Thursday, May 12, 2005

Grow Baby, Grow!

If you could video your baby’s first months and years and then fast forward through that video, the changes that your child goes though would be absolutely amazing! Babies grow so quickly, and time flies at such a rapid pace, it isn’t any wonder that your baby won’t be a baby for very long. If you are a first time parent, you may not know exactly what to expect in regard to the changes your baby will experience both physically, mentally, and emotionally.

When you were pregnant, your doctor or nurse practitioner probably performed at least one sonogram on you to determine the health and the due date of your baby. If she did the first sonogram when you were only three or four months along, you probably couldn’t tell much about your little one. By the time you were seven months, though, it was easy to see your child’s arms, legs, and even private parts, to determine the gender of your child. When you think about how rapidly your unborn child developed from a mere fertilized egg into a living, breathing, crying newborn, it isn’t any wonder that the next months and years are also filled with dramatic changes!

Obviously the birth of your child can be an exciting and exhausting time for you, but how does it affect your newborn? If you think about it, the birth of your baby must be a shocking experience to her. Remember, she spent her first nine months or so in a warm, dark, cozy place. Outside sounds were muffled, and the temperature was always perfect. She didn’t have to worry about hunger pains, and the most irritating physical event she probably had to deal with was the hiccups. She was enveloped in warm liquid, and she could revel in her own nakedness. There wasn’t any need for uncomfortable clothing or diapers. She didn’t have diaper rash, and she probably didn’t have tummy troubles. Life was easy!

When labor began, her calm, secure world was suddenly interrupted. As your uterus contracted, she was actually squeezed, and although it didn’t hurt her, it was strange and maybe uncomfortable. If you had a vaginal delivery, she was squeezed even harder as she was forced into the birth canal. Then, as she made her way out of your body, how was she greeted? Bright lights, strange people, and cold, rubber-engulfed hands met her entry into the world. What an introduction! She was probably suctioned, and then they lay her slippery body against yours. For a little while, she felt comforted. That is until they took her from your arms, weighed and measured her, poked and prodded all her little body parts, and took blood. Wow! Think about how traumatic that was for your little one!

Although all of this was probably a major shock to your infant, he is beginning the first of many learning experiences that he will encounter as he grows and develops. He is learning about his world. Of course, he was actually already learning when he was still in your womb. He heard sounds and began to differentiate between your voice and the voices of his father, and siblings, if he has any. He heard loud sounds such as car horns, and continuous sounds, such as the television and radio. All of these sounds were your child’s pre-introduction to his soon-to-be new world.

After a few days, you should be able to take your precious newborn home, and then the fun really begins! Infants sleep a lot, but somehow, you’ll still be exhausted! How can this be? Well, your baby may sleep a lot but only in spurts. In fact, you may discover that it is 4:00 in the afternoon, and you haven’t had a shower, and you can’t remember when you last ate. It also isn’t uncommon for babies to get their days and nights reversed. You may find that you have all kinds of time to do housework and pay bills during the day, while your little slumbers peacefully nearby in her crib or bassinet, then nighttime rolls around, you’re exhausted, and your little one is raring to go! If this sounds like your life right now, heed this advice-Sleep when baby sleeps! Of course, that is easier said than done if you have other children in the family to take care of, especially if those children are toddlers. If so, don’t be afraid to ask for help. When someone asks how they can help you, look at them with sleep-depraved eyes and say, “Can you please watch the baby while I take a nap?” Then, sleepwalk your exhausted self to bed!

If you take a look around the world, and try to see it through the eyes of your infant, you’ll notice that, in general, the world is a noisy place. Of course, your baby could hear some sounds while she was in your womb, but the volume and the intensity are definitely magnified after birth occurs. How does she deal with all of this additional noise and confusion? You may be surprised to find that your infant can sleep in the oddest places. For example, if you take your baby to any sports event, such as a football game or a wrestling match, you may discover that she snoozes through most if not all of the event. This is normal for newborns because this is how an infant deals with the obtrusive noises all around her. She simply goes to sleep and shuts it out. This is a defense mechanism. Don’t you wish you could do that sometimes? Once she gets a little older, the exact opposite may happen. She may not be able to sleep under noisy circumstances, so enjoy it while you can!

While it may seem that your infant really can’t interact very much with you, nothing is further from the truth. Your baby needs the stimulation of those around him to help him develop both mentally and physically. When your little one is awake, take some time to play with him. Of course, the kind of playing you do with an infant will be quite different from playing with a toddler, but your infant will enjoy it nonetheless. Look into his eyes and talk to him. Sing silly songs. Take his hands and play patty-cake, or move his legs back and forth as if he is riding a bicycle. This is good exercise for him, and it offers him more opportunities to interact with you. Obviously, you should always support your newborn’s head and neck. It will be a while before he is strong enough to support them by himself.

You can also stimulate your baby by reading to him. That’s right! Read to your newborn! This is one of the most important things you can do to help your baby grow intellectually. Look for books that have black, white, and red images because these are the colors that your child will be the most fascinated with as an infant.

Continue the black, white, and red theme by buying toys, mobiles, and other objects in these colors to show to your infant. As she gets older, you will need to trade these in for more colorful objects, but for now, let her try to focus on these objects. Your baby will let you know when she has had enough stimulation for the moment. She may begin to fuss, lose her focus, and turn her head away from you or whatever book or toy you have offered her. You need to recognize these cues, and stop whatever it is you are doing. She is probably tired and/or hungry, and she doesn’t need to be overly stimulated.

Be sure you give your infant plenty of tummy time so that he can exercise his head, neck, chest, and arm muscles. Remember, you should never place your infant down for a nap on his tummy, though. Placing your infant on his back to sleep may reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). When you do place him on his tummy for some playtime, place some colorful objects and even a mirror around him. You want to stimulate his curiosity, so that he learns more about the world around him.

Finally, in the blink of an eye, your baby will be running around your home before you know it! Enjoy every minute of his life. Don’t rush him towards his next step or milestone. One day, you’ll be proudly watching as he mounts the stage to accept his diploma or as he walks down the aisle with his bride on his arm. Right now he is helplessly dependent on you, but that dependence won’t be there forever.

By Susie McGee

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