Feeling clueless about motherhood? Here are answers to your top 5 parenthood worries. Think of this as your new mom's handbook for dummies. Good news? It'll be OK.
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 web pages 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. "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.
Baby challenge #2: The 24-hour diner
The key here is to go with the flow. "Babies are designed to not go long without eating," says Parks. "You need to accommodate that." A newborn's eight to 12 feedings (six to eight if you're bottle feeding) aren't evenly spaced, so a four-hour break in the action now may result in a feeding frenzy later. Some other pointers:
- The first weeks are the hardest. After two or three weeks, most babies settle into a feeding pattern.
- To make night feedings more manageable, feed the baby in bed or in a comfortable chair where you can doze. Keep the room dark.
- Don't worry about intake. If you count at least eight wet diapers and five bowel movements every day, your baby is getting enough.
Baby challenge #3: Splish, splash
Bathing doesn't have to be a dirty job. Babies are basically inoffensive creatures, so how dirty can they get? All you're doing is spot maintenance.
Postpone that first bath until the umbilicus drops off, usually in a week or two. In the interim, "top and tail" every day by wiping your baby's face, head, neck, hands and diaper area (in that order, please) with a warm, wet washcloth. Also, clean your baby's eyes with water-soaked sterile cotton balls, and swab the umbilicus with an alcohol-soaked Q-tip several times a day. If finger- and toenails are long, trim one or two at a sitting with baby nail clippers while your little one is sleeping. Don't use commercial wipes until your baby is about 3 months old. Use a wet paper towel or washcloth instead.
When bath time finally arrives, keep the production to a minimum. These steps can help smooth the way:
- Prepare the bath and line up everything you need—washcloth, baby soap, dry towel—before undressing your baby.
- Make the room comfortably warm.
- Bath water should be lukewarm and no more than a few inches deep.
- Keep it short, even if you miss a few spots. Skip the shampoo if you think it's an ordeal.
- When you can, try bathing together!
Baby challenge #4: Structuring your day
"Babies are very Zen," Parks observes. "They take you to this place where time doesn't have any meaning." True enough, but at some point you're going to want to take a shower. Or visit the grocery store. Or pop over to a friend's house. And simple as these things once seemed, you will spend hours, maybe even days, trying to figure out how to accomplish them. Here's how to get started:
- Think small. First, nail down the daily challenges of showering, getting dressed, brushing your teeth and eating lunch. Then move on to returning phone calls and shopping. But don't expect to get everything done in a day as you used to.
- Keep the diaper bag packed and ready.
- Work with your baby. "Identify the baby's schedule for eating, napping and bowel movements," suggests Murphy. "This will help you determine his happy/content vs. cranky/overwhelmed times."
- Put yourself on the agenda. "You'll get frustrated if you always put your needs last," warns Murphy.
- Get help. Just do it.
Baby challenge #5: Relax and enjoy
Having a new baby is like entertaining a house guest. You begin with a flurry of conscientious activity, fussing over every meal, planning an extravaganza of events. But then days and weeks pass. Your perky veneer loses its luster, and you begin to wonder how long you can last.
So you fudge a bit. You let your little darling languish happily in the crib while you brush your teeth. You prop a bouncy chair next to the sink and wash dishes while you jiggle the chair with your foot. You make a phone call or two. And you decide you don't have to read from Finnegans Wake at every nap time. You calm down. Finally.
And your house guest? He's happy as ever. Because, in the end, he didn't come here to be entertained: He came here to be with you. And if being hauled around in a carrier while you do the laundry, or hearing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" for the eleven-thousandth time, or greeting daddy with a loud "Hooray!" (followed by a tearful "Take this baby, NOW!") doesn't seem like a bonanza to you, you're missing the point.
"We need to realize that daily life is where we encounter our kids," says Parks. "Bathing, feeding, changing diapers, getting through the day: It's here that we make our relationships with our children. It's through these things that we become a family."