You’ve spent months — or maybe years — imagining the day you would strap your newborn baby into their car seat and bring them home. You’ve painted the nursery, washed all the clothes and stocked your shelves full of diapers and wipes. You’ve stocked your freezer full of meals, and you are fully prepared to spend the next eight weeks doing nothing but holding that little bundle of joy you’ve been waiting for.
And then reality sets in.
Maybe your infant screamed all the way home. Perhaps they aren’t taking to a bottle or breast the way you expected. Or, maybe you’ve discovered your partner can’t figure out how to change a diaper.
Whatever the problem, every new parent experiences a moment when they realize they don’t feel nearly as prepared as they’d thought. That cute nursery doesn’t help when your colicky baby screams for hours. Those beautiful knit blankets are more convenient for covering up the mounds of dirty laundry accumulating in the corner. And then there’s the sleep deprivation.
Because caring for a newborn is often more challenging than expected, many first-time parents assume they must be doing it wrong. And, most of the time, that is not true. How to be a good parent involves loving your child and having the desire to do the best you can for their sake. The rest is only details. But, when it comes to surviving — and thriving — in the early months of parenthood, some new baby parenting tips can keep you going and help you come out strong on the other side.
1. Stay Calm
In the beginning, you’ll have a learning curve when it comes to understanding your newborn child. Some things will be exciting, such as the first time they smile or turn their head at the sound of your voice. Other times might be more worrying, such as when they vomit, choke or cry for an extended period. When these things happen, many parents become anxious and find themselves less able to enjoy parenthood the way they thought they would. Babies sense when their parents are anxious, and can even take on those feelings of anxiety and stress, which can create additional challenges for your child.
2. It’s OK to Walk Away
Between 2 weeks and 4 months of age, most babies tend to cry a lot. At this phase, babies have no other way to communicate their needs to their parents, so crying is their only option to express hunger, fatigue, discomfort and more. During this period, some babies cry more than others. It is not unheard of for babies to cry for hours at a time. When parents are facing these long crying spells, they can become stressed out and overwhelmed. Sound familiar? Maybe you have attempted to soothe your baby, but nothing seems to comfort them. Perhaps they cry unless you are feeding or holding them. At some point, you might even feel like you can’t take it anymore.
Sadly, some parents have become so distraught over the excessive crying that they have shaken their babies. “Shaken baby syndrome” has led to serious injury and, in one out of four cases, infant death. While most parents will not go this far when the crying becomes overwhelming, it is important to prepare for those moments when you may become overwhelmed and need to step away.
There is no shame in asking for help from trusted friends, family members or your partner. Asking for help is a sign of strength, and it shows love for your child, as well as yourself. Take a walk around the block or call a friend. If you need to step away from your baby and there is no one around to help at that moment, place your child safely in their crib where they cannot hurt themselves and walk out of the room. Make a cup of coffee or step onto the porch to take a few deep breaths before heading back inside.
While crying is a normal phase for newborns, it is important to note it can also signal a problem. If your child is running a fever, cries for hours without explanation, has swelling or a rash and is vomiting, call your doctor or visit your local emergency room. Even if your child doesn’t have these symptoms, your parental intuition is an essential tool you shouldn’t overlook. If you believe something is wrong — or you aren’t sure — don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician’s office and ask for help.
3. Don’t Wake a Sleeping Baby
If your baby sleeps through feeding time, it is not a good idea to wake them up to eat. Many people believe breastfed babies especially cannot sleep through the night, but this is not always the case. As your baby grows, he or she will likely develop a routine cycle of eating and sleeping. While this may take some nudging from you, most of the time this develops naturally.
In the beginning, your newborn will likely eat every couple of hours, with the exact number depending on your child’s nutritional needs, as well as whether they are bottle-fed or breastfed, but over time, their little bodies will become capable of lasting longer in between feedings. Allow your child to tell you what they need. And take advantage of their sleeping hours to catch up on the sleep you’ve been missing.
4. Make Sure You Have Installed Your Baby’s Car Seat Correctly
Let’s be honest. Installing a car seat is hard. In fact, for some people, figuring out how to latch a car seat into place can seem like an initiation into the parents’ club. Many parents have complained and grumbled over the years about installing the car seat, but the truth is that having it latched correctly into your backseat can save your baby’s life. By all means, attempt it yourself, but after buckling the seat into the car — and before your newborn rides in it — head over to your local fire station and ask for someone to asses the installation and make sure it is correctly in place.
5. It’s OK to Ask for Help
We’ve mentioned it before, but this tip bears repeating. It really does take a village to raise a child. If you have willing family and friends, allow them to come to your aid. Even if you don’t want a lot of people coming into close contact with your baby, take them up on offers to bring meals, run the vacuum and fold your laundry. If you don’t live near trusted family or friends, it may not be possible to have help with some of the day-to-day things like cooking or cleaning, so consider signing up for a meal service or hiring someone to tidy your home. There is no shame in admitting you can’t do everything. And besides, handing off the everyday chores to spend time with your child is a decision no one will ever regret.
