By: Vincent C. Smith, MD, MPH, FAAP
Being a parent to a new baby can be hard. The joy you get from coos and cuddles is mixed in with the hard work of
infant care. It's normal to feel frustrated and exhausted. If your baby cries all the time or won't sleep, parenting is even harder.
It's very important to take care of yourself by leaning on family and friends – and your pediatrician – for help during these early days of parenthood. Just remember, you are not alone. Here is some information that can help.
Crying is normal for babies: In the first six weeks of life, babies cry an average of 2-3 hours a day. Most babies start crying a lot when they are around two weeks old and continue for about two months.
Tips for soothing: You may need to try a few things to help
soothe your baby. As a place to start, try
swaddling, gently rocking or singing to them. Figuring out what works for your baby can be a trial and error process. Some things may need to be tried over and over before they work.
Crying to sleep: If soothing doesn't work, put your baby down on their back in a
safe sleep environment (nothing in the bed, besides the baby on a firm sleep surface with a tight-fitting sheet, without any blankets, toys, pillows or other bedding). While some babies cry for a long time, many parents are surprised by how quickly babies will cry themselves to sleep.
What if the baby won't sleep? Babies don't have regular sleep cycles until they are about six months old. And some only sleep 1 or 2 hours at a time. Here is
some advice on things to do if your baby has trouble falling asleep.
What about sibling rivalry? If you have
other children at home, don't be surprised if there are occasional outbursts or
aggressiveness as they get used to the new baby. Be clear with your children about how to treat the new baby. Praise them for being good helpers. Have plenty of healthy distractions on hand for them and do your best to control your own temper when things don't go as planned.
Try to get some rest yourself. It's important for you to take a break. Try sleeping when the baby is sleeping. Or ask your partner or another caring adult to watch your baby while you take a break.
Pause the pressure to be perfect. Keep in mind that there really is no "only" way to be a parent. Styles and approaches can vary. Also, all parents need help and support.
Connect with others. You may be tired a lot of the time, but it's helpful to talk with other adults. Try video chats or social media to stay in touch with friends and family. This especially important during the
COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing can leave new parents feeling especially isolated.
Use your "helpers." Engage your baby's older siblings as much as you can by encouraging them to be your special helpers, so they can help out in ways that are appropriate to their own age.
Seek help if you need it. Feelings of sadness or depression are common after having a baby. If you had a history of depression before your baby was born, you may be at higher risk for
postpartum depression. Your pediatrician can help, or you can call the
Postpartum Support International toll-free Help Line: 1-800-944-4773 or text 1-503-894-9453 (English) or 1-971-420-0294 (Spanish)
Find a parent group. You may find it helpful to talk things through with other moms in your neighborhood or online. Sharing your experience with someone going through the same thing can be a great relief.
Your pediatrician is here to help. Never hesitate to call for advice. Your pediatricians will understand your baby's needs as well as what you are going through.
Alcohol isn't the answer. Caring for a baby while intoxicated is not safe. Drinking
alcohol impairs your judgment and your ability to safely care for your baby. If you drink too much, arrange for a sober adult to care for your baby during this time.
Alcohol and breastfeeding. Alcohol passes through your
breast milk to your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics
recommends avoiding drinking alcohol while breastfeeding.
The pump and dump myth. Expressing or pumping milk after drinking alcohol, and then discarding it (sometimes called "pumping and dumping"), does not quickly reduce the amount of alcohol in your milk. Breast milk contains alcohol if alcohol is still in your bloodstream. As your blood alcohol level falls over time, the level of alcohol in your breast milk also drops.
Timing is important. If you are going to have an occasional alcoholic beverage, it's best to do so just after you nurse or pump milk, rather than before. Breastfeeding or pumping breast milk is OK two hours after your last drink. That way, your body has time to rid itself of the alcohol and less of it will reach your infant.
Marijuana and breastfeeding. No amount of
marijuana is safe to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. The chemicals from the marijuana can pass to your baby through your breastmilk, and your ability to provide care may be impaired.
Pregnancy and alcohol. If you are thinking about having another baby, remember that no amount of alcohol during pregnancy is risk-free. No kind of alcohol during pregnancy is risk-free. And there is no time during pregnancy when alcohol consumption is risk-free
It's OK to ask for help!
Call your pediatrician with any questions.
About Dr. Smith
Dr. Vincent C. Smith, MD, MPH, FAAP, is Division Chief of Newborn Medicine at Boston Medical Center and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University Medical School. He serves as the medical director for the American Academy of Pediatrics' Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Program. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Perinatal Association. He is also an active member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Society for Pediatric Research, and Maternal Child Health Advisory Committee at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Smith is a graduate of Stanford University School of Medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health. He trained in pediatrics at Children's Hospital and Boston Medical Center in the Boston Combined Pediatric Residency Program. He then completed a fellowship in neonatal-perinatal medicine through the Harvard wide program, a collaboration of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Boston Children's Hospital.