Seconds after your brain registers that plus sign on the stick, the relentless questions begin: boy or girl? Who will baby look like? Are we really ready for this? Once baby arrives—and grows—those questions become much more pointed: When is my baby ready to sleep on her tummy, drink water, eat solids? Here's what you need to know to ease all that worrying.
Sleep: Safety First
FAST FACT: Even by his first birthday, baby will still be sleeping up to 14 hours a day. Here's how to keep him safe (and you sane).
Is My Baby Ready to...
... snooze on her tummy?
Babies should be put to bed on their backs to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Luckily, by the time your baby has the upper-body strength to roll over, at about 6 months, the risk of SIDS drops significantly. But that doesn't mean babies are ready to sleep on their stomachs. "Here's what I tell my patients: You should still put them down to sleep on their backs for the first year, but what babies do in the middle of the night is their business, and you can't control it," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta and co-author of Heading Home With Your Newborn.
... ditch the bumpers?
Actually, it's safest to skip them in the first place. We know, we know, those crib sets are pretty darn cute, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns against the use of pillows, pillowlike bumpers and any other kind of soft bedding, like a quilt, in the crib for fear of suffocation and an increased risk of SIDS. If you do use a bumper, make sure it is thin and well-secured to the crib slats. You should remove it when baby begins to stand so she can't use it as a step.
... sleep through the night?
As her stomach capacity grows she'll need less frequent feedings. By 3 months, most infants sleep seven or eight hours without waking. If this isn't the case in your household, try keeping her awake—and stimulated—longer in the afternoon and early evening.
FAST FACT: Some cultures dictate that new moms not leave the house for a month after childbirth. Your pediatrician may advise the same to help keep baby away from germs. Regardless of when you both venture out, make sure you have the right gear to give baby a safe ride.
Is My Baby Ready to
... ride in a stroller?
If you envision frequent walks with your newborn, you need a stroller with a bassinet or one that fully reclines. She'll need to be able to sit up, at about 6 months, to ride in a lightweight umbrella-style stroller. Hold off on taking baby along for a run or bike ride until she is 1, says Ari Brown, M.D., co-author of Baby 411. "The ride can be quite bumpy for immature spine and neck muscles, especially going over rocky paths," she says. Keep in mind, too, that his neck won't be strong enough to support a helmet until his first birthday. The AAP offers the same advice about placing baby in a trailer that attaches to a bike. Always check the manufacturer's directions for more safety precautions.
... face forward in a car seat?
If you're asking this question before baby is 2 years old, the answer is no, according to the AAP. Even beyond that, a child should remain rear-facing until he maxes out the height or weight limits of his infant or convertible car seat. "If we all could travel facing backward, we'd be safer," says Dr. Shu. "As soon as you face the front, the chance of whiplash goes way up."
Food: The Road to Solids
FAST FACT: By your baby's first birthday, she will likely have tripled her birth weight. That's a lot of calories—and almost as many feeding questions. A few are answered here.
Is My Baby Ready to...
... chew crackers or bread?
This is the first step toward finger foods, after purées of cereals, fruits, vegetables and meats have been introduced. "By 9 months or a bit sooner, a baby is able to try all bready foods, as long as parents keep a close watch," says pediatrician and mom of three Jennifer Roche, M.D. Just keep pieces small, about the size of your pinky nail. If your tot is holding an entire cracker, be sure that she doesn't—ahem—bite off more than she can chew.
... drink water?
If your baby hasn't started solids yet (at about 6 months), talk to your doctor before giving him water. Not only do breast milk or formula provide all the water and nutrition a baby needs, too much water can dilute the sodium in the blood, which can result in brain swelling, unresponsiveness and seizures, says Alan Greene, M.D., pediatrician and author of Feeding Baby Green and Raising Baby Green. "Even if baby is dehydrated from diarrhea, his fluid losses should be replaced with breast milk, formula or perhaps a rehydration solution," he says. After 6 months, however, Dr. Greene encourages offering your baby up to 6 ounces of water a day. Ask your pediatrician what kind of water (tap or bottled) is best for your baby.
... try an "allergenic" food?
What was once labeled a food allergy may really just be a food sensitivity or intolerance. The AAP determined there is no evidence that delaying the introduction of common allergens (cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy) helps prevent reactions. While you should always get the go-ahead from your pediatrician anyway, a child without a family history of allergies should be able to eat tiny pieces of all these foods as soon as she's eating table foods (usually between 6 months and 1 year). Products made from pastuerized whole milk, such as cottage cheese, yogurt and tiny pieces of soft cheese are OK to try, just hold off on cow's milk until she's 1. If a parent or sibling has any kind of allergy or your child has had a previous reaction, your pediatrician may want to delay the introduction of some of these foods, possibly until age 3.
Play: A Playground Primer
FAST FACT: Your mobile baby is bursting through her milestones. You want to keep her stimulated, but when is she ready to leave the support of the Boppy and join the big leagues outside?
Is My Baby Ready to...
... play in the sandbox?
Everything your baby picks up goes straight in his mouth, right? Dr. Roche takes a relaxed approach. "Try not to let him swallow whole mouthfuls of the stuff or rub his eyes, and wash his hands afterward," she says. If yours does ingest a bit of sand, offer him water—and hope he remembers how yucky it was the next time he's tempted. (Don't be surprised by a sandy poop.)
... hit the playground?
Bucket swings rock and, surprisingly, so does climbing up a slide (the small one, of course). Match the activity to your baby's motor skills and the size of the equipment. Once she's able to sit on her own—usually by 6 months—she'll probably enjoy a gentle ride in a bucket swing. If she's a pretty good climber and walker, she'll likely be able to go down a small slide by herself by the time she's 18 months.