Q: Why did you write Baby Love?
A: I wanted to write a book on baby care that would give new parents a sense of calm. I wanted it to be a thin book on the subject explaining how baby care is pretty straightforward. I also saw a need for a good-looking baby care book that would be fun to buy as a gift.
Q: How did you learn what you know about taking care of babies?
A: When I had our babies, my mother taught me everything she had learned as a midwife in Holland in the '50s. Those were the days when they took care of new mothers and their babies for two to six weeks after birth, teaching them everything they needed to know. With a ward full of babies, the nurses learned pretty quickly what babies in general like and don't like. My grandmother was also a midwife in Holland, as was her mother, so this book is based on a very long tradition of European baby care. My mother also had six of her own babies with my father, so she knew well what to teach me about managing at home with a baby.
Q: Why do new parents oftentimes get caught up in watching the clock?
A: When you start doing something so new and different from anything else you've done, often you will cling to rules and regulations because they are reassuring and make you feel like you are mastering the task. The problem is, babies are all different and so are parents. Even the same baby and parent may change month to month. The solution is to learn a constructive attitude toward each area of baby care and then think about it flexibly as you both change and grow.
For instance, each baby needs to eat when he's hungry. Instead of looking for a magic number of hours between meals, a parent can be the judge of how hungry a baby is and feed the baby only when he's quite hungry. This will ensure the baby eats a good, full meal, and the baby will last as long as possible until the next feeding. At the beginning this will be about every two or three hours, but the period will stretch to four hours over time. It would be very complicated to calculate this development weekly, but if you understand the concept of hungry-eat-wait, and guide your baby gently toward longer periods, then his eating schedule will take care of itself.
Q: How did you take the photographs in Baby Love?
A: Some of the photos I took for myself and my husband when our children were babies. The rest I did in New York with babies of friends from Westchester, Long Island, and Manhattan. Taking pictures of babies is a little like taking pictures of animals in the wild. You can't force them to do anything, you just have to wait for something to happen. I made sure I liked the background of the picture and the baby was doing something that I needed to show, but otherwise I let them surprise and delight me. I was lucky to be able to work with mothers and fathers who understood what I was trying to do with the book and went along with how I wanted to do the photos.
Q: Do you really think parents today have time to do all the nice little things you suggest in your book?
A: Yes. I see parents make all kinds of efforts for their children, and the things I suggest are all part of a day for anyone who is taking care of a baby. It is up to the parents to set the tone of their family, and I hope to influence a few families to adopt a calmer, more commonsense approach to their daily routines.
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Read an Excerpt
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 whenthey'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!
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.
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 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. The more slowly you introduce new sounds, the more your baby will be able to distinguish between them and make sense of them. Of course, this process will occur whether you guide it or not, but if you're aware of the process you can have fun with it and avoid overwhelming him.
Oma listens to every sound a baby makes as a great effort on the baby's part to communicate. Early on you can take your baby's "ooohh" as a special message of love or response to a question and reply to him, keeping eye contact, and waiting for another effort. You can engage a baby as young as a few weeks old this way, and in a few months you'll be having full-fledged baby "discussions," which will lay the foundation for a relationship between you of understanding and communication. By the time your baby actually speaks recognizable words, you'll already be understanding his meaning and he'll already be confident that you're listening.
Also treat your baby to music. Simple rhymes and melodies will introduce your baby to your language and culture. Harmony and the flow of a song will make an impression on him. See which of your music he seems to like. Make music a part of your day by singing and listening while doing other things. Soon your baby will associate certain music with certain activities, he'll calm down and go to sleep when he hears some music and rev up and expect an outing when he hears other music.
To your baby there are two smells: you and everything else. Smells probably associated with you are your breath, breast milk and/or formula, a warm stretchy blanket, your bed, his bed, and probably a few other things and places around the house. Smells that are foreign and therefore probably a little interesting and a little scary are other people's breath and body smells, unfamiliar food cooking, car exhaust, and detergent, to name only a few. Even the sensation of smelling is new for your baby, and when added to too many other new sensations at the same time, it can be distressing.
