Friday, July 24, 2009

How to Be a Relaxed Parent

"Honey, guess what -- I'm pregnant!" No sooner have you finished jumping for joy over your blue EPT test than you start stressing about having a baby. Questions cloud your mind: Will I be up to the task? Will I be able to breast-feed? How will I know if the baby is sick? When will we be able to take the baby outside?

Your nightstand stacks up with all kinds of "how-to" manuals as you seek soothing answers to these questions and others. As you read, you discover that taking care of a baby is much more complicated than you'd ever anticipated.

You discover all the rules and regulations and contradictory advice the self-appointed experts dispense so liberally. The more you read and hear, the more confused you become. For example, some people tell you to exercise, while others tell you to lay low. Some tell you to talk to the baby in your belly daily, and others advise a diet of classical music. Some tell you to co-sleep, but others tell you "no way." Some advise you to place Junior on his back, while some tell you the side is better. By the time you actually have your bundle of joy, the joy you feel may be tainted by this confusing flood of information, which saps your confidence in your own care-giving abilities. Even if you tend to be relaxed most of the time, you can't help but feel nervous about the whole experience.

Every expert has his own advice to dispense, and I'm no exception. The difference is that my rules and regulations tell you how to be a relaxed parent.

Rule One: Trust yourself.

You have an innate ability to take care of a baby. As soon as you have the baby, it will feel completely natural, and you will know exactly what to do and when. You'll be able to solve nine situations out of ten with simple, common-sense analysis. Yes, you will make some mistakes, but that's okay. Babies are much more resilient that you think.

Rule Two: Don't listen too much to what people say.

I am always amazed by how in New York, even passers-by feel obliged to give new parents their two cents (which often don't make any sense). The same goes for friends and family. Take their guidance with a grain of salt, think for yourself, and follow your instincts. Your emotions are in turmoil and you're over-tired, so you're easy prey for well-intentioned "experts" whose advice, as good as it may be, often contradicts that of other experts. Ultimately, all that advice will impede your ability to think straight and make sound decisions.

Rule Three: Don't read too much before you have the baby -- or even after.

First of all, if you do, you may come to the conclusion that there are very few reasons to have a baby. Second, reading too much makes you aware of all the little potential problems you may face. This will raise your anxiety further, which often becomes the very reason for your problems. Take nursing, for example. It should be something you do without thinking about it. But the many books devoted to the subject give you all kinds of directions about this simple, instinctive act. They tell you to feed the baby at set intervals and for a mandatory length of time. They tell you to put the baby in specific positions and to make sure she opens her mouth just so while sucking rhythmically. They tell you to count diapers, feeding minutes, and the amount of foremilk and hindmilk she consumes. Finally, they describe in detail all the potential complications that you could ever experience and everything that could go wrong. All these rules and warnings will make that bottle of formula the nurse is trying to push on you very appealing.…

Rule Four: Accept that no matter how good a parent you are, your baby will cry.

At times, your little darling will reach a state of over-stimulation and start crying hysterically. In these instances, when nothing seems to make a difference, you're right -- nothing makes a difference. You know she isn't hungry, because the more you feed her, the more she kicks you. You keep rocking her and walking in circles, but to no avail. This is the point at which you have to learn a very important life-saving maneuver (I'm talking about your life): Put her in the bassinet and let her cry out her frustrations. Why is she crying? Because she is no longer inside you. She has to blow off steam, and crying is the only way she knows how to express frustration. Once you understand this very simple fact, parenting becomes a heck of lot less stressful. Attempting to suppress your baby's crying at all costs denies her a simple way to chill out, and that makes her cry even more. It can even make her colicky, which will make you miserable for several months.

Rule Five: Address sleeping issues early.

In my years of practice, I've found that a laid-back parent is a parent who, above all, gets enough sleep. True, you aren't expected to sleep well at first. Right after birth, your baby needs a lot of contact with you. Every time he wakes up, he naturally finds you feeding him, rocking him, or both, which soothes him back to sleep. This is all fine and good, but if you're too quick to soothe him at night, his need will very quickly turn into a habit, and you'll find yourself awake every couple of hours. This sad state of affairs will persist for many months, until you become resentful enough to resort to the ugly "crying-it-out" method.

To prevent that situation, encourage your baby from the very beginning to learn how to soothe himself back to sleep throughout the night. How? Very simple. As soon as your baby and you have been acquainted for a week or so, resolve not to respond so quickly to the nightly squirming and grunting that all newborns do naturally -- and loudly. Using what I call in my book a laissez-faire approach, I teach parents to put their heads under their pillows in these instances and respond only to the all-out feeding requests. Follow this advice, and your baby will sleep through the night by two or three months of age. You will love him even more.

Rule Six: Don't over-stimulate.

When it comes to a baby and stimulation, less is more. Especially in the first few months, all your little one needs is food, lodging, and your natural, unforced cuddling. No need for expensive toys, flashcards, or baby videos. Keep it simple, and understand that developmental milestones occur at different ages for different babies.

Rule Seven: Avoid unnecessary interventions or medications.

Refrain from sticking anything in or on a baby that will not help or may even hurt. By this I mean nasal aspirators, saline drops, worthless anti-colic and anti-gas medications, fancy medicated diaper creams, and moisturizers, to name a few. In my practice, where I promote this low-intervention philosophy, many parents have never administered any medication to their kids, because they've never needed to. I have to say, it was a hard sell at first, but now these parents are enjoying the benefits of this approach -- stronger immune systems, reduced exposure to side-effects, and less resistance to antibiotics (when they're truly needed).

If you follow these seven rules scrupulously, I promise that you will be like the parents who tell me at every visit, "I have no questions. She eats well, she sleeps well, and she is very happy. She is just wonderful." Your entire approach will be more laid-back. Not to say that you'll be irresponsible -- no, on the contrary. Having confidence in your parenting abilities and knowing what to expect, you'll be able to focus on what's important, whether that means having a good time with your family, or ensuring that the little one gets immediate medical care when it's really needed.

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