Children: The User’s Manual
Chapter 2 Small Babies (2 to 6 months)
At some point during the first two months, I stopped being terrified that I would do things wrong. Andrew seemed to be thriving, I had figured out how to do all sorts of impossible things, like bathing him and getting him dressed in complicated clothes. We all started to have a routine. I began to be able to think again. This was good, because the next four months are fascinating, and it is helpful if your brain is beginning to function.
Development. In months 2 through 6, babies start to do things. It is easy to get competitive with other moms, and you must watch yourself like a hawk to avoid it. Moms tend to brag about the size of their baby or about how fast their baby sat up or what interesting things their baby is grabbing, or how much it is babbling. If your baby is still sitting around staring at his toes, it is easy to feel bad. All this competition is extremely silly. There is enormous variation in the “normal” range for humans. Also normal babies can skip developmental steps almost entirely.
My kid really
didn’t like crawling so he hung around staring interestedly at the room until
he figured out how to walk. He also
never did roll over. Just didn’t
bother. One friend of mine didn’t
bother learning to talk until he had something to say—around age three. Everybody was probably worried at the time,
but it didn’t seem to slow him down a couple of decades later when he went to
At some point before 6 months, your baby will probably smile at you, lift her head, grab things & stick them in her mouth, grab her feet (at around 2-3 months & this is very cool), roll over, lift up her body when placed on her stomach, & sit up. Some of them crawl at 6 or 7 months. Mine, as I said, was the last kid in his birthing class to crawl, but the first to walk.
Use your pediatrician and his or her nurse practitioner as a resource. The nurse practitioner will tend to know more than the pediatrician does about healthy babies, so call her first. Besides it’s cheaper. Pediatricians know about very sick babies. In the pediatrician’s house if the baby cries at 3am it may be the live-in nanny instead of the pediatrician who gets up and figures out how to make the baby shut up, so the pediatrician may not fully empathize with your homicidal feelings. I had a special merry little song that I used to sing when the baby wouldn’t shut up. It started out “I’m going to drop the baby on his head, on his head…” & then it got worse. I stopped singing it about 4 months when he started understanding a few words, but I told him about it and sang it to him again when he was about twelve & he thought it was very funny.
Introducing Food. This one is easy. Introduce food when your pediatrician says to, and don’t rush it. There is no hurry. It will be towards the end of this period. This is an area where there are all sorts of opinions floating around: make your own in the blender, buy it at the store, whatever. Do what you have time to do and don’t feel guilty about it. The important thing is that the kid should experience the process of eating as pleasurable, not stressful. Keep your own emotions out and tell your ego to quiet down. If the baby hates solid food and wants to stay on milk, keep introducing it but don’t fret. Don’t get competitive about how big the baby is compared with other same age babies. Fret only if your pediatrician tells you to.
Remember that the goal is for the baby to learn to make choices. Food is the key area where you can let the baby make choices at this age. Feed him things that he indicates are good. Buy several different baby spoons, & let him decide which shape of spoon he likes better (you can tell). Andrew distinctly preferred the very narrow spoon with a plastic covered bowl. Don’t worry about “wasting” food. If the baby hates peas, throw the peas out. It’s lots of fun to give them the Gerber strained plums (which are yummy) and let them spread purple stuff all over their face, hair, high-chair, and other belongings & then take pictures.
More About Diapers. As you get more competent at the baby care business, the diaper issue needs to be considered again. The basic tradeoff is that disposable diapers are incredibly easy for the baby and incredibly bad for the environment. Diaper services are relatively easy and less bad for the environment (all that detergent spent washing them can’t be great either, though, even if you aren’t doing it personally). Washing your own is really hard for you and probably even less bad for the environment, depending on how much detergent you use. Whatever you choose, don’t let anybody guilt trip you about it.
that the baby’s needs and interests count here. Many women who are stridently political
about cloth diapers are women who, every month, and without a second thought,
use disposable tampons and disposable sanitary pads that are every bit as bad
for the environment. Why don’t they use
the nice little washable rags that women used for the previous 5000 years?
How the key concepts affect months 2 through 6.
In the first couple of months the only way you could allow the baby to exercise choice was by following her schedule for sleeping and eating. In the next few months you begin to treat the baby with respect and allow her to exercise choice in a lot of new areas—but don’t forget to take care of your own needs too. An exhausted crabby parent can’t be very loving. Start looking for reliable babysitters and get out occasionally.
The mute disabled genius theory. There are all sorts of ways in which your behavior with the baby is different during this period if you think of the baby as a fully respect-worthy person who happens not to be able to walk or talk and who hasn’t yet developed any judgment. Here are some ideas:
* Talk about everything. Keep up a running narrative of what you are doing. Tell her that you are changing her. Tell her you are feeding her. Show her the trees and the birds and the cars and the lights. Tell her how you feel about things. It isn’t necessary to do baby talk (though if you make a clear distinction between when you are telling the baby things about the world and when you are adoring her, there is nothing wrong with adoring her in baby talk). Sing songs. Tell stories. In addition to the “milk song” I had several “changing songs” and I had “bedtime songs.”
