Many first-time parents describe the moment their baby is born as “surreal.” They’re suddenly responsible for another person’s life, and they don’t always feel up to the task.
But as recent trends in infant care suggest, new parents may know more than they think. Society is shifting toward methods that are rooted in common sense — and science, too!
For those who are still a little apprehensive, there’s nothing like the comfort of expert advice. Through her experience as an RN, certified lactation educator, and mother, Helen Anderson has gained considerable infant care knowledge.
Here are five enduring practices she has identified:
Research supports the innumerable health benefits of breastfeeding. A breastfed baby is more likely to fight off illness, maintain a healthy body weight, and avoid allergies. What’s more, breast milk is brain food. On average, breastfed infants start school with an IQ about four points higher than their formula-fed counterparts.
“Breastfeeding is the best nutrition you can provide your growing baby,” says Anderson. “It’s formulated by nature to be specific to the needs of a growing human.”
According to Anderson, the warmth of their mothers’ bodies and the motion of sucking are naturally soothing to babies, and a baby on the breast releases oxytocin — the bonding and calming hormone — which helps mothers manage the demands of a newborn.
Don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t take to breastfeeding immediately. It’s a learned skill, but with a little time, practice, and helpful advice, it will become easier.
Babywearing is far from new. Mothers have been carrying their children in slings or packs for millennia.
Babywearing is a mobile, hands-free way to maintain intimacy with your baby, but the benefits go beyond convenience. According to Anderson, the upright positioning helps prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD) by using gravity to keep stomach acid from entering and injuring the tender lining of the esophagus. Physical contact also helps babies fight off illness with a stronger immune response by lowering stress hormone levels and helping them regulate their body temperature.
When you carry your baby, she experiences the world with you. She sees things from your perspective and feels the vibrations of your voice. The contentment infants feel being close to their mothers is so powerful that infants who receive supplemental carrying cry 43 percent less overall.
This stimulation and comfort is something a stroller can’t match. And with a wide variety of baby carriers on the market, it’s easy to match any body type or budget.
3. Baby-Led Weaning
Baby-led weaning means allowing your baby to feed herself from the very onset of weaning. When you let your baby reach for food and set her own eating pace, she is able to experiment with different textures and flavors, instead of simply purees.
For mothers, a big perk of baby-led weaning is being able to have family mealtimes. Anderson says there’s a joy in watching your baby experience foods for the first time.
“Even if a food is rejected, you can reintroduce it later and maybe get a better reception,” she says.
Although choking is a major concern for parents, Anderson offers this rule of thumb: If a baby is in an upright position and the piece of food is about the size of her fist, she will likely do just fine. However, anxious parents can read baby-led weaning guidelines to ease their minds.
4. Cloth Diapers
With growing concerns about environmental waste and the economics of diapers, many parents are seeking alternatives to disposables. Anderson recommends cloth diapers over disposables and is quick to note that cloth diapering has come a long way in recent years. Today’s cloth diapers are designed with convenience in mind. With absorbent fabrics and easy-to-fasten snaps, cloth diapers are an attractive option for many parents.
Even if cleaning soiled diapers is out of the question, you’re not out of luck. There are reasonably priced diaper laundering services available, and some brands even have disposable inserts so you can toss less waste and avoid washing dirty diapers.
Jumpstarting your cloth diaper collection can be a big investment, ranging from $400 to $700. However, the savings over a two- to three-year period are significant. And the best part is that the diapers can be reused for subsequent siblings.
5. Attachment Parenting
Attachment parenting isn’t a passing trend. Grounded in trust and responsiveness, it’s one of the oldest parenting styles around.
Anderson knows the needs of her children change with the day, time, and atmosphere, so she adjusts to meet them where they are.
“If children are attached to a responsive parent, they feel safe to explore and take chances,” she says. “Research shows that children with responsive parents are more independent, creative, and positive.”
Attachment parenting isn’t a cry-it-out directive, and it certainly isn’t spoiling or giving into demands. Instead, it’s being present and giving your baby your full attention and energy.
While all these trends can support healthy, happy babies, trying to figure out the “right” way to care for your child is ultimately your decision. Seek out new information on trends, but keep in mind that what works for one family isn’t necessarily for everyone. Being a modern parent isn’t about singling out one childcare style and shunning all others. It’s about mixing and matching different styles to create a system that fits your family.
Ethan Lynette is Partner for Fairhaven Health, a company that manufactures products that help couples conceive naturally and provides support to women throughout pregnancy and nursing. Fairhaven believes it’s crucial to get to know its customers well and provide support and education to couples desiring to start a family.
Helen Anderson, RN, CLE, has an international reputation as a leader in innovative breastfeeding products. She studied nursing at Oregon Health & Science University and earned her lactation education teaching credential. Helen’s patented products have been used by women around the globe to help them breastfeed longer and more successfully.
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