Fearless First Year

Having a new baby in the house often means experiencing anxieties about things you never even knew existed. From SIDS to solids, here is expert advice to put your worried mind at ease.

For many women, pregnancy and delivery are small potatoes compared with the sheer panic that sets in once their baby enters the world. While it’s natural to be anxious about mastering your new responsibility, the hospital is not making a mistake by sending you home with your newborn, says New York pediatrician Michel Cohen, M.D., author of The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent (ReganBooks, 2004). “Caring for your baby will be much simpler than what you are imagining,” he promises. In fact, many of your fears about the first year of parenthood may never materialize, and those that do often have easy solutions. Read on for antidotes to some common anxieties.

fears vs. facts

the fear} I have no idea how to care for a baby. the facts} Especially if you haven’t been around little ones since your high school babysitting gigs (and what were those parents thinking, leaving you in charge?), this fear ranks among the top. The good news: Much like a healthy pregnancy, raising a healthy child is largely based on common sense. solutions} Refer to just one baby-care book, preferably one written by a board-certified pediatrician affiliated with a leading university or hospital; reading too many can be overwhelming. One helpful guide is the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Caring for Your Baby and Young Child (Bantam Books, 2004). Other resources: hospital baby-care classes and postpartum doulas.

the fear} My baby will die of SIDS. the facts} Since the national Back to Sleep campaign was launched in 1994, the number of deaths attributed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has dropped by 50 percent, to about 2,000 each year in the United States. Most deaths occur when the baby is 2 to 4 months old. solutions} There are several ways to protect your baby against SIDS: Shield her from secondhand smoke; keep her in your room at night; dress her in a wearable blanket and place her on her back to sleep; and remove all soft bedding, stuffed animals, etc., from the crib. Infants used to sleeping on their back who are then placed on their stomach or side to sleep are at increased risk, so be sure to alert caregivers.

the fear} I’ll fail at breastfeeding. the facts} Prenatal intent is a strong predictor of breastfeeding success, so your commitment to the idea means you’re a long way toward making it happen, says Doraine Bailey, M.A., I.B.C.L.C., president of the Raleigh, N.C.-based International Lactation Consultant Association.

solutions} Sign up for a prenatal breastfeeding class, and visit a La Leche League International support group (www.laleche league.org) to learn how others overcame problems, advises Bailey. Inform your care provider and hospital staff that you plan to breastfeed, and aim to nurse within an hour after giving birth. A proper latch is key—visit www.fitpregnancy.com/newbaby/10 for a photo tutorial. If you’re worried that your baby won’t get enough milk, this is one problem that solves itself: Your baby’s suckling stimulates the breast to produce and release milk—if she’s not getting enough, she’ll want to nurse more often, which in turn means you’ll produce more milk.

the fear} My baby isn’t developing properly. the facts} “Children are not perfectly designed robots who change and reach milestones in lock step with one another,” pediatrician Cohen says. That said, your baby should be able to accomplish various feats within a fairly broad time frame; e.g., holding her head up by 3 months and rolling over by 6 months. And don’t obsess about stimulating your baby: While there’s no doubt that the first three years are critical to brain development, babies are hard-wired for rapid learning no matter what parents do, so don’t beat yourself up for allowing yours some stimulation-free downtime. solutions} Download a brochure to help you track your baby’s development from the AAP’s website (www.aap.org/family/2004PAFBrochure.pdf). Discuss any concerns with your pediatrician; many problems, if detected early, can be treated. As for maximizing your baby’s brainpower, learn simple ways to build her self-confidence and curiosity with “The Magic of Everyday Moments” at www.zerotothree.org/magic.

the fear} I won’t be able to handle the crying. the facts} Often, even a young infant can communicate the cause of her distress. “I didn’t realize the baby would give me cues that could prevent crying,” says Denver-based Carrie Brace, mother of 3-month-old Carter. “He’ll smack his lips when he’s hungry, or kick his legs and whimper when his diaper is wet.” But don’t be disappointed if you can’t always soothe your baby. “Sometimes babies just have to cry to release tension,” Cohen says. solutions} Recreating the womb can work wonders on a crying jag. Try swaddling and jiggling your baby on your knee, or placing her in a vibrating bouncy chair. White noise, such as a vacuum cleaner, a fan or static on TV, also may help. Still crying? Take a walk outside or go for a drive together—sometimes a change of scenery will do the trick.

the fear} I’ll screw up when it’s time for solids. the facts} It’s simple: Breast milk (or formula) is all your baby needs for the first six months; at 6 to 8 months, start serving her baby cereal and puréed cooked fruit and vegetables. At 8 to 10 months, move on to mashed versions of adult foods (minus milk or honey). After that, your baby should be ready for chunkier foods as long as she’s not having difficulty chewing. (See “What You Should Worry About,” left, for choking hazards.) solutions} To make eating solids attractive, offer foods popular among the 1-and-under crowd. These include well-cooked, unsalted sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, squash, peas, green beans and mangos, as well as raw, mashed bananas.

the fear} My life is over (and I’ll need a minivan)! the facts} Today’s mothers are starting families later, having fewer kids and logging more hours at the office than ever before. This means more time to nurture your career and interests before and after you start a family. “You don’t automatically have to give up everything you’ve valued,” says Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D., co-director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media and author of five parenting books, including Pregnancy and Your Baby’s First Year (Avon Books, 1994). “Parenting, like much of life, is about adapting to change in creative ways,” he explains. solutions} Take a cue from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Shara Frederick, who started monthly new-mom get-togethers (called Tots and Tonic) to combat isolation and to chat about interests besides diaper brands. If you’ve left work, stay in touch with your pals from the office. Pursue a hobby without guilt—a happy mom makes for a happy baby. And cool new baby products, from cleverly disguised diaper bags to sleek strollers, mean you don’t have to abandon your stylish tastes.