I really thought I was pretty prepared when I had my first child. I used to tell parents that I was working with in a hospital setting, “You don’t need to know how to drive a car to fix a car.” I was horribly wrong. I do not want to be offensive, because I believe parents who have adopted are just as much as a parent as I am. However, my brain changed while I was pregnant. There has to be a biological, chemical change in most women during and after pregnancy. It makes sense. Biologically speaking, moms need to worry about their young in order to perpetuate the species. Many moons ago, women had children soon after they menstruated for the first time. Something had to change them from a child into a mom and fast! It was hormones changing their bodies (watch girls after they have their first period. Over the next few months to years they developed curves and it suddenly becomes work to keep fit and healthy) and their minds.
After nine months of trying to get pregnant, I had no idea that I would be attached from the moment I became pregnant. Not all women feel attached to their babies during pregnancy, but I did. When I experienced some spot bleeding at about eight weeks into my first pregnancy, I freaked out! I carried to term with more problems at the end, but I know many women who have miscarried and it is often devastating with a grief process all of it’s own.
I craved meat and potatoes and could not bare the thought of sweets and coffee during my boy pregnancy. I was hot most of the time. I ate a pan of brownies a week and had all kinds of complications during my girl pregnancy. I was not a good pregnant body. I remember calling my mom and telling her my son was breech. She said in suspicious disbelief, “Well none of the rest of us had breech babies!” Some women feel better pregnant, I was not necessarily one of them. I will spare you all of the details.
It amazes me how individual pregnancy is. Some women feel great. Some get post-partum depression. Some parents become overwhelmed. Some seem to handle everything with ease. There is no rhyme nor reason. I had a Ph.D. in baby, well, technically developmental and child psychology, I should have been prepared. I was not.
The hardest part of becoming a new parent for me was how overwhelming the 24/7 nature of having an infant became. As I said in another post, they take your life away! You do everything with them! I became kind of a freak about nap times. It was the only time I wasn’t doing something for them, so I need them to take naps. It became a problem for my six year marriage (we had dated since I was 15-years-old!). He saw it as an opportunity for “alone time,” I saw it as an opportunity for ALONE time. It began to hurt his feelings and I was not good at managing both my mother and spouse roles. Disclaimer: I am a child psychologist NOT a marriage therapist. I could pick a 2-year-old up and move him if he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to be doing. I have know idea most of the time when it comes to grown-up men , and many times, adolescent man/children!
I love new babies, but they are not easy to care for because they give you no positive feedback until they can smile! They thankless lumps that pee, poop, eat, and sleep and expect you to do all of it and guess what they need next. My daughter could roll over reflexively for a few days, that was kind of interesting. So, it is really important not to lay even a new baby on a raised surface unattended. New babies often smile reflexively, even though you swear it was in response to you. I love watching their movements, because for many weeks, they move like they did when they were in utero; kind of space walker looking.
Some babies are born with teeth! Babies can see, contrary to what some people think. They see faces best. A really cool trivia fact about new babies is that they see best about 12 inches from their faces, which is almost exactly the distance between our faces and the crook in our arm where we tend to hold new babies! There is research that shows babies see black, white, and red best. All colors that are on our faces.
I was very regimented about having a schedule and following it everyday with both of my babies. Naps, snacks, and mealtimes happened pretty much the same time everyday. My awesome pediatrician, Dr. Flint, had really guided me toward a schedule. Both of my babies responded very well to a schedule, but I had many friends who didn’t have a schedule and that worked for them. I was probably a little (lot) too extreme. A nice happy medium that fits you and your baby’s personality is probably what is best.
Feeding New Babies
I was under the assumption that all babies were born knowing how to eat. After being told by the nurses that I had no choice, I was going to breastfeed, I struggled with all kinds of issues I won’t go into here, but that I never knew existed! My son gained and grew so fast when he was three months after I changed to formula. I felt like I had been starving him. Yes, he does have ADHD, not from formula, but otherwise he is a very smart kid with few allergies and illnesses. Pediatricians want moms to breastfeed. I found it difficult and felt a lot of mom guilt because of it. Study after study has shown breastfeeding is best for babies, but some of us just aren’t good at it. It’s worth trying.
My daughter was born weighing 5 pounds 6 ounces. She has never liked milk. How do you feed a baby that hates milk. Then everyone looked at me when she wasn’t gaining weight! She also hated baby food. So, she started eating real food much earlier. Had I pureed her food from real food like my hippy (I give her this name with the upmost affection and admiration) friend, she may have eaten better as an infant. Ironically, between 2nd and 3rd grade she kind of, should I say, bulked up. She craved carbs and sugar and it finally showed. Again, I should have monitored her intake, but she had been underweight until then and I was just happy she was eating! The takeaway is that every kid at every stage is different.
I talk a lot about poop. As a psychologist, I treat a condition called Encopresis. Basically, it is when toilet trained kids poop in their pants. Believe it or not, there are a lot of kids, more boys than girls, that have this condition. I will give an entire explanation in future writing, but you need to know it often starts as a genetic predisposition toward constipation. If either parent or their immediate family members are lucky enough to get constipated easily, it usually will fall down the family tree. Babies, therefore, need to be watched for signs of constipation. It can and will effect behavior. Balling up legs and excessive crying could be signs of constipation or a million other things, but see your pediatrician if you suspect your baby is constipated or is experiencing unexplained changes in behavior.
