The First Year of Being a Parent
Because believe it or not, you’ll probably want to have another one
The first year caring for an infant ranks right up there with some of the greatest challenges known to humanity. It can even hold its own against other firsts, such as your first year living on the space centre or your first year as president of the United States. Think that’s just so much parent braggadocio? Clearly, you have yet to experience this most humbling of all humbling experiences. Let’s begin with sleeping.
Ever heard the expression, “Sleeping like a baby”? You have? Now forget it. It was probably first spoken by a disinterested and eccentric great uncle who happened upon a peacefully sleeping baby who had just conked out after 18 hours of uninterrupted crying. Newborn babies actually do sleep a lot, but not all at once. They might sleep for 30 minutes and then wake for an hour. Then sleep for 15 minutes and then wake for 45 minutes. Then sleep for an hour and a half, then wake for 20 minutes. See a pattern? You do? Because there isn’t one. The first time they sleep for more than three hours you'll be sitting by their crib terrified they'll never wake up. So, for the first year of baby’s life, it is best to not even worry about sleeping. Yours, that is. The baby will sleep when he pleases and for as long as he pleases, thank you very much.
While all babies are different, many babies can sleep through the night by four or five months of age. But don’t count on it. Babies can also start teething as early as three months and it can be quite painful and keep them up all through the night and day. Some babies aren't fussed by them while others look like they could gnaw their way through a set of Michelin tires. Aldona Armstrong is the mom of a four-month-old. "Since my son starting teething, i.e., crying non-stop for days and rubbing his gums, I have had more conversations with God than ever before. I say, please God, get me through the next five minutes, ten minutes....or sometimes, even just one minute. God, please make him stop crying. God, please give me strength in my arms so I can continue to rock him and God, please make the pain in my back subside! Of course, anyone with a newborn will also beg God to get them through the night!"
Considering all this, it’s probably best to plan on interrupted nights of sleep well into the second year. And don’t brush this off by simply saying, “Oh, so I’ll be tired.” Mia Rodak is the mom of a one-year-old. She says, “‘Tired’ is for pussies. Before I had a child I was what you'd call ‘tired’. But the lack of sleep that you endure with a newborn in the house is not adequately described by the word ‘tired.’ You are completely, emotionally, and physically overwhelmed by it. With a newborn in the house, even when you ‘sleep,’ you don't sleep.”
Flora Cheung, also a mom of one, says she couldn't believe she had to make sleeping trade-offs with a baby. "When she was nine months, we traded off daytime napping for night-time sleeping. Once she finally started to sleep through the night she no longer napped during the day! She wouldn't even take the half-hour "power naps" she took when she was four months old. At the time I didn't know how we'd get over this hurdle, but I really wanted it to pass because it was truly exhausting.”
Babies like to eat, that’s one of the reasons they don’t sleep very much. Their stomachs are very small. By the tenth day, a newborn’s stomach is only the size of an egg, which means they can only hold about two ounces of milk. Which is why babies wake so frequently. Some new parents give up trying to put their babies on a feeding schedule and do what’s called “demand feeding”: feeding when the baby needs it. This works well for babies but can be a little exhausting for already exhausted parents. Also, if you’re breastfeeding, your baby will likely need more frequent feedings because breastmilk is so easily digestible, meaning your baby will feel hungrier sooner.
Most babies will do well with solids around six months, starting with a baby cereal and pureed vegetables and fruits. Soft finger foods, such as pieces of banana or strawberries, can be introduced around nine months. Be sure to monitor your child for any food sensitivities whenever you introduce a new food. Signs of food intolerances can be red rashes or bumps on the skin.
While breastfeeding can be challenging in the beginning for some, it can be even more difficult to eventually wean your baby off the breast. Flora says, "Most books I read would say, ‘If she refuses the bottle then try again in an hour but do not put her back on the breast.’ Eight hours a day and a week later, I believed I was starving my child and was on the verge of giving up! My weaning battle ended when I least expected it. It was during an afternoon walk when I handed her a bottle in the stroller (just for the heck of it) and within 10 minutes she had finished the entire thing on her own!"
How dirty can a newborn get, you might be wondering. Well, if you consider all they're doing is eating, sleeping, and making their way through between 12 and 14 diapers a day, they’re actually quite the little mess makers. So it’s a good idea to get into a daily bathing routine with your newborn. New parents like to do this in the evenings because it gets baby ready for bedtime (notice I didn’t say “sleeping”). Infants don’t need a lot of water for a bath but the room should be extra warm and the water temperature should be comfortable.
After bath, you can use a little baby oil for a massage (for the baby, not you) because they need a little relaxation after that hard day's work. Keep lights low and the room warm. Play some lullabies or sing. This might not help him sleep through the night but you can at least try.
Physical and Emotional Development
It won’t be long before you see a lot of changes in your newborn. By two months, those smiles are actually for you, because he recognizes you. By four months, most babies can laugh. Between three and six months, many babies will learn to roll from their backs onto their tummies, although rolling onto their backs again takes a little more time. While learning to do this he’s also gaining much-needed head control. By nine months, your baby can probably sit like a tripod: sitting on his bottom using his hands in front for support. Some babies learn to crawl quite early, around six months, while others bypass crawling completely. Cruising (standing up and walking using furniture and walls for support) can start anywhere from seven or eight months. Of course, once your baby discovers he can move, your world completely changes once again. You thought things were hard before, but now that baby is mobile.
The trick to surviving this and other developments in your baby's first year is to let go and try to relax. "As mothers we put so much pressure on ourselves to do the best for our child and sometimes the answer is to let them work it out on their own," Flora says.
Mia agrees. "The key to survival for me was learning to let go. My entire pregnancy and transition into motherhood was an exercise in letting go of what I thought my life was about. Letting go of my slim thighs and perky boobs. Letting go of lounging in bed for hours on Saturday mornings. Letting go of a regular cycle of wakefulness and sleep. It took about three months for my ‘new life’ to really sink in and as soon as I stopped fighting it, I realized how very much I loved it."
Written by: Reni Walker