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Ease Your Biggest Baby Fears

Is he warm enough? Will I drop him? What's that bump on his arm? Shouldn't he be sitting up by now?

Worrying is as much a part of new parenthood as diaper changes and sleepless nights. And while exhausted, hormone-addled moms can obsess about pretty much anything - from trimming tiny nails to the temperature of the bath water - certain fears plague parents the most. We asked readers to share their biggest anxieties on Parenting.com/babytalk. Although the responses may surprise you, they didn't shock William Sears, M.D., who calms nervous moms and dads every day in his pediatric practice (and who dealt with the same fears himself raising eight babies!). Here, he explains why we really don't need to worry so much.

#1 Fear
Leaving the baby with a sitter
"I am so nervous to leave my seven-and-a-half-month-old son with anyone else. He's such a mama's boy right now, and I worry that he'd scream his head off the whole time. As a result, my husband and I haven't been out on a real date since he was born." -Rosalynn Gottschall, Forksville, PA

Mother after mother in my practice has said to me, "I really need a break, but I just can't leave my baby." I always tell them the same thing: "A happy, rested mother is the best mother." So if it takes a date with your husband or a trip to the gym to refuel your energy stores, go for it. That's right, sometimes it's in your baby's best interest for you to leave! And of course, going back to work is often a necessity. (When I was a struggling intern with two young kids, my wife, Martha, also worked so that we could make ends meet.) But the fact that you're afraid to leave your baby with someone else is a normal, good sign - it means you've developed a healthy, strong attachment to your child.

I've found that most moms have two fears when it comes to leaving their infant with another caregiver:

1) They're worried that nobody can care for their baby as well as they can; and 2) They're nervous that someone else might take that number-one spot in their baby's life. Let me reassure you that no one can replace Mom in a baby's eyes. And as long as you nurture the attachment you have with your child when you're together - through babywearing, nursing (if you've chosen to breastfeed), playing, and cuddling - that bond won't be easily forgotten when you go to the office or take some much-needed time to yourself.

If you're going back to work, there are many ways you can maintain your mom-baby bond on your end. Put up photos of your baby in your work space (as if you wouldn't!), pump your milk during the day and continue to nurse when home, and stay in close touch with your baby's caregiver(s) while you're gone.

As for finding someone who can care for your child the way you would if you were home, that's a bit trickier and takes some work. The only way you'll worry less is if you're comfortable with who (or where) you choose, and only you can make that call. You may not gel with the babysitter that your neighbor loves, and the daycare center that everyone raves about may not be the best fit for your child; don't feel like you're being picky.

Prescreen candidates by checking references. Then create a list of questions and write them down so you don't forget. To me, one of the most important things to ask is, "What will you do when my baby cries?" The answer you want is: "I would do my best to console him." A red-flag answer: "Oh, it's good for babies' lungs to cry sometimes, and I believe they should learn to soothe themselves." Baby training is the parents' decision, not a caregiver's.

If you opt for daycare, you also need to do your research. But even if a facility passes all the criteria (find the good-care signs to watch for on Parenting.com/babytalk, along with more tips on hiring a sitter), you still need to follow your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable with what you see or experience at a center, or if your baby seems angry or mopey when you pick him up, don't dismiss it. Look into it further or find an arrangement that leaves you with a better feeling.

#2 Fear
Sudden infant death syndrome
"I used to check on my baby several times a night. I'd wake up and go in to make sure she was still breathing. Or I'd lay awake listening to her breathing and not be able to get to sleep." -Janey Goude, Lexington, SC

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - commonly known as SIDS - is the unexpected and often unexplained death of a baby during sleep (though recent research points to a brain abnormality that disables a baby's ability to wake himself up when he's not getting enough air). Almost all cases occur by the age of 6 months, with the majority between 2 and 3 months. Yes, it's scary, but it's also very rare, occurring in only 1 in 1,600 American babies. And I consider SIDS to be a largely preventable disease, which means parents don't have to feel helpless.

