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By the time most of us become parents, we have been pediatricians for a while and do not find parenting all that scary. To get the right dose of empathy, think back to when we first started handling babies-in medical school. Here are some things I tell new parents.
1. Some practices are clear cut, such as having babies sleep on their backs. In many instances, however, such as swaddling or not, how often to bathe, and so on, there are many ways to raise a baby properly (I don’t even know that burping is essential, let alone the “right” way to do it). Most of the time, if something feels right to do, go for it.
2. Newborns spend two-thirds of their time sleeping, and the remaining third is divided between feeding, watchful wakefulness, and, yes, crying (2 to 3 hours per day1)!
3. All babies spit up, have gas, give little body jerks when falling asleep, open 1 eye at a time, sneeze, and hiccup. These are normal.
4. You can have visitors over, as long as they promise (and are trustworthy) that they are not ill and wash their hands very well. However, if you prefer not to have visitors, tell them no and say it is doctor’s orders. I will back you up.
5. The worst place to take a newborn is to work/church/crowded places. People often go to work while ill, and they also feel, because they know you, that they should be allowed to hold the baby.
6. I am a strong proponent of breastfeeding. That having been said, if you cannot/will not breastfeed, formula and water supplies in this country are such that you should not feel guilty about this.
7. For slightly older babies with colic, I will give parents advice and help them to cope, but I tell them up front that nothing may work, and they may have to ride it out for a few months. They will remember the colic when older, but the baby will not.
8. If you have a question, you can go to a reliable source such as healthychildren.org or the app Pediatric SymptomMD. If you still do not have answers, call me. That’s why I’m here. (See “Top 10 apps for pediatrics,” Contemporary Pediatrics, February 1, 2017.)
9. I have said this before in print, but it is so important that I will say it again: I tell parents to talk and sing to their baby. If a parent coms home from work and the spouse is too tired to hear how the day went, tell your baby instead. They love to listen to language. Let the words wash over them.
10. It is impossible to spoil a new baby. If you create a bad habit, you can always break it when the child is older. If babies want to be held, hold them. If they want to be fed, feed them. They’re the boss.