Parenting Your New Baby: Getting to Know Your Baby to Help You Develop Good Parenting Skills

Not long ago, one of the couples in my childbirth class asked me what method I subscribed to for parenting babies and children – “Attachment Parenting” or “Baby-Wise”? My answer was “neither.” Here are some reasons why reading a book or subscribing to a method is one of the worst ways to decide how to parent your child as he/she grows:

All babies are different and have different needs
I have a bias when it comes to anything related to birth or early parenting. I do not believe there is one technique or method that works for everyone. Every child is unique and every family unit has different needs. Some babies will love a close snuggle and sleep best near parents while others may be more restful in their own space out of the parents’ room. Some babies will be comforted easily while other babies literally require that parents pull out all the stops to comfort them! Some will sleep through the night at 6 weeks and others it takes 6 months or longer. Getting to know your own baby and his/her individual needs is a key factor in how you will successfully parent your son or daughter as they mature.

When in doubt, hold or feed your baby
There are some methods that teach separation and that the child needs to self soothe at a very young age. They have strict guidelines about scheduling feedings and letting the baby cry even if they are hungry. This is not realistic and may not even be safe. Newborns and infants have a need to be held that is just as great or possibly greater than their need for food. If you are breastfeeding and you think your baby may be hungry, go ahead and feed him or her. You cannot overfeed them since when they are breastfed, they will only take what they need.

If you hold your baby, you will not spoil them. If you pick them up with they are crying, you will not spoil them. In fact research actually shows that when babies who are picked up within a few minutes of beginning to cry will cry less.

Find a consistent pattern of sleep that works for you
After your baby is a month or two old, you will begin to notice several thing about their unique habits. They might become fussy around the same time early in the evening. They tend to be sleepier and sleep longer in the early afternoon. These are important signs to pay attention to. This tells you how to work a consistent pattern or routine around your baby’s clock.

Perhaps if your baby is fussy every night around 7:00, it might be better to adapt your schedule to make that the baby’s “bedtime” since fussiness late in the day is often a sign of fatigue. Too many parents make the mistake of keeping their babies up late at night so they will sleep longer in the morning. This rarely works to increase the baby’s sleeping time. In fact, babies who are consistently put down earlier in the evening will sleep better at night than those who stay up and go to bed with parents.

If the baby has a tendency to nap longer right after lunch time, make this a consistent nap for baby. Start with a feeding and then put the baby down with some sleep inducing techniques such as swaddling and white noise. This encourages the baby to sleep when he/she is already showing you they are tired. In the long run, babies who have a consistent nap time during the day are going to be much happier and so will you! I have seen too many parents who do not have any consistency in sleep habits with their children and everyone is miserable since the children are fussy and tired all the time.

Is it okay to ever let your baby cry?
There are very few and far between times when letting a baby cry is acceptable. Some parents find that allowing their older baby to cry for very short periods of time and in very limited situations may not be the worst thing to do as a parent. Here are some guidelines:

  • Do not let your baby cry for longer than 5-10 minutes at a time.
  • In general, babies under 6 months of age should not be left to cry at all.
  • If your baby is sick or teething, do not let them cry regardless of their age.
  • Learn the difference between “fussines” and “crying.”
  • Responding to your baby when they cry does not always require that you pick them up.

Many babies will fuss when they are put down to sleep. This is not the same as red in the face wailing! You will eventually be able to hear the difference. If you are trying to put your baby down for naps or bedtime at consistent times during the day, it is quite normal for them “fuss” for a few minutes. These are usually lower tones and more like whimpers. Wait a minute or two to see what happens. If your baby continues to fuss or it becomes louder after a few minutes, soothe them with some loving words or pat their back to let them know you are there. Use some of the other soothing techniques as suggested by Dr. Karp to soothe and settle fussy babies.

Remember that “this too will pass” and cherish every second
Early parenting years can be among the most stressful time in a parent’s life. There are days when you feel like you are flying by the seat of your pants! And then the next day, your problems don’t feel so insurmountable. Sleep deprivation in the early months plays a huge role in your ability to cope with raising your baby so be sure you are resting as often as you can, getting exercise and eating well.

Use each day to learn more about how to respond better to what your baby needs as well as beginning to be your child’s most important teacher about life.

These early months and years fly by with a flash. Your babies will not stay little for long and it won’t be long before you are saying good-bye to your son or daughter as they begin their first year in college. (like I did this year!)