Baby Tips for First-Time Parents (Part 1): Health and SafetyPosted: January 8, 2013
In honor of my sister and her boyfriend who are expecting their first baby boy very soon (and my first nephew!), I wanted to put together a few tips that I’ve learned from nine years of being an infant teacher and 6+ years of being a mom. For first-time parents, caring for a baby can be overwhelming, exciting, nerve-wrecking, and blissful all at the same time. There are so many questions that I had as a first-time parent, and over the years as an educator and mom, I’ve learned the answers to many of those questions. That being said, I still don’t have all of the answers, and these are just a few tips for some of the many, many questions that will arise when caring for your baby for that first, precious year. Please consult your doctor and your own parenting instinct to find what is right for you and your baby. I hope this series of posts works as a good starting point to answer some of the perhaps less obvious or less talked-about questions that arise in caring for your baby.
The topic of today’s post in the “Baby Tips for First-Time Parents” series is one of the most important:
Health and Safety
-When your baby becomes mobile, he needs a lot of practice before he becomes efficient in various motor skills such as sitting up, pulling himself up to stand, and walking. Falls are inevitable. When a baby falls, I would guess that most of the adult population reacts in one of two extremes: either they gasp with a look of worry or panic and rush over to console the fallen baby -OR- they smile, cheer, or clap and say “You’re okay!” with a lot of feigned enthusiasm. Here is a better reaction: do nothing. Maintain a neutral expression so that your baby can decide how he feels about the fall. Then base your reaction on his reaction to the situation. If he is okay, but you panic and your face reads “Oh, no! He’s hurt!” then that will cause your baby to think “Oh no, look at mom/dad’s face! Something must be wrong!” In contrast, if your baby is wailing because they are feeling pain from their fall, but you’re smiling and insisting that they’re fine, it’s not validating their feelings. If we fell and hurt ourselves, how would we feel if someone watched it happen and then was smiling and clapping about it? We would likely feel a little resentment towards them. Babies are smart enough to pick up on these unspoken messages. In fact, they are the only messages that a baby clearly receives, as they understand facial expressions and tones and their corresponding messages long before they are able to understand the meaning of our words. Hence, the best way to react to a fall is to remain neutral until the baby reacts, and then respond according to their feelings. If they cry, console them and validate their feelings: “Ouch, that must of hurt. I’m very sorry that you were hurt from that fall.” Calmly, but empathetically. Repeat the words this way until they calm down. If they fall but come up smiling, then it’s okay to smile back and say, “Yay! I’m glad you’re okay after that fall!” Obviously, if the fall is severe, you should take appropriate emergency/first aid actions. Which brings me to my next tip…
-Consider taking a CPR course that includes infant CPR and first aid. It is unlikely that you will need CPR for an infant, but you want to be prepared in the case of an emergency. I think we all agree that it would be better to know and not need it than to need it and not know. The American Heart Association and the Red Cross are two good options for considering a course. They will also teach you what to do about infant choking, which is the part of the course that you are most likely to need, since most babies explore things by putting them in their mouths. It’s also the only type of CPR/first aid that I have ever had to perform on an infant, with the exception of basic first aid for a few minor cuts and bumps from falls. Having the knowledge to potentially save your baby’s life is invaluable, and I strongly recommend an infant CPR/first aid course to all parents, grandparents, and caregivers.
-Speaking of choking, use an empty toilet paper tube to check items for choking hazards. The simple rule with choking hazards is to drop the object through a toilet paper tube. If it fits inside or falls through, your baby could choke on it, and that object should be kept out of your baby’s reach.
-Have your car seat properly installed or checked. We called and made an appointment with our local fire station before our first son was born to have the car seat installed, or you can use this local “Inspection Station” locator from SafeKids.org. SafeKids also has this comprehensive list of car seat and travel safety for infants (and children of all ages!), including how long to keep the child/car seat in a rear-facing position, where to place the chest clip (at the child’s armpit level), how tight to have the car seat’s harness straps (you should only be able to just barely slip your finger in between your baby and the straps. No slack!), and to never leave your baby alone in the car.
-To keep your baby safe when he is asleep, be aware of the SIDS-prevention sleep safety tips. Always place your baby on his back to sleep, use a firm mattress, and your baby’s crib should be empty. No bumpers, no pillows, no blankets, no toys. It should be a crib, a firm mattress, a fitted crib sheet, and your baby. That may sound bare and boring, but if you think about the crib’s purpose, it should be boring. You want your baby to associate the crib with sleeping, not playtime, and any extra accessories not only prevent your baby from having a safe sleep environment, but they can also be distractions to your baby that may hinder him in falling asleep or confuse him about the purpose of the crib: plain ol’ sleep.
-At one point or another, your baby will get sick, and the only one who can truly help you with your baby’s illness is your baby’s pediatrician. However, should your baby need medication upon your pediatrician’s recommendation, I have one tip for using those little syringes that they provide for dosing an infant’s medication. I always had trouble getting the proper dosage because there would always be a little air bubble in the syringe, taking up space where medication should be in order to get the proper dose. Frustrating! To get rid of that air bubble, fill the syringe with the medication, and then press out the medication back into the bottle. This will leave a bit of medication in the tip of the syringe, instead of air. Then you can fill the syringe again to the proper amount, and the dose will be more accurate without that pesky air bubble!
-Finally, keep hazards out of reach, but remember that no amount of “baby-proofing” can take the place of the watchful eyes of a parent or caregiver. In fact, we do very little baby-proofing in our home. We baby-proof mostly through supervision and redirecting him to a safer place, should he encounter a potential danger (ie, the lamp cord!). Do the baby-proofing feels right to you (a good tip is to get on your hands and knees and explore your home at your baby’s level to find potential hazards), but know that no amount of baby-proofing is 100% safe and your baby should be monitored at all times. Babies learn quickly and should never be underestimated!
I hope these tips will help you in some way, or that you can pass them on to a first-time parent you know! Come back next Tuesday for Part 2: Cleaning and Hygiene.
If you have any additional Health & Saftety tips for babies, please leave them in the comments! I’d love to hear what you’ve learned through your parenting experiences as well.