Surprises From Max's First Four Months

Baby Max is four months old today. I posted when he was one month, talking about what a difficult little demon he was, but after eight weeks he magically changed overnight into the sweetest baby ever! We were so surprised the first time he slept 7.5 hours straight instead of waking up every 3 hours, we kept waking up anyway just to go stare at him. "Maybe there's something wrong with him!" But he kept doing it, and now he sleeps from around 8pm to 4:30am every night, wakes up to feed, then goes back to sleep until around 7:30am. It is amazing. And where before he cried a lot, always seemed unhappy, and didn't even know how to smile, now he generally loves everything and will smile his head off if you just look at him.

Here are some more surprises from the first four months of Max.

1. He loves "reading" books.

I had thought that before he could read or understand words, or even be able to visually recognize cartoons of things, he would get bored when I read to him. But even from the beginning, books held his attention and excited him. Thanks for all the books, everyone (but especially Mom)!

2. Breastfeeding can be super hard.

There's a lot of arguments, a ton of bad science, and one or two pieces of good science on the effects of breastfeeding on child development. As far as I can tell, breastfeeding doesn't do a lot of the things people think it does: it doesn't affect allergies, asthma, obesity, tooth cavities, height, blood pressure, or respiratory infections. (Interesting: unlike in most mammals, the antibodies that human babies get from breastmilk don't go into their bloodstream, just their GI tract.)

But what it does do is give the baby slightly lower incidence of GI tract infections (diarrhea) and atopic eczema (rashes), plus several IQ points. (It's unclear exactly how many and it likely depends on how long and how exclusively the baby breastfeeds, but it's probably somewhere between 3 and 6 points.)

IQ is interesting not only because intelligence is important, but because it's a decent generalized measure for the way that the environment has affected the brain. If breastfeeding gave you more IQ, it probably also made you less impulsive, less violent, less prone to psychiatric disease, more socially skilled, etc. Each point of IQ gives roughly +2% lifetime earnings and +2% productivity.

Given how obsessed I am with intelligence, I was all like, "Heeey Chloe, wanna, like, breastfeed him until he's two?" (She did not.) But then when he actually gets born and she goes to breastfeed him, they ran into nearly every problem in the book: late start, bad latch, tongue tie, too much early weight loss, low supply, lactation consultant, nipple confusion, nursing strikes, plugged ducts, tongue tie again, flat nipple, another lactation consultant, nipple shields, milk blisters, two different supplemental nutrition systems, three different breast pumps... it was not supposed to be this hard. It still kind of sucks, because low milk supply hasn't gone away despite Chloe breastfeeding for hours and pumping seven times a day for months. We still have to supplement with formula at every feeding, so we have all the downsides of both feeding methods at the same time.

At least he is still getting some breastmilk, and he and Chloe get to bond while feeding, and I still get to feed him sometimes when he takes a bottle.

3. He's not already a perfect swimmer.

Until six months, babies have this cool reflex which prevents them from breathing in water and also lets them kind of swim a little bit. You can use this to jumpstart swimming lessons, since you can quickly work your way up to dunking infants in the water without them choking.

We tried putting Max in infant swimming lessons at two months, but he was clearly not ready to do anything except float and brief submersions (he couldn't even really consciously move his limbs yet), so we paused that for a bit and have just been practicing in the bathtub. Now that he's great at holding his head up and can grab things and use his legs, maybe he'll be ready to learn the next steps. I thought you started by just kind of throwing the baby in the water and then pulling him out after he swims for a bit, but apparently you have to take it super slow.

4. He is obsessed with standing.

A few weeks ago, Chloe told me she read somewhere that once they get basic head control, babies like it when you pull them up by the arms to help them sit. I tried it with Max, and he immediately extended his legs to stand up and started grinning madly. He then stood up for two minutes straight with me just helping him balance before he sat down again. Now he can't get enough of it and can stand for up to four minutes! Old wives tales say that too much early standing makes babies bowlegged, but this seems false if the baby is initiating it.

He drools torrentially while doing this.

5. I put him in daycare.

I had anticipated that in order to give Max the best opportunities, I would take care of him at home and play with him all day long and do various things to enhance his development. Then I started researching things and haven't come across any good counterarguments to The Nurture Assumption, which, by pointing out that pretty much all parenting and child development research is crap due to not taking into account the lessons we have learned with behavioral genetics, convincingly argues that almost nothing parents do will have any lasting effect on a child's behavior or personality. The corollary is that you can pretty much parent in whichever ways are fun for you and the kid without having to worry about trying to shape the child's personality–you can only affect your relationship with the kid.

