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Is My Baby Ready To...

  • by Emily Bloch

    There may be very clear guidelines for much of newborn care, but once my baby was out of the first stages of infancy, things became a lot murkier. Suddenly I had a million new questions, and the answers weren't exactly obvious. "So, is it okay... now?" I found myself wondering every few weeks. Will it be safe when she reaches a certain age? Weight? Developmental stage? Below, pediatricians -- experienced moms themselves -- share what you need to know about safe sleeping, eating, playing, and more.

    SLEEP: "Is my baby ready to..."

    ...snooze on her tummy? Since 1992, when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) first recommended putting babies to sleep on their backs, the annual sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) rate has decreased by about 50 percent. Like most moms, I've gotten this message loud and clear; so loud and clear, in fact, that the first time I discovered my 5-month-old had rolled over and was sleeping on her stomach, I freaked out.

    What you need to know: By the time your baby has the upper-body strength to roll over regularly, at around 6 months, the risk of SIDS has gone down. "I tell my patients: You should still put them down on their backs, but what babies do in the middle of the night is their business," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta and coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn.

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  • ...ditch the bumpers? Actually, it's safest just to skip them in the first place. Since every crib set seems to be sold with these cushy borders, it's easy to assume that they serve a purpose. They don't. They're a waste of money, and what's more, they can pose a real risk to your baby. The First Candle/SIDS Alliance is against the use of bumpers (and any other kind of soft bedding in the crib, like a blanket), since they're a suffocation hazard and a SIDS risk. If your baby burrowed her face into the fabric, it could decrease the amount of air she can breathe.

    What you need to know: If you really have your heart set on a bumper (we know, some are hard to resist!), avoid the thick, puffy kind. Opt for a thin, firm one with no fewer than 12 ties, which should be well secured to the crib. Remove it when your child is 4 months or as soon as she can roll over.

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  • ...sleep with toys in the crib? While your collection of plush rabbits is probably multiplying as though they were real rabbits, the AAP recommends that you keep toys out of the crib until your child is at least 1 year of age.

    What you need to know: Your baby doesn't need anything in the crib, but if it buys you an extra 15 minutes of sleep in the morning, you can leave a plaything or two there once your baby turns 1, when she's comfortably moving around on her own. Just follow these guidelines:

    Stuffed animals A stuffed toy should be a small one (no bigger than the size of her head) and should not have any removable eyes or buttons.
    Books Since babies are likely to chew on board books, put only fabric ones in the crib.
    Other crib toys While a mobile needs to come out of the crib when a child can push up on her hands and knees or reaches 5 months of age, a crib toy designed to be attached to the railing is fine from birth as long as it doesn't become overstimulating once your tot can operate it on her own. "Some will push the buttons repeatedly until they get sleepy. Other kids will just get more and more wired," says Dr. Shu.

    Plus:

    Age-by-age Guide to Baby Sleep

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  • GEAR: "Is my baby ready to..."

    ...ride in a baby carrier? You'll spend a lot of the early months holding your baby -- which explains why there are so many products out there to help give your arms a rest.

    What you need to know: First, check the manufacturer's specifications. After that, here's what experts recommend:

    Sling Most babies can ride lying down in a sling as a newborn, and once you get the hang of using one, a sling can be great for nursing on the go.
    Front carrier As long as your baby is above the carrier's height and weight specs (depending on the model, usually eight pounds and 21 inches), you can carry him facing in from the get-go. He can face out once his neck is strong enough to hold his head steady, usually at 3 or 4 months.
    Backpack Once your baby can sit up independently (usually at 6 months), you can hit the hiking trails with your bambino in a framed backpack carrier. At this age, he'll be able to keep his head and neck stable on the uneven terrain.

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  • ...sit in a stroller?

    Umbrella stroller While a newborn can ride in a stroller that fully reclines, a lightweight "umbrella" stroller will have to wait. If it has a semi-recline feature and a five-point harness, your tot may be ready to ride in it once he has neck and head control, at around 3 or 4 months. If it doesn't recline, wait until your baby can sit up (at around 6 months).
    Jogging stroller Some manufacturers say that joggers are appropriate for babies as young as 6 months, but Ari Brown, M.D., coauthor of Baby 411, says she doesn't advise them for babies under 1. "The ride can be quite bumpy for immature spine and neck muscles, especially going over rocky paths," she says. Always check the directions on the stroller, too.
    Bike trailer or seat A baby should be at least 1 year old before being put in a trailer, according to the AAP. Your baby will need to wear a lightweight bike helmet while on the ride, and his neck won't be strong enough to support one until his first birthday.

