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Your Baby's First Year

Your first year as a mom can feel like one continuous interrogation of your baby's doctor, your friends, and your own mom for the answers to your parenting questions. Here's a shortcut: In the hopes that I can give some peace of mind, I've answered a bunch of the most common questions I'm asked:

Our 6-month-old just started sitting up, but my friend's baby crawled at that age. Could my child be developmentally delayed?

The timing of motor milestones, especially crawling, varies a lot from baby to baby. Although most begin to crawl (or scoot or slither) sometime between 6 and 9 months, others start as early as 5 and as late as 10 months, or skip crawling altogether. Don't forget: Your baby's progress is more important than her timing. Compare her achievements to what she did a month ago rather than to what your friend's child is doing.

When your baby starts to crawl (and stand and walk) depends in large part on her temperament. By and large, there's no "right" time regarding these stages. Active, wiggly kids (whom I call "motor babies") usually reach these milestones sooner than more mellow types. I've also found that a baby's body can affect how soon she'll get herself off the ground and moving around. In my experience tall, slim babies (whom I dub "banana" body types) are often on the go more quickly  -- as opposed to the heavier ones ("apples" and "pears").

Contributing editor William Sears, M.D., is a pediatrician, the author of 32 books on childcare, and a dad of eight.

Enough To Eat?

I'm breastfeeding. How can I tell whether my newborn's getting enough milk?

Signs a nursing baby is well fed in the first three months:

• He's gaining weight. Expect your baby to put on four to seven ounces a week.

• He wets four to eight diapers a day.

• He has about two to four mustard-colored, seedy stools a day (but it's common for infants not to poop for several days).

If you suspect your baby's not getting enough milk at feedings, it's possible that he needs to nurse more frequently. I recommend feeding him on demand  -- which could be as often as every one and a half to three hours. Or he may not be nursing efficiently. To really get the milk flowing, your baby should have not just the nipple but also the areola, the dark area surrounding it, in his mouth. To get it right, try the trick my wife, Martha, and I dubbed the "lower-lip flip": While he's latched on, pull down on his chin gently. His mouth will open wider to take in more of the breast.

Why So Fussy?

Anytime someone holds my 9-month-old, she fusses until she's back in my arms. How can I help her feel more comfortable with other people  -- particularly her dad?

Your little one's in the throes of separation anxiety, a normal and healthy behavior that most babies start to display toward the end of their first year. When your arms get tired, there are ways to help her get comfy with others.

In unfamiliar social situations, remember that you're like a mirror: She sees strangers through your eyes, so if you're anxious, it's likely she will be too. When I examine babies in my office, they'll often react to me based on cues from their mother. If a baby clings to Mom and is held tighter, she's more afraid of me. But when mothers relax their grip, the babies are more cooperative and willing to let me handle them. You might also let friends and family know about your baby's skittishness and encourage them to approach her gently and quietly.

As for Dad, reassure him that it's perfectly normal for your baby to prefer her mother at this stage  -- especially if she's breastfeeding. Then set the pair up to get to know each other better. When her daddy's holding her and she starts to lunge for you, don't immediately "rescue" her. Stay in the same room, but at a distance, allowing them the time and space to work out their relationship. When your baby gets used to that, try leaving them completely alone together when she's in her best mood  -- usually in the morning or after a feeding. One day when Martha left a fussy Matthew home alone with me, I quickly learned that dads have certain soothing devices that moms don't: a fuzzy chest and a vibrating Adam's apple. When I draped my chin and neck over his little head and sang him a song, Matthew went right to sleep!

No Misbehavin'?

Is it okay to discipline my 9-month-old when he misbehaves?

Discipline actually begins at birth: By responding to your baby's needs, you teach him to trust you as a caregiver and, in turn, as an authority.

Until he's 12 months old, most of your "discipline" will be directed toward keeping him safe, by babyproofing your house during his crawling stage. You'll also need to create conditions that encourage positive behavior. For instance, when he reaches the grabbing stage, keep your coffee cup out of his reach. Or if he's enthralled with opening kitchen drawers, why not give him one of his own  -- filled with toys he can play with whenever he wants.

