When my husband and I first toted our newborn home from the hospital, the sheer terror of having to keep this tiny being alive threw us into survival mode. Out went superfluous chores like doing dishes or showering; instead, we focused on meeting Ella's most basic needs. In a few weeks we figured out that most of Ella's needs were basic. With some milk, a clean diaper, and a warm pair of arms, she was happy (at least for a while). And as she grew, we were relieved to discover other uncomplicated ways to please her. Here, 12 simple things that will keep your baby -- and you -- calm, happy, and connected during the first 12 months:
Month 1: Swaddling
As a new mom, your passion for your baby is matched only by your passion for an uninterrupted stretch of sleep. Long nights are the norm at first, but snugly wrapping your infant in a blanket may help him rest better. Babies love it during their first weeks because swaddling works in part by mimicking the close conditions of the womb. That makes your baby feel warm and secure.
Month 2: A baby carrier
Thanks to a highly developed vestibular system (the sensory system located in the inner ear), babies crave movement: rocking, swaying, pacing. "If you want to calm a new baby, you can't just sit there," says Lise Eliot, Ph.D., author of What's Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. A front carrier (most are designed for babies at least eight pounds, and they're especially helpful once you're out of the first-month haze) makes everyone happy. Your baby gets that soothing motion and you get something done. "Dishes, laundry, sweeping -- they're all doable while carrying a baby," says Rebecca Vega of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. And while some naysayers felt her daughter Sydney, now 19 months, would be spoiled by being carried so much, Vega says the opposite was true. "Because her needs were being met, she didn't have a reason to be any fussier than other babies."
Month 3: Tummy time
Back sleeping has been shown to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), so it's nonnegotiable. But spending time on his stomach is also important to your baby's well-being. "As back sleeping has become more common, kids are rolling over and crawling a bit later than they used to," says David Burnham, M.D., a pediatrician and medical director of the HealthEast Maplewood Clinic in St. Paul. "Tummy time helps a baby develop those large motor skills." At around 3 months, your baby will be able to hold himself up by leaning on his forearms, so that makes this a good age to introduce a little tummy time into his day. If he hates it, don't force the issue, but also don't feel you have to spend a lot of time on it for him to get the benefits. Even three to ten minutes twice a day will do the trick. To make it more fun for your baby, lie down facing him or put a colorful toy in front of him.