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One of my favorite things about leading groups for new moms is seeing their babies change so fast: from floppy newborns to wobbly sitters and finally to little creatures on the move. And only a few months in, you can see their distinct personalities emerging — the shriekers and squealers, the social butterflies, and the escape artists always heading for the exits.
Moms come in loaded with questions — for me and for other mothers in the class. Here are 10 important pieces of collective wisdom that those in my group have found helpful. If you have your own wisdom to add, please share in the comments!
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1: Think attunement, not attachment
Attachment is a psychology term that describes the process of bonding between a caregiver and child and how our first relationships shape our view of the world. But the translation of the term attachment in popular parenting philosophies can make it seem like the goal is 24/7 contact, stimulation, and immediate responsiveness — and that can make for wiped out, pressured parents. A better concept to strive for is attunement: reading your babys signals and being curious about what shes feeling, thinking, and needing. For example, if shes happily rolling on the floor and sputtering, maybe shes telling you shes fine on her own. Babies need space sometimes, too.
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2: The best place for baby is on
The swings and jumpers are a life-saver when you need them, but the best home base for your baby (when shes not snuggled with you) is on the floor on a firm but comfy blanket or rug with just a few toys. All that cycling of her legs, pushing up with her arms, and rolling from side to side is important exercise, and she gets the best opportunity to do it when shes on the ground.
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3: Avoid labeling your baby
I still cringe when I hear someone say, Oh, I see hes shy, about my son. I feel like saying, No, youre a total stranger, and Im actually glad hes not throwing open his arms to you. Instead I usually respond with something like, Hes just warming up, or, Hes just checking things out. Its hard to avoid labeling our babies shy, fussy, spoiled (relatives seem to love that one), or drama queen-esque. The occasional joke is all good, of course, but when you routinely label your baby, its bound to affect the way you and others see her (and eventually, how she sees herself). Use descriptions instead, saying things like, She really knows what she wants.
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4: Newborns are ready for a nap after 90 minutes
Dont wait for your baby to rub her eyes or yawn. Little babies biological clocks give them a window of drowsiness after about an hour and a half of alert time. When she wakes up in the morning, look at the clock, and after an hour and 15 minutes, see if you can settle her down for a nap. Even if its only a catnap, restart the clock after each waking and after 90 minutes try for sleep again.
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5: Get friendly
If youre not the kind of person to make new friends or reach out to your existing ones, this is the time to try something new. The first year can be isolating, and relationships with other moms and dads can change your whole outlook. Nice little exchange with a mom in the aisles at Target or after a music class? Get her email. Those relationships could be invaluable one day.
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6: You dont need to teach your baby
Step away from the flashcards. Your baby is a scientist, and everything within seeing and grabbing distance is her lab. That means you dont have to drill her with brilliant IQ boosting activities; she learns by watching you and having plenty of opportunity to explore. Give her a bowl and a wooden spoon, tissue paper to crinkle, and people around to love and engage her, and shell do the rest herself.
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7: Get out of the house
Do it even if youre in yoga pants with regurgitated milk patches on them. Leaving the house once a day to go for a walk, run an errand, or meet a friend can give you energy and lift your mood. Having a baby doesnt mean you dont need sunlight and fresh air.
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8: Get a hold on sleep in the first year
The first year is important for setting a good sleep foundation — the habits you establish in the first 12 months have far-reaching implications. Find a book you like or talk to friends about their sleep strategies but dont just assume that babies eventually sleep through the night on their own. Some do, but many need extra help (use techniques from Sleepy Planet, Elizabeth Pantley, or whoever speaks to you). If you want your baby to sleep independently, youll probably have to put some time into it.
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9: Don't check in on every noise
Babies sputter, grunt, and make all kinds of funny noises at night, just like they do during the day. If you hear your baby start to stir and kick her legs at night, ask yourself if shes really saying she needs you. If shes not, see if you can hang back a bit — maybe shes just about to work out how to put herself back to sleep (the ultimate nighttime skill).
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10: Go beyond date night
Taking care of your relationship is an important part of your childs first years. Yes, its good to carve out time for you and your partner, but seeing a movie together wont necessarily make you feel re-connected. Ask direct questions like, Whats this like for you? or, How are you doing with all this? If you lead with empathy, your partner is more likely to feel open and offer the same back to you.
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