Feeding a baby is like fighting a storm

I’ve done a lot of volunteer sail training over the years. This mainly involves taking young people and kids aged about 11-20 out on a boat in the big ocean, chucking weather at them in various guises, and helping them to realise that a) they can do more than they imagine individually, and b) they can do even more than that as a team. It’s loads of fun (have a look at OYT South, an award-winning sail training charity, if you’d like to get involved), but successfully running a watch of challenging young people to efficiently change a sail at 4am in a storm requires some rewiring of your psyche.

Luckily I’ve often found that these experiences come in handy in all kinds of odd situations: turns out looking after a colic-y baby is one of those. So here’s my Brief Guide To Treating Feeding A Baby As If It Were A Sail Change:

  1. Everything takes longer than you think, especially at night and in bad weather (read: fractious infant). A mainsail reef that takes 10 minutes to do in the day and a flat calm can take an hour in a squally night. Equally, if you try and rush a feed our baby definitely picks up on it, and she doesn’t like that at all..
  2. Do it early. If you’re thinking about doing it, it’s probably time to… neither hungry babe nor rising gale give a shit what you were ‘planning’ to do with the next hour, so get on with it while you have some leeway. Rushing if you leave it too late will only result in a balls-up.
  3. Make sure your team are well briefed so everyone can prepare in full. OK, the ‘team’ in question refers to you and the baby, and at least half of that team isn’t going to be very helpful, but it still pays to plan ahead.
  4. Have a routine and stick to it. On the boat we have standard operating procedures for a lot of good reasons, such as ensuring team members can swap in and out without compromising or missing critical safety steps, and ensuring everyone knows their job, even in the middle of a filthy storm when they haven’t slept properly for days. Guess how that helps with newborn care…
  5. Tidy up the work area after you. There’s nothing more annoying than coming on watch, starting a task, and finding all of the ropes in a tangled mess. In an emergency it can even be dangerous, as everyone fumbles for their kit instead of finding it quickly and efficiently. Equally, tidying up my changing area and making sure all our bottle-feeding stuff is clean and ready – and supplies of consumables like cotton wool, formula powder and nappies are adequate – makes life easier for the person doing the next feed. Which might even be me – cheers, myself!
  6. Have a cup of tea when you’re done. Or write a pointless blog post. Point is, take five minutes to relax and have a quick review over how the task went, when you might need to do it next, and finally get out of those soaking oilskins / vomit-sodden boxer shorts you’ve been wearing for the last six hours.
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