If you are struggling with excessive crying, breastfeeding or postpartum depression, it is also essential to ask for help from a trusted professional. Your doctor, your child’s pediatrician, a lactation consultant or a qualified counselor can all be good options for helping you through this difficult phase.
6. There Is a Difference Between Vomit and Spit Up
This one can be confusing for new parents. Both can smell terrible and be messy. A baby is prone to spitting up after meals. In the first few months, this is the result of a weak muscle between the stomach and the esophagus. For some babies, if this muscle is especially weak, they may get diagnosed with acid reflux. This illness is controllable with medications and typically resolves itself once babies can sit up on their own.
The difference between spit up and vomiting comes when it happens at a time when they have not recently eaten, and it is typically more forceful, meaning it may project out from their mouth a significant distance rather than just dribble out of their mouth.
7. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
In the first few months after your baby arrives, you will be tempted to let yourself go while you care for your baby. Yes, parenting a newborn is an incredibly time-consuming job. However, it is vital that you make time to take care of yourself, too. Make sure you are eating regular, healthy meals and drinking plenty of water — this is especially vital if you are breastfeeding, but bottle-feeding parents shouldn’t overlook hydration, either. Allow your partner to care for the baby while you shower or take a walk. Sleep will be scarce, so take advantage of your baby’s naptimes to catch a few minutes of sleep for yourself. Yes, it can be tempting to use those precious minutes to fold laundry or clean the kitchen, but it’s more important right now to get rest.
8. Don’t Be Afraid to Venture Out
In the first few weeks, you may stick close to home. Protecting your baby from germs, as well as spending quality time bonding together, typically keeps a new family homebound in the beginning. However, after those first few weeks, if you and your baby are healthy, there’s no reason to stay at home. For most new moms, the idea of heading out with the baby can be overwhelming. The first time you take the baby out, ask your partner, a family member or close friend to come with you to offer support and an extra set of hands. Not only can they help you care for the baby, but the presence of an extra person can make the first outing less stressful for a new parent.
In the beginning, it helps to stick to places where a newborn would be welcome, especially if your newborn is prone to crying fits or you may need to feed them during the outing. This could mean taking them for a walk through your neighborhood if it’s warm or browsing the shelves at a local bookstore. However, stay away from the library or somewhere noise might be a distraction.
Keeping your baby’s diaper bag fully stocked will make any outing easier. Being prepared with baby gear like bottles or a nursing cover, as well as diapers, wipes and extra clothes, can help you relax because you won’t have to cut your time short and rush home if your baby needs something. You may even want to keep a spare set of clothes for you in the diaper bag in case some spit up or a particularly explosive diaper happens while you’re out.
9. Consider Every Moment a Teachable Moment
Over the years, your job as a parent will include teaching your child many, many things. While they may not be walking or talking right now, it’s never too early to start teaching your baby. No, we’re not suggesting that you pull out flash cards or start reading from your college philosophy textbook. We’re talking about teaching your child about forming relationships, trust and love. Spend time holding your baby and cuddling. Talk and sing to them, or make up little games you can play together.
These seemingly small interactions will result in a variety of benefits for your child. Physical touch helps calm babies, especially skin-to-skin contact between parents and their children. In fact, you may have seen this or experienced it yourself in the hospital when your child was first born. This physical touch and the emotional engagement it generates helps to speed up your baby’s development. Not only that, but the more you converse with your baby, the better off they will be as their language and verbal communication skills begin to develop.
10. Trust Yourself
Well-meaning friends and family will seemingly come out of the woodwork to offer what they consider to be great advice. Some of it will be helpful, but some of it will not. As a new mom, your job is to sort through all of the information and decide what works for you and your baby. Even as a newborn, your child will have specific tastes and preferences. What works for one baby may not for another. One child may sleep through the night starting at 8 weeks, and another may not sleep through the night until 8 months. One child may love to fall asleep to classical music, while another may not be able to fall asleep unless the entire house is silent. Some babies may find a warm bath soothing, and others may scream the whole time they are getting bathed.
Even though you are new at this whole parenting thing, no one else in the world knows your child the way you do. And no one else in the world loves your child the way you do. Don’t be afraid to try new things when you need to — such as driving your child around the block 50 times to lull them to sleep — but also don’t be afraid to ignore advice that doesn’t work.
We could go on for pages with tips for handling feeding issues, health issues, developmental issues and more. When you are learning how to be a great parent, there can sometimes be hundreds of questions swirling around in your head, and addressing each of them would take much more time and space than this one article could provide. But here’s the thing: Even though you have never parented a newborn before, you already have all of the tools you need to be successful. You have the desire to love and raise a child. You have an intelligent brain that can find information and ask questions. And, you have resources available to you every step of the way, whether it is a more experienced parent, a pediatrician or a subscription to a trusted parenting magazine.
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