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    8 Best Mom-Tested Strollers

  • ...face front in a car seat? When it comes time to turn your child around in the car, which is more important: his weight or his age?

    What you need to know: Both are important: The AAP recommends that all infants remain rear-facing in either an infant car seat or a convertible car seat. If using an infant car seat, you should move your child to a rear-facing convertible car seat once he has reached the maximum height (when his head is within an inch of the top of the seat) and weight (generally between 22 and 32 pounds) suggested by the infant car seat manufacturer. Toddlers should remain rear-facing in a convertible car seat until at least the age of 2, according to the AAP. Ideally, however, your child should ride rear-facing as long as possible, until he reaches the weight and height limits of the 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."

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  • FOOD: "Is my baby ready to..."

    ...chew crackers or bread? Think of the time that could be saved if we all dined on jarred sweet potatoes and chicken forever. But sooner or later, your tot is going to want in on that bagel of yours.

    What you need to know: "By nine months or a bit sooner, a baby is able to try all bready foods, as long as parents keep a close watch," says Jennifer Roche, M.D., a pediatrician in Amherst, MA. 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, as they say, bite off more than she can chew.

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    13 Great First Finger Foods

  • ...try an "allergenic" food? The rate of allergies has tripled in recent decades, and the recommendations can change from year to year.

    What you need to know: Despite what you may have heard, there's no evidence that delaying the introduction of common allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy) helps prevent allergic reactions. While you should always get the go-ahead from your baby's doctor, the current thinking is that a child without a family history of allergies can eat tiny pieces of all these foods as soon as she's eating table foods (usually between 9 months and 1 year), with the exceptions below. 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 up to age 3.

    Dairy foods Processed products like cottage cheese, yogurt, and tiny pieces of soft cheese (all made with pasteurized whole milk) are okay after 6 months. Just hold off on straight cow's milk until she's 1, since it's harder to digest.
    Peanuts or tree nuts Whole nuts or gobs of nut butters are a choking hazard -- spread butters very thinly on a slice of bread or a cracker.
    Eggs It used to be recommended that babies eat only the less-allergenic egg yolk before 1 year of age, but research suggests that it's fine for tots to eat the whole scrambled egg. Ask your doctor if she agrees.

    Plus:

    Parenting.com Guide to Food Allergies

  • ...drink water? You may feel parched if you haven't had a sip from your water bottle in the past three minutes, but your baby gets all the fluid she needs from breast milk or formula up until she starts solid foods at 6 months.

    What you need to know: Your child will still quench her thirst (and get most of her nutrition) from breast milk or formula for the whole first year. However, after 6 months of age, you can offer your baby up to six ounces of water, especially in the summer months. (Putting it in a sippy cup can be a less messy way to introduce cup drinking.) Ask the pediatrician what kind of water (tap or bottled) is best for your baby.

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  • PLAY: "Is my baby ready to...

    "...be out in the cold? Taking babies out in freezing weather isn't anybody's idea of a good time -- unless you're going stir-crazy indoors and yours seems eager to check out the snowflakes.

    What you need to know: Let your common sense guide you: If you're feeling cold, chances are your baby is, too -- and he can't warm himself by walking around the way you can. So dress him appropriately (with one more layer than you're wearing, plus a well-insulated snowsuit, a hat, and mittens) and feel free to let him play a bit with you in the snow. Once you start feeling cold and wet, though, head in and get him out of his damp clothes.

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  • ...Play in the sandbox? Since a baby's first instinct is to put things in his mouth, digging around in the sand once he can sit up can seem like a risky way to have fun.

    What you need to know: 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." If yours does ingest a bit of sand, offer him some water -- and hope he remembers how yucky it was the next time he's tempted. (And don't be surprised by a sandy poop.)

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  • ...hit the playground? Here's when she can start to slide and swing.

    What you need to know: The size of the equipment is important, as are your baby's motor skills. Once she's able to sit on her own -- usually by 6 months -- she'll probably enjoy a gentle ride in a bucket swing. And if she's a pretty good climber and walker, she'll probably be able to go down a small slide by herself by the time she's 18 months.

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