At 9 months, babies can begin to understand the concept of what they are  -- and aren't  -- allowed to touch. If that doesn't always work, however, you might try the "substitute and distract" technique, which was often put to use in the Sears household: You take away your curling iron from one hand, say, as you offer him a toy in the other. It fulfills his desire to touch but keeps him safe in the process. Another reliable tactic: When you see him headed on all fours toward your favorite plant, call out his name and direct his attention toward safer pursuits.

Too Germy?

I'm worried about taking my infant outdoors and around other people. How can I keep her safe from germs?

You don't have to be a recluse just because you have a new baby in the house. It's good for both of you to get outdoors often. In fact, during well-baby visits I "prescribe" a mother-baby walk nearly every day, weather permitting. The fresh air is good for your infant and relaxing for you.

But there are simple precautions you can take to minimize your newborn's exposure to germs and viruses.

• Vaccine vigilance First and foremost, be sure your baby is kept up-to-date on immunizations. Talk to your doctor about what's recommended for your child's age.

• Crowd control Don't take your newborn around large groups of people (her immune system is weakest during her first three months). If you must travel on public transportation, such as subways or buses, avoid rush hour. And although it's hard to deny friends and family quality time with your little one, visit them individually instead of having her make her debut at the next big family reunion.

• Daycare prudence Choose a daycare with strict policies on not admitting sick children  -- or separating them from kids who are well. Also, look for one that has the fewest infants in the largest space.

• Hold her back Try to keep your baby away from children and adults with colds. However, not everyone will tell you about a lingering cough or runny nose. So ask that people wash their hands before holding your baby  -- or, better yet, politely tell them that she's tired and fussy and needs to stay in her mommy's arms for now.

Preventing SIDS?

I know to put my baby to sleep on his back. But is there anything else I can do to protect him from SIDS?

While SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is understandably one of a new mom's biggest worries during the first months of her infant's life, it actually occurs in fewer than 1 in 1,000 babies. That knowledge, along with these simple measures, should help ease your mind and keep your baby safe while he's sleeping.

• Back is best You're right: Making sure your infant sleeps on his back is the best way to lessen the risk of SIDS. (In the ten years since doctors began advising new parents to put babies to bed on their back, the incidence of SIDS has decreased by half.) Doctors theorize that if an infant is placed facedown on a soft, fluffy surface, he may not be able to breathe regularly because of carbon dioxide buildup (from his exhaled breath) or blocked airways.

Since little babies can't lift their head or roll over, they're more likely to suffocate. Some researchers also believe that babies can wake themselves up more easily when they're on their back: Studies show a link between SIDS and a failure to arouse from sleep after a prolonged breathing pause, which infants tend to experience more frequently at 2 to 3 months.

• No smoking Some research links SIDS to the babies of moms who smoked while pregnant and shows that exposure to the poisonous substances in cigarette smoke may delay the development of a baby's respiratory system (which could increase breathing pauses during sleep).

• Firm fit only Avoid soft surfaces like beanbags, couches, or waterbeds that a baby can sink into. A crib that conforms to safety standards or a bassinet with a firm mattress is best. Whichever you choose, make sure your infant's not overbundled with blankets, which are suffocation risks. Dress him in a sleeper or tuck a thin blanket that comes up only to his chest under the mattress.

• Climate control Don't overheat your infant's room while he's sleeping. When it's too warm, he's more likely to fall into a deep slumber that's hard to wake up from.

• The breastfeeding benefit Some studies show that SIDS is slightly less common in breastfed babies. Breast milk may also help lessen the severity of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux), which can trigger breath-holding episodes.

How To Bond?

I'm not sure I'm bonding enough with my baby. What can I do to feel closer to her?

While some new moms may feel an instant attachment to their baby, it may take others months to develop a strong connection. Regardless, it's a natural process that will happen in its own time  -- and the good news is that your baby will help you. All infants are born with special qualities that draw caregivers to them: big, round eyes; soft skin; a sweet scent; and adorable little grunts and squeals that instantly grab your attention.

Keeping your baby physically close will help you bond. Breastfeeding is an obvious option (those same hormones that produce milk also generate warm maternal feelings), but bottle-feeding can provide just as good an opportunity to get cozy with your baby. Hold her close as you feed her and gaze into her eyes. Carry her in a sling when you're out, or hold her in your arms. Talk or sing to her, and touch her often.

Clear your head of everyday stress and really relish the time you spend with her. Pay the bills or check your e-mail later. Rock her and listen to the sound of your breathing  -- and your baby's  -- as you relax together.

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