Remember when you used to sterilise everything?
It's classic first-baby syndrome: you religiously spray the mat with Dettol after every nappy change, squirt antiseptic gel all over the place - and, on the odd occasion your baby lobs his dummy over the side of the high chair, you have to sterilise it to within an inch of its life with the force of a thousand suns before even considering putting it back into his slobbery little mouth.
Second baby is a little different. Whether it's exhaustion, lack of sleep, lack of time (or a lack of anything else), the mat goes unsquirted unless your delightful baby's poo goes everywhere, antiseptic gel is withheld for similar occasions, and the dummy gets a quick rinse under the tap (or, if there's no tap available, you stick it in your own mouth for a few seconds and look a bit daft in the process).
The third baby...well, by the time he or she is a year old, the third baby has probably ingested more mud and germs than most firstborns do in five years. The Dettol spray is long gone; any nasty smears left over after a frantic five-minute nappy change with two children hanging off your arms are hastily wiped away with a Wet Wipe.
Antiseptic gels are a thing of the past; they take far too long to get out, squirt, and absorb. Again, a Wet WIpe will do, and you leave the threat of E.coli up to fate: if it's meant to be, you'll get it. And the dummy? Straight back in the mouth, after a quick buff on your sleeve. It's good for them to ingest a few germs now and again, isn't it? Boosts their immune system, or something.
Why is this the case? It's not like we love our second, third, fourth (etc., if you're crazy enough to have more than four) children any less, so why are we so sloppy when looking after them?
It's a mixture of a couple of things, in my opinion. The first is that when you become a parent for the first time, you want to do everything by the book. You're like a person who can't drive suddenly being thrown behind the steering wheel of a Ferrari and told to race; you take it slowly, following every instruction and process to the letter.
By the time a second baby comes around, you've realised that there is no 'book' when it comes to parenting. There are no rules, as such; everyone parents differently, and it doesn't take long to work out that doing everything to the letter ends up costing more time and money than it is worth.
And, with each subsequent baby, you realise more and more that you can throw the Ferrari around the track as quickly as you like, cutting corners, missing gears, because now you're an expert. In fact, you scoff at new parents who buy the latest, most expensive piece of machinery which rocks their baby to sleep whilst feeding it, changing its nappy and reading it a book all at the same time.
The second factor is one already mentioned; by the time a second baby comes around you've had an average of about four or five hours a sleep every night for perhaps the past two years. You have a toddler yelling for your attention, pulling your hair whenever he can and waddling into danger at every turn. So there isn't time to sterilise everything, or take as many precautions as you might like.
Besides, a few germs never hurt anybody, right?
You can read Ben's previous columns here.
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