September 7, 2012

Lessons From a Newly Minted Mom

I did the best I could to prepare for baby. I read the books, watched the videos and attended classes. I knew that no matter how much I prepared, being a mommy would be an on the job learning experience. If I could go back in time, there are three things I would tell my pre baby self.

1.) It is okay to pee.

My first day home alone with the baby ended miserably. Domingo came home from work to find his very stressed out wife holding a crying baby. I was trying so hard to be the perfect mom, to cater to Nicki’s every need, that I forgot my own. I’ll just get her to stop crying first, I thought. Get her to fall asleep and then I can put her down. I somehow had the impression that if I let her cry for one second longer than she had to, I was a bad mom. The longer I held her, the more uncomfortable I got. the more uncomfortable I got, the more fussy she got.

Safe and Sound

Yes, she would have cried harder had I put her down in the crib. But it would have only lasted for a moment. Babies cry. We can’t stop every tear from falling. It’s okay to put them down, in a safe place for a brief period of time, to take care of something important. It results in far less tears from everyone.

2.) It’s okay be break the rules.

Just as no two babies are exactly alike in terms of genetic make up or finger prints, no two are exactly alike in personality. What works for most does not necessarily work for all.

When we had problems breast feeding, the lactation consultant wanted us to train Nicki to suck by giving her our finger. One desperate night, well before the magic one month mark for breastfeed babies, even before the two week mark for bottle fed babies, I gave in to the dark side. I decided there wasn’t that much difference between a pacifier and a finger, and gave my baby her first binky. I was torn between the guilt of fearing that I had just torpedoed our chances to ever breastfeed, and the joy of the sound of a happily sucking baby. One month later she was taking the breast as well as she took the bottle, and we never saw hide nor hair of the nipple confusion beast.

Binky Love

Since Nicki wasn’t really formula fed (she only had formula for a few days) and wasn’t really breastfeeding (most of her feedings came from a bottle) I had so many questions that the newborn care books and classes hadn’t answered. Questions like how to know whether she was eating enough, or how much to pump to establish my supply – did the number of pumping sessions matter, or the length of the sessions? As I dug around the internet for answers I realized how often baby wisdom suffers from the whisper down the lane effect. What was studied to be true under certain conditions, gets reposted and reported as true under all circumstances. You know that guideline that the first two weeks are the most critical for dictating breastfeeding success? It’s a correlation based study – not causal!

Conventional wisdom is conventional for a reason. It’s true for most babies. Your baby, however, could be the exception to the rule. As a scientist it was hard for me to accept that so much of parenting is instinct. You know what works for your baby, follow your heart as well as your head.

3.) It’s okay to not do everything.

Newborns sleep 16 hours a day, and eat 8 times a day. There is not enough awake time left to do everything your supposed to – read, sing, play games to develop their brains. Tummy time was her least favorite activity, and it quickly fell to the wayside. At first I didn’t sweat it. Nicki had great head control from the start so I figured one or two less tummy times wouldn’t make a difference. A few weeks passed and I began to realize how little tummy time she was getting. I kept telling myself the next time she’s in a good mood, when we wake up after our next nap, we’d try again. I soon found us days away from her two month check up, and we still only had done tummy time maybe 5 or 6 times total! The guilt swept over, the books said she should be able to lift her head while lying down by now.

Look Ma, what I can do!

I put her down for an immediate tummy time and she surprised me, not just by lifting her head at a 45 degree, but keeping it up and turning it from side to side. She hasn’t done it again since, at least not to the same degree, but it made me realize that she will develop physically and mentally, even if we skip a few songs, or tummy times. She will still learn to sit, stand, walk and talk.

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