Babies are very traditional creatures. They are conservative. They like everything to go the same way every time. So rituals are helpful to them in understanding the world. If they always hear the same song or the same words every time you do a particular task in their day, then they feel like they understand their environment and that makes them calmer and happy. They know what is expected of them. So not only did we have ritual songs, we had specific statements we always made when it was morning or we always made at bed time, and this I believe kept Andrew calm during the transitions in his day.
* Leave space for the baby to talk too. Human interaction is characterized by conversation, which means you need to let the baby get a word in edgewise. If you ask questions and pause for a response, then eventually the baby will babble back. And if you start trying to interpret the babble, then eventually (NOT by 6 months) you start to understand what the baby wants. Some babies do know their own name by 6 months, incidentally. But speech & understanding are both areas where there is huge variation. Change will be sudden, not gradual. When that synapse hooks up then it hooks up…
Sometimes the synapse hooking up is quite sudden and noticeable. One of the things that happens is that the baby realizes that the sensations he experiences when he touches a part of himself are something he can control. You may catch him some day looking at his hand, or (even cuter) his foot, and then very carefully experimenting with how things feel when he holds his foot or puts it in his mouth, or kicks at things. He has this sort of stoned look as he figures it out and you almost expect to hear him saying, “Oh, wow, man.. I have Feet.” To this day whenever I see a three month baby (approximately where it happens) I hang around to see if they have noticed their feet yet. It’s very cool.
* Give the baby things to do. Buy books for her and read aloud and let her have the books in her hand. She will start by gumming it, because her instinct is to put everything in her mouth to assess whether it might be edible. But eventually she will stop gumming it and notice that there are pictures—not yet understanding what they are, but noticing the pattern. Tell her what the pictures are and point to the things in real life. “See the kitty? No here is a picture of a kitty.” She won’t get it yet, but one day in a few months the repetitive sounds begin to make sense. Take the baby for walks and show her the world. Buy objects that are safe to play with. Hang up interesting mobiles.
* Act silly with and for your baby. Down the road, it is going to be very important for the kid to know that you are imperfect, that life itself is not something that is “solved” but is something that is experienced, and that many things in life can be handled better if we are amused than if we are pompous. The way to get this attitude started is for your baby to know that you are silly. Get squeaky ducks. Make silly sounds. Giggle. Sing. Kiss everybody a lot. Our son had a special, “Oh, daddy, you’re such a goofball” giggle that he developed at 3 months & he’s still using it. We are all goofballs, let us use family life to be goofballs together. We’ll raise saner kids that way.
The self esteem goal. Here are some ideas for how, in months 2 through 6 you can continue to develop self esteem in your baby. (Running down the hall to get to them immediately whenever they cry continues to be very important.)
* Breast & bottle feeding. From the baby’s standpoint this is an intimate act of connection. The baby really likes to drink milk and likes the connection with the mother. (My kid was weaned at 2 months, but he continued till he was about 8 to get up in the morning and sit on my lap and talk to me for ten minutes while drinking his chocolate milk. He always sat on the side that had the “good” breast. I didn’t tell him that what he was doing was continuing a very old tradition.)
Yes, it is certainly true that the mother can read or watch TV while the baby drinks a breast or bottle. But I think it’s a really bad idea. If you do that, the message you send to the baby is that her needs will be met but that she isn’t somebody you want to connect with. I think it is better to use feeding as an opportunity to give the baby your full, undivided attention and let her know that her interest in you is returned. We don’t just intuitively know about love. It has to be modeled.
Note: My friend with the colicky baby pointed out acidly at this point that when your colicky baby wants to nurse for 26 hours straight it is perfectly OK for the mom to watch TV or read during some of those hours if only to keep her from harboring fond thoughts of abandoning the kid on an ice floe.
* Discipline. Don’t. Not yet. You’ll be doing tons of discipline down the road, but not when he is less than six months old. Once your baby as developed the competence to understand speech you can introduce the concept of “no.” There isn’t any point in doing it until they can understand speech. No matter how annoying the baby is being, (and trust me, a colicky baby is more annoying than anything I have ever experienced—I spent 30 interminable hours with a colicky baby once and thought I was going to claw my face off) you just have to be lovely to them.
The only discipline I’d suggest at this point is on your part in making the difference between day & night clear. (I talked about this in the last chapter, but it gets more important during this period. We did NOT turn on the light at night and we did not talk to the baby after he was supposed to be asleep. We did come and attend to his needs but we were very very boring until it was morning, and then we were chirpy & awake.)
