Welcome to Parenthood

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Welcome to the New Parent club! Now what? Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Baby Books, answered that little question when she joined us for a new parent primer on June 8, 2004. We got the inside scoop on the most rewarding and challenging job you'll ever have.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome, Ann. When you were a brand new mom, holding your first child for the first time, what was your biggest concern?

DOUGLAS:
I remember being petrified that I was going to do something wrong, like drop the baby, hurt the baby's neck, or otherwise blow it as a mum! It seemed to me that everyone else had a copy of a secret manual that told them everything they needed to know to be a mum, but that no one had bothered to give me a copy. Boy, did I feel out of the loop!

MODERATOR:
I was so tired by the time I was ready to deliver, I was afraid I wouldn't hear my new daughter when she cried in the night -- that I would sleep right through her crying! I was so wrong! And you went on to write the book we all thought that everyone else already had -- The Mother of All Baby Books .

DOUGLAS:
I wrote my book because I wanted to help reassure other mums that it's totally normal to feel like you've landed on another planet -- planet mum. Those early weeks and months with a new baby can be totally disorienting and scary. I remember feeling like I was never going to feel normal again, and in a way I had to find my way to a new kind of normal - post-baby normal. There really is a huge transition after you have a baby, both scary and exciting. And I guess that's one of the key messages I wanted to convey in The Mother of All Baby Books .

MEMBER QUESTION:
As a new parent what did you do with those feelings of "oh no, what have I done?" You must have had them. We all have, I think!

DOUGLAS:
I definitely had those feelings -- like the first time I trimmed my baby's fingernails and made them bleed. Or the time I left her with a teenage babysitter who seemed to be on the ball, only to come home and find that the teenage babysitter had put her to bed with a box of crackers. It scared me to death!

Those moments are inevitable at every stage of our parenting career, and we have to forgive ourselves for not being perfect and all knowing. I didn't mean for the scissors to slip and nip into her tender baby skin, nor had anyone taught me the trick of biting her nails instead of using those stupid baby scissors. I also thought the teenager, who had babysat everyone else's child up and down the street and who had taken the babysitting course, was a lot more on the ball than she ended up being.

So I learned from my mistakes, gave my husband the responsibility for trimming the baby's nails, found a new babysitter, and moved on. Sometimes that's all we can do as parents. Otherwise you simply can't go on in this particular profession.

"Those early weeks and months with a new baby can be totally disorienting and scary. I remember feeling like I was never going to feel normal again, and in a way I had to find my way to a new kind of normal - post-baby normal."

MEMBER QUESTION:
Would it help to join a group of other new parents? They won't know any more than me, will they?

DOUGLAS:
I am the biggest fan of parent support groups at any stage of your parenting career, but especially when you are a new mum. The friendships you form are often the friendships that will last you for a lifetime. These are the mums that you can call up when you have questions about introducing solid foods; potty training; choosing a preschool; starting kindergarten; birthday parties; sleepovers; teenage boyfriends; getting ready for college, and the list goes on and on.

The fact that you are all learning the ropes together is what makes the group dynamic so magical. In fact, you will find that if one know-it-all tries to emerge in the group, she will be among the least popular mums. It is your shared inexperience and your collective willingness to help one another figure out which baby rashes are worth worrying about and how to get by on next to no sleep that will make you want to drag your weary bones to your next new mums group week after week.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is it normal to not feel bonded to your child, even after a few months?

DOUGLAS:
It depends what you're talking about when you say "bonded." I think the word bonded gets misused a lot. Sometimes we think it's supposed to be like what we see in TV commercials, where mothers and babies are literally smitten with one another 24 hours a day. I think that's a bit overblown. Most of us real mums love our babies a great deal, but we're also sometimes exhausted by the demands of motherhood, so our experience of motherhood is a lot more in balance than what we see on TV.

However, I would be concerned if you're not feeling any attachment to your baby, because that could be a warning sign of postpartum depression If you feel like you don't care about your baby or you want to hurt your baby, you should definitely talk to someone about those feelings and see if you're a candidate for some sort of therapy or medication, both for your and your baby's health and welfare.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What do you think about keeping the baby in a bassinet next to the bed at night? I'm trying to come up with something that will help with feeding at night.

DOUGLAS:
A lot of parents like the idea of having baby nearby, both for the convenience of those middle-of-the-night feedings, and just for the reassurance that comes from being able to hear your baby when you wake up in the middle of the night. This is a really personal decision, and there's no right or wrong way to approach it. Some parents find that they can't get any sleep at all when they share their room or their bed with a newborn because of all the snuffling and movements.

We also know that there has been some controversy in recent years about the possible risks of sharing a bed or co-sleeping with a baby, so you will want to read the evidence pro and con on this issue before making up your mind if you decide you might want to take your baby to bed with you.

