Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Are premium nappies worth the money?

Friday, March 3rd, 2017 | Family & Parenting

With most products you can find in the shops, there are premium brands and supermarket brands. Is it worth paying the extra money for? It varies from product to product, but often the answer is no. Can you tell the difference between Kellogg’s corn flakes and supermarket corn flakes? My guess is that if you did not have the box there in front of you, you couldn’t.

Sometimes, the supermarket own brand products are made by the premium brand companies and simply re-packed. This is not always true, though: some products there is a measurable difference and the only way to work it out is to try them. Bare in mind though that there is also the placebo effect. You may think something tastes better simply because you paid more for it. It is clear that people cannot tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine for example.

But what about nappies?

According to the independent consumer magazine Which, the answer is yes and no. Based on their surveys, Pampers do indeed come top being rated as the best nappies you can get. However, they do not score well in one category: value for money. In comparison, some supermarket own brands, including Aldi, score almost as well while being much, much cheaper. How your supermarket fares depends on where you shop: see Which Magazine for full details.

My personal experience mirrors the findings of Which. Pampers are great: they have a wetness indicator on the front and the mesh lining inside them means the waste seeps through while Venla’s bottom is given a bit more protection. For us, it is worth the extra £3 a week we spend to upgrade.

It may come down with how much you want to spend. The premium brands do seem to be slightly better, but for the increased cost means that it is certainly worth trying the cheaper versions first.

How to support your wife when she wants an active birth

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 | Family & Parenting

Waiting for the labour pains with a well-timed “I told you so” might seem like a good idea, but turns out not to be if you like your balls attached to your body.

The active birth movement has now been going for 50 years and is almost certainly here to stay. That makes sense. Research suggests that active birth reduces the number of complications and interventions, and allows the mother to recover quicker.

As with everything in pregnancy, though, there are benefits and there are also drawbacks.

First, labour can be really painful. It varies from person to person and from birth to birth, but often the amount of pain management required is going to be dictated by the situation.

Second, not everything goes to plan. So you may be planning to have an active birth but the situation could change quickly if there are any issues with labour. Therefore it is important to go in with a mindset of being ready to adapt to the changes required.

How should you handle it? The most important step is to be supportive. Active birth offers a lot more chance for the father to be involved, supporting your partner through the process and helping with non-drug based pain relief (such as massage, and helping her in and out of the bath).

It is also important to be supportive if things to not go to plan. If she decides she does need pain relief after all, remember to reassure her that almost everyone does, and there is no “failure” in resorting to it.

Overall, active birth is a great decision, especially for dads. The advantage is the reduced chance of intervention, and the disadvantages of additional pain are only felt by the father vicariously.

How often do you need to bathe your baby?

Friday, September 16th, 2016 | Family & Parenting

human-baby-in-a-bucket

How often should you bathe your baby? Many parents do it every day, out of a sense of responsibility, or merely because they enjoy it.

It may turn out that I do enjoy it, but right now it sounds like a massive hassle. Recently, I was talking to a friend who said that he did not bathe his baby at all. As long as you clean them properly when changing them, how dirty do they get lying around? Which leads me to the question, how often do you need to bathe your baby?

The evidence is not apparent. The NHS guide, washing and bathing your baby, says that you don’t need to do it every day. However, it offers no guidance on how often you should at a minimum.

Other research suggests that there is a reason you should not bathe your baby every day. Daily baths may contribute to dry skin and eczema. The theory is that bathing removes the protective oils from the baby’s skin, which actually does more harm than good.

This actually fits with the bigger picture. We have known for years that showering every day removes an important layer of oil from adult skin. A new study earlier this year backed this claim up.

Perhaps the answer to the question is, whenever the baby smells.

A Man’s Guide to Having a Baby

Monday, September 12th, 2016 | Books

A Man’s Guide to Having a Baby is a book on parenting by Dominic Bliss. I picked up the hardback edition. It’s a short book and you can knock through the entire thing in an hour or so if you’re not religiously re-reading everything. I have read a few books already, so I was pretty relaxed about it.

It is straight forward as to what it offers. It is for men and makes no bones about it. It strikes me as a book that is more useful than most out there. There are diagrams on how to do things. That is far more useful than the books that say “you’ll pick it up” or talk you through it in general terms. There is even a short troubleshooting guide for common problems and how to fix them.

a-mans-guide-to-having-a-baby

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016 | Books, Family & Parenting

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is a book by economics professor Bryan Caplan and has quickly become my favourite book on parenting. In it he argues that regardless of the number of kids you were going to have, a few more might be better. So if you were planning on zero, maybe you should have one. Or if you are planning on having four, maybe you should have six.

