Newborn Baby Care
Take a deep breath: you’ve got this!
You’ve got a number of decisions to make about how you’re going to parent your baby, and many of them will be questions you’ve never even considered! BabyList is supportive and inclusive of a wide range of family choices, so the purpose of this article is not to push a particular set of answers. We figure it will be helpful for you to know what questions are in your future–and get a sense for the range of possible answers within today’s popular parenting philosophies.
Most official parenting advice is both emphatic and contradictory. A study of parenting literature revealed that baby expert books leave mothers feeling confused and inadequate. The researcher who did the study said, “Whatever the message, the advice was given in the form of an order and the authors highlighted extreme consequences if mothers did not follow the methods of child-rearing that they advocated.” And it’s not just books that take this bullying approach to parenting advice; it’s common in real life as well.
BabyList is determined to approach parenting in a way that breaks this cycle of fear and judgment. Pretending there is just one set of right answers that works for every family is not just unscientific, it’s irresponsible. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that every baby and every family is different. An approach that works for one baby, may not work for another–which is precisely why parenting advice tends to be contradictory.
You’ve got this, mama! You’ve got this, papa! You don’t need to please everyone, or convince the world that your way of doing it is the right way. Focus on getting on the same page as your co-parent, and don’t worry too much about anyone else.
Actually, a great activity to do while you’re expecting is to discuss the questions on the list below with other caregivers. You might change your own answers to some of these questions once you meet your actual child and get to know their personality, and that’s totally okay, too. Just remember, no parent is perfect. It’s literally impossible to do everything perfectly! Just add lots of love, and it will all turn out okay.
- How should I respond to my baby crying?
- How should I approach my baby’s sleeping schedule and arrangements?
- Should I create a feeding and sleeping schedule, or should baby decide when to eat, sleep, and nap?
- Do I place more faith in nature or technology?
- What is the importance of cuddle time?
- Should I swaddle my baby? If so, when and for how long?
- Should I use a pacifier? When and for how long?
- Breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a combination?
- Who should care for my baby: family, an in-house nanny, or a day-care?
- When and how should I introduce baby to solid foods?
- How should I balance the baby’s needs and the caretaker’s needs?
- Is there one right answer?
How should I respond to my baby crying?
On one end of the spectrum, people advise you to check for and resolve immediate physical issues (like hunger or a dirty diaper) and ignore the crying if there’s not a physical issue you can resolve. On the other end, some recommend that you always pay attention to crying and do whatever is humanly possible to soothe the baby (cuddling, bouncing, singing, etc.). Realistically, most parents end up on some middle road between approaches.
There’s something called the “cry it out” method (also known as Ferberizing, because it was invented by Dr. Ferber) that is commonly misunderstood. The actual method is to allow baby to cry for a certain number of minutes you decide on in advance before going in to soothe the baby. The theory goes, this will give the baby the chance to learn the skill of calming down without help. You adjust the number of minutes depending on your baby’s age, how long you’ve been using the technique, and what you feel comfortable with. People often misunderstand this technique by thinking it means let the baby cry forever while ignoring them.
Related is the technique of “controlled crying,” which is similar, except that you gradually increase the number of minutes you wait before soothing the baby. So first you let them cry for a minute, then you let them cry for two minutes, and so forth. Opponents of “cry it out” and “controlled crying” worry that baby will be stressed and lose faith in the act of asking for help. Folks who believe in Attachment Parenting (a school of parenting that focuses on strengthening the parent-child connection) tend to be particularly opposed to “cry it out.” If you’re wondering what medical authorities say, the Mayo Clinic recommends cry it out as a last resort; in other words, try it after you’ve tried everything else.
The Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) school of parenting has an interesting stance on crying. This RIE blogger wrote, “an infant’s cries are not only okay, they serve an important purpose. When babies cry, our job is to tune in, provide help, love and support as needed, but not necessarily stop the crying.” They believe that babies cry in order to express themselves, and although you should definitely try to understand what’s going on, it’s not your mission to shut down their self-expression. They also make the point that baby will pick up on your moods, so stressing yourself out is counterproductive.
It’s true that a baby cries in order to communicate. What’s super interesting is that there appears to be a translatable language of crying, at least for newborns. People have even programmed apps to translate this baby crying language; they analyze the sound waves to determine whether the baby is hungry, sleepy, hurting, or wet. These apps get mixed reviews from parents, and are most accurate when the baby is youngest. Another approach is to train yourself to recognize different baby cries; the Dunstan Baby Language company offers an app to practice identifying them. Although there aren’t any definitive scientific studies on the Dunstan Baby Language model, many parents find it helpful. This parent’s main complaint was that her particular baby had a few extra cries that weren’t translatable.
