There are a number of things you may want to decide before the baby is born, so that you will not use up your energy making decisions after you get home—when everyone is giving you solicited and unsolicited advice.
Diapers: Service, Disposables or Home-Washed?
Diaper services and disposable diapers are great time-savers, but using them will cost you more than buying and laundering your own. If you do plan to use home-laundered diapers, remember that harsh detergents, bleaches and insufficient rinsing can irritate the baby’s skin. Disposables also irritate some babies because of their plastic coverings. Diapers from a service are usually sterilized. If you use the service, you will probably need about 80 diapers a week—about 70 for the baby and the rest for lap pads, ‘burp cloths,’ and similar uses
Breast milk is easy for babies to digest and is unsurpassed in nutritional value. Breast-fed babies benefit from temporary or partial immunities to certain diseases; they develop fewer and milder infections of every type in the early months (cold included) than formula-fed babies. They also enjoy an especially warm and unpleasant contact with their mothers.
The mother benefits as well. Nursing contracts the muscles of the uterus, hastening its return to normal size. Nursing also makes many mothers feel needed and extremely close to their babies. In addition, it is convenient, cheap and a time-saver—there are no formulas to be prepared or to sterilize.
Breast-feeding does not ruin a woman’s figure—although she should wear a well-fitting brassiere for support during the nursing period. Nor need this method cause any weight gain. You should be able to eat a normal diet and drink a quart of skim milk each day without gaining.
Also, you may smoke and drink alcohol in moderation (though neither is recommended) without affecting the milk. But check with your doctor before taking any medicines. Certain types of drugs can be harmful to the baby. (incidentally, many doctors feel that nursing reduces a woman’s chances of getting breast cancerin later life.)
There are, however, certain disadvantaged for the mother. Her freedom is restricted. It is, for example, difficult for a working mother to nurse a baby. But if she returns to her job when the baby is about two months old and on approximate four-hour schedule, she may be able to manage things so that she misses only one feeding, which can be given in a bottle. (But she should start giving a ‘relief’ bottle during the first two months, so the baby can get used to the idea)
Some women simply do not like the idea of breast-feeding; others want to nurse but have difficulty for various reasons. In either case, there is no reason for anyone to feel inadequate or guilty for choosing bottle-feeding instead. There are many excellent formulas available, and a mother who bottle-feeds her baby can give him just as much love and security as one who nurses. Bottle-feeding also gives the father and other family members a chance to be close to the baby.
Most doctors today favor ‘modified demand’ feeding—a flexible, self-regulatory schedule based primarily on the baby’s own hunger patterns. The old-fashioned rigid schedules, in which feedings were given at precise four-hour intervals, often meant that the baby was fed either when he was half asleep or when he was tense and miserable from prolonged crying—a situation that benefited neither baby nor parents.
You do not have to respond like a robot to the baby’s first peep, or assume that every cry necessarily means hunger. But in general you can trust a young baby to know when he is hungry; most of them soon develop fairly regular hunger patterns which you will quickly get to know. (A few very placid babies who are gaining slowly may need to be awakened for some feedings.) Feeding a hungry baby will not spoil him. What young infants want and what they need, in the way of food, love and comfort, are virtually the same thing.
Be very flexible about the ‘2 am’ or late-night feeding; your baby will sleep through the night as soon as he is able to go that long without food. Leaving him to cry will not hasten the process. If your baby is sleeping, it may help to delay the feeding that precedes the late-night one until just before you are ready for bed. With a little luck, the infant will not waken quite so early next time. Except for breast-fed babies before the mother’s milk has ‘come in’ fully, most infants do not get truly hungry oftener than every three hours.
If your baby cries an hour after feeding, he may be having digestive problems; infants cannot distinguish between hunger pangs and other pains. If you are extremely groggy during the late-night feeding, do not be tempted to lie down with the baby; sit up and stay awake! (Or, if the baby is getting formula, ask the father to give this feeding.)
It is advisable to let the baby have his own room—at least after the first few weeks—if your space permits. A young baby can be surprisingly noisy when he sleeps. In any case he should definitely be out of your bedroom by the time he’s six months old. (If you do not have a spare bedroom and the baby’s crib is on casters, you can roll it out of your room and into the living room when you go to bed.) A baby’s room should be well ventilated, have screened windows, and be fairly easy to keep cool in summer. Get simple, easily cleaned furniture, and washable rugs. Also, a washable linoleum or tile floor is better than wood. Avoid expensive carpeting.
Your Baby’s Doctor
Decide ahead of time who is going to look after the baby’s health, whether you choose a family doctor or a children’s specialist (a pediatrician). For the first six months your baby should be taken regularly to a doctor or clinic for checkups and immunizations. Follow your doctor’s advice, and remember that a relationship of frankness and trust between you and your physician is extremely important. If you feel you have not chosen a suitable doctor, you probably are not going to follow his instructions. Find another one.
If your baby is a boy and you wish to have him circumcised, ask your doctor for a thorough explanation of the pros and cons of the operation before you make your final decision. Circumcision consists of cutting off the sleeve of skin (foreskin) covering the head of the penis. It is not usually a medical necessity, but is often done for religious reasons, or for reasons of cleanliness and convenience.
It should always be done in early infancy, because it is frightening to an older child. Many people feel that the foreskin is natural and should remain, but it is sometimes difficult to retract it in order to clean the baby’s penis. If the foreskin is unusually tight, circumcision may be advisable. If your baby is circumcised in the hospital and the wound has not yet healed when you bring him home, keep a layer of gauze saturated with petroleum jelly wrapped around his penis to keep it from being irritated by the diaper.
Sources and References
Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia
Human Breast Milk: A Review on its Composition and Bioactivity by Nicholas Andreas, Beate Kampmann and Kirsty Le-Doare
Breast Milk: A Source of Beneficial Microbes and Associated Benefits for Infant Health by Catherine Stanton et al
Bottle-Feeding An Infant Feeding Modality: An Integrative Literature Review by Catherine Fowler et al
Prevention and Treatment of Diaper Dermatitis by Ulrike Blume-Peytavi and Varvara Kanti
Newborn Circumcision Techniques by Folashade Omole, Walkitria Smith and Kitty Carter-Wicker