Looking for practical help when it comes to getting through the first months of your baby’s life? Here’s a collection of parenting advice that you can really use.
When I was four months pregnant, my husband accepted a new job on the other side of the country. I was terrified of leaving my family and friends and proceeded to buy every highly recommended baby book I could find. I pored over these books, highlighter in hand, hoping to find all the answers to pregnancy and parenting.
After birth, my newborn immediately became the guinea pig for the countless techniques I had learned. But once my daughter was squirming and wailing in my arms at 4 AM, I realized some of the methods I read were more effective than others.
After much trial and error, I discovered the following techniques were the most successful for my family. These are practical, time-tested methods that often work for real-world parents. Think of them as the CliffsNotes to baby care.
Try swaddling your baby for better sleep.
Swaddling is comforting to many newborns because it reminds them of being inside the womb.
“Swaddling is a helpful tool, but it is not universal,” explains Dr. Gregory Germain, MD, a pediatrician at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital in Connecticut. “Some babies are truly comforted by a tight swaddle, and some babies are irritated by a tight swaddle and do better with their hands free,” he explains.
If you decide to swaddle your baby, be sure he isn’t getting overheated. “At night, over-bundling has been questionably linked to SIDS (via overheating),” says Dr. Karen Sadler, MD, a pediatrician in Boston, Massachusetts. “In general, infants should be clothed in whatever adults need to be comfortable, plus one thin layer.” If your baby feels sweaty or hot in his blanket, try dressing him in nothing but a diaper before swaddling him. If he still feels hot, stop swaddling altogether.
During the first few months of your child’s life, there’s no such thing as giving too much tender love and care. “Babies need to know that you are there when they are distressed,” says Dr. Germain. “Going to a crying young infant and comforting them is never a bad thing.”
While it’s important to let your baby know you’re there for her, it is OK to occasionally let her cry for a minute or two. “If your baby is crying and you’re in the middle of a load of wash, there is no harm in letting your baby cry for a while as you’re finishing your other life duties,” Dr. Germain assures.
Develop a consistent bedtime routine.
Setting a consistent nighttime routine—such as a warm bath and bedtime story—can be a helpful sleep trigger for your baby. It may not work right away, but after a couple of weeks your child will likely fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer.
According to Dr. Robert Jacobson, MD, chairman and professor of pediatrics with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, this bedtime routine should include creating a peaceful setting in the home.
“As twilight comes and the house gets quieter, probably the most important thing in this modern age is to turn the TV off an hour before the baby is going to fall asleep,” he says, explaining that the TV tends to charge the air and keep babies awake.
Let the swing be your friend!
Some people worry that they’ll spoil their baby with a swing, but all bets are off for the first few months of life. If your baby refuses to nap in his crib during the day, but easily falls asleep in his swing, by all means let him swing to his little heart’s content!
Keep in mind, you should never leave your baby unattended or let him sleep in the swing through the night. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that some infants might curl over in a seat and obstruct breathing,” explains Dr. Sadler. “In practice, I think if parents are awake and watching, and the child isn’t small or premature, the swing is OK,” says Dr. Saddler, adding that swings are a good way to get colicky babies to sleep.
Turn down the monitor.
Turn your baby monitor down to the lowest volume or off altogether. And stop worrying—if you’re in earshot of your baby’s room, you’ll mostly likely hear her cries when she really needs you. “We can hear a baby crying without any technology from across the hall!” says Dr. Germain. “I think this is a parental comfort issue.”
Dr. Sadler adds that the baby monitor is “better for older infants whose parents can then be out in the yard but still aware of when the baby awakens.”
Let Baby have a binky.
If your baby likes the pacifier, let him have it!
“I think that about one-third of babies have massive physiologic drives to suck. They take to the pacifier and it is a great comfort to them,” says Dr. Germain. Another reason to let your little one have a pacifier: The AAP states that pacifiers may help to reduce the risk of SIDS.
If you’re sold on your baby using a pacifier but she just won’t take one, try different brands. Eventually you may find one that she likes.
Teach your baby the art of self-soothing.
Self-settling is an important developmental task that all babies need to learn, says Dr. Germain. “According to most experts, this should be attacked in the four- to six-month range.”
There are many ways to teach your baby to soothe herself to sleep, and you’ll need to determine which method is right for you. Some of the techniques include letting your baby “cry it out” for increasing periods of time, hanging out in the nursery and patting her back until she falls asleep, or coming into the nursery every few minutes to show her you’re still there.
“Whether you are a Ferber, a Weissbluth, or another sleep specialist fan . . . this is a parental job which fosters good sleep habits for the rest of the child’s years,” says Dr. Germain.
Don’t let your baby over-nap.
Although the old adage says, “never wake a sleeping a baby,” modern-day pediatricians stress that babies should not nap for more than an hour and a half to two hours at a time during the day.
“You want the baby tired at bedtime, so you want to avoid long, drawn out naps during the day,” Dr. Jacobson explains. “That’s probably the most effective thing I know to signal that it’s nighttime—that the baby’s had a day when he’s been mainly awake.””
Dr. Jacobson also explains that you shouldn’t allow your baby to sleep through daytime feedings. “You should nurse every two hours. If you’re bottle feeding with a formula, usually you should feed every three to four hours.” This kind of routine ensures that your baby will not only be tired at bedtime, but he’ll also be well fed—and more likely to sleep through the night.
Stop watching the clock.
Because we live in a time-driven society, many of us feel the need to put our newborns on a schedule; but Dr. Sadler says this parenting idea is outdated.
“Newborns need to eat often and should determine that pattern,” she explains. “By four months, most babies have settled into a rhythm and are sleeping through the night, so this is when to start [a schedule] for babies who haven’t yet settled on their own.”
Dr. Germain adds, “Do you make a hungry baby wait two hours for his next feed to fit your schedule?” He explains that scheduling may work better for older babies. “Babies have a more organized eating and sleep schedule by six months, but many not until nine months of age.”
Go with your gut.
Although there is a lot helpful baby advice out there, no book can tell you what feels right when it comes to your baby. It all comes down to following your instincts—and every parent’s instincts are a little different.
If you try a new method—including some of the tips in this article—and it doesn’t work for your baby or simply doesn’t feel right to you, don’t force it. In the end, mother (and father!) knows best.