If you want to soothe your baby’s cries, there are many things to try. A popular parenting book called *The Happiest Baby on the Bloc*k says to use the Five S’s: swaddle, side or stomach position, shush, swing, and suck (on a pacifier). Although the back position is safest for a sleeping baby, the side and stomach positions are most calming for a fussy baby; you can put them on your shoulder to calm them. “Shush” means giving them white noise, which is reassuring to them because the womb has a lot of white noise. The “swing” is really more of a gentle jiggle while supporting their head. Lots of parents find the DVD demonstrating all this to be more helpful than the book itself.
How should I approach my baby’s sleeping schedule and arrangements?
Until your baby is sleeping on a regular schedule, you’re probably going to be really tired. So how long will it take your baby to learn to sleep through the night? In general, this can happen any time between three-months and one-year old. Will any particular parenting technique hasten the arrival of that happy day? Some folks believe you just have to wait for your baby to figure it out; other folks swear that sleep training will speed up the process. A large variety of sleep training methods have been invented to help out exhausted parents!
When babies are having trouble settling down for the night, obviously they will cry. So the “cry it out” and “controlled crying” methods discussed above are two common approaches to sleep training. The professionals (as always) are divided about the value of this approach. Psychologists worry about babies who cry themselves to sleep feeling abandoned, but sleep scientists can’t find proof of any negative effects. If you’re skeptical about methods that involve letting baby cry, there are plenty of other approaches you can try out.
In the self-soothing method, you teach your baby to soothe himself to sleep, by having a consistent schedule and bedtime routine (which can include a warm bath, a comforting story, dimmed lights, soft music, or whatever else helps baby calm down). Good Night Moonis a great book to include in a self-soothing routine, and there are a lot of different soothers (basically fancy night lights that play gentle music) that you can buy for your nursery.
The tough part for a lot of babies is when parents leave the room. So a sleep training approach called bedtime fading is a way to make the parents leaving more “gradual.” You sit with your baby as they fall asleep, but every night you move your chair a tiny bit farther from the crib. They gradually get used to you being farther away so they can still feel protected even as you become less glued to their side.
Since babies are so reassured by their parents’ physical presence, some parents also use co-sleeping or bed-sharing to help their babies chill out. Co-sleeping means having your baby sleep close by you either in a crib by your bedside or actually in the bed with you. The practice of sharing your bed with baby is controversial because many people believe it increases the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) or that you might accidentally roll on top of baby while sleeping.
To make things even more confusing, advocates of bed-sharing argue the opposite: that bed-sharing can reduce the risk of SIDS and that parents are instinctively aware of their child’s location even while they sleep. SIDS is a confusing disease: it’s when healthy babies stop breathing in their sleep for no known reason. Opponents of bed-sharing believe that bed-sharing babies are more likely to roll into a position where they’re breathing from a little air pocket and not getting enough air. Supporters of bed-sharing believe that when parents and babies sleep together, the baby is mimicking the parent’s breathing patterns and hence less likely to stop breathing.
If you’re worried about SIDS, there are protective steps you can take regardless of where your baby is sleeping: make sure they sleep on their back on a firm surface with no crevices to roll into, and that they are only sleeping on a tight-fitting sheet with no other bedding or objects. (They might get less oxygen if they bury their little nose in a fluffy blanket or toy). Also, the middle ground on bed-sharing is a co-sleeper crib which you can place against your bedside to have your baby within easy arm’s reach for soothing and breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sleeping in the same room as your baby to reduce the SIDS risk.
In the end, it’s about what works for YOUR family. What will help both parents and baby get enough sleep? What’s going to help everyone stay happy and healthy?
Should I create a feeding and sleeping schedule, or should baby decide when to eat, sleep, and nap?
The two schools of thought here are parent-led schedules vs. baby-led schedules (with a lot of parents opting for something in between). An example of a parent-led philosophy is Babywise, which advocates for establishing a routine in your baby’s life and sticking to it. Critics of the Babywise philosophy (which include the American Academy of Pediatrics) say that being too married to a schedule can cause you to harmfully ignore baby’s unscheduled needs. Some parents say that anxiety about following Babywise rules caused them to ignore their parenting instincts, to their regret.
On the other hand, supporters of Babywise say it was a godsend to have their baby on a predictable schedule because it was so much easier to plan and manage care. Blogger Gabrielle Daigle mentions that Babywise worked on her first child but not on her second or third child, and indeed there seems to be a widespread consensus that it works for some babies but not others. Even fans of Babywise caution against following it too rigidly. They advise picking out the parts that work for you.
