Saturday, July 31, 2010

The First Six Months--5 Lessons Learned

My son turned 6 months old on the 30th.  I can't help but marvel at how fast he's grown and how quickly he continues to develop.  In this short time, he's gone from a tiny 6 pound baby who barely knows what to do with himself to a strapping 20+ pound boy who can sit by himself, knows how to drink out of a glass, is able to ask for things, almost has standing by himself under his belt, holds his sippy cup, helps me dress him by putting his arms and legs through his clothes, and wants to copy everything everyone does around him.

What everyone says is true about it getting easier.  Post partum finally ended so I'm not an emotional, moody, cranky wreck anymore.  Since he can sit up by himself, it's easier to dress him, bathe him, and feed baby food.  His poops are on a pretty dependable schedule and are easier to get out of his cloth diapers than when he was a newborn.  He sleeps longer, often sleeping through the night, but he still has those nights where he's awake every 30 minutes.  Since he is able to entertain himself a little, he doesn't need to be held quite as often.  The nervous novelty of motherhood has begun to wear off, and I'm no longer afraid of every little thing.

As I emerge from the rite of passage that is the first 6 months as a mother, I have a few short words of advice for new and expecting moms as someone who has very recently been through this phase.

1)  Sleep when the baby sleeps.  You won't get it any other way.  The laundry and dishes can wait.  If you don't sleep, you'll burn out especially in the first 2-3 months.  As it is, you may not get more than 1-2 hours of sleep at a time and even less if you're breast feeding.  When I was nursing, there were days at a time when I didn't get more than 30 minutes of sleep in a sitting because my son would breastfeed for 45-60 minutes, fall asleep halfway through, take another 15-30 minutes to be sound asleep enough to put down, and I would only have another 30-45 minutes before his next feeding.  It was rough.

If a trusted friend of family member offers to help with chores or watch the baby for a bit so you can have an extra nap, learn to accept their offers with grace.  While we mothers want to do it all, we can't.  There aren't enough hours in the day to care for a newborn AND do all the housework.

2)  Don't let others undermine you and your instincts as a mother.  Moms don't pop out of a mold.  You don't have to do everything the way your mother or matrons in your life did it.  Follow your instincts and be true to your mothering style.  You'll be most comfortable doing what feels natural to you rather than trying to meet everyone's expectations and desires for the way you choose to care for your new infant.  You also spend more time than anyone else with your baby, so you are the expert when it comes to your child's habits, needs, and ways of communicating.  And, yes, your newborn will quickly learn how to communicate different wants, needs, and emotions.  It's amazing how articulate they can be even without speech!

3)  Everything in the world is NOT out to get your baby.  Contrary to all the information out there and the advice of concerned, well-meaning friends and family, it really just isn't that serious most of the time.  Yes, we need to take safety and health precautions.  But your baby won't die of SIDS if he wants to sleep on his stomach, especially when he's strong enough to turn his head on his own.  Your little girl won't get pneumonia if it's a degree or two colder than your grandmother thinks it should be in the house or bath.  If your little bundle of joy grabs something that touched the floor and puts it in his or her mouth, a sudden and fatal attack of dysentery will not ensue.  Yes, babies are more sensitive than adults, but if they were really THAT fragile, the world would be a lot less populated and no one born in the days before sterilized bottles, enclosed homes, and air filters would have survived.  Common sense, good judgement, and your motherly instincts are enough to make sound decisions in almost all of the situations you'll encounter in your daily life with baby.

4)  Get everything bigger than you think you need it.    I mean EVERYTHING:  clothes, bottles, car seats, the works.  Your little one will grow faster than you would believe and those cute tiny things will soon be too small.  My son outgrew the 4-ounce capacity of his newborn size bottles around 4 months.  Any day now he'll outgrow his 22 pound limit infant car seat.  He's already comfortably wearing 12-18 month clothes.  Most play pens are too small since he's over 26 inches long and the biggest ones I've seen are only 34-38" at the widest point, which doesn't leave much crawl space.  He was only able to use his swing for about 4 months, and he's almost too long for his baby papasan chair.  If we'd gotten him a bassinet, he would have outgrown it ridiculously fast.  Sadly, his little legs are almost too fat for his Bumbo chair, but I still recommend them because they're so useful.

5)  Less is more.  While it can be a temptation to try every gadget out there for babies, it will often end up being a waste of money in all honesty.  If your child is anything like mine, he or she would rather have less toys and more one on one time with you.  When it comes to toys and entertainment for my son, he really doesn't need that much.  I can count on one hand the favorites he will turn to again and again and still have fingers left over.  He would rather be with me than any toy I can buy or make for him.  There isn't a toy or video that can hold his attention for longer than 20 or so minutes on a good day, especially if he's playing or watching alone.  If he could talk, I'm sure he'd tell anyone that likes his toys and games much better when we play with them together.  More often than not, he's more interested in turning nontoys into his new play things and will derive more enjoyment out of them than most items that are supposed to be toys.  For example, he would rather have the mouse pad or the phone charger to chew than any teething toy in the house.