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    Parenting newborns

    October 10, 2019

    After many months of pregnancy and perhaps hours of labour or the rigours of a Caesarean section, a newborn baby arrives. Parents of a new baby have a huge responsibility which would last a lifetime. The mother has to deal with so many things, all in a day’s work.

    Although newborn care is important, quite unfortunately, it is a job for which young women undergo very little training. You learn mothering skills by taking care of your baby. Nobody, male or female, knows instinctively how to change a diaper. That is something a person learns, just as one learns the best way to hold a fussy baby. While someone is learning how to do something new, chances are that the person will feel unsure of herself or himself. Here are some ideas that can help build your confidence as a mother, and for that matter, as a father too.

    It is important that a young mother believes in her ability to be a good, caring and loving mother. Give yourself credit for things you do well and build on them. For some women, recalling their times caring for little sisters or nephews remind them of their strengths. Babies need love, affection, food and warmth. Holding and cuddling the baby, making eye contact, feeding and changing him or her, together with talking to him or her, are the most important things in life for a newborn.

    Give yourself permission to let go of advice that does not work for you. Each baby is different, and you are different from your friend or relative. Get some help with your other duties. Ask family members or friends to help with shopping, cleaning or cooking. Discuss with your baby’s father chores that he can take over. He may not be able to do things the way you do. However, it is important to remember that his way may work as well, or perhaps may work even better than yours.

    It is important that the mother gets adequate rest in-between her many tasks. You need sleep to restore your energy; nap when the baby does. It is extremely important to learn to relax. The best gift you can give your baby is quality time with you. No expensive toys or gadgets are as important as you are in the baby’s life. You and your baby have a special relationship. It will unfold as both of you grow and change. Remember to listen with your heart and see with the eyes of love.

    Little problems may seem to become big for a young mother, especially a crying baby. Babies cry for many reasons, but the main reason is to tell you something. Your baby may be crying because he or she is uncomfortable, wet, cold, too warm, hungry, tired, or needs to burp. As a new parent, you will learn the differences between a tired, sleepy cry and a hungry -‘feed-me’ cry. It is essential that when your newborn cries, someone should respond to the needs of the baby; go to him, pick him up and attempt to discover the reason for crying. If he is clean, dry and fed, he may just want the comfort of your arms. Do not worry about spoiling a newborn. Babies under two months of age need to know that their needs will be met. This helps them feel that the world is a friendly place. For newborns, forget the idea of letting the baby ‘cry it out’. Babies, whose needs are met quickly and consistently, cry less in the first year.

    Sometimes babies cry in spite of efforts to comfort them; wrapping the baby snugly in a blanket, or swaddling, can help; holding the baby close, walking, or rocking the baby can be soothing. It can be very distressing to calm a baby who won’t stop crying. Keep calm, as it is almost impossible to comfort a baby if you are tense and upset. If you feel you are getting too upset, do not be afraid to call a relative, friend, or your healthcare provider.

    Colic describes episodes of crying that happen for hours at a time. Colic is reasonably common in babies less than three months of age. No one knows what causes colic. It usually begins at about two to four weeks of age and should resolve by about four months of age. Breastfed babies are not as likely to have colic as formula-fed babies. If your baby is colicky, here are some ideas – Hold the baby in an upright position when feeding; Notice when the baby is fussiest – for many, it is in the evening; Change your schedule if you can; Make your dinner a simple meal. If possible, put it together earlier in the day; Try swaddling the baby in a blanket; and walking with the baby on your shoulder, rocking, or putting the baby in a mechanical swing sometimes help quieten the baby. However, if the baby is crying vigorously and cannot be comforted in a reasonable period of time, it is the time to call for medical help.

    Newborn babies sleep as much as their bodies need. In fact, they sleep quite a lot, even up to 16 hours per day. Newborns can drop off in any situation. Since babies are not born with the ability to distinguish night and day, this is something you can teach your new baby. While you cannot get a newborn to sleep if he or she does not need to, you can make a sleepy baby more comfortable. At bedtime, be sure the baby has burped, and has on a dry diaper. Help the baby learn the difference between night and day by picking him up and playing when he awakes during the day. This lets him know that daytime is playtime.

