You have a new addition in your family. Congratulations! Now if only you could stop worrying about every little thing … but at least you’re not alone. All new parents have concerns – here are some of the most common ones.
It’s like taking a leap into the great beyond when your first child is born. Luckily, experts and books provide lots of answers. Here are 10 issues most parents worry about, with advice from the experts to help ease your mind.
1. Sleep (the baby’s, that is): When can I expect the tot to sleep through the night?
Until 6 weeks old, your baby does not have the ability to self-soothe or any real sense of timing and will probably only sleep in 2 – 3 hour increments. Be prepared to be up whenever your baby needs you! Realistically, it’s not until about 4 – 6 months that a baby can make it through the night without a feeding, and even that’s not guaranteed. According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, by 9 months of age, 70 to 80 percent of babies are sleeping nine to 12 hours straight through every night. “Sleeping habits really develop on a child to child basis,” says Della Stahl, medical assistant at Tennessee Pediatrics. “Some children will sleep through the night at 4 months, others not until 11 months.” Stahl says to seek advice from your pediatrician if your baby is having trouble establishing good sleeping patterns. Old wives tales, such as feeding your baby cereal hoping a fuller stomach will keep them asleep longer, are to be avoided as they can’t help with sleeping, and they can actually lead to other problems. “Feeding a baby solid foods before she’s ready will just increase your problems. Babies bodies aren’t ready, so you’ll just add diarrhea and upset stomach to your sleeping problems,” cautions Stahl.
2. SIDS: one of the most terrifying words in a new parent’s vocabulary.
Since SIDS is the diagnosis when a baby (under 12 months old) dies of unknown causes in his sleep, the terror rests mostly in the parents’ feelings of helplessness: How do you prevent something that has no known cause? While completely preventing SIDS is impossible, you can do several things to combat it. Awareness of sleeping position (sleeping on the back is best) created by the “Back to Sleep” campaign, started in 1994, is estimated to have saved thousands of babies’ lives. Also keep your baby away from cigarette smoke; remove soft bedding, pillows and stuffed animals from the crib; don’t overdress him or overheat his room; and breastfeed if possible.
3. Can I spoil my baby by picking her up too much when she cries?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) you can not spoil a baby by giving her attention. During the first few months, it is important to respond to all of your baby’s cries; she’ll cry less if you are there to comfort her. You’ll soon be able to distinguish between your baby’s cries – the sound of a hunger cry is different than a cry of pain or distress. You also might be able to eventually identify a leave-me-alone cry. Pediatricians agree that babies often have fussy periods during which nothing will console them; this seems to be a way for them to relieve tension and excess energy, often leaving them more alert and content afterwards.
4. What’s the best way to keep a newborn healthy?
“The number one way to keep your baby healthy is to make all of your pediatrician’s appointments,” says Stahl. “Get them all of their shots, and have the doctor watching their growth and development.” Most pediatricians agree that the other important factor in newborn health is breastfeeding. Breast milk has the optimal nutritional composition for babies, one that cannot be mimicked completely by manmade formula. Breastfed babies also gain important immunities and protection from various ailments through breast milk; these protective benefits extend from diarrhea to SIDS. Stahl is quick to point out, however, that breastfeeding is only optimal for health if it is working for both mother and baby. “If you’re not producing enough milk, the baby is not taking it, or for some medical reason you are not able to breastfeed, then the healthiest thing for your baby is to switch to a bottle and formula,” confirms Stahl.
5. How do I know if my baby is getting adequate nutrition?
“If they are continually growing and gaining weight,” explains Stahl, “then you know they’re getting the nutrition they need; the best indicator is growth.”
6. How can I balance having a baby with returning to work?
The AAP recommends taking the longest maternity leave that you can “so that parent-child bonding may be firmly established and maintained.” Be sure to adequately prepare yourself and your family for your return to work so that the transition is easier. And, if possible, work part-time for awhile. Though there are bound to be concerns, resentments and even jealousy about time your baby spends with a caregiver while you are at work, the AAP maintains that it is important to separate your own needs from your child’s welfare. Being actively involved in your child’s daycare is one way to manage your feelings and to ensure the quality of your child’s care. Visit the program regularly, talk to the caregiver often and help with fundraising and volunteering when possible. If you plan to continue to breastfeed after returning to work, make sure to introduce a bottle to the baby a week or two before your job resumes.
7. What’s the best way to get my husband to help without alienating him?
Experts agree that the most important way to get your husband to help is to let him help. Many new mothers complain that their husband isn’t helping with the baby or around the house, only to realize that they are standing over him every time he changes a diaper or tries to soothe the baby. Men and women do things differently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one way is right and one way is wrong. Give your husband time alone to bond with the baby and to figure things out in his own way. Also make sure communication is clear. Talk about your concerns, explain where and how you need more help, and figure out together how to handle childcare, housework and careers as a team.
8.When does discipline start?
Pediatricians agree that disciplining a baby before 7 – 9 months isn’t necessary or effective. Before that age, a baby isn’t capable of manipulation or of consciously “being bad.” Until a child can understand, the best way to thwart undesirable behavior is to distract with toys or another activity. Around 8 or 9 months of age, you can discipline most effectively by rewarding desired behavior with attention and kind words, and by withholding these rewards when the baby does not behave as desired. Time-outs aren’t generally viewed as effective until a child is 3 or 4 years old because until then he can’t fully understand when he’s done something wrong and why he’s being punished. Also, a younger child probably won’t stay put for a timeout – this could lead to you chasing a toddler around, which he might view as a fun game, erasing any memory of or association with whatever behavior you’re trying to correct.
9.What if my baby doesn’t hit her milestones like other children do?
“Children grow differently and go through stages at different times and rates,” assures Stahl. “These milestones are general guidelines; don’t get too attached to specific months. Some children will crawl at 5 months, and some will crawl at 10 months. It’s generally nothing to be alarmed about.” Stahl contends that new parents should see their pediatrician regularly to monitor development and bring up any concerns with the doctor.
10.What makes a person a good parent?
So many factors go into good parenting, but it all starts with taking care of a child’s (and your own!) basic needs. This means providing nutritious food, a safe place to live and play, love and affection, respect and a willingness to listen, having reasonable rules, and fostering a desire for knowledge in your child and community. In the early 80s William Sears, M.D., author and parenting expert, coined the term “attachment parenting” to describe what he felt was the most fundamentally important aspect of being a good parent – that you are there with and for your baby. Be responsive and follow your intuition, and you will be a fantastic parent.
Jennifer Frisvold is a freelance writer and expectant mom residing in Nashville.