Baby-led schedules are advised by Attachment Parenting experts like Dr. Spock and Dr. Sears, who believe that being deeply connected to your baby should be your top priority. The idea is to look for your baby’s hunger and sleep cues and base your schedule on what they are signaling they need. Fans of attachment parenting believe it will make babies happier, healthier, and better adjusted. Critics of attachment parenting think babies will be spoiled and parents will be drained. The Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) school of parenting emphasizes respectful communication and cooperation between parent and baby which is rather different from saying one or the other must “lead.”
Do I place more faith in nature or technology?
There are actually cute nicknames for parents who fall along the spectrum of this quandary. A “silky” parent places more faith in technology, a “crunchy” parent places more faith in nature, and a “scrunchy” parent falls in the middle. So a silky parent would be in favor of medicated hospital birth, bottle feeding, disposable diapers, crib sleeping, and so forth. A crunchy parent would be in favor of homebirth, breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, and so on. A crunchy parent would also tend to have concerns around plastics, chemicals, conventionally grown foods, and radiation. Scrunchy parents mix and match; for example, combining hospital birth with exclusive breastfeeding.
In a way, this is one of the easier questions on the list because it’s less likely to be new to you! Chances are you’ve already made lots of life decisions about the value of natural vs. technological approaches. Just remember: both silky and crunchy parents claim to have safety on their side. So if another parent makes different decisions from you, don’t insult them by saying that they don’t care about the safety of their child. All parents care about keeping their child safe: they just have different beliefs about the best way to accomplish it.
All parents care about keeping their child safe.
If you’re a scrunchy parent (and the majority of parents are!) trying your best to navigate your way between these two worlds, things can get really complicated. Questions like “What bottle should I get my baby?” seem to require pages of reading. Is plastic safe or unsafe? Why don’t the studies agree? Is it only plastic with the now-banned BPA (Bispehonl A) that I need to worry about? Should I play it safe with glass bottles? But what if the glass bottles break? That’s why BabyList writes guides sharing the research on what different families prefer. We’re trying to make things a bit easier to decide.
What is the importance of cuddle time?
Cuddling your baby is the ultimate parenting hack.
Finally, something everyone can agree on! Cuddling is good. Scientific American has published articles proving the importance of skin-to-skin contact. Premature babies who were cuddled during their first two weeks of life (vs. ones who weren’t for fear of germs) have less stress hormones in their bodies even at the age of ten. It applies across all mammals: rats who are lovingly licked by their moms are more social and curious and even live longer.
Should I swaddle my baby? If so, when and for how long?
If you’re wondering why a baby would enjoy being wrapped up in cloth like a little baby burrito, it’s because the restricted movement reminds them of their time in the womb. In fact, when someone talks about the “fourth trimester,” they’re referring to the fact that providing a womb-like environment to a newborn baby can ease their transition into the world. Swaddling is one of the oldest baby-calming techniques!
Concerns about swaddling include worries about overheating, squeezing baby in a way which impairs proper hip development, and breathing difficulties if the baby rolls on their stomach. Towards that last concern, it’s probably a good idea to stop swaddling your baby once they get old enough to roll over on their own. To avoid squishing baby’s hips out of place, you can watch a helpful instructional video about how to swaddle properly. A nice light muslin swaddle can help prevent overheating. Also, a less restricting alternative to the swaddle is the baby sleep sack, which still provides that womb-like environment but allows for a little more wiggling and is easier for you to put on.
When baby stops finding swaddling comforting, they’ll usually find ways to let you know, like wriggling their way out of a tight velcro swaddle or refusing to sleep while swaddled. Many babies stop enjoying their swaddles around four or five months of age. Although swaddling can be a good soothing technique, there are plenty of other techniques you can try out and see if they work for you.
Should I use a pacifier? When and for how long?
Pacifiers are great at soothing crying babies, helping them sleep, and they even reduce the risk of SIDS. The habit of sucking on a pacifier is easier to break than the habit of sucking on a thumb, because you can take away the pacifier but you can’t take away the thumb (obviously, ha). Many parents say things like “I don’t know how I’d live without my pacifier.”
So why are some parents opposed to pacifier use? If your baby is too dependent on a pacifier, they might have a really hard time going without it. For example, if they wake up screaming when it falls out of their mouth, that could be tough on everyone. Or you might lose the pacifier while running errands. Another concern is that if baby is used to sucking on something other than your nipple, it might make exclusive breastfeeding harder to pull off (although the research is unclear on that).
Breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a combination?
