.
SCHEDULING. Ideally, a newborn eats a full feeding every three hours on the dot and then gradually takes in more fluid at fewer feedings so you don't have to get up at night. That's the plan. But sometimes, they don't take a full feeding. Or sometimes, you think they need more formula, you make more, and then they take two sips and tell you to piss off. Sometimes they start crying an hour after the last feeding and you're like, "Is he hungry? Is he poopy? Maybe he's dying." Babies don't give a shit about your precious schedule. They want what they want when they want it. And if they have to cry and shit and barf all over you to get it, they will. Babies have no fear, especially when you've got a bottle in your hands.
Image by Jim Cooke