I would consider myself a professional at taking care of babies. A poorly paid professional. I’ve been doing it for 6 and a half years non-stop now and I know that isn’t that long, it has truly been non-stop. 24 hours a day, as soon as one is toddling around, another one comes–naked and helpless. So here is the post I wish I would have read six and a half years ago.
Every baby is different and every mother is unique and no matter what the men in the books say, it probably doesn’t apply to you. Don’t worry if your baby wants to eat every two hours instead of every three. Feed her. Don’t worry if they like to roll over on their stomachs to sleep when they start to roll. They will be fine. The books only bring guilt. Listen to your mom and to your own instinct. Your stewardship is as a mother and you will get special inspiration to know how to raise your particular child at that moment. No book can offer that. Trust yourself and believe that God will help you.
Babies do three things: Sleep, eat and poop. If you have issues with their care, it is probably in one of those areas.
- Sleeping: In my experience, newborns are very sleepy. So if they nap once per feeding/pooping/sleeping cycle, they are happy. Usually that cycle lasts about 2.5 to 3 hours. I had one baby who accelerated through every 2 hours. That is exhausting. They sleep a lot though, so just let them. At about 5-6 months, it seems like they start staying awake for longer periods and figuring out naps is frustrating, I read online about the 2-3-4 method and that has worked like a charm for each one of my kids (and my friends’ kids). Two hours after they wake up in the morning, put them down for their first nap. Three hours after they wake up from that nap, put them down again, and four hours after they wake up from that nap, put them to bed. So, if they wake up at 6:00am, put them down for their first nap at 8:00. They will wake up from that one about 10:00, have lunch, play and put them back down at 1:00. They may sleep until 3:00 or 4:00 so put them to bed at 7:00 or 8:00. It is nice to have a schedule so that you can plan around their naps and not feel like a hostage to them.
- If they aren’t sleeping through the night, do what ever fits you best. I thought there was something wrong with me because my babies wouldn’t sleep through the night for. . .oh, the first year or so. So I made the first one cry it out. FOUR HOURS of crying and he finally fell asleep. The next morning, I found two little white tooth bumps in his mouth. Poor little guy, he needed pain relief but I just ignored him. So I decided from that moment on that I was not going to rush them to sleep all night. And that has worked for me. They eventually do learn to sleep all night once they get enough food in their bellies to sustain them for 8 or 10 hours at a stretch. Breastmilk and formula just don’t last very long. Although letting them cry it out and start sleeping all night might work just as well for you. The point is: Don’t do anything because others tell you to do it. Rely on your intuition. Be flexible.
- Eating: Breast milk or formula should be their primary nutrition for the first 9-10 months. So even when you start feeding them solid foods, treat it like a hobby and keep on the every three hours cycle. As they get better at getting the food in their mouth and their teeth are better for processing more types of foods, they can start to rely on the solids for their nutrition. Don’t rush it. Also, baby food tastes horrible. If you wonder why you have picky eaters, it may be that they have lost trust in their parents’ ability to feed them edible things. Our philosophy is Feed them what tastes good. Broccoli tastes good when it is steamed and lightly salted (so they have to wait until they have teeth to have broccoli, because we don’t want to spoil it with a nasty incarnation), oatmeal tastes good with some smooshed pears and brown sugar (so they can have it right away). Peas taste good whole (never, ever from the can). Fruit generally tastes good in its natural state, just smushed up. Little pieces of fresh bread are perfect targets for finger pincer practice. There is no reason why you should spend lots of money on gross pureed sludge or strange looking puffed objects when people food is more delicious, healthy and easy to prepare. You don’t even need a fancy homemade baby food maker. Just use a fork to squish it.
- Pooping: Poop inspection is the archeology of motherhood. When they are breastfed newborns, their poop should be mustardy. If they were jaundiced, it will have grains of something in it. They call them bili-stools. Once it smooths out, you will know that the bilirubin has been processed by their body and they aren’t jaundiced anymore. If they have stomachaches or prolonged crying, check their poop to look for signs of blood in their stools, little curliques of blood sometimes occur when their stomachs are irritated by something you are eating (if you are nursing). Take in a diaper full to the pediatrician. They love that.
- Constipation is a concern for many parents–my babies would save up all of their stools for one mighty explosion each week. With my first, I was so worried that I kept giving him suppositories. That’s bad. Be patient. You can help them out a little by stimulating their little rectum with a vasoline-covered q-tip if you are impatient (like, after 5 days). Otherwise, let them be. And when you start smelling the sulfur, you can know that you are getting close to geyser time, so stay home. Nothing in new-motherhood is more stressful than a total blowout at Target all over the clothes and carseat.
- Once they are eating solid foods, constipation is almost guaranteed. And I blame Gerber. They make you think that you should start feeding your baby rice cereal and bananas. Both of these are constipating. Avoid rice cereal, bananas and applesauce. Peaches, pears, nectarines, oatmeal, prunes, plums and peas are all easier to digest. You know the BRAT diet (Bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) that you give someone when they have an upset stomach? Well, you reverse it for babies–don’t give them the BRAT foods, especially if that is all they are eating. Once they can eat more in a meal, its fine to feed BRAT foods because they have other high-fiber foods to carry the load through. Once they get older, any dense breads like bagels or pretzels will also constipate. And dried fruits are good for providing a lot of fiber, but make sure you give them more water to drink to compensate for the lack of water in the fruits, or else it will just cause more constipation. The best trick for baby constipation is just to give them some apple or prune juice and their body will start moving it along. Baby food companies also sell prune puree, which tastes a lot like raisins.
I dismissed books at the beginning, but they are helpful to know what to expect, just don’t treat them like doctrine. I am not a disciple of attachment parenting, so I don’t know which of those books to recommend. But I do like The Baby Whisperer, (decoding baby’s cries and needs) Babywise (with a stern warning that not everything applies so pick and choose what suits you best, but I like the philosophy at the outset of the book) and The Contented Little Baby (has really detailed schedules that have proven pretty intuitive for all of my kids).
And finally: Be gentle to yourself and your baby. There is no absolute timeline for either of you. When you feel like it, do more. Until then, survive and enjoy not rushing.