No book can completely prepare you for the role most important in your life – being a parent. Even more, being a good parent. The one thing about the parenting we all have in common is the fact we know that we don’t know a lot, at least with our firstborn. My husband’s brother and his wife were recently blessed with the birth of a little girl and it got me thinking about how much we learn – and how quickly we learn it! – when a baby enters the picture.
In fact, putting all the books and stories aside, when that little baby we love the most comes into our lives, the real learning starts.
Infants are irresistible but also awake parents’ greatest concerns. Our love and lack of experience blended together often act as triggers for feeling pretty much terrified. We all feel it – you’re not alone.
Although every infant is different, there are a few patterns that they all have in common, as well as a few general rules that can help us raise a healthy and a happy child.
5 Things Every Parent of Infants Should Know
The First Few Days With Your Infant
Once you come home from the hospital, your lack of experience will show and you will feel like you don’t have a clue what your baby wants. Well, don’t worry, she will let you know, all you need to do is listen.
There are three simple things your baby will need the most and chances are that when she starts to fuss, it’s for one of the three. Your baby needs to be: fed, have her diaper changed, and loved. Feeding occurs every three to four hours (sometimes every 2-2.5 if you’re nursing), and diapers should be changed at least as much.
Love is something you can give her all the time; you cannot spoil your child with love. Talk to her, sing, and let her feel your love. You soothe her.
Infants and sleep
Every child is different and there are no general rules about how they should sleep. Some will sleep through the night very early, and some will wake you every hour or so until they’re three. Some will sleep in their own crib, and some will be your co-sleepers, which is also okay if you want it. My boys were wretched sleepers and bedtime was a nightmare, but my third child? She slept for 5 hours straight her first night and has always been a fantastic sleeper. I joke that she was our gift for having two horrible sleepers.
If you’re struggling, there are many excellent sleep training methods to explore about how to teach children to sleep. You have to decide what suits your lifestyle the best. Ignore those who tell you your way is wrong if it works for you.
What all babies have in common, however, is their need for routine. Establishing a routine will be a great help once you decide to teach your little one how to sleep better.
Infants Communicate Through Crying
Except for a few sweet sounds they make on occasion, crying is their only means of communication. There are many types of cries – cries when feeling hungry, cries when feeling alone, cries when experiencing pain, cries when being tired, and more. Don’t worry, all new parents have difficulties in recognizing the different types at first, but after a few days you will be able to tell the difference. And in that moment when you understand the cries, you will feel like a super hero. Which, actually, you are, because you just gave birth!
It’s very important to respond to your baby’s cry. Self-soothing is often talked about, but when a child is young, she just needs your love. She needs a responsive parent that understands her need to communicate the only way she knows, by crying. So just love on her.
Disciplining an Infant? No Such Thing!
Have you heard the horror stories about parents hitting and hurting their infants, because they cry too much? Don’t be that. Babies cry. A lot. There’s no such thing as “disciplining an infant” – yelling at, physically hurting, or reprimanding a baby is abuse. Take a break. Step away. Collect yourself. Breathe. Really, truly breathe….deep breaths. Then go pick up that baby and love her. If she’s colicky, put some ear plugs in and hold her as you walk around the house. Love. It trumps everything.
Rear Facing Carseat
Car seats are a must for your baby’s safety. She belongs in a rear facing, 5-point harness infant car seat at this stage – not in your arms while in the car. She may cry and fuss when you put her in the car seat, but once the car starts moving, the motion will lull her to sleep. Never compromise on a quality car seat.
If you need help installing the car seat (they can be tricky!), check out SafeCar.gov’s car seat installation station locator. There are professionally trained car seat installers whose only job is to make sure the car seat is installaed properly to keep your baby safe. Use them!
Having an infant is tough. It’s a time of excitement, a time of celebration, but mostly a time of exhaustion. When in doubt about what to do, just love your baby. Hold her, rock her, sing to her, and realize in your sleep-deprivation state of being that this time will soon pass. Before you know it, you’ll be watching her take her first steps. Cherish this time. It’s okay not to know what to do at first…you’ll learn. I promise.