Breastmilk is both ideal nutrition and ideal medicine for babies. Its perfect blend of vitamins and antibodies is proven to reduce doctor and hospital visits. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding until your baby is six months and after that a mix of breast milk and other foods until the baby is 1.5 or 2 years old. So how often do those recommendations get followed? According to these charts from the CDC, the majority of women do some breastfeeding, but only around half of women are still breastfeeding at six months. Also, the number of women who exclusively breastfeed can be smaller than the number who use both breastmilk and formula.
For mom, breastfeeding can lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, burn a lot of calories, and save money. However, breastfeeding may not be practical for every mom. Working mothers aren’t always lucky enough to have a workplace that supports a pumping schedule, or their breasts might have trouble letting down milk into the pump. Breastfeeding isn’t a biological process that always goes one hundred percent smoothly: for some moms it can be painful, your breasts can get infected, or your milk supply might be low. There are even (extremely rare) cases where babies are born allergic to breastmilk.
Although breastfeeding during a cold or a flu is actually a good thing (it shares the antibodies) you shouldn’t breastfeed if you have HIV, tuberculosis, or if you’re taking certain medications (ask your doctor). You also shouldn’t breastfeed if you’re receiving chemotherapy for cancer. Breastfeeding tends to be an issue where people have strong opinions because it affects infant health. However, lecturing someone on the health benefits of breastfeeding without knowing their unique situation is not a good idea.
The article “Breastfeeding Advocacy; It’s a Movement, Not a War” summarizes it excellently: “For some women, it’s a piece of cake. Other moms really struggle to make it work. Some moms just don’t want to. And many have mixed experiences, along with mixed feelings, and end up taking a mixed approach.” One interesting fact is that two thirds of moms really want to breastfeed longer than they end up doing. Women don’t make decisions in a vacuum; family-friendly offices, maternity leave policies, attitudes towards public breastfeeding, and the quality of medical help and emotional support they receive all influence her decision and the outcome.
Sadly society often fails to provide support families and then blames parents (especially mothers) for struggling. Setting black and white rules that oversimplify our complex world is also a problem; the AAP’s recommendation to exclusively breastfeed ignores the fact that successful breastfeeding can include formula. One thing that surprises many new parents is how complex breastfeeding can be; it’s not like turning on a faucet. You can run into an array of problems from inverted nipples to latching difficulties. Breastfeeding support groups can play an important role in coaching mom past these barriers! Reach out for the support you need to make the decisions that work best for your family.
Who should care for my baby: family, an in-house nanny, or a day-care?
When it comes to choosing childcare options, economic realities often narrow your range of choices. You can begin by looking up the cost of childcare in your area. Does it cost more or less than the salary of the caregiving parent or family member? What is the most cost effective option for your family? What is best for baby–and what is best for you? Of course, those two questions are related! Your child feels connected to your moods, so taking care of yourself always benefits your baby too.
Supposing you are economically empowered to pick and choose, how do you decide what’s best for you? Whether you or your spouse will be happier being a full-time parent, going to the office, or some other arrangement will depend on the unique personality each of you have. Some people say they love being a stay-at-home parent; and other people say the opposite. To figure out what kind of person each of you are, try exploring these questions:
How important is my career to my identity?
What is the balance of stress to satisfaction in my current job?
Will work or home be the best place to create a good social environment for myself?
What future opportunities will my office open up for me? What opportunities would be easiest to pursue from home?
What family-friendly economic opportunities are available to me? What are the options for part time, flex time, or work at home?
The range of options available to you may be wider than you think. If your current job really values you, you might have leverage to negotiate the best arrangement for yourself. Don’t assume that your workplace’s policies are inflexible; it makes excellent business sense to accommodate the scheduling needs of exceptional workers. As you plan, keep in mind that your feelings may change (in either direction) when confronted with the reality of parenting. If possible, create an arrangement that gives you flexibility to adjust.
Next question: what is really best for baby? If you try to Google whether kids are better off with stay-at-home parents, you get dozens of conflicting studies and opinions. It can be genuinely difficult to study these issues, because of all the outside variables. For example: how can researchers separate what part of a child’s success is due to time and what part is due to money invested by parents? Then there’s the problem of defining what is a successful parenting outcome. Things like grades and staying out of jail are easy to measure, but outcomes like kindness and happiness are more difficult to measure objectively.
According to a Pew Research study, 60% of Americans say children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family. However, according the US Department of Labor, 70% of women with children under 18 participate in the labor force (and only 7% of dads stay at home). This shows our cultural beliefs about what’s best for our children are in conflict with the economic necessities of our lives. What a stressful situation for American parents!
