Parenting: Know When to Hold 'Em (cont.)

That same theory applies to full-term infants, as well.

"When you carry a baby around in a sling or Snugli, it makes them feel secure," says Dr. Campbell. "The baby feels the warmth of the parent's body, hears the parent's heartbeat, and if a mother is breast-feeding, it's very easy to just nurse the baby discreetly and comfortably and continue what you're doing."

The proximity also encourages more interaction and bonding between a parent and child -- it's simply more convenient for getting to know each other. In fact, experts often suggest that fathers carry their infants in a sling to forge a closer relationship, particularly since they don't get the same head start as moms because they didn't carry the fetus in utero for nine months.

Your baby will also learn more than if he's simply relegated to a playpen or infant seat. "Babies like to be held all the time, especially before they can walk on their own," says Dr. Howard. "They can look around, they get to see what the parent's doing, which they find totally fascinating, and that's good for mental development."

By talking to your baby as you carry him from room to room, you're also laying the groundwork for language development. "The talking that parents do helps build an understanding of language," explains Dr. Campbell, who has two children, 12 and 14. "A baby who doesn't have good receptive skills isn't going to have good expressive skills."

Fortunately for your back's sake, babies do still need time on a blanket or floor to practice their motor skills, adds Dr. Howard. "But the more secure they feel about your availability (as they're held and nurtured early on), the more comfortable they are on the floor later."

Myth No. 3: Schedules, the Earlier the Better

For at least the first three months of an infant's life, pediatricians say parents should throw out their expectations about schedules or routines. Your little one will rule the roost, and that's as it should be. Some infants are needier than others, but part of a new parent's job is scoping out a baby's needs, personality and temperament.

"Your baby is the only guide you've got," says Nugent. "If you see him thriving on what you're giving, then you're all set. If he's still not feeling happy and contented, then you have to change. Everything from the batting of an eye to the loudest cry to a color change, a startle, a tremor are part of the baby's little vocabulary to tell you, 'This is who I am and what I'm all about.' "

Feeding on demand is imperative. Babies, even premature infants, will typically eat when they're hungry and stop when they've had enough. Expect rapid changes, too. Infants typically go through growth spurts at 2 to 3 weeks, 2 to 3 months, and 6 months. It's unlikely, Dr. Campbell says, that "the baby is overeating and getting too fat."

One area where it does make sense to help the baby develop a pattern is with night and naptime sleep patterns, but only after age 3 months, when babies typically don't need a night feeding anymore. Making sure you put them down to sleep at a regular time helps infants set their internal clocks and teaches them a sense of order.

But in general, you're not going to spoil a new baby by letting her call the shots for a while. "Parents are often so achievement-oriented," says Dr. Howard, "that they're worried they'll make their babies more dependent on them and less able to achieve in our competitive society ... But we need to pay attention to their emotional development, too. Our world has gone overboard on intellect and independence. What we don't have is connectedness and empathy, and it starts from the beginning. The way children develop a sense of kindness towards others is by being dealt with kindly."

The bottom line is that babies can only benefit from all of the love and nurturing their parents can muster.

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005 11:42:01 PM

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