    When your newborn cries at night, go to him or her as soon as you can. Do not let him get to a fully awake and miserable state. Pick him up, soothe him quietly, and feed him. Do not turn on lights; play games, or even change a diaper if you do not need to. The baby will learn that nighttime is not social time. Babies vary enormously in their capacity to sleep through the night. Some babies sleep completely through the night by the age of six weeks. Other babies wake once or twice a night until they are a year or more. Having your sleep disturbed can leave you feeling tired. Wake the baby for a feed at your bedtime if the baby has been asleep two to three hours. Do not try to make the home 100 percent quiet. You may leave a radio or stereo on, to get the baby used to household noises. Most babies will sleep six to eight hours through the night by three months of age.

    Some babies are born with hair while others are bald. If yours does have long locks, expect them to fall out within a few days or weeks; new hair will grow as a replacement. Incidentally, the colour of newborn hair does not indicate the hair colour the baby will have later on. Hair can get lighter or darker with time. Also, if your baby has very fine, downy hair from the brows to the shoulders or the back, do not worry. These will fall out shortly after birth. In fact, this hair, called lanugo, protected your baby in the womb and is especially common in babies born early.

    Another important aspect of newborn care is bathing. It is important to have everything you need such as the basin, towel, soap and shampoo close to you. It is best to use lukewarm water initially. In that context, when one has to mix cold water with hot water, it is best to have the cold water ready and then pour in the hot water rather than the other way round. This is a safeguard to prevent accidental injuries caused by hot water. Once the water and everything else is ready, wrap the baby so that his or her arms are tucked inside a bath towel. Wrapping helps babies feel more secure and keeps them from wriggling away from you.

    Cup the baby’s head in your left hand, if you are right-handed. Hold the baby along your left arm, cradling him close to your body. Position the baby’s head so that the water will roll down the back of the head away from the forehead and face. Use your right hand as a cup to pour water over the baby’s head. Make sure the water is lukewarm before you put it on the baby’s head. Work up lather with the soap or shampoo and rinse with lukewarm water. Then dry the baby’s head with a towel. After that, the rest of the body could be bathed in the same manner. The baby could be gently placed in the basin for this procedure. As long as you keep your eyes and at least one hand on the baby at all times, you will be fine. Do not turn away and leave your baby alone even for one single second. Babies can drown even in rather small amounts of water. When you take the baby out of the bath, wrap a towel around the baby to reduce slipperiness. Even though there is nothing cuter than your newborn wearing just a diaper, babies need light clothes such as baby shirts. Cotton products are the best and choose well-designed clothes that allow you to dress and undress your baby easily. Look for garments that have wide, stretchable necks so you can slip them over the baby’s head easily.

    It is also important to involve the father in all activities concerning the baby. Many a macho manly hulk is often quite helpless with a newborn baby. They need to learn things and it is definitely desirable that the new father learns some of the intricacies of parenting. There was a time in the past the rearing of children was left solely to the mother. However, it is heartening to note that present-day men want to get involved with the care of children. It must be emphasised that a father’s love is not second to a mother’s love for their offspring. The mother-child bonding that is established at birth should be complemented by father-child bonding as well. Looking after and rearing babies are a shared responsibility and the baby will be that much better off for the attention received from both parents.

    In this emerald isle of Sri Lanka, there is always extended help at hand for young mothers. This is perhaps the time to be glad of the help provided by the in-laws and your own parents and siblings. Any time you are concerned about your baby’s health, or your ability to care for your baby, do not be afraid to ask for help from relatives or friends. Our culture is to support young mothers and babies. If there is anything that bothers you, feel free to discuss the problem with some medically trained person such as the public health midwife, public health nurse or your doctor. They would generally be more than happy to help. Most medical personnel worth their salt would not consider it a waste of time to answer what appears to be even the simplest and perhaps even the most dim-witted type of questions.


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