Oma recommends trying to be aware of what smells you expose your baby to, not so much to limit them but rather to better understand what reactions your baby might have to the smells. Is he soothed by the smell of your favorite meal? Does he look around for Grandma when he smells fresh air blown in through the open door?
Related to smell is taste. To your baby there is milk/formula/you and then there is everything else: someone else's finger, a teething ring, the edge of a blanket. Your baby will learn over time how to distinguish among smells and tastes until, as a two-year-old or before, he'll ask for a bite of the candy you thought you were sneaking, and he'll notice the difference between brands of the same kind of cereal.
Once he can swallow solid food you can explore the worlds of vegetables and fruit, fish and meat, and grains (see "Food").
Your baby's experience of touch is made up of his touching things and also being touched, or handled, by you and others. He learns a lot about you from how you handle him. Every diaper change, every time you hold him to feed him, bathe him, kiss him, every time you nudge him to make sure he's secure in his baby seat, he learns that he is valued, taken care of, loved.
Up to about six weeks old babies probably aren't able to sense their bodies very much, especially their extremities, unless they are touched. So if you massage your baby's fingers and toes he might begin to sense that he has fingers and toes. If you rub his legs with lotion, stretching his muscles for him, he might make a first effort at trying to stretch himself on purpose.
You can lay the foundation for physical awareness for your baby right from the start by touching him and holding him and taking care of him gently and firmly. He will learn your touch--just as he learns your face, voice, and smell--as being confident and loving, and that will be the cornerstone of his life experience.
Once your baby is able to reach out and pick things up and touch them himself, you can introduce him to an array of textures and shapes with toys and household items as described in the section on "Sight." A fluffy lambskin, a soft worn blanket, whiskers on Papa's face, a cool breeze, silky grass--these can all be delightful touch experiences. Pay attention to how he reacts to these things, and talk about them and react to them with him. How funny is it to have your hair blown up around you by a gust of wind? How surprising is it to feel the prickles of a hairbrush for the first time? How overwhelmingly lovely is it to feel your baby's cheek against your own? All of these experiences are what make up the kind of "play" for your baby in which he can really participate.
Once your baby can roll over, sit up, and crawl, you can play games using your own body as a jungle gym. Make a bridge for him to crawl under by getting on your hands and knees. Make a bar for him to pull up on by holding your opposite elbows. Make your legs into a slide. Learn yoga or a calisthenics routine, and your baby will love playing on and around you while you get your body back in shape.
There are catalogs and stores full of products to help you lock up all your cabinets, your toilet, and your oven in defense against your exploring baby. The best and easiest way to baby-proof your home is to make your home baby-, child-, and adult-friendly. Make your home a place that is fun to explore and easy to be in. Two things you can't move are your stairs (get a gate) and your electrical outlets (get plugs). But for the rest, organize your home so that objects are placed at age-appropriate heights.
Pots and pans, plastic containers, dish towels, unopened containers of food, baby toys, wooden and washable upholstered furniture, clothing, and very heavy books go down low. Forks and knives, glassware, opened containers of food, telephones, magazines and newspapers, and unplugged kitchen appliances go at four-year-old height. Medications, detergents, very sharp knives and implements, expensive jewelry, important documents, and valuable breakables go high up in cabinets or on high shelves. Consult your pediatrician about your baby's growth curve when planning shelving and cabinets.
It may take longer to rearrange your possessions than to buy locks and install them, but once you're done you won't have to worry about the locks being left unlocked, you'll have to say "no" a lot less, and you'll have age-appropriate household items available for everyone's use.
As far as ovens, stoves, and toilets go, there is no substitute for careful use of these and supervision of your child. Turn the handles of a pot away from the edge of the stove, put your baby or toddler in a playpen, high chair, or on a designated rug before opening the oven, and keep the toilet lid down.