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Be Your Baby's Advocate

The day my son Liam was born was supposed to be one of the happiest of my life. Instead, it was the most traumatic. He was delivered by emergency c-section, in cardio-respiratory failure, and ultimately spent nearly a month in a neonatal intensive care unit. Liam had moved his bowels while still in utero and then started to breathe, filling his lungs with meconium, the tarlike waste that babies aren't supposed to pass until they're safely out of the womb. For much of his time in the NICU, my husband and I didn't know whether our baby would survive.

We were fortunate: Today Liam is a thriving little boy. But the lessons I learned about asking questions and advocating for him during those early weeks taught me to listen to my instincts. Case in point: When we moved and had to leave behind the doctors with whom we'd become very comfortable, we chose a pediatrician who was considered the "best" in town. Problem was, he was arrogant, dismissive, and very difficult to deal with. So it wasn't long before I switched to another doctor, one whom I knew from our initial meeting would actually listen to me and, more important, support my then 1-year-old son. She is still Liam's primary doctor today, and I have every hope that she will be until he leaves for college.

There are a million reasons why a doctor may not acknowledge your concerns, and none of them really matter. The only thing that does is that you speak up every time. Whether your worry is big (my baby avoids eye contact) or small (she has no interest in reading stories), you can make sure your baby gets the care she deserves.

1. Listen to your gut. Whether or not you're a first-time parent, it can be hard to know if your baby's development is typical. After all, there is a broad range in what's considered "normal" for all sorts of milestones  -- from sitting (5 to 8 months) to crawling (6 to 10 months, if at all) to walking (10 to 18 months). "But if it's bothering you that your 18-month-old doesn't talk the way her friends do, for example, don't ignore it," says Claire Lerner, director of parenting information and resources at Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that promotes the healthy development of infants and toddlers. "Parents should follow their instincts, even if it's only to get reassurance that nothing is really wrong." And if there is an issue, be it speech or hearing or even autism, the earliest intervention always produces the best outcome, Lerner says.

Dana Sullivan is a writer in Reno, Nevada.

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