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Expert education tips for new parents

It's true: Babies don't come with instruction manuals. It's up to parents to educate themselves about their new roles as caregivers. So we asked the experts for their suggestions on where to turn for new-baby information:

Don Shifrin, M.D., pediatrician at Pediatric Associates

"Having a baby is like deciding to climb a mountain. Your journey starts when the baby is born, and through dedication, endurance and hard work, you reach the top when your child leaves home. Mountain climbing requires a knowledgeable guide, proper equipment, thorough training and a trustworthy partner. Your guide will be your pediatrician, so be sure you find one that you can trust. When selecting baby equipment, do your research and ask lots of questions. Get training through demonstrations, classes, books, magazines, family and friends. You and your partner are going to be roped together on the mountain, so make sure you're not working against each other on your long journey. Finally, remember that while you may never have climbed a mountain before, others have. You are expected to ask for help."

Garrison Kurtz, director of programs at the Foundation for Early Learning

"I think the biggest challenge for parents is managing the drastic and exciting change in tempo, priorities, relationships and activities that come with becoming a family with children. Virtually all parents feel overwhelmed and under-prepared for the many new and uncertain tasks that come with each new phase of development. While there are many resources available, it is difficult to sort among many helpful materials and guides. The best option for new parents is to get connected or stay connected to sources of emotional and moral support. The wisdom and support of friends who have had children, and parents and elder family members, are invaluable as parents juggle new tasks that re-shape work, romantic relationships, friendships, traditional feelings of competence and life focus. Many parents benefit from opportunities to wrestle with new infant stages and behaviors by attending peer support groups. These include programs like Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS) and church playgroups, as well as other opportunities for moms and dads to learn about ways to support their children. Other great options include home visitation programs through the health department and free parenting information courses available at community colleges."

Randall Uyeno, M.D., chief of pediatrics at Overlake Hospital

"Don't go on this adventure by yourself. Get your network of friends and family together. Ask them for help in the period immediately after you come home. If you are truly alone, or even if you're not, investigate support groups such as PEPS or the ones through Overlake Hospital. If you have a religion, join a church before you need help; there are people just waiting to do something for you!"

Elizabeth Pantley,
parent educator and author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution

"Sleep is a huge issue for new parents. A baby's sleep pattern facilitates brain growth, physical development and emotional development. Babies grow and learn at an astronomical rate during the first two years of life, and their sleep patterns reflect biological needs that are vastly different from those of adults. As your baby matures, so does his sleep cycle; attaining sleep maturity is in part a biological process. We parents want and need our long stretches of uninterrupted sleep to function at our best in our lives. The idea is to slowly, respectfully and carefully encourage change in our baby's sleep behavior so that it matches our own sleep needs more closely. As your child grows, remember that his or her sleep habits can affect every single waking moment of every single day. The quality of sleep (or lack thereof) has a role in everything -- from dawdling, crankiness and hyperactivity to growth, health and learning to tie shoes and recite the ABCs. Everything."

Daniel Siegel, M.D., child psychiatrist and author of Parenting from the Inside Out

"Research suggests that the best thing parents can do for their children is to develop their own self-understanding. To be open to their children, parents need to be receptive to their own inner life. Parents who have taken the time and interest to make sense of their own lives, from their own childhood experiences, have the openness to perceive their children's own signals. This sensitivity to their children's inner worlds, to the mind beneath their children's behaviors, is the essence of secure attachment. This is the most basic and vital gift we can offer to our children."

Yaffa Maritz, clinic director at Listening Mothers

"I have no doubt in my mind that all parents want to do the best job possible raising their children. Parents tend to be more educated, more informed today about childrearing than ever before, so why are they still so confused? I think it has to do with the fact that most parenting resources direct parents to a better understanding of their kid's behavior and needs, which is of course important in itself, but they neglect to emphasize the one most important skill that is proven by research to lead to better relationship between parent and their child, healthier attachment, and more confident parents and children. This skill is self-awareness. The better the parents understand why they do what they do, and the more self-reflective they are, the better their relationship will be with their children. Parents who are self-aware are more confident and able to draw from their insight in dealing with their children in a way that is authentic and present.

Laurie Thompson is a freelance writer and mother of two living in Bellevue.

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