Here's what you can do to lower the risk of this tragedy happening in your family-and, hopefully, ease your worries about it:

Put your baby to sleep on her back. The "Back to Sleep" initiative of the past decade has reduced the rate of SIDS by as much as 50 percent since 1992.
Don't allow smoking around your baby, pre- or postnatally. Exposure to cigarette smoke more than doubles the risk of SIDS.
Breastfeed your baby, if you can. Researchers aren't exactly sure why breastfeeding lowers the risk of SIDS, but it does, by as much as 36 percent, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Keep the temperature where your baby sleeps between 68°F and 72°F.
Avoid using any soft bedding - comforters, blankets, pillows, and bumpers - where your baby sleeps.

#3 Fear
Choking
"Every time my six-month-old son coughs, I get so scared, and I have to run to him. Of course, he's always fine, but I'm just so worried about choking." -Shonta Ledford, Vincent, AL

Babies are born mouthers, even enjoying the oral gratification of thumb-sucking while in the womb. Once babies develop the thumb and forefinger pincer grasp, usually by 9 months of age, they enter the "pick up and put in mouth" developmental milestone that, yes, requires careful vigilance. But you don't have to drive yourself crazy. You'll quickly learn to break up crackers, mash beans, and quarter grapes instinctively, and your anxiety level will decrease a lot. Soon, your baby will outgrow this stage and you'll get a break. Until then, here's how to take control of your stress:

Remove chokable toys. Use a toilet-paper roll to judge whether an object is a potential choking hazard: If a toy or toy part fits through the roll, it's too small and should be kept away from infants and toddlers.
Commit these chokable foods to memory: whole nuts, seeds, popcorn, hot dogs (whole or chunks), hard or gummy candy, raisins and dried-fruit pieces, whole grapes, raw carrots, raw apples, raw unripe pears, whole olives, and gobs of nut butters. Avoid giving your child chunks of bread (they can form pasty, hard-to- swallow globs in small hands).
Size it right. Before age 1, cut foods into tiny, bite-size pieces, about the size of a pea or your pinkie fingernail. Quarter grapes, slice blueberries, dice cooked carrots, break up crackers, and so on. Once your child can gum and hold his snacks and has some more teeth (generally around age 1), cut foods into short needle-like strips rather than thumb-nail-size chunks.
Take a CPR class, so that you're prepared for your natural "What if?" tendency. Find an infant and child CPR course near you at redcross.org.

#4 Fear
Spoiling the Baby
"I worry that I give in to what my baby wants so much that when somebody else tries to take care of him, it doesn't work. For example, I rock him to sleep, and it has become the only way he'll go down. I'm afraid I'm spoiling him!" -Kimberly Myers, Grand Rapids, MI

Parents often complain to me that their well-meaning mother, mother-in-law, babysitter, or friends warn them that they're going to spoil their baby by picking him up as soon as he cries, rocking him to sleep, or holding him more often than not. When enough people tell you the same thing, it's easy to believe them. After all, who wants a whiny, spoiled brat who cries until he gets what he wants? But let me assure you: It is impossible to spoil a baby. In fact, infants (especially in the first four months of life) need to be responded to promptly in order to feel safe and grow attached to you. Infants cry to express their very real needs, not to manipulate their moms and dads. Over my 35 years as a pediatrician, I've noticed that kids whose mothers respond to them quickly and lovingly - even if it's in a manner that other people might view as "spoiling" - grow up with the confidence to actually become less clingy and demanding as young children. If you're following your gut, you're in no danger of spoiling anyone.

#5 Fear
A Developmental Delay
"One of my biggest fears was that my son wouldn't reach milestones as fast as other babies we know. He was slower to crawl and walk than some of his baby buddies. Now the fear of when he will talk is upon me!" -Steph Cressman, Ellwood City, PA

Milestone charts often give specific ages for developmental achievements: Your baby will sit up at 6 months, they may say, and she will crawl at 9 months. In reality, there are "windows" when these milestones occur. For instance, it is considered normal for a baby to start to walk anywhere between 9 and 18 months. Indeed timing is one of the least important factors when assessing developmental growth. What is important? Progression. If your child is progressively building from one milestone to the next - she reaches for toys, then she brings them to her mouth, she rolls over, she crawls, she pulls up - then you have nothing to worry about. When your child reaches each individual milestone has nothing to do with her smarts or abilities - it depends on her temperament. An extremely active baby might cruise sooner than a mellow tot, but they'll both get there. Keep your own developmental diary of when your baby accomplishes each skill. As long as she is doing more each month than the previous one, consider your baby's development as normal for her.

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