Delivering a baby doesn’t make you a mom. Sure, it’s emotional and messy, with all that heavy breathing. But even as you release that magnificent new life into the world, you are only opening the door to the weird, demanding and indescribably fabulous world of motherhood.
You get your first clue hours later, when the baby starts yowling and the nurse doesn’t come. Is he hungry? Wet? Should you carry him? Just then, you realize it’s time to breastfeed again. You go to it, secretly wondering if you’re doing it right. After all, how would you know? For that matter, you don’t really understand the mechanics of diapering or bathing. And don’t even mention shampooing.
All at once, you see what you’re up against: burping, feeding, bathing, soothing, and the kind of fierce, self-sacrificing love you once attributed only to wolverines and aging fans of “Star Trek.”
Don’t panic. With patience, understanding and practice, you will get the hang of it all. Though there isn’t enough paper in the world to address your every concern, here are tips for handling five of the biggest.
Baby challenge #1
(the crying game
What makes a baby cry? What doesn’t? Hunger, pain, anxiety, overstimulation, gas, exhaustion, fear, frustration: Almost anything is a potential trigger.
Los Angeles-based maternal/child health educator Tandy Parks, R.N., M.P.H., explains: “Babies come from a world where everything is provided for them automatically — food, sound, movement, comfort, containment.” Not so in the outside world. “Suddenly, they’re eating and burping and peeing and pooping. They’re exposed to all kinds of stimuli. Ultimately, it’s very stressful.”
Stressful not just for babies but also for parents, who are hard-wired to respond with action. What kind of action?
To start with, feed your newborn baby on demand, but don’t assume that every cry is a cry for food. Just give the baby your breast and see what happens. If he still cries, check his diaper or try some of the following:
- Babies love motion — walking, rocking, swaying, jiggling, patting — which reminds them of being in utero.
- Speak softly — or, better still, sing. Your baby knows your voice and will respond joyfully to it. No guarantees, of course, on how adults will respond.
- Ask a nurse or experienced mom how to swaddle the baby. Being wrapped tightly in a blanket makes some little ones feel secure.
- Go outside, young mom. For whatever reason, being outdoors soothes the savage beast. Bonus: The baby will calm down, too.
- Give in to the cranky hour or two. “At the end of a normal day, a baby who is used to the womb is overloaded by stress,” says Jeanne Murphy, author of Baby Tips for New Moms: First 4 Months (Fisher Books, 1998). “Let the baby have a cranky hour without losing it yourself,” she advises. By three months, the baby will be more settled.
- Take a break; give dad a turn.