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Parenting Advice for New Moms

Nathalia Dion

1. Cramming the Crib Too Full 

It's tempting to load the crib with baby paraphernalia; it's all so adorable! But too many toys and other objects can be overstimulating and downright dangerous.

The Fix 

Pillows, stuffed animals, blankets and even crib bumpers can be suffocation hazards. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a statement urging parents not to use sleep positioners, which can increase the risk of babies suffocating. “Your best bet is to have a quiet, dark, cool environment for baby to sleep in,” says Kim West, author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight. “A clean, well-fitting sheet and a firm mattress are all he needs.”

2. Not Taking Care of Yourself 

Moms are typically great at nurturing others — not so stellar at taking care of themselves. “It's easy to make the baby the priority and neglect your own health,” says Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Baby Books. “You mistakenly feel selfish if you think of your own needs.”

The Fix 

Admittedly, getting good sleep, or even a five-minute shower, can be tricky the first few months, but you can make an effort to eat healthy. (You wouldn't feed your baby Cheetos and Diet Coke for lunch — so why are you having that?) Teeny-tiny efforts count: Maybe your new life doesn't include Zumba class, but there's no reason you can't put the baby in a stroller or sling and walk every day.

3. Comparing Your Tot to Other Babies 

Competitive parenting starts early these days. “With baby classes, Mommy and Me and other group activities becoming more and more popular in the past 10 to 15 years, parents have more opportunities to observe and compare other babies with their own,” says JJ Levenstein M.D., a Los Angeles pediatrician. “They quickly assume something is amiss if their baby doesn't perform like the others.”

The Fix

Yes, certain general developmental guidelines apply to all babies, but remember that your kid is an individual. Her inborn personality will affect how she hits milestones; some babies are verbal but physically passive, others wiggle, grasp and crawl first. Keep in mind that as your child gets older, the span of “normal” widens. Notes Dr. Levenstein, “Social smiling usually happens around 8 weeks, sitting up between 5 and 7 months and walking at 9 to 16 months. There are perfectly normal babies who achieve milestones on either end.” As always, go to your pediatrician with any major developmental concerns.

4. Letting Dad Take a Back Seat 

Early on, it's common for Dad to feel like a third wheel while the focus is on baby and Mom. “He starts thinking, ‘Why am I needed here?’” says New York City-area family therapist Michelle Maidenberg Ph.D. “It doesn't foster a good relationship for the couple or, eventually, for the whole family.”

The Fix

Make a concerted effort to include him. No, he can't breastfeed, but just about any other task is within his jurisdiction. Dads can take charge of changing diapers, bathing and dressing baby, taking baby for a walk or going to the pediatrician's office. But it's not just about divvying chores; it's about giving up complete control. Ask your partner to attend a baby care class with you, that way you're both learning at the same time.

Moms who know… bite their tongues if dad's approach isn't exactly the same they'd take. They also know if they pay attention, they might even learn something.

5. Having a Rigid Sleep Schedule 

Routines are helpful — but trying to stick to a military-style schedule will make everyone miserable. You'll end up fighting to put baby to bed when she's not tired or keeping her up when she's pooped. Outings can get tricky if you can't deviate from “the schedule.”

The Fix 

Most full-term newborns will snooze every two to three hours. But don't get upset if your baby doesn't nap by the book.“Babies go through many cycles of change — growth spurts, developmental milestones — in the first three months,” Dr. Levenstein says. “If they respond to a schedule even half the time, that's fantastic.”

Moms who know… realize that the ability to roll with changes is one of the most precious lessons babies teach us. So stay loose and don't freak out if your baby sleeps through feeding time or doesn't drift off at 8 p.m. sharp.

6. Forgetting to Enjoy the Moment 

Ask most parents what they'd do over if they had a chance; many will say, “I'd relax and enjoy the baby months more.” No other time in your life is quite the same; don't be so stressed that you forget to make great memories.

The Fix

It's corny, it's cliché but it's true: As a new parent, you need to take a few minutes each day to count your blessings. Once you're into a good feeding routine, baby's mealtime is an ideal time to do so. (Don't even think about jumping on the cell.) Memorize your baby's sweet face, his amazingly strong grip and his adorable toes, slowly curling and uncurling. You created an incredible creature — give yourself some credit and relish this magical time.

7. Trying to be Supermom 

Yes, you're used to feeling capable at work, home and all other aspects of life, but that doesn't mean you should tackle taking care of a baby alone. “In all of human history, we've raised our children together,” says New York City pediatrician Cheryl Wu M.D. “We're social animals, but in recent years we've created this false, ‘I can do this alone’ mentality.”

The Fix 

Swallow your pride and accept all offers of help, or ask for it, suggests Dr. Wu. Repeat: all offers. “In the three months following delivery, your only job should be taking care of the baby and taking care of yourself,” she says. “Other people should be doing the dishes, bringing you food and so on.” The it-takes-a-village attitude is not only good for you, it's good for your child. “Babies benefit from more than one caregiver.”

8. Thinking You're Not Feeding Your Baby Enough 

It's a knee-jerk response: Your baby whimpers, and you whip out a breast or bottle. But crying doesn't necessarily mean he's hungry — he may be tired, overstimulated, overheated, uncomfortable or just plain bored.

The Fix 

Listen to your pediatrician; if your baby is growing steadily with lots of wet and soiled diapers, he's getting enough to eat. (If he's not, your doctor will have strategies to help.) At home, make an effort to figure out what each cry means. It's tricky at first — but if you really pay attention you'll be able to differentiate his “I'm bored” from “I'm getting tired” from “Feed me, Mom!”

9. Not Trusting Your Instincts 

Having a helpless infant to care for is a dramatic, life-changing event that brings a boatload of new worries: How do I know when she's hungry? Tired? Sick? Throw in all the advice from friends and relatives, and it's no wonder new parents are full of self-doubt.

The Fix

First, know you're not alone. “A level of insecurity is completely normal for newbie moms and dads,” says Maidenberg. “You're inexperienced, and you're not sure if your judgment is accurate.” Listen to advice, she adds, but keep your B.S. filter in place; everyone from your mother-in-law to the guy at the deli will have words of wisdom — often conflicting — on sleep, colic and feeding. It's best to seek out a few reliable sources: your pediatrician, a new-mom group or a trusted friend with older kids.

Moms who know… realize that your baby is your best teacher. As days and weeks pass and you bond more deeply, you will become more and more confident in caring for her.

10. Having No Sleep Schedule 

It's difficult to foster good snooze habits when baby naps at random times and places every day (i.e. car seat, swing, Mom's arms). “Many parents feel that sleep will happen on its own; they don't see it as a problem,” says West. “But putting yourself to sleep is a learned skill, and we can gently shape baby's habits early on.”

The Fix 

By the time your baby is 3 or 4 months old, his days and nights should have some rhythm. One way to get started: Wake your baby at a specific time in the morning, i.e. 7:30 a.m., says West. “It sounds counterintuitive to wake a sleeping baby, but it's easier to get him on a routine if you start at the same time every day,” she says. In the evening, pick a time frame (say, 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.) for bedtime and stick to it. “The trick is to choose a time when your baby tends to be tired without going past that window of opportunity,” says West.

Moms who know… understand that the key to sleeping success starts with a routine. Try a bath, light massage and a book before bedtime. Baby will learn that sleep comes next.

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