Either way you'll want to think about your sleeping arrangements over the long term -- whether you are ultimately going to move your baby to a crib in another room or go with a family bed arrangement down the road. These are all important issues that you and your partner (should you be parenting with a partner) will want to talk about as early on as possible, ideally before your baby is born, because they can take time to sort out. Good luck.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Are you a family bed fan? What are the advantages and disadvantages, and where does the child sleep until mom and dad are ready to go to bed?

DOUGLAS:
I will tell you about how we handled co-sleeping in our family. Because I have had a large number of children I'll simplify things by telling you about things with our youngest child. Ian is now 6. Ian shared our bed until he was about six months old. By that I mean he often came to bed with us when he woke for feedings in the middle of the night. At other times of the day, or earlier in the evening, he would go to bed in a bassinet in our room, but then when he woke up I would take him to bed, feed him and then transplant him, if possible, back to his bassinet. But more often than not, he would spend the remainder of the night with us.

When he got older we ended up keeping him in our room in a larger crib in the corner of our room because we had a space crunch in our house at the time. We didn't have a spare bedroom to move Ian to. So rather than double him up with older siblings who were quite a few years older than him, we decided that he would stay with us. He shared our room until he was about 2 1/2, at which point he moved into a room across the hall and we created some extra bedrooms in the basement for some then preteenage siblings.

I don't have any problem with family bed arrangements, but with four kids who then would have ranged in age from newborn through age 9, I think things would have been a little crowded in our room. However, I know other families who have thoroughly enjoyed co-sleeping with large number of children, sometimes ranging in age through the school years, almost to preteens, and have not had any problems with this.

One mum insists if all your children are sleeping in your bedroom you actually are forced to have a much spicier and more creative sex life because you are forced to have sex in other parts of the house. She told me of an incident one day when she and her husband went outdoors to weed the garden, and let's just say the garden didn't get weeded that day.

I always wanted to make sure that my baby was in a safe place and I was always very conscious of the SIDS recommendations regarding safe sleeping practices, so that meant, for me, putting the baby to sleep in a traditional baby-friendly sleeping environment, such as a bassinet or a crib. I would recommend that to other parents, because when you put your baby to sleep on your bed there's always the danger of a baby rolling off, and even if the mattress is almost at floor level, it will still be at least a couple of inches off the floor. There is also the issue of bedding, pillows, and other soft materials that are traditionally found on adult beds. Obviously, if you are co-sleeping with a baby, you need to be aware that these materials need to be removed from the bed to reduce the risk of a SIDS-related death.

Here's another important point to consider. If mum or dad have been drinking or are taking a medication that might make them extra drowsy, that parent should not co-sleep with the baby due to the increased risk of rolling over on top of the baby and accidentally suffocating the baby. These are horrible things that no parent wants to think about, but if you are thinking about sleeping with your baby you owe it to your baby and yourself to research these issues thoroughly. You can find tons of useful information on the American Academy of Pediatrics web site at www.aap.org.

"It's not at all out of line to remind people to wash their hands before they hold your baby. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will stick their unwashed finger in a newborn baby's mouth. What are they thinking?"

MEMBER QUESTION:
Just how often do you think an infant needs to be bathed?

DOUGLAS:
From what I've read, a young baby only needs a thorough bath about once a week. Of course, we in Western society tend to be clean freaks, myself included! I think my world would stop if I had to miss my morning shower. In fact, I know it would. However, if you think about it, babies really don't have that much opportunity to get dirty, other than in the obvious way. And we pay careful attention to cleaning the diaper area after each diaper change.

So if you are a new parent and you are feeling a bit stressed about handling a super soapy, super slippery baby, I've got great news for you. You really only need to do that tricky bath time maneuver about once a week. The rest of the time you can simply clean your baby with a wet washcloth by washing his or her hands and face and otherwise touching up any bits that seem to be getting dirty. Hope that helps to reassure you.

MODERATOR:
But didn't you find bath time to be a wonderful opportunity to play with your babies?

DOUGLAS:
As babies get older it can be a lot of fun to play with your baby in the tub, provided, of course, that you're prepared to have a bath too. I have vivid memories of my daughter Julie sitting there happily splashing and getting the entire bathroom soaking wet.

But I think the scary part for most parents is bathing newborns, so I think we can cut ourselves a bit of slack when it comes to the number of baths we give our newborn babies. If we overdo it in the soap department we also risk drying out that oh-so-tender baby skin. So that's another thing to consider.

MEMBER QUESTION:
How safe is it to take advice from older family members (moms, aunts, grandmothers)? Haven't things changed a lot?

DOUGLAS:
Things have definitely changed a huge amount on the safety front, so wisdom from the older generations, while well-intended, must be taken with a truckload of salt. What I suggest is that you listen and take the advice in the spirit with which it was intended and then tuck it away and do your own research about safety standards today. You have to realize that members of the older generations raised their kids in eras in which car seats and even seatbelts may not have existed, and sometimes they think that our generation is a bit overly obsessed with child safety. You can't compromise your child's safety in the interests of maintaining intergenerational harmony. This is simply one of the great non-negotiables of life.

MEMBER:
Oh, if I hear "it didn't kill you or your sister" one more time...

