It’s hard to know how best to parent a new baby when there are so many shifting trends. Do you need a smart sleeper that comes replete with white noise and jiggly rocking? What about a weighted blanket? A perma-fort? Chewelry?
Pediatrician Cynthia Kertesz, M.D. of the Pediatric Care Center at UWMC-Roosevelt believes that the basics of caring for your new baby are not all that exciting. And for that reason, they sometimes get lost in the frenzy that is new parenthood.
“It surprises me sometimes what parents know and don’t know,” says Kertesz. “There is so much information and advice coming from all directions that the basics can get lost in the shuffle.”
Here, Kertesz shares with us those baby basics she wishes you knew from the start.
Babies who are well rested fall asleep more easily and stay asleep more easily. They are also happier and ready to do the important developmental jobs that they need to do.
“If you want to know the difference between a lovely first year and a frustrating and difficult first year, sleep is number one through 10 on the list of predictors,” says Kertesz.
Babies undergo dramatic physical and mental changes in their first year of life.
“They go from just being able to cry and poop to walking and talking and telling you what to do,” says Kertesz.
In order to make those profound developmental changes happen, their brains need to rest soundly.
Babies and toddlers get the best sleep by sleeping on a schedule, says Kertesz. Bedtime should be between 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and waking time between 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., with two or even three naps during the day. Just how you choose to get your baby to sleep will depend upon your tolerance for crying, she says.
She also reminds parents that come sleepy time, babies should be placed on their backs in a crib free of stuffed animals or pillows. “Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is real but you can do a lot to avoid it,” she says.
When Kertesz googles the word “vaccine,” she is amazed at the amount of misinformation that appears online.
Kertesz understands that when parents are leery of vaccines, it is because they worry that they will do harm to their children. She wants parents to understand that not vaccinating your child is an active choice—with far greater risks than those of vaccination.
Take Hib for example. Hib is short for Haemophilus influenza, type b, a type of bacteria that can lead to invasive disease. That is what doctors call it when germs enter parts of the body—such as blood or spinal fluid—that are normally free from germs. It’s serious.
When Kertesz was in medical school, she saw babies die and become brain damaged from bacterial meningitis caused by Hib. That’s because before the Hib vaccine was developed, about 20,000 children in the United States less than 5 years old got invasive Hib disease each year.
About 3 percent to 6 percent of those babies died and many others were left with serious long-term handicaps. Today, thanks to vaccination, there are fewer than 50 cases of invasive Hib disease each year.
Babies should be vaccinated according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immunization schedule, says Kertesz.
“Sometimes people want to know why we vaccinate so young with many of these vaccines. It’s because the illnesses we are preventing are more prevalent and more devastating for the very young,” she says.
You may wonder if your baby is eating enough—or too much. But all you really have to do is pay attention to your baby’s cues, says Kertesz.
When you start feeding solids, it’s not about feeding your baby a certain amount—like one jar of baby food or a set amount you put on their plate. When babies look excited, you keep feeding them. When babies close their mouths and turn away, then you stop, she says.
As babies begin to eat more solids, they take in less formula and breast milk.
“You don’t have to manage that. Babies do this on auto-pilot,” says Kertesz.
Kertesz also advises parents to take advantage of infants’ natural curiosity.
“As soon as babies can go beyond a simple puree, parents should leave the baby food aisle and start mashing up the healthy food that they’re eating instead,” says Kertesz.
Babies are also social eaters, who want to eat what you’re eating when you’re eating it, says Kertesz.
Avoid dining drama with picky toddlers
Once babies become toddlers, they typically eat far less than their parents expect. That’s because babies are growing rapidly during their first year, but their rate of growth slows in the second. It’s natural that when babies’ growth rate slows, their hunger slows correspondingly.
“As a pediatrician, I can tell you that pediatricians are obsessed with your baby’s growth. We see your baby every two months in the first year of life and every few months in their second. We’ve got that base covered. If there is an issue, we will absolutely bring it to your attention,” says Kertesz.
She recommends three scheduled meals, and two scheduled snacks per day.
“We over-snack our kids like crazy,” she says.
Kertesz advises parents to choose what food is offered and when. And toddlers choose what goes into their mouth. Respecting toddlers’ hunger cues helps them to learn to eat only when they’re hungry.
Because toddlers are at a developmental age where they test limits, mealtimes can sometimes become power struggles. If your toddler thinks you want them to eat something, chances are they’re not going to eat it. But studies show that if you continue to offer a child food in a non-confrontational manner, they will eventually try it, says Kertesz.
Finally, if you have a fast food habit, Kertesz suggests that you try to minimize it or at least fake it when you are with your child. Kids pick up on your food choices, so keep them in mind and be cautious about making too many unhealthy food choices, at least when they’re watching.
“No child ever suffered from a lack of chicken fingers,” she says.
There is one other subject that Kertesz talks about with new parents at their very first meeting, known as a meet and greet. The subject is often the furthest thing from your mind as you are about to welcome a new life into the world. That subject is the possibility of either you or your spouse dying.
No one likes to think about it, but it’s important to prepare for the possibility, she says.
Life insurance serves as a safety net to ensure there’s enough money available to pay for everything from a home mortgage to future educational costs. And a will ensures that your child is cared for by the people you would choose if anything should happen to you.
Kertesz understands how overwhelming becoming a parent for the first time can be. There is so much new information to take in.
But getting this piece of business taken care of even before baby arrives gives parents just a little extra peace of mind, she says.