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When is Your Baby Ready To...?

...Go Out in a Crowd?

1 month, other than pediatrician appointments. The concern with a newborn being in a crowd is that he'll catch an infection, which in the first month can be especially difficult to diagnose and treat. Most infections come from touch or sneezing. If you really must go into a crowd with your newborn (say, for your grandmother's 85th-birthday party), squelch the game of "pass the baby." In fact, before anyone picks up your baby, ask him to wash his hands. In a pinch, you might want to bring a bottle of hand sanitizer to make it easy. (You may hear whispering about your being overprotective. Ignore it.) If the party is indoors and cousin Joe is coughing, you'll want to say your goodbyes early.


...Drink Water?

Your baby gets enough water from breast milk or formula. Water fills him up so he drinks less of the formula or breastmilk he needs. Explain this to your mom when she insists that the baby must be thirsty. If it's a scorcher of a day, you can always give him extra breast milk or formula. When your baby is ready for solids, between 4 and 6 months, you can let him drink a little water, but limit it to 4 ounces a day. Don't force it. When he's ill, he may need extra water; consult your pediatrician in that case.


...Give Up Her Paci?

Pretty much any time between now and the last year of preschool. Despite what your pushy sister-in-law says, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends pacifiers for naps and bedtime for the entire first year to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). As to the oft-cited dental problems, pacifiers typically have no effect on the teeth before age 2, and little effect before the fourth birthday. One caveat: Recent studies have linked pacifiers with a higher rate of ear infections, so if these have been a problem, it may be worth trying to lose the paci sooner rather than later. Here's a tip: Many babies between 7 and 9 months of age seem to hardly notice if their Binky disappears. So that's the perfect time to start reducing the situations in which you allow it. For instance, drop wide-awake, during-the-day use first, then go from there, until she's using it only at bedtime in her crib. If you've missed that window, don't worry. Just avoid making the switch when there are other big changes going on at home, such as your return to work or during the throes of potty training.


...Have Her Ears Pierced?

4 months, after she's had a tetanus shot. If you opt to do it this young, those piercing booths at the mall are not the place-have her ears pierced by her doctor. A good number of pediatricians perform this service now. The doctor will probably do this anyway, but just in case: Ask that your baby's ears be numbed first. The bonus to getting it done at this age is that she's not yet coordinated enough to pull on her ears, making it much less likely that they'll get infected and much easier for you to care for them properly (your pediatrician will tell you how).


...Ditch Rectal Thermometers?

At 6 to 7 months. Until then, like it or not, temperatures have to be taken rectally, because that's the most accurate way. Fevers in infants 6 months or younger can be serious, so you can't mess around. At 7 months, you can take an under-the-arm reading with a digital thermometer or try the type that goes in the ear. To get the most accurate number, take it three times and average the readings. If it's borderline, though, your pediatrician may want you to double-check with a rectal reading.


...Try Finger Foods?

Around 9 months, when he's developed his pincer grasp. Does your crawler love to put anything and everything in his mouth? Take this as a sign you can break out the Cheerios. "Babies are usually ready when you see them picking things up with their thumbs and pointer fingers," explains Daniel Miner, M.D., a Levittown, New York, pediatrician at ProKids, LLP. "Now they are ready to take an active role in their feeding." Some of the best first finger foods to try are soft, ripe pieces of fruit and well-cooked vegetables, soft pasta, and, yes, Cheerios (they're just the right size and dissolve in his mouth). To prevent choking, it all has to be diced into quarter-inch cubes or needle-size slivers. Or spring for the pre-diced, bite-size foods in the baby-food aisle. They'll be called something like "pickups," "dices," or "table-teaching."


...Wear Real Shoes?

As soon as she's standing, but then only outside. She shouldn't wear shoes full-time until she's walking steadily. "Millions of years ago, we weren't taught to walk with shoes," says Jeffrey Falcone, a pediatric podiatrist and clinical assistant professor at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. "Kids who are learning to walk need to feel as much with their feet as they do with their hands." So while your baby learns to stand on her own, barefoot is best for the house (socks can be slippery), and a shoe with a flexible sole (it should bend with gentle pressure) and a soft upper part is good for outings to the park. If your baby isn't anywhere near walking, you can still buy adorable footwear. Soft-soled slipper-style shoes like Pedipeds and Robeez are geared to newborns on up.


...Use a Blanket in the Crib?

At 1 year. Before that, blankets are a suffocation/SIDS risk, according to the AAP. But if your child still fits into his sleep sack, you're golden. They're better than loose blankets anyway, which don't have a good-night prayer of staying on all night.


...Try Peanut Butter?

At 2 years, spread thinly. But if you or your husband or any of your child's siblings has a peanut allergy, or if there's a strong family history of allergies in general, hold off until age 3. And in either case, don't let your child eat spoonfuls of it. A gob of peanut butter can be a choking hazard.


...Ride Facing Forward?

Not a minute before she's turned 1 and weighs at least 20 pounds.  But you think she must be bored looking at the backseat? And you want to be able to see her face when you check the rearview mirror? And she can't stretch her legs out fully! We know - most moms feel the same way. But your child's spine is best protected in a crash if she is facing the rear. So after your tyke has hit both those milestones, then you can turn her around to see all the action if you can't bear it any longer. But remember that convertible seats can be used in the rear-facing position up to at least 30 pounds (check the instructions on yours). And the safest way for a small child to travel is rear-facing, for as long as possible.