DOUGLAS:
How true!

MEMBER QUESTION:
How long before you can take your newborn outside?

DOUGLAS:
In terms of going outside, I think we're probably talking about two different things here. In terms of taking your baby into the great outdoors to enjoy some fresh air, you can do that right from day one, provided that you ensure that your baby is well protected from the elements. In other words, you need to ensure that your baby is shaded from the sun and well bundled up if it's a cool winter day.

In terms of exposing your baby to other people's germs, a little bit of common sense is in order. While I am being a little bit overcautious here, I don't think I would take a brand new newborn baby to a medical clinic waiting room if I could avoid it. Sometimes, though, you have no choice. If faced with this situation, I would probably park the car seat at the end of the room so fewer toddlers could cough on my baby.

In terms of the inevitable stampede of visitors, it's not at all out of line to remind people to wash their hands before they hold your baby. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will stick their unwashed finger in a newborn baby's mouth. What are they thinking?

Now, before I make you totally paranoid on the germ front, I just want to remind you that newborn babies come equipped with some healthy immunities courtesy of Mother Nature, and that while you are breastfeeding your baby gets a further immunologic boost via your breast milk. So you don't have to be totally paranoid, but on the other hand it's good to be sensible, too. So there you are with my two cents on the germ front.

MEMBER QUESTION:
We are currently experiencing the "new-baby-in-daycare-catching-every-cold" syndrome. Is this part of the initiation, or should be we doing something different? I'm tired of a runny nose and cough every other week.

"It can take a very long time to catch up on all the sleep you have lost, so don't be shy about asking other people to pitch in during this very challenging time in your life."

DOUGLAS:
This is definitely very common when you start a new baby in daycare, and unfortunately there's not too much you can do about it. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel is a little long, however; after your baby has been in daycare for one full year you will find the number of colds and flu bugs that your baby picks up at daycare dramatically drops off.

Every child will experience this at some point in their life, by the way. If a child is at home during the preschool years, this typically happens in kindergarten, so don't think that you're putting your baby through something that he or she wouldn't otherwise have to experience. What you're doing is getting these cold and flu episodes out of the way earlier in life, that's all.

By the way, if you want to find out more about babies and childcare, you may want to look at my other book, Choosing Child Care for Dummies .

MEMBER QUESTION:
Will I ever regain my sleep? I feel like I could be a better mother and a better person if I could just get some more sleep. My husband helps at night, but I am breastfeeding and have to feed at night. He's at work during the day.

DOUGLAS:
Every sleep-deprived parent on the planet totally relates to what you are saying. It's hardly surprising at all that sleep deprivation has been used as a method of torture since the beginning of time; you begin to feel totally unglued and highly emotional.

I think it's great that your husband is offering as much support as possible, because knowing that he is trying to do what he can must make you feel supported. A lot of mums that I talk to feel unsupported, angry, and ripped off because their partners aren't even trying. So I'm happy to hear that your husband is sharing the nighttime parenting responsibilities.

Sometimes you have to get really creative and call in all your favors in order to catch up in little bursts on your sleep. I'm wondering if there is friend or family member who might be able to drop by on the weekends or one weekday afternoon or one weekday evening and take the baby for a walk in the stroller while you take a half-hour or one hour nap. It's not very long, but just knowing that the baby is safe and happy with someone you trust and out of earshot may be enough to allow you to relax and get a quick little catnap -- enough to boost your energy for that night's sleep-deprivation marathon.

It can take a very long time to catch up on all the sleep you have lost, so don't be shy about asking other people to pitch in during this very challenging time in your life. There will be a day when your baby is sleeping through the night and you can repay the favor to other people in your life by helping them out in some other way. So again, don't be afraid to ask.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What are some things to consider when selecting a pediatrician?

DOUGLAS:
The big thing is the rapport between you and the pediatrician. This is someone you are going to be working with for the next 18 years, so you want to be sure this is someone you can have a real heart-to-heart with about any conceivable issue. Another biggie: accessibility. Can you reach this person easily, both within and outside of office hours? Something else to consider is the quality and personalities of this doctor's staff. Does the receptionist bite your head off when you call to make an appointment? Is the nurse as warm and friendly as the doctor? You'll be dealing with these people as much as the doctor. You'll find added points on this topic in The Mother of All Baby Books .

MODERATOR:
Ann, do you have any final words for us?

DOUGLAS:
I just want to reassure everyone that it's so normal to feel a little out of element during the first weeks of parenthood, but gradually your world will start to feel normal again as you start regaining your equilibrium. It kind of reminds me of what it was like when I was learning to ride a bike when I was 6. This was very hard for me and I swore my dad was going to have to hold on to the back of my bike forever. One day he let go and I was just fine on my own. That's what parenthood is like at every stage. For the longest time you feel uncertain and a little scared, and then one day you feel you're doing just fine. That day will come for you.

MODERATOR:
Thanks to Ann Douglas for sharing her expertise and experience with us. For more information, please read her book, The Mother of All Baby Books.



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