Bringing Up Baby

Advice for parents.

As new parents, you have so much to consider. Do you have the right diaper bag? Is that rash normal or should you call the doctor? Are you going to have to wait 18 years before you get any sleep?

The list of questions and worries can go on and on. And because there are seemingly endless books to read on child-rearing, parents can get bleary-eyed just trying to get answers. Sometimes it is better to focus on a few important points than stress about everything potentially affecting your child. Here are five key points to help you avoid typical mistakes that new parents often make.

1. Start good sleep habits immediately upon bringing your baby home.

The groundwork you lay following your baby’s delivery prevents a lot of future sleepless nights. While preparing for your baby, install a dimmer switch in your child’s room. When you have to feed or change a diaper in the middle of the night, it is ideal to have enough light to see, but not enough to unintentionally awaken the baby. Also, try to identify your baby’s sleep-coveting indicators, such as yawning, having a glazed look, acting fussy, rubbing eyes or being chatty, as early as possible. When your baby begins to show these signs, put him down. If you do this without rocking him, giving him a pacifier, nursing him or including other sleep aids, then your baby should learn how to fall asleep without you. Believe me— this is the most important factor in how well you’ll sleep over the next few years.

2. Realize that pacifiers are neither a panacea nor pure evil.

Used in moderation, pacificers or “binkies” can help your baby meet his need to suck or soothe without creating an impossible-to-break pattern. A good rule of thumb is to give your child the pacifier during the day, but not for naps or bedtime. Try to phase out all pacifier use by the age of 1.

3. Let your child explore and learn without rescuing him at the first sign of a fuss.

While it is tempting to cuddle, rock and carry your baby all day, it may set your child up to believe that life will always be this way. Reality is harsh. Truth be told, there will come a time, probably in the near future, when you’ll want to put your baby down. By all means, love your baby unconditionally. However, let him explore the world and develop the skills he needs for the rest of his life. At some point, your child must learn to put himself to sleep, soothe himself when he is in distress and use his body and brain to solve the problems he encounters. If you sit back and give encouraging words instead of picking your child up, you will be amazed at how resourceful he becomes.

4. Get involved in some type of new parent group.

Research local support groups and resources for new parents, such as a gym class for tots where parents may converse or an informal coffee klatch. Joining mothers and fathers experiencing similar stages of their children’s development is helpful in a number of ways. Essentially, by associating with parents encountering similar experiences, you may receive support and understanding from people who are right where you are in the parenting process.

Try joining a group with a no-holds-barred approach to sharing. You want to be able to complain without feeling afraid of disapproval. The members might also have more experience in certain areas and be able to offer their perspectives on even the most mundane issues. This can help to build your child-rearing confidence. Lastly, there will be times when you are desperate for contact with a human being who can talk in full sentences. Your mommy and daddy friends will then be invaluable.

5. Give yourself a break.

I’m not talking about hiring a babysitter— although doing so is vital for the sanity of any parent, even if for one hour per week. What I mean is, don’t try to be the perfect parent. He or she doesn’t exist. Even with the best effort, we are all human. Sometimes you may put your child in front of the television to watch Baby Einstein so you may check your e-mail. Sometimes you may eat before feeding your child. You may even look away for a second at the exact moment your baby decides to learn to roll off the bed. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, be real and forgive yourself.