We asked paediatricians, clinic sisters, parenting coaches and experienced moms for their top tips to help you avoid the pitfalls that commonly trip up first-time parents.
1. Don’t assume breastfeeding will come easily and naturally
Many new mothers struggle to breastfeed and are surprised it doesn’t come easily or naturally, says midwife and clinic sister Pippa Hime. If your baby is struggling to latch, if you’re experiencing breast and nipple pain, or are concerned about how frequently your baby should be feeding, get assistance from someone experienced in lactation, recommends Pippa.
International board-certified lactation consultants offer professional advice for all breastfeeding challenges. La Leche League also has trained leaders who are experienced breastfeeding mothers and happy to help with questions and concerns. They have an active and useful Facebook page, too.
2. Routine needs to unfold in its own time
New moms often think they can establish a routine with their newborn right from the beginning, but this simply isn’t possible. Instead, work with your baby to gently and slowly find a routine to your days and nights, suggests Pippa.
Be aware that when it comes to child rearing, your routine will rarely function like clockwork. Just when you think you’ve found your groove, your baby may start teething or catch a sniffle and you’ll need to readjust.
3. Newborn stools are loose and frequent
Mistaking normal newborn stools for diarrhoea is another common trap, says Pippa. Newborn stools are normally frequent and very loose, whereas diarrhoea stools are looser, profuse, watery and can occur for a number of reasons including food allergies, a change in diet, or an intestinal infection. Symptoms that should prompt you to seek help, in addition to watery stools, are fewer wet nappies, unusual drowsiness, a fever, abdominal pain and vomiting.
4. Get trusted advice
Parents often take medical advice from friends, family, well-meaning neighbours and other mothers on Facebook. Just because your friend says she successfully treated her child’s fever with Aspirin, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. Paediatrician Fikile Mabena points out that Aspirin can cause a serious liver condition known as Reye’s syndrome in young children.
Though advice may come with good intentions, it’s best to find a trusted, professional healthcare provider (a GP, clinic sister or paediatrician) who you can discuss your questions and concerns with, she urges. Pippa suggests choosing a healthcare provider and sticking with her as parents can also take advice from too many professionals, which can become conflicting and confusing.
5. Don’t start solids too early or too late
Starting solids too early, or too late, is another common mistake, says Fikile. Solid foods should be introduced into a baby’s diet between four and six months of age. Between these ages, babies develop the oral-motor coordination to move solid food from the front to the back of the mouth for swallowing. Babies are also born with a store of iron that lasts a maximum of six months. It, therefore, needs to be replenished by eating natural food sources.
If you start too early, you risk choking, gastrointestinal problems, and your baby being overweight for her age. Start solids too late and you risk slowing your baby’s growth, and iron deficiency in breastfed babies.
and frequently weigh your baby, and chart her growth, you can identify the ideal time to start your child on solids.
6. Vaccinate, don’t vacillate
Immunisations protect your baby and other children around them from acquiring life-threatening illnesses. The benefits far outweigh any small risks of side-effects, says Fikile.
Choosing not to immunise based on online information spread by the vaccine- hesitancy movement is a growing problem. All parents should be encouraged to immunise their babies in the first year of life and beyond, she urges.
7. Your baby is an individual
No two babies are the same and while one may start walking at nine months, another will only walk at 15 months. Neither is a problem, says Pippa, who finds that moms often make the mistake of comparing themselves and their babies to others.
Constantly comparing your baby’s milestones, and your success as a parent, with other moms, will only cause you stress. Let go of the comparisons and enjoy each stage your baby is at.
8. Your baby’s first roll can come as a surprise
Your baby will be able to roll from his tummy to his back from about four months of age and from back to tummy from around five months. Even with this knowledge, your baby’s first roll can come as quite a surprise – especially if it’s off the bed or changing station, warns mom-of-four Caroline Swanson.
Caroline’s first baby rolled off her bed and the second, despite Caroline being sure she wouldn’t make the
same mistake, tumbled off the changing table as Caroline turned her back to grab a nappy. Both babies came away unscathed, but Caroline felt terrible. “It’s an easy mistake to make − for the first few months of your baby’s life, you can easily go to the loo mid nappy change and return to a baby in the same place. Until, one day, you don’t,” she says.
Avoid making a habit of turning your back on your baby when he’s on a raised surface.
9. Remember that you were a couple first
Parenting can become all-consuming, says family and parenting coach Stephanie Dawson-Cosser. Parents are often so exhausted from juggling the demands of caring for a baby and working that they forget to nurture their relationship.
Parenting can feel amazing in the beginning, but somewhere amid the nappies, sleepless nights and aching boobs, the joy of your relationship can get lost. Parents need to continually kindle the magic between them because it feeds the wonder between parent and child. Make time for yourselves as a couple, urges Stephanie.
It’s easy to enter parenthood blissfully blind until your differences in parenting styles come to the fore. Those differences can be a source of friction if you don’t keep the lines of communication open.
10. Don’t sweat the small stuff
The potential list of questions and choices when parenting is endless. Do I get a nanny? Do I send my baby to crèche? Should I co-sleep with my baby or put him in a cot? When is the best time to wean? Behind all these questions is the driving desire to do the best for your child, which is great − unless you’re aiming for an unattainable perfection that inevitably wears you down. So it helps, says Stephanie, to recognise that you never stop learning as a parent. Fretting over doing the ‘wrong thing’ or beating yourself up over a ‘mistake’ simply boxes your thinking into right and wrong and makes it easy to lose sight of what you’re doing well.
“Sometimes you’ll make choices that aren’t necessarily the best, but if you allow yourself a bit of breathing space and forgiveness you can let grace, love and gentleness in.”
Pippa is a Registered Professional Nurse and trained as a Registered Midwife at Chris Hani Baragwanth Hospital. She has extensive experience in all things baby related with a special interest in preparing couples for the exciting journey of parenthood as well as supporting them in the weeks that follow the birth. She and her husband Richard are the proud parents of Becca age 6 and Tom age 4. Pippa has a comprehensive private clinic service that includes Childbirth Education classes, a Well Baby Clinic including Immunization as well as Post Natal and Lactation support. With over 5 years of running a private clinic facility and raising 2 children Pippa comes with a wealth of knowledge and first-hand experience of parenthood. Learn more about Pippa Hime