We want to bring those stress levels down. So here’s a piece of good news: a reliable study shows the quality of time with parents is more important than quantity of time. So regardless of childcare choices, spending quality time with your child makes you a good parent. It’s easier to spend quality time with your kid when you’re not stressed out, so taking care of yourself is tremendously important.
Your friends and family may be pressuring you to make choices that confirm their own beliefs, but what makes you and your baby happy is more important. Ladies: Staying at home doesn’t make you a bad feminist. Going to work doesn’t make you a bad mom or wife. Gentleman: Staying at home doesn’t make you a bad provider. Being focused on your job doesn’t make you a bad dad or husband, so long as you invest in that quality time.
If you end up deciding to pay for childcare, you may be curious whether children benefit more from daycare or an in-house nanny. The quality of the individual nanny or individual daycare seems to matter a lot more than the nanny vs. daycare question. We found this great article listing the pros and cons of nannies and daycares if you want to sink your teeth into this question in more detail.
When and how should I introduce baby to solid foods?
Some experts recommend starting solids between four and six months, and others recommend waiting until you hit six months. An exhaustive literature review done by the Science of Mom shows it doesn’t make a huge difference which of those recommendations you follow. However, starting before four months is not recommended by the CDC. There will be a transition period of “complementary feeding,” when baby is nourished both by milk and solids.
Both the Mayo Clinic and blogger KellyMom advise against pressuring your infant regarding solids. The Mayo Clinic explicitly says, “Avoid power struggles,” and KellyMom mentions, “trying to force, coax, cajole, etc. her into eating is never recommended.” One approach to introducing solid foods is baby-led weaning, or BLW. BLW leaves it up to your baby to decide what, when, and how much to eat. However, parents who give their babies solid food too soon, often say it’s because their baby seems to want solid food. So, don’t rush baby, but don’t let baby rush you either.
How should I balance the baby’s needs and the caretaker’s needs?
The needs of your baby and the needs of the person caring for your baby are both important. So how do you balance them? If you get too far out of balance, the outcomes can be very unhealthy. Many parents have trouble prioritizing their own needs when they are overwhelmed by the stress of caring for a new a child. But caring for yourself is vital! This study shows that making time for yourself reduces your chances of postpartum depression.
Here’s how blogger Kirsten Oliphant describes the difficulty of giving yourself a break: “My thoughts go something like this: I don’t really need a break because Sally McPerfect Pants has 18 children and her kids obey all the time and she stays home and homeschools while working full time and breastfeeding everyone and being really thin and having a great blog and cooking all meals from scratch with grain she grinds and plants she grows in the yard and she says SHE doesn’t need a break. There is no Sally McPerfect Pants. But sometimes when we look around and stack up what we have and do with someone else, we can fool ourselves.”
Anyone taking care of a newborn will find it difficult to care for both themselves and the baby perfectly. Try to take some of the pressure off by getting as much help as possible, and remembering Kirsten’s tip that no one is perfect. When baby/caretaker trade-offs are necessary, understanding your own philosophy about them may be helpful.
The research of Joan Raphael-Leff gives us a nice framework for thinking this through: a “facilitator” parent adapts to the baby, while a “regulator” parent expects the baby to adapt. Between those two positions is the reciprocator parent, who negotiates their own needs and the baby’s needs as part of an ongoing process. Depending on your personality, you may feel drawn more in one direction or another. One fascinating thing is that although her research was done in 1986, you can easily see how trendy modern parenting styles fit into her framework! Babywise parents are regulators, attachment parents are facilitators, and RIE parents are reciprocators.
Is there one right answer?
This is the only time we’ll give you the one right answer. And the answer is: NO, there is not just one right answer. Just look at how differently people parent around the world and still achieve great outcomes. Science also shows that the truth is more complex than the black-and-white answers parenting experts often give.
Part of the reason debates over parenting choices are so intense is because people assume those who choose differently from them are judging them. Some of the time, they are! However, the intensity of their judgment may be driven by their own fear of being judged. In other words, self-righteousness is a defense mechanism some parents have built against a world that constantly questions their choices. Remember there’s really no argument to be won: the right answer is different for every person.
Don’t be afraid to trust yourself. In the beautiful words of the Mumologist, “Your gut will tell you more about your baby than any book.” You and your baby are the experts: experts on your own family dynamic. When people question your expertise, try to focus on the care and concern they feel, rather than the distrust they probably don’t mean to imply. We understand: being responsible for a tiny life is terrifying, and having people shout at you that you’re doing it wrong makes it even more terrifying. So be kind and forgiving of yourself, try to see humor in the madness of others, and make your mantra, “I’ve got this. Just add lots of love, and everything will turn out okay.”