Welcome to parenthood!
Throughout time, couples have been having babies, and until very recently they were surrounded by family and community members and trained helpers. These people would help them for the first few weeks and teach them what they needed to know. There would be an affirmation of parenthood and the importance of what was being done. The new mother's work would be shared. There would be inside jokes about how the world really works and also a shared feeling of awe at the gift of a new life.
Now it seems we're all checking development charts and growth charts and sleep charts and calling our babies "good" if they don't cry and pacing around our homes by ourselves with our little newborns, wondering if anybody else has noticed that life is made up of poop and spit-up and leaking milk.
With this book I hope to convey a sense of community, to teach you how to do a few things that will make taking care of your baby easier and more effective. I want to share a few tricks of the tradition, which I guarantee your baby will love. I want to help you see how joyous and difficult and sometimes funny being parents can be.
With the photographs I hope to inspire you to see taking care of your baby as a beautiful, natural thing to do, and also to show what some mysterious things such as front-carriers, bassinets, lying-down positions, and receiving blankets are.
Most of all, I want to help you get into the habit of trying to see things from your baby's perspective. So many difficult situations in parenting can be avoided or remedied by making an effort to understand what our children are thinking or feeling, what they need, and it all starts when they're babies. It helps to keep a goal in mind--to meet our babies' needs while guiding them gently toward fulfilling their potential--but it also helps not to worry too much when things change or don't go the way we plan. How a baby grows and matures is a mystery, which to a large extent can only be wondered about.
My husband Bartley, who is a pediatrician, and I come from long lines of loving parents who take parenting very seriously. What I know about taking care of babies I learned from my mother, whom our children call "Oma," the traditional word for Granny
in Holland. Throughout this book you will hear Oma's voice, which is really her mother's voice and her
mother's voice and is becoming my voice. My mother and her mother and her grandmother were all nurses and midwives in Holland back when midwives taught new parents how to care for their babies over the course of two to six weeks, but the valuable techniques and attitudes I got from them and their husbands were not developed in hospitals. They learned, and passed on, how to make parenting a joy in damp, small homes in Holland, where they knew that to thrive as parents you have to keep your perspective and keep things comfortable for you and your baby. I hope you read this book snuggled up in your bed or on a couch with a blanket. Let's get started!PLAY
When thinking about play for your baby, remember that the whole world is shocking and new for him. He has never seen, smelled, touched, heard, or tasted in the outside world before. The littlest things are fascinating or upsetting. Recognizing a pattern of light and dark, learning the smell of his father, hearing a doorbell for the first time are all new adventures. From your baby's point of view there are five areas of play: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
Try to introduce new sensations to your baby gradually so that he can absorb them in his own way and not feel overwhelmed. Your baby's first experiences will lay the foundation for his sense of security and understanding, so take your time with him and try to see the world from his perspective while gently expanding his horizons.SIGHT
Visual play for a baby is based initially on seeing the difference between light and dark, seeing the difference between movement and stillness, and recognizing a face. These are all very important skills for a baby to learn so that he can see when his environment changes and recognize who is a known person and who is a stranger. With these ideas in mind there are many toys you can make and games you can play.
The best visual game of all for you and your baby is when you sit with your knees up and let him sit in your lap and lay back against your legs. In that position, face to face, he can see your face at close range, see your eyes blink and your mouth move, learn the color of your hair and your skin. Very soon after birth your baby will recognize your face as distinct from any other. He sees your arms reach and your hands with fingers moving and smiles and a nose that sticks out when you look sideways. He will learn to look into your eyes and hold your gaze for longer and longer.
Related to this game is Oma's strongly recommended practice of taking your baby everywhere around the house with you. Put him in an infant seat, in a front carrier, or securely prop him in a stroller and do what you need to do around the house, but bring him with you. He'll see sheets flying, shower curtains opening and closing, dishes shining and moving one after another out of the dishwasher. He'll pass by light windows and dark doorways, all the while trying to keep track of that familiar shape that is you. He'll learn about space, light, and relatedness. As long as you keep moving he'll probably keep being interested, and you'll get the housework done while you're at it.
Black-and-white mobiles are good for babies to look at also. Your baby will be able to focus on the moving parts if the mobile is hung about eight to twelve inches from his face. You can mount a mobile on a stroller, an infant seat, or the side of a playpen or crib, and the gentle movement will be quite interesting. Patterned fabrics also hold interest for babies. Try laying him down next to a richly patterned pillow.
Take your baby outside and explore the world when he's awake and alert. The branch of a tree swaying in a breeze with fluttering leaves is fascinating. A trip to a grocery store is an adventure to another world.
Once your baby can sit up and hold on to things, you can set him up on a quilt on the floor anywhere. He'll be able to see all around him and pick things up to inspect them. Give him plenty to explore, two or three at a time: wooden spoons of different sizes and weights and textures, a set of measuring spoons, a plastic cup, a toy with a face, a clean hairbrush, a whisk. Let him see and feel everything that's safe, keeping in mind that everything you give your baby will end up being sucked on and chewed.
Oma suggests having a basket of clean, safe "toys" for your baby in every room along with a blanket or quilt for the floor, so that you always have a safe and interesting place close at hand at a moment's notice.
Once your baby is several months old he'll be able to see color, and it's fun to replace some of the black-and-white toys with brightly colored toys and mobiles. Look around each room every week or so for new objects to explore.SOUND
Sound play is based on learning your voice and hearing and learning the meaning of other sounds.
An integral part of Oma's important take-along-everywhere-in-the-house game is talking to your baby as you go. Tell him everything you're doing and he'll hear what your voice sounds like close up, at a distance, when you're complaining, when you're joking. He'll hear a window opening, a door closing, water running, your footsteps, and the ringing of the telephone. All these sounds will register with your baby in some basic way as familiar. These sounds will add up to "home."
You can also slowly introduce him to other people's voices and animal sounds at a farm or zoo....