If you have never had a child who is breastfed, you are in for a shocker! Breastfed babies have mustardy stools that are often looser than formula fed babies and breastfed babies do a lot more of it. Especially the first few months. Some baby’s poop really changes when they are teething. They can go from normal stools to looser and really fowl smelling diapers as they are teething.
Speaking of Teething
Those parents who just wake up one morning to find new shiny whites in their baby’s mouths stop reading here. I also just want to say, “It’s just not fair.”
Some kids are terrible teethers and teeth for a long time, way before teeth come in. I’m speaking from experience with both of my children. Teething makes some kids very fussy. You can usually tell a baby is teething if they are putting their hands and fingers in their mouth a lot. Excessive drooling can also be a sign. They just seem out of sorts, sometimes for weeks. There is an old Saturday Night Live bit where they were wearing drool buckets. I thought about inventing one for my son because he would drool a lot and it must have been acidic because his cheeks became very red as did his butt! Not a good look when you are trying to impress the new playdate group!
My daughter, who wouldn’t eat anyway, would stop eating almost all together. When she was 10 months old, I took her to a pediatrician because I knew she was teething, but also not eating. She told me just to keep offering her food and back then, we could use Tylenol whenever I thought she needed it ( a recommendation that is no longer valid and pediatricians do not want parents to give babies ibuprofen or acetaminophen unless they tell you to give it to your baby). When I got to the car and looked at the bill she had given her a diagnosis of Anorexia! Anorexia is the conscious withholding of food with the intent of forcing or maintaining weight loss and various other diagnostic criteria that a 10 month old would never meet! Needless to say, I did not go back to her or the next pediatrician who agreed with me but then added, “ it can’t be Anorexia….unless you have it.”
A wet washrag put in the freezer for awhile for your baby to chew on is usually what is now recommended for teething. Walking with them to distract them and get their mind off the pain often helps as well. Drops, teething biscuits, or any other medication is discouraged.
An entire post will follow with tricks. Again, some kids are just born sleepers. I went one and one. My daughter would ASK to go to bed! Consider yourself lucky if yours sleep well. I do want to address the common idea of “he has his days and night mixed up.” Here is the reason why. In the hospital, while you are sleeping at night, there are nurses who must stay up all night. They need something to do! There job is to take care of babies! Your baby is up all night at the hospital getting groomed, poked, prodded, and tested even if the baby is “sleeping” in your room. That’s why you think you have such a great sleeper in the hospital because you have them during the day when they are exhausted!
Another reason you think you have such a great sleeper, only to go home and he or she “has his or her days and nights mixed up” is because of a natural anesthetic babies produce to handle being squeezed through a very small space. The bones in their heads are not even fused together so that their skull can collapse to make it through the very small space. That’s why they have a soft spot where bone has not formed, yet. It takes awhile for this natural painkiller to stop being produced, usually a few days, about the time you take your sweet little great sleeper home!
Developmental Milestones in the First Year of Life
All of my fancy degrees in Developmental and Child Psychology only served to make me a really paranoid new mother. Maybe that’s why psychologists are stereotyped to have the weirdest, most maladapted children! Ignorance truly is bliss sometimes. I wish I could go back and tell myself when I had infants what my teenage son (it’s just a stereotype by the way, he really is awesome!) tells me all the time, “RELAX.”
When he started talking freakishly early, I thought I must be the best mom and psychologist, ever. When he wouldn’t sit up at 6-months, I thought I was a failure and basically tricked him with new attractive toys to do it. I thought he was showing signs of Autism because he hand-flapped, but he made eye contact, so then I thought he did not. My daughter scooted around like a monkey and would not walk until 14 months and I bribed, or motivated as I prefer to call it, her with candy across the room and would not give it to her unless she walked. I was a FREAK!
Kids should hit basic developmental milestones. From first months to later in the first year they should basically: smile, laugh, make eye contact, roll over, sit up, coo and babble, respond to their name, pick up small things from their high chairs, attempt to feed themselves, crawl, walk, say or attempt to say several words especially mama and/or dada. Not all kids will hit basic milestones at the desired time deemed “within normal limits.” If you have questions about your children’s development, call your pediatrician.
A few words about crawling. It is the only milestone research has shown is NOT essential to a child’s overall development. Why? I do not know, but I have a few theories. Some infants go right to walking. My mother still proudly tells people that I walked at 9 months! Early walking really only means that parents are early chasers! Another theory I have developed seems to be pretty possible. Though not scientific (at all!), I always ask parents of children who don’t/didn’t crawl if they have/had hard surface flooring like hardwood or tile between the time their child was 6-12 months old. The answer is usually, “yes.” Babies are not dumb. Once they fall forward and hit their watermelon on the hard surface, they often don’t try again. It’s basic negative reinforcement. If I do it and it hurts, I’m not going to try again. It is more developmentally typical for babies to avoid pain than it is for them to crawl. It makes a great party game to ask other parents about this correlation!
First Year Summed Up
The best things you can do as a parent the first year is to listen to your instincts. If you think your baby needs to be held, hold her. I don’t think you can “spoil” a baby. Some babies need more touch than others. If your baby naps through a snack, it won’t be the end of the world. If the “schedule” isn’t always followed, it can be followed another day. Go with your gut and love them, that’s what makes a successful parent. If you don’t know, find out and modify what you learn to fit with what your family needs. If you still don’t know, ask an expert.