I was only partly joking when I told people my goal for the first year was just to keep the baby alive. Before Juliana was born just the basics of baby care seemed daunting - nursing, sleeping, diaper changing, bathing. Well...after a year of working with 2-year-olds I felt pretty confident about my diaper changing abilities, but the rest I had lots of questions about. Toward the end of my pregnancy I realized that at some point I was actually going to have to raise this child too. Discipline, get her to sleep on her own, teach her to share and not throw fits - you know, Parenting. And I realized I really didn't know anything about that.
Two and a half months into things, I am glad to report that Juliana is not only alive, she seems to be doing well. The basics are starting to become more natural. She has gotten down the eating thing pretty well, evidenced by her nearly 5lb gain since birth. I've gotten even faster at diaper changing...at least the times when she doesn't decide to poop all over me. And I've decided if she doesn't get bathed quite as often as the books say, nobody's going to die. I am surprised to realize that, while I still have no idea about things like discipline and sharing (and of course, she's too young for that anyway), I already have a little bit of a parenting style, which I decided it is characterized by several things.
I always assumed I would breastfeed since that's what seemed "normal," but I never thought much about it. But as of a few months ago, I have become a big proponent of breastfeeding. Getting started certainly had its challenges, and I can't say it's completely been smooth sailing since then. Sometimes it is difficult to schedule absolutely everything I do around, "When is the baby going to need to eat?" It would be nice to not have to be the one getting up with the baby all night long. But overall, I love the connection I feel to Juliana. It helps me to feel like a good parent when I have a definite way to meet her needs and comfort her when she is upset. And - the main reason I think it's so great - there are just so many benefits.
For example, I learned that a mother's milk changes to meet the baby's changing needs. The consistency and fat content of the milk changes over the course of a feeding. The milk also changes as the baby grows to meet its changing nutritional needs. If your baby is born premature, your milk is even specially formulated for them. Pretty spectacular, huh?
I didn't think I would want the baby sleeping with us. After all, that's what the cute little bassinet and crib were for. But after about the first week I started to notice a trend. Cute little bassinet = 30 minutes sleep. Snuggled up next to mommy = 1-2 hours sleep. Baby sleeping = mommy sleeping. Mommy sleeping = moderate sanity and functioning ability. So cute little bassinet became a convenient storage for diaper supplies.
I was very concerned about safety, since co-sleeping seems so controversial. Every time before I fell asleep I would think, "Is there anyway she could suffocate? Is there anyway she could get smushed or fall of the bed?" At first, I would wake up frantically looking around, trying to figure out where the baby was. I would experience a few minutes of confused panic before realizing she was right beside me, still in my arms, just like when we fell into an exhausted sleep. And I would do the typical new-parent "Is she breathing?" check. With time, I discovered there was really no fear of rolling over on her or something, because I always woke up in exactly the same position as I fell asleep. The baby was also swaddled tightly every night and couldn't really move if she wanted to. I was also hyper aware of her. I could be dead to the world but would wake up if she so much as squeaked.
We have now started working on getting her to sleep in her crib sometimes, realizing we won't always want her sleeping with us. She now sleeps the first part of the night in the crib and then I bring her to bed with us for the rest of the night. She would probably now be okay with sleeping more in her crib, but I still like sleeping with her. When she is sleeping in her crib, I usually have a hard time going to sleep since I am listening to see if she will stir (and if she is too quiet, still sometimes wondering if she is breathing). A sleeping baby cuddled up right next to me has a very sleep inducing affect, however. I can see that she is right there and okay. If she stirs I can just rock her gently, smooth her hair, or rub her nose (like a cat!) without having to move.
I think it's funny how all these age-old things have spiffy new terms now. At least, I had never heard the term "baby wearing" until a few months ago. Personally, I don't know how people get anything done without a sling or wrap. Maybe they have babies who are actually okay with being set down once in a while. Juliana has gotten better at being able to play on the floor or in her crib for a little bit, but she still loves to be held. She will hardly ever take naps unless she is held - even if she appears to be sound asleep, she will wake up the moment you set her down. So I find that a sling or wrap (or in my case, switching between the two) is very handy. Two free hands, less stress on the back, and a happy baby. The downside is feeling like you're still pregnant, but at least there's no heartburn.
4. The Happiest Baby on the Block
You already know that I love books, but I am usually pretty skeptical of anyone who claims to have the right method or the 7 steps to success in any area. So I was a little surprised to find this book that I really love - the ideas in which have really worked for us! The author believes that for the first few months, babies can't be spoiled and don't know how to manipulate yet. You need to respond to their needs and let them know they can trust you. They also find the outside world a little bit crazy and are comforted by things that remind them of the noise, movement, and confinement of being on the inside. He talks about the "5 S's" - swaddling, swinging, sucking, shushing, and side/stomach lying - all things that help activate a baby's calming reflex. The author has turned this idea into a method of sorts and is now making tons of money off of it, but it is basically all things that people have been doing for a long time. Swaddling is the big thing now, but it's been around forever (think Jesus). Nursing on demand. Carrying your baby in a sling or wrap. It is really nothing new just things that have been neglected or fallen out of popularity in recent generations. He also has a DVD, demonstrating his calming method. We watched a tiny clip during the class we took just before Juliana was born. Very impressive.
5. What Works Around the World
Having not lived in America for a few years, I think that a few things about our child raising ideas are a little over the top. Like trying to teach your 3 month old to be independent or putting your little baby on a strict schedule. In some ways, thinking "globally" helps me to be a bit more relaxed about parenting too. It's good to remember that babies are born and raised all over the world, and most of them even live.
In America I would never stand with my baby in the middle of a busy street while cars passed on either side. But in China, it's really hard to cross a street without doing so, and usually you have plenty of company from other pedestrians hanging out on the double yellow line. From the other side, despite the disapproval a billion Chinese people, I still think my baby can be warm enough without six inches of padding all around.
You may have noticed this global idea weaving its way through the other areas too. There are lots of places all over the world where the whole family sleeps together and certainly not many places where the baby has its own separate room. In many cultures babies are routinely carried around on the back or in a sling. Many people breastfeed just because it's natural and there isn't another good option (and they probably aren't looking at the clock all the time to figure out when is the 'right' time).
Despite all this, I am still American. I won't want Juliana sleeping with us forever. I'll even move her to her own room, if for no other reason than those cute curtains I bought. I will put her on more of a schedule as she gets older because that's how we operate. And I won't nurse her 'til she is 3 because that would just feel too weird. But hopefully I can remember to be flexible. Like in two months from now when half of my cleverly constructed methods don't work any more and I have to figure out this parenting thing all over again.