Bringing up baby

Zainab Mahmood-Ahmad with some sane advice for new parents in the age of helicopter parenting

Bringing up baby

Colour me right

Within the first few hours everyone who sees your baby will comment on his complexion, “MashAllah so fair, like pure milk, just like his father when he was born”, your extremely emotional and selectively amnesic mother in law with a lineage of tanned children will say. “It’s okay, no need to panic, all children are born dark and then they start growing fairer”, will be the advice from a well-intentioned frighteningly misguided aunt who will suggest a number of concoctions involving flour and yogurt and haldi that promise to restore dignity to your family, or at the least, remove your baby’s first layer of skin.

In the middle of all of this, try and remember, all newborns look like Gollum and your baby will grow into a happy, well adjusted, successful and eligible adult living in a multicoloured world. Genetics decide the colour of our skin, our height,  our tendency to gain weight, our unfortunate love of desserts and to some degree our intelligence. That’s genetics, not us, not something we did wrong, not some ill fate that has befallen us for the sins we committed. G-e-n-e-t-i-c-s, simple.

The scream is not just a painting...

It will instead be a constant in your head. Even when the baby is napping, you will hear phantom screams as you answer the call of nature, attempt to gobble food, get some shut-eye; making you run across like a headless chicken to see a very calm bub, wickedly grinning, restfully planning how to torture you for the rest of the day. Many newborns can be colic, for up to a few months. Colic means they have trapped wind or obstruction and almost all the forums you will desperately read through at 4 am will tell you the same thing. It is very common and it will pass. Make sure everything else is in order, they are fed, clean, warm enough, cool enough and then stop chasing your tail, wondering what could be wrong. Apart from some old wives’ tales involving water and an infusion of ‘ajwayin’ and over prescribed medicines that act more like placebos, there are other, less intrusive ways to experiment. Studies show that colic babies respond well to sounds of electric fans, washing machines and hair dryers as the rhythm helps them calm down. Before you go burning up your motors, just download an app for soothing baby sounds and keep those gadgets handy.


To feed or not to feed

This is the question Hamlet should have been asking. Within the first few hours of your baby’s arrival and the parade of aunts through your tiny hospital room which is overcrowded with strange smelling flowers and chocolate boxes, the second question everyone will ask will be, “Are you going to breastfeed?” Apparently there is some memo circulating out there which gives free rein to all chachees, aunties and friends of your mother-in-law to proffer advice about how if you don’t nurse your child you are denying them a basic human right, or if you do then you will turn into a decrepit mommy-slave and your child will be forever malnourished. Remember to greet all this unsolicited advice with a poker face, a steely smile, a patronising nod and throw in a “jee jee, bilkul” for good measure to assure them that you hold their suggestion in the highest of esteem. In the meantime proceed to visit baby forums, watch YouTube videos or ask your hospital nurse and even friends who are nursing their newborns to address the concerns you might be having on holding positions, duration of each feed, chafing concerns and make an informed choice of whether it is right for your baby and you.

If you choose formula, know the benefits and drawbacks as well as potential flags such as allergies to watch out for, so again you stick to the decision you make with confidence. Do not fall for myths that circulate about a mother’s milk lacking in iron and essential vitamins or that a nursed baby cries because they are under-nourished or that formula fed babies have higher chances of developing colic or delayed teething or will sleep through the night better. These generalizations are unfounded and each child will be unique in what they need.

Sleeping satellites

This brings us to the next point which everyone feels free to comment on with shock and awe or stories of how their babies slept through the night on day 2. One of the most common practices amongst desi mums seems to be to “exaggerate”, both the good and the bad. Hardly anyone will tell it to you straight unless it’s a trusted source so don’t compare your baby’s sleep schedule and habits to anyone else’s. Newborn babies change from week to week and month to month and no “habits” are formed in the first few weeks of life when all they are looking for is some warmth and nurturing. According to Baby Center, the first 3 months the baby is just trying to get used to its new surroundings so it is around 4-6 months when any kind of enforced routine should be gently introduced. Again every baby is different and some might not even be ready then, so let your baby’s cues and your instinct tell you what is working and what isn’t.

Figure out if co-sleeping works for you because the benefits have been greatly emphasised by Dr Sears, a globally trusted resource for parents, confirming that scientific research suggests that co-sleeping infants do in fact sleep more peacefully, as the adrenaline released in crib-babies who wake up startled several times during the night adds to their excited state whereas the physical warmth of sleeping near to parents has a calming effect on babies’ bodies due to which they have been observed to have more stable heart rhythms and temperatures. Also the Consumer Product Safety Commission has published data which rubbishes the notion that accidental death in cribs is 3 times more likely for co-sleeping infants, a fear that discourages many from bringing infants into their beds.

If co-sleeping is not a practical choice for you then find the best alternative for your baby, for example, using attachable cribs that allow your baby to be near enough to receive physical warmth from you when needed or wrapping her in a lightly warmed blanket when you put her down in a crib. Remember for the the first months it is said that infants are looking to replicate the feelings they were accustomed to in the womb, which is why they often tremble and shake randomly, so do your best to provide them with the same sense of security.

The first baby in space

If there is one mantra you should repeat with your first baby throughout your first year, make it this, “I don’t need to mould my parenting style according to what my baby “should” be doing, my baby should be doing fine, that’s it”. When someone comes at you with a “Your baby isn’t holding her head up as yet? Mine was at 3 months”, it doesn’t mean you should prop your baby up with cushions in an extremely unsafe manner for his daily Facebook shoot in which he’s surmounting some challenge that you believe no child has ever done before! And the “you haven’t started him on solids yet, mine eats bowls of porridge and loves those tinned puddings” actually means I waste an exorbitant amount of money or energy in shoving semi-solid food into my tortured infant’s mouth who barely swallows half a teaspoon of the gunk that ends up mostly on the floor and in the bin. In all seriousness, be aware that the early introduction of solids can also lead to the development of lifelong allergies to milks, nuts, eggs, wheat etc which can be avoided. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants should be given milk (mother’s or formula) for the first 6 months of their life as it fulfils all their digestive needs and there are signs to tell us when an infant is ready for food: they are able to hold up their head (for real), no longer pushes food out with their tongue and can actually roll food around in their mouth as if to swallow. Starting food earlier has more disadvantages such as harming their digestive system and their intestines which are not developed enough as yet, so don’t assume it’s better for their sleep or weight gain or overall cognitive development, without educating yourself about pros and cons first.

Whether you choose the baby-led or parent-led system to establish feeding and sleeping routines, just know that nothing is etched in stone. Different things work for different babies at different times. Especially in the first few months, nothing is constant so if things are unpredictable and out of control, they will change. Babies are also tuned-in to our anxiety and our emotions so the more tense and desperate we are to force them to feed less or more or sleep at a specific time the more likely they are to feel tense and anxious too. So the more calm and relaxed we remain by believing that we will do a good job with our baby no matter what, the happier we all will be. In the words of the globally acclaimed authority on children Dr Spock, “Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do”.