His thesis is that having children is actually less work than most parents put themselves through. People spend hours and hours ferrying their children round activities and after-school clubs, playing them Mozart and generally doing things they hate doing, and often the child hates doing, because they want the child to be more successful.

However, all the research shows that this has basically no effect. Whether it is IQ, happiness, success, character or honesty, most of it is set by genes and the rest is set by the environment, only of which a small fraction is parenting. Therefore parents are simply making themselves totally unhappy for basically no gain.

Let’s say you have a child, and the chance of them growing up to be a lovely person is 80%. You could work really hard and sacrifice your life to budge that to 82%. That gives you an 82% chance of having a lovely child when they’re grown up. Or, you could do nothing, have two kids, and give yourself a 96% of having at least one lovely grown-up child.

Even religion is not determined that much by parenting. What parenting does affect is the labels that people use. But actually turning up to the place of worship as an adult is a whole different ball game.

They are drawbacks to having more children. However, Caplin tackles these too. For example, people without children are slightly happier than people with children. Repeated studies find this. However, when you take out all the stuff the parents hate doing, this gap is incredibly small. Also almost no parent says they regret having kids, whereas the majority of childless people do say they regret it. Finally, most of the happiness hit is with the first child, so once you have had one, you might as well keep going.

There is also the time, money and sleep loss. Caplin tackles this too. This is a short term perspective. Sure, four kids is a huge amount of kids if they are all three years old. But, by the time they are teenagers you will probably have to ask them to spend time with you. And by the time they are adults it is a pleasure to have four adult kids that you can go see. Not to mention that the only reliable way of improving your odds of grandchildren is to have more children yourself.

Is it a message of doom and gloom that parenting doesn’t matter? Not at all. You can change your child in the short term. Discipline, for example, is necessary to have any kind of sane household. Just don’t expect those lessons to last forever. More importantly, the one thing you do have a long-lasting impact on is how your child remembers and perceives you. So shower them with love and kindness. Don’t bother doing stuff you both hate, or culture-cramming. Instead, use your time together to just have fun. It does no harm and makes both of your lives more enjoyable.

selfish-reasons-to-have-more-kids

The Essential First Year

Saturday, July 30th, 2016 | Books

The Essential First Year is a parenting book by Penelope Leach. On the whole. I found it an irritating book.

It is difficult to say how useful the advice is at this stage, not having a baby yet. However, I found much of the tone very patronising. Maybe I will feel like it is obvious that I would want to sacrifice any free time and happiness for my baby. But maybe I won’t, and if I decide I want some kind of balance between caring for my family and looking after myself, that is fine too.

I think this comes from the premise that the book is baby-centric. It is about how to give your child the best possible start, at the cost of sacrificing the parents. This is a complex issue though. For example, the book recommends not letting father’s get involved with feeding.

You may hear that bottle-feeding is better for modern families because the father can share the joy of feeding his baby and the mother can sleep while he does some night feeds. Oh please! Every parent knows that feeding is the baby’s basic need and has to come before father’s joy or even mother’s sleep.

There are two possibilities here. One is that I will feel as I do now: that having a family is a compromise involving the welfare of all parties. That sometimes getting some desperately needed sleep, or bonding with your child, might equally weight in on what is best for the child, beyond the obvious.

The other, is that I accept I could feel differently after the baby is born, and that I will then agree with the sentiment expressed above. Even in this case, Leach’s writing is still amateurish and offensive. Some basic thought on the topic would suggest that people may feel this way for perfectly valid reasons, such as I have stated above, and that there is a far more effective way of winning people to your side than yelling “oh please!”.

Conventions are a bit annoying too. The book mostly uses the pronoun “she” when referring to the baby, but then seemingly randomly switches to “he” instead, and flips back between them. What pronoun to use for a gender-unknown baby is a genuinely difficult question, and perhaps it is asking too much of a book to solve it.

There is a lot of useful stuff in here: reasons for find out the gender for example, and any book that says some moderate alcohol intake is okay, which the evidence says it is, gets some points for that. Understanding what stages babies go through and a rough guide to when they will do what is also very helpful. However, this could probably have been presented in two or three pages of charts rather than a hundred pages of prose.

The production of the book itself is high quality. There are lots of full-page colour photographs to illustrate the stages of a baby’s first year.

Overall, I do not think this book was worth reading. It’s just too irritatingly patronising and long-winded. This is a shame as it does have a good evidence-based grounding. Time will tell as to whether I refer back to it after the baby arrives.

essential-first-year

An economist’s guide to parenting

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 | Family & Parenting, Thoughts

parenting

In the podcast episode An Economist’s Guide to Parenting Stephen Dubner discusses the ROI of putting time into your parenting. How much should you give?

