Read an Excerpt
I am a baby watcher. Put me in a crowded place like a restaurant or an airport, and I instantly find the infant who is just discovering the world beyond his mother's arms, or the toddler who is scaling the seats like a climber challenging Everest. I watch how babies and their parents work together, sometimes smoothly, sometimes with friction. I'm always very curious, and I often find a way to start up a conversation. Talking with parents about their babies is what I do best.
As a pediatrician, I try to listen more than I talk. When parents come to me with concerns, they usually have a good idea of what they need. My first job is to convince them that I am willing eager, really to listen. After that, we work together to make sense of the situation. I don't believe in telling parents what to do. If I can shed new light on an old problem, parents usually don't have much trouble finding a solution that works for them.
This attitude is reflected in this book, as I've tried to write it the way I talk with patients: directly, in plain language, but without skimping on the content. The subject matter I tackle is simple, basic stuff sleeping, feeding, comforting, and hygiene but in my years of practice, I have been struck by how often it's everyday child-care issues, not major medical problems, that concern the parents of my young patients. A mom worries that she isn't providing adequate breast milk for her baby, a bleary-eyed dad wonders why his five-week-old infant isn't sleeping through the night yet, a couple wrestles with the thorny cloth-versus-disposable diaper debate. Baby Basics is designed to address some of these common and essential concerns, to give parents the information and confidence they need to tend to and enjoy! their infants and toddlers.
I've tried to provide plenty of practical advice as well as insights into babies' development their abilities at different ages and the challenges they face so that, as a parent, you can make informed decisions about what's best for you and your family. I've also tried to point out how everyday tasks such as feeding, bathing, and putting your baby to sleep are opportunities for emotional and intellectual growth. Not that every single minute needs to be packed full of meaningful learning that would be too much pressure for any parent or baby but I've tried to give you the facts you need so that you can reflect, from time to time, on the truly amazing journey you and your baby are taking.
The information in this book comes from several sources. I trained in general pediatrics at Boston City Hospital in the 1980s, and then underwent an additional three-year fellowship in developmental-behavioral pediatrics. This field sprang from the work of enlightened pediatricians such as Benjamin Spock, who was one of the first doctors in the United States to combine knowledge about children's physical health with insights into their mental and emotional development. Dr. Spock understood that parents care about their whole children, their heads and hearts, not just their muscles and bones. The words in this book weren't written by Dr. Spock, but the whole approach to thinking about children and their parents was inspired by him.
In fact, Benjamin Spock's timeless philosophy is the bedrock of The Dr. Spock Company, which was founded by a new team of pediatricians, obstetricians, and other experts to bring today's moms and dads the latest parenting and child-health information and advice. I have been vice president of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the company since 2000, and my experiences have brought me a new kind of interaction with parents. As a staff writer for the company's website, drSpock.com, I've been able to contribute articles on a wide array of topics everything from how to choose a preschool to how to explain the events of September 11 to children. I've also had the opportunity to answer parents' questions as part of our "Ask Our Experts" Q&A forum, and participate in Parent Sense, a series for public television that The Dr. Spock Company co-produced. Knowing that I was reaching a much larger number of families than I ever could have in any medical practice was both humbling and energizing.
While I was reading about the great ideas in child development and getting hands-on training from some of the very best developmental-behavioral pediatricians anywhere, I had another, equally influential teacher: my daughter, Grace. Grace taught me about the simple satisfaction that comes from bathing a baby, the fun of introducing a child to new and different foods, and the joy of taking long walks with an infant riding high in a backpack. My daughter also taught me a lot about sleepless nights and the many ways to calm a crying baby or at least try to. Grace is now 13, and I'm still learning from her.
Still, perhaps my best teachers have been the hundreds of children and parents whom I've had the privilege to take care of over the years. Some have needed intensive treatment for serious medical, developmental, and behavioral problems. Many have needed only a little guidance or encouragement. All have taught me about children, parents, and families in ways that no textbook or master clinician could. These experiences, more than any other, gave me the confidence to know that the information in this book can be helpful.
But a book is only a book. Baby Basics not meant to be a substitute for personal medical care. If you find yourself feeling frustrated, concerned, or upset about your child, please talk with your child's doctor or another trusted professional, and find help. Parenting problems can be terribly painful and exhausting. No parent should have to face such challenges alone.
How to use this book
The book is divided into four main chapters, each dealing with a broad area of baby and toddler development: sleeping, feeding, comforting, and hygiene. The afterword wraps up themes that have appeared throughout the book, tying them to the idea of what I consider another baby basic: values.
Within each chapter, topics appear in more or less chronological order, with newborn and baby issues first, followed by the issues most relevant to toddlers. The baby blocks on the top of every right-hand page clue you in to the age groups covered in the material on that page and the adjacent left-hand page (i.e., "N" for newborns, "B" for babies age two to twelve months, and "T" for toddlers, one to three years old). Notice that you won't always find the same age groupings as you go from chapter to chapter. This is because significant developmental changes occur at certain ages depending on the topic. For example, predictable and different sleep issues concern newborns, two- to five-month-olds, six- to seven-month-olds, eight-to-twelve-month-olds, and toddlers. They need their own sections. But the same issues that apply to comforting newborns, in general, also apply to older infants, while toddlers have their own distinct set of concerns; therefore, the Comforting chapter only has two age groupings: "Newborn and Babies" and "Toddlers." Sprinkled through the chapters are quotations from Dr. Benjamin Spock's timeless classic Baby and Child Care and also from parents writing on the bulletin boards of drSpock.com, our company's website. You can read Baby Basics from cover to cover, or skip to the topics that seem most relevant to the ages or issues that you're facing now.
The book isn't meant to be a comprehensive "how to" manual. The original Baby and Child Care still offers the broadest coverage of every aspect of parenting. Instead, I've chosen to look in more depth at a few topics that are truly basic to raising babies.
Finally, this book doesn't offer easy answers to tough problems. Instead, I try to lay out the key issues and options, and trust you to choose. As a doctor, I can look parents in the eye and ask, "Did what I just said make sense to you? Will it help?" As a writer, of course, I don't have that luxury. I can only hope that as you read this book, you'll find some new ways of looking at babies and toddlers, some useful practical advice, and plenty of support for the good parenting you are already doing.
Copyright © 2003 by The Dr. Spock Company