And surprisingly, even though playing with a baby is fun, it's pretty boring to play with a baby for more than an hour at a time, let alone all day.

So instead of making big sacrifices to eke out illusory improvements in Max's future awesomeness, we decided to just put him in this great family childcare across the street during the day, where he gets loving attention and Chinese immersion and we get our productivity back.

It's hard to find good research on the effects of daycare and preschool and child development, so if you know of any, let me know. Unschooling still looks like the thing to do when he gets older if I have time.

While it felt like he was developing super slowly before, now that he's in daycare, it feels like he's going really fast: every day there's something new. I'm trying to be careful to be present and not miss things.

6. Talking to babies in Chinese is hard.

It wasn't natural for me to talk to Max at first, but I practiced it and now I can babble at him no problem, mostly by rambling about absurd topics. Now that he's getting closer to the age where we should really be careful about consistently speaking in one language or the other, though, I've been trying more and more to just speak in Chinese to him, and my crazy logorrhea approach isn't possible without crazy vocabulary. My baby-specific vocabulary needs work.

English: "Wow, look at that drool bubble! It's so big, I bet it could drown one seventh of the population of a miniature bacteria planet. Did you know that some bacteria are only like 500 nanometers wide? ... Little Bunny Foo Foo went hopping through the forest, scooping up the field mice and bopping them on the head. Then he looted their corpses and got seventeen silver pieces and a crude wooden club. Down came the Good Fairy, and Little Bunny Foo Foo attacked her on sight, catching her by surprise and dealing triple damage. She counterattacked and did five damage, but then Little Bunny Foo Foo bopped her on the head and she went down and he reached level two and got the Mighty Leap ability." [... and so on for many years of LBFF's adventuring career.]

Chinese: "哇,看看你的口水滔滔不绝!口水太多了,哎哟!... 你很可爱。你站起来了。你的头大的不得了。要不要睡觉?... 很多口水 ..."

("Wow, look at your unceasing torrent of drool! Your drool is too much, ouch! ... You are very cute. You are standing up. Your head is exceedingly big. Do you want to sleep? ... lots of drool...")

So far it's probably not too important–he's in the pre-six-months stage where he just needs to hear enough of the phonemes of each language to learn to differentiate them, and he's doing that fine (although if anyone wants to come and speak any other languages besides English and Chinese to him to help him retain phonemic flexibility, please come over!). But soon we might need to do one-parent-one-language to keep him from getting confused, and it looks like that parent might be me.

7. Grandparents have incredible patience with their grandkids.

"Want to hold the baby for an hour while he just sleeps?" "Sure!" How convenient.

8. 4:00am is no longer my least likely time to be awake.

Max goes to sleep around 8, give or take half an hour, then wakes up for the first time around 4:30, give or take an hour. So now that's when I sleep. Max and Chloe go back to sleep after that first night feeding, but it's a great time to get work done, so that's when I start hacking. I like it. It's nice to get stuff done before anyone else is awake to distract me.

9. Minimalism doesn't exactly mesh with mad science

My mad science project has been to get Max riding around on a mind-controlled robot using an EEG cap to let him turn it with his brainwaves. But it's taken me this long to get the robot base working, because every time I think I have what I need for the electronics, I just need one more piece, and then I have to wait for it to come from the internet. (Wish I was working out of a hackerspace.) So I end up with more and more electronics stuff–a soldering iron here, some heat-shrink tubing there–and it is not good for my 99 things list. I haven't updated it yet, but I'll have to update it soon, and I'll be over on my possessions and have to get rid of some stuff soon.

But I finally got my Raspberry-Pi-controlled modified Roomba driving around with Max riding on it, and it's hilarious. I started to work with the EEG stuff last weekend, and it looks like I'm going to need a really solid baby-sized cap with some new type of electrode in order to get useful signal out of it while he's moving his head around this much. We'll see if I can get it working. This should have been the hard part, not the basic circuitry for the robot, but I resisted getting the right tools for too long because I didn't want extra stuff. This isn't how most mad scientists operate–they have whole lairs full of random gear. Sometimes I just wish I had my own secret volcano base filled with tesla coils, okay?

10. His favorite thing to look at is Chloe's camera.

Faces are pretty good, but a camera is the best! He can't look away. We end up with lots of what look like baby selfies.


Hacking on CodeCombat, a multiplayer programming game for learning to code. Mastermind behind Skritter, the most powerful Chinese character learning app.

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