Decorating the nursery is part of the joy of planning for and bringing home a new baby. But when it comes to preparing the crib, it’s important to stay minimalist in style. Bumpers, blankets and stuffed animals may pose strangling and/or suffocation hazards and increase risks for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Some tips to help keep baby safe:
- Select a crib with solid head and footboards, no drop rails and narrow slats (no wider than 2 ⅜” apart)
- Choose a firm, tight-fitting mattress and cover it with a fitted bottom sheet
- Position the crib safely away from window blinds and curtain cords
- Do not expose the infant to cigarette smoke
- Never put baby to sleep on a water bed, sheepskin, sofa or other soft surface
- Remove all blankets, quilts, pillows, stuffed toys, cushions and bumper pads
- Dress baby in a one-piece sleeper instead of using blankets
- Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ back to sleep rule – always place newborns on their backs at bedtime
Dr. Warren Brill is a pediatric dentist and president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). He encourages parents to establish and maintain good oral habits with children from the very start including some key advice below:
- Clean baby’s gums with a soft, infant brush or cloth and water
- Use a wet cloth to swab baby’s mouth after the last feeding before bedtime
- Visit a pediatric dentist when the first tooth erupts or by age 1
- Brush baby’s teeth at least twice a day
- Start flossing when teeth come in next to each other
Dr. Brill advises parents to continue to assist with brushing and flossing through toddler and school age years. Children don’t develop the manual dexterity to clean their own teeth until they reach age 7 or 8.
Infant massage is a soothing and relaxing way for you and your baby to bond. Research shows a range of stress-relieving benefits for parent and child such as:
- Less crying and fussiness
- Better sleep
- Reduction of gas and constipation
- Improvement in muscle tone
- Regulation and weight gain for premature infants
The beauty of infant massage is that it’s easy to learn and convenient to do in any setting. Here are some basics:
- Position baby on a clean, flat surface such as a changing table
- Cover the torso with a soft blanket or towel
- Warm a small amount of lotion or oil in your hand
- Use gentle, circular motions starting on the forehead and moving to the temples, nose, mouth and ears
- Speak softly as you go, working downward across the shoulders and chest
- Maintain close eye contact as you move to the belly, arms and hands and tug tenderly on each finger
- Apply smooth, even pressure, one leg at a time, from top to bottom and finish by counting each toe
Take your baby’s cue. You can repeat the process by turning the infant onto the tummy – or stop whenever your little one seems calm and relaxed.
Reading to your baby during the first year of life is key for intellectual and emotional development according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Even though your little one won't understand at first, researchers say babies who are exposed early to language become successful readers and writers. Another bonus: Reading with your baby promotes bonding and creates positive memories. Here are some tips to help make reading a lifelong, enjoyable habit:
- Start early. Cuddle up with your infant and talk to him while he looks at a picture book for a few minutes each day.
- Bring home colorful books with textures. Babies use their senses, so let them touch and gaze.
- Change your pitch, be expressive and have fun! Your baby loves the sound of your voice.
- Make reading part of your child's bedtime routine.
- Visit the library regularly and allow your child to pick several of his own books.
- Be a good role model. Let your child see that you enjoy reading.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institute for Literacy
Babies suckle for comfort and security, and some babies start sucking their thumbs in utero. Dr. Beverly Largent, a pediatric dentist in Paducah, Kentucky, says if dentists had to vote for either thumb-sucking or a pacifier, the pacifier would win because parents can eventually take that away. Dr. Largent says most children stop sucking by themselves around age three, but some continue, and this can damage the jaw and tooth alignment. If your child is still sucking his thumb or a pacifier at age three, it's time to intervene. Try these tips:
- Praise your child or give small rewards when he doesn't suckle.
- Give gentle reminders throughout the day.
- Keep your little one busy so he doesn't think about sucking.
- Don't use punishment or shame.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommends all babies see a pediatric dentist by age one or when the first tooth erupts. The dentist can check for changes to the child's soft palate and teeth. Sometimes behavior modification or dental appliances are used to help break the habit.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentists and Dr. Beverly Largent
During the third trimester of pregnancy, some women feel so uncomfortable they are tempted to ask their doctors to induce labor early. Research shows that as long as mother and baby are healthy, it’s best to wait until at least 39 weeks and let labor start on its own. These are key reasons not to induce early:
- Babies gain more weight while in utero and are able to more easily regulate their temperature at birth
- Babies breast-feed or bottle-feed better
- Brain, lungs and liver have more time to develop
- Babies are less likely to have problems with vision or hearing
- There’s a lower risk of cesarean section, infection or possible uterine rupture
While expectant moms may be eager to meet the little ones and get beyond the discomforts of pregnancy, patience benefits both mother and child.
Source: March of Dimes, “Healthy Babies Are Worth the Wait” campaign
Dr. Art Nowak is a retired pediatric dentist and member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). He says pregnancy is the perfect time for expectant moms and dads to visit the dentist and address their own oral care needs. Checkups before the baby arrives provide parents with a window of opportunity to:
- Review their own oral health habits and make changes to help protect themselves and their baby
- Prevent tooth decay and cavity-causing bacteria that can be passed to newborns
- Learn the best ways to clean babies’ gums and ward off decay before teeth erupt
Nowak advises that the first year of life is considered crucial for children’s oral health. The AAPD encourages parents to follow the first tooth, first visit rule: Schedule your child’s first dental visit by age one.
Sources: Dr. Art Nowak, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Nursery AAPD video interviews 2013