Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Had My First Baby — The First Few Weeks

This is the first of what I think will be many entries like this.

Althought I had babysat and been a largely long-distance auntie, I was still surprised by SO many things about having my own baby. Since I started popping out sprogs a lot of my friends have followed suit. We trade emails and phone calls and neurotic conversations about the stuff we see every day. Here, for those who are the first in their group to venture into this much-charted territory, are some of the things I wish I had known before I had my first baby.

BRINGING THE BABY HOME

SWADDLE ME, MOMMY
Swaddling works. It’s that old-fashioned method of binding a baby up tightly in a blanket to soothe it. It stands to reason, if you think about it. The baby has been warm and squashed for as long as it can remember. Being cold and able to wave those weird limb things around must be unnerving. So get the nurses in your maternity ward to show you how to swaddle the baby and try to copy their every move.

THE BABY PROBABLY WON’T BREAK
One of the reasons I couldn’t swaddle my son effectively, or change his diaper quickly, was that I was convinced he was going to break if I handled him too roughly. Babies are remarkably resilient. Obviously you don’t want to shake them or see if they bounce, but they can handle a fair amount of firm pressure, lovingly applied. So swaddle away, and pull those legs apart to clean in the creases. When you take the baby to the pediatrician’s for the first few check-ups, she’s going to check his flexibility with all the tenderness of a butcher splitting a chicken, so your tentative attentions probably won’t do any damage.

BATHS
Bathing a slippery, naked baby who can’t hold up her own head is not as cute as you might expect. Luckily, babies don’t actually need to be bathed every day, in fact most baby books say it’s a bad idea, since their skin is quite sensitive. So don’t feel like a bad parent if you don’t bathe your baby as often as you bathe yourself. There’ll be plenty of time for tub fun when they can sit up and play with the bath toys.

THE EVILS OF DEVELOPMENT CHARTS AND PERCENTILES
Refer to development charts and ‘how to’ books only when absolutely necessary. Your baby will develop at his or her own pace, and reading these charts can drive you crazy. Even if your child still isn’t lifting his head two weeks after the books say he should be, that doesn’t mean he has a wet noodle for a neck, it may just mean he’s taking his time. Take your cues from your own child and refer to development charts rarely.

WHO’S TRAINING WHO?
Whether you’re trying to introduce a routine or respond to your baby on-demand, you’ll find people who tell you you’re right and people who tell you you’re crazy. The key is to do what works for you. For the next few months the only person you’ll be training is you. Newborns aren’t cunning. They won’t try to work around your system. If leaving your baby to cry himself to sleep would torture you, don’t do it. Until your baby is significantly older you won’t be spoiling him. Likewise, if jumping up at every whimper would drive you insane, don’t do it. Just pay attention to your child and you’ll notice the moment they start to get smart enough to play you.

WHY BABIES WIN YOUR HEART
The best surprise, for me, about my newborn was how soon I could be completely and utterly entertained by just watching him. I had assumed that he wouldn’t be particularly interesting for months, but watching a new person take in the world around them is hypnotic, and goes a long way to explaining why parents turn into baby-bores almost immediately after the birth!

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