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7 Ways to Enjoy Your Baby's First Year

3. Getting a baby to sleep is worth the trouble.

This is a matter of basic maternal math: baby zzz's = mommy zzz's. Veteran moms will tell you that figuring out, early on, how to get your baby to go to sleep, stay asleep, and take regular naps is key to getting through that entire first year. "Being sleep-deprived is a fact of life, but the sooner you get sleep figured out, the better," says Michelle Wilkins, a mom of three in Blacksburg, Virginia.

For Theresa Cole, mom of Ethan, 5, and Jordan, 1, in Kansas City, Missouri, the trick is to get your newborn used to falling asleep on his own: "Think twice about feeding your baby to put him to sleep. He's a clean slate, waiting to learn how to do things. If you teach him he can only drift off with a boob or bottle in his mouth, that's the only way he will -- even at two in the morning. And, seriously, who wants to deal with that every night for the next couple of years?"

I'm a firm believer in consistency. When my third baby was 9 months old and not taking decent naps during the day, I came up with some new routines. I stopped letting him catnap in the car while I ran errands, and planned outings around his naptime, to make sure he could go down in his crib. I also turned his room into a sleep haven (blackout shades, white-noise machine). Pretty soon he was napping twice a day, and snoozing better at night, too. To keep daytime noise to a minimum, Jamie Pearson, mom of Avery, 7, and Max, 5, in Palo Alto, California, adds this tip: "Make a diplomatic front-door sign that says, 'Baby napping. Please visit us another time.' "

 

4. Competitive parenting: not cool.

Of course you already know that babies develop at their own pace. And of course you know there's more to your baby than when he hits milestones. But when it seems like every kid in the playgroup except yours is sitting up or saying "Mama," it can take all your willpower to act like you just don't care.

It's totally understandable to compare. But for the sake of your sanity, it's worth trying to stop. "I made the conscious decision to believe the experts who said that the spectrum of normalcy was wide," says Susie Sonneborn Blim, a mom of three in Montclair, New Jersey. "I also stopped hanging out with moms who were constantly boasting about or obsessing over their babies' milestones, because that played a huge part in how caught up I got with comparing my baby to other babies."

Pearson had a similar tactic: "When Avery wasn't the first -- or second, or third -- baby in my mothers' group to crawl, I told myself that the impatient, intense, irritable babies were always the early crawlers and walkers," she says. "I kept these theories to myself, of course!" If you're truly worried that your baby is falling behind, bring it up with your pediatrician. She should be your go-to expert when it comes to your child's health and development -- not the bragging, pitying other moms.

 

5. You and your baby don't have to be joined at the hip.

Experts say: Being touched, held, carried, and cuddled is vital to a baby's development. Moms answer back: There's nothing more delicious than touching, holding, carrying, and cuddling a baby -- to a point. When it's clear that you and/or your baby need a break from each other, take it. This is especially true when your infant's wailing or your pre-toddler's whining is about to push you over the edge. Hand her to Daddy or send out an SOS to a friend or relative.

If there's no one you can call on for help, take a tip from Christine Klepacz, a mom of two in Bethesda, Maryland. "When your baby is crying and you could burst into tears yourself, or when you're just overwhelmed, it's okay to put her in her crib for a while and sit by yourself. She's safe, and sometimes she needs time away from you, too. It's okay. We all do it!"

It's equally important to carve out time for yourself regularly -- not just when you're about to go off the deep end. If there's one thing Jennifer Geddes, a Parenting staffer and mom of two girls, learned during the first year, it's that "you have to take a few minutes for yourself here and there. It's essential to being a happy and healthy mom. I was so concerned with attending to my daughter's needs that I neglected my own. I barely ate, slept, or left the house," she says.

If you're thinking, "Yeah, right -- I can barely get a shower," wait: It's doable. You just have to plan ahead, be creative, and adjust your definition of what constitutes a relaxing break. Where, prebaby, you were used to spur-of-the-moment shopping sprees or on- a-whim workouts, you might find, like Marilyn Sklar, that your idea of a good time now is "a glass of wine and a good book after the children are in bed." Or a brisk walk in the morning before they get up. Me, I swear by weekend matinees. I can get a lot of regenerative mileage out of two hours by myself in a cozy, dark theater with a bag of popcorn, lost in a great story onscreen.

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