Fears, Fables and Facts: What Parents of Babies and Toddlers Worry About
Kerry Colburn and Rob Sorensen became parents to their first daughter in 2005. She was a big, healthy baby and a good eater, but Colburn and Sorensen couldn’t shake their feelings of anxiety. So the Seattle parents created a spreadsheet and kept a meticulous record of feedings (what time and which breast) and diapers (frequency and, yes, contents).
When it was time for their daughter’s well-baby checkup, they brought in all their data, but were dismayed when their pediatrician gave it only a cursory glance. Colburn began to realize that all that detail wasn’t really necessary — that as new parents, they’d let their worries take over.
But every parent stresses about, well, pretty much everything. That’s why we’ve honed in on some common new-parent worry zones in hopes that, with a little help from our experts, we’ll alleviate some prime parental fears.
You worry a lot about:
Is baby getting enough?
Dr. Rebecca Partridge sees many new parents, particularly breastfeeding moms, concerned that their newborns are getting what they need. “This is a difficult issue because our instinct as parents is to feed our child, and if we feel like our child isn’t eating enough, we must be doing something terribly wrong,” said the Virginia Mason pediatrician.
Most babies will eat about every two to three hours in the first weeks of life. How to tell if your baby is getting that nourishment?
Watch the diapers, says Partridge. Newborns should have at least four wet diapers in a 24-hour period, and older infants and children should have three.
Your baby’s growth is another valuable indicator. Worried parents can visit their pediatrician to have their baby weighed and measured to ensure his or her growth is on track.
What am I doing wrong?
A baby’s intense cry can send parents into full panic mode, says Denise Weinstein, a postpartum doula based in Snoqualmie, Wash. Weinstein works with families in their homes, helping them adjust to life with their new baby and build their confidence as parents.
While it’s tempting for a bleary-eyed parent to turn to the Internet for an instant solution, calming a crying baby requires trial and error, she says.
First, take a few deep breaths, Weinstein advises. Then work through the list of common causes for your baby’s crying — such as hunger, discomfort or overstimulation — remembering it’s OK if you don’t pinpoint the problem on the first try (or even the second or third).
“Start with feeding, then burping and changing the diaper. If the baby is still crying, maybe she’s tired or just wants to be held. Sometimes, babies simply just need to cry as a way to de-stress.” Over time, as parents begin to recognize their baby’s different cries, this process becomes easier.
Will my baby fall behind?
Watching your baby’s development progress is exciting, but parents may worry if their baby is taking longer than expected to reach early milestones, such as rolling over, babbling or showing off that heart-melting first smile.
Partridge urges parents to try to view milestone charts as general guidelines, instead of focusing too much on where their baby falls within that range. “Sometimes one baby is more physical, or another one more verbal, and this will influence individual development in those areas,” she says.
Temperament can play a role, too, as some children take more time to observe a situation before jumping in. “While it’s a red flag if your baby doesn’t seem to be developing in multiple areas, typically what babies need more than anything is just a little bit more time,” she says.
Sheri Padget, a mom of three in Redmond, Wash., says she wishes she’d worried less about milestones when her oldest daughter, now 8, was a baby.
“I think that it’s your job as a parent to note the milestones, so that you can answer your pediatrician’s questions accurately. After that, let your pediatrician determine if there is a concern. That way, instead of spending all your time worrying, you can sit back and marvel at your baby’s growing development, and really enjoy those little moments of their babyhood.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s vital that parents communicate with their pediatrician about any worries they have about their baby’s development.
How can I keep my baby safe?
It’s common for new parents to experience fears about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and understandably so. But parents will find it reassuring to know that the risk of SIDS has declined dramatically since the early 1990s, thanks to the “Back to Sleep” campaign, which raised awareness about the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs.
There are additional steps that we now know parents can take to reduce the risk of SIDS. For healthy babies as old as 1 year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends (along with placing babies on their backs for sleep) that sleep surfaces be firm, without soft objects, loose bedding or bumpers, and that babies sleep in the same room as their parents, but not in the same bed.
For the AAP’s full list of recommendations, go to healthychildren.org. From the “Ages and Stages” section, click on “sleep,” then “Reduce the Risk of SIDS” under Articles.
Adjusting to the new normal
New moms face high expectations, says Weinstein. “Moms are expected to come home from the hospital the day after giving birth, and jump right back into life. They are fixing dinner, hosting guests and if they have another child, taking that child to school.”
Weinstein urges new moms to take the time to rest and bond with their baby. Sometimes that means holding off on visitors, or reminding family members that what you really need is help around the house.
Dad may also struggle to find his role in the new family structure during those first weeks. “Make sure he gets plenty of time holding, bathing, diapering and dressing the baby,” write Seattle parents and authors Colburn and Sorensen in their book How to Have Your Second Child First. Sorensen was in charge of a regular 5 a.m. cuddle that lulled their infant daughter back to sleep, and it remains one of his favorite memories.
Colburn and Sorensen have evolved into easygoing parents since the birth of their second daughter (no spreadsheet required). Their book is rife with tips for new parents who want to relax more the first time around. Colburn says that if moms can resist the urge to hover when their partner is in charge of parenting, it’s good for the whole family. “Moms tend to correct dads a lot. It’s fine to offer some helpful advice that you’ve learned from being in the trenches. After that, let dad come up with his own tricks and routines that your baby will recognize and associate with him.”
Laura Mackenzie is a freelance writer. She lives in Redmond, Wash. with her husband and two children, ages 8 and 12.
Tips to ease new-parent worries
1. Colic can be especially distressing for new parents. Know that colic isn’t going to last forever, and before long, your baby will be one of those adorable, chubby, giggling 4-month-olds.
2. It’s normal for new parents to feel that the reality of new parenthood doesn’t match up with the fantasy. Try to see your experience for how special it is, even if it isn’t what you expected.
3. What children need more than anything is happy, healthy (sane) parents. Self-care is very important. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family or friends when you need a break.
4. Trust your gut. You know your child better than anyone else.
Source: Dr. Rebecca Partridge, Virginia Mason pediatrician