In The Blank Slate Steven Pinker discusses the nature vs nurture argument. He makes the claim that your child’s life success and personality and predominantly determined by generics (50%), social environment (40%) and parenting (10%). Based on twin studies, you find that twins turn out very similar regardless of environment, whereas a similar environment (adoptions) do not homogenise adopted siblings.

This suggests parenting is not that important. Dubner agrees. There is no evidence that extensive extra-curricular activities or culture cramming provide measurable benefit to your child. If anything, it might do damage as the sacrifices a parent has to make to ferry their child around to all of this nonsense may reduce the quality of the relationship: obsessive parenting makes parents less happy.

This contrasts Malcolm Gladwell’s argument in Outliers in which he argues that a large part of people’s success is a result of the structured activities organised by parents. Though it could be that success is due to the parental time, and Gladwell has simply interpreted this as the structure providing benefit.

Some things do matter, mostly setting an example for your child. For example if you are a smoker or heavy drinker, your child is more likely to adopt these characteristics too. The other example given is how you treat waiters in a restaurant, which presumably really extends to how you treat other people in general.

The other thing that matters, and seems to matter a lot, is love. The time you spend with your child doesn’t have to be “constructive” as long as it constitutes quality time. So picking an activity you both enjoy is the best way to make this work, and you shouldn’t be afraid to change it if it isn’t. Less structure, more love makes for a happier parent and a more successful child.

Parenthood and life expectancy

Friday, May 27th, 2016 | Health & Wellbeing

father-and-baby

One point of tension for me when becoming a father was the fight between my own needs and that of my family’s. The stress of looking after them and torture of sleep deprivation surely must have a negative impact on my health? How much would I be willing to sacrifice my own wellbeing for theirs?

However, in a speech by Scott Galloway, that I wrote about a few weeks ago, he claimed that being a carer was actually the best thing you could do to prolong your life expectancy. I knew that having a partner and friends was one of the biggest factors in life expectancy. However, he claimed it was the act of giving care that produced the effect. There was no source, so armed with some new hope, I set off to investigate.

Some studies have shown a lower mortality rate in parents than childless adults. However, perhaps it it could be that people who want to become parents tend to live longer, regardless of whether they actually have children or not.

In 2012, The Economist wrote about a Danish study that looked at people undergoing IVF. This was key because it controlled for the desire to have children. They found the same result: parents experienced lower mortality rates than childless couples.

Business Insider also wrote about the study noting that men who adopted experienced the same benefit (women experienced some benefit, but not as much as having their own children).

This is all good news. While I am sure the sleepless nights children cause will be very unpleasant, at least there is some comfort that it is actually good for my health.

The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide

Thursday, May 19th, 2016 | Books

The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide is a pregnancy book by Rom Kemp.

It cuts a nice channel between the super-factual but not very engaging What To Expect, and the highly engaging but far less informative Fatherhood: The Truth.

It covers the practical stuff that you need, what to expect during labour and the first few months after the birth. As with other books, he has surveyed his friends to back each point up with a range of anecdotes. More interestingly, there is also advice from a midwife (who is also a father himself), The book does a far-better-than-average job of not patronising (no “oh wow, you want to be involved with your baby – but you’re a man!” that is common with pregnancy books).

expectant-dads-survival-guide

My chat with Baby Box Co

Friday, May 6th, 2016 | Health & Wellbeing

baby-sleeping

Last month, I wrote an article calling out companies that had started using the Finnish baby box tradition to sell their wares.

Specifically, my criticism was that the Finnish system lowers infant mortality by acting as a bribe to get people to neuvola, the centres that provide all the antenatal and postnatal care. That is where the evidence-based benefit is. On top of that, giving good quality stuff to poorer parents may also help.

However, the there is no evidence the cardboard boxes themselves do anything (obviously, because it is just a cardboard box) and so selling them from webpages that show infant mortality graphs feels like taking advantage of scared parents to me. In fact, the box matters so little that the Finnish government will just give you cash instead, if you wish. The box is worth more, so most people choose that, but the key to the Finnish success is the adoption of the medical care.

Anyway, recap over.

After the post went up, Jennifer Clary, CEO of US-based Baby Box Co offered to have a chat to fill me on what they are doing. I took her up on the offer.

She said she fully accepted the boxes were not magic, but that they were trying to use them as an engagement tool to get more of the good stuff done. So while they love selling direct to consumers, the real opportunities are selling to healthcare providers and governments so that the boxes can be used in a way that is more Finnish.

In addition to their actual box products, they’re developing what they call “Baby Box University”. The idea is that they can partner with authorities, who get people to complete online courses and come out of the end with a certificate and a free baby box.

This sounds super because it fills in the missing gap in replicating Finland’s success. Infant mortality is lowered by developing educated parents who engage with healthcare programmes, and it sounds like what Baby Box Co are doing supports that.