* Snuggling. Babies can’t develop self esteem unless they are touched a whole lot. This is the time to adore them. If you are sitting around with the baby, hold the baby. If you are holding the baby, look at her and cuddle her and coo over her and let her grab you and touch you and play with your hair. Separation comes later—this is the time for a love fest.
The choices goal. During this period there begin to be a number of areas where the baby’s opinion can be deduced and respected. I weaned my kid at two months even though I enjoyed breastfeeding because he made it clear that he liked formula better. It’s not a bad idea to try different kinds of formula and see what is preferred. When I moved him to solid food, I tried quite a variety and then stuck to the things that he liked. If he hates carrots then throw away the rest of the jar of carrots and try applesauce instead. Reintroduce carrots a month later—it might be fine by then. (In my kid’s case, it isn’t fine and he’s in college. He laughs in his booming bass voice when I suggest it.) I also experimented with different kinds of clothes and different serving spoons and different shapes of bottle and let him tell me by his actions what he liked.
I also let him direct some of the things we did when we were interacting with each other. Sometimes that involved me doing silly things that he liked, in order to be “polite.” For example, Andrew loved, from birth, to suck the two middle fingers of his right hand. It was his favorite “comfort” activity and he didn’t give it up until he was about two. At about 4 months, he had the idea, when we were cuddling together, of extending the other hand to me, so I could suck on the middle two fingers of the other hand, and that became a traditional thing he did when he was particularly enjoying being with his mom. (It was pretty funny looking.)
At six months, one day, when I apparently had been a particularly lovely mom, he offered me the “good” hand—the drooly one that he usually used. I realized that this was like being offered the sheep’s eyeball at an Arab feast and that it would be rude to decline, so I accepted and was rewarded with an adoring glance. It was yucky. I was brave. Fortunately, he outgrew the whole thing at about 8 months. Very occasionally my husband got offered the lesser hand, but he never had to deal with the sheep’s eyeball.
Another area where the baby can choose is how she likes to be taken on outings. Some babies like back packs so that they can see where they are going. And after she can hold her head up, that’s great. Some prefer the front packs that swaddle them and allow them to feel safe. Some like the little strollers that let them see the world and some like the old perambulators that let them see the sky. This is an area where it is helpful to have more than one choice, and pay attention to what your baby likes. There is so little that she can control, but if you pay attention you can figure out her preferences after a while. Our son disliked any form of stroller and was not wild about the “front pack”--but he adored backpacks, and as soon as he was able to hold his head and torso up straight and sit in one without keeling over, we made daily backpack walks part of our routine.
Before six months your baby might or might not be able to sit up unsupported or crawl. Our baby was on the slow side physically—could sit up unsupported by six months but was not crawling. It turned out that he just didn’t LIKE crawling and was very very slow to crawl and rather early to walk. So don’t make any assumptions about whether your baby is slow physically based on a particular milestone.
As soon as your baby rolls over the first time, it is time to think about baby-proofing the house and it is time to get neurotic about child safety. The period from first mobility to the development of minimal judgment is when your baby can really get harmed if you are clueless about house safety. Babies start developing the rudiments of common sense (if nagged & taught) sometime between 18 months & 3 years. (They start developing full common sense sometime between age 15 and age 30). But they start developing purposeful mobility some time around 6 months and they are fully mobile as soon as they can crawl. What this means is that there is a one to two year period where your baby has the full mobility of a chimpanzee and no sense or judgment at all. So basically assume that if they can hurt themselves with something then they will.
The best way to babyproof your house is to invite over the mother of a hyperactive toddler and ask her to go through each room with you and tell you how the baby can hurt herself and what to fix. Some of it is not intuitively obvious. (A blunt fork left on a low table can fit handily into an electric outlet if you turn your head).
Early stage baby proofing is just about never leaving the child unattended on a bed or couch because she will roll off and bash her head. But as soon as she can roll well (some kids roll instead of crawling) and especially after she can crawl, then you have to assume that:
* if it has pointy edges she will fall on it
* if it is breakable she will grab at it
* if it is interesting she will put it in her mouth.
* if it is large, she will try to pull it, & may pull it down on top of her.
* if it is electric, she will bite it
* or stick a pointy metal thing into it
Basically, watch her if you are with her and if you have to go to the bathroom put her in her crib or playpen. Playpens were invented basically so that the parents of mobile children could go to the bathroom because all children instantly understand that when the parent goes into the bathroom that is the time to eat the gooey brown thing with legs in the corner.
Most babies love those low cupboards under the kitchen and bathroom sinks where the poisonous cleaning fluids and Drano often end up. Relocate them and put a lock on those cabinets anyway.
You can confidently assume that anything that the child can grab will be put into her mouth. Instead of looking at things to examine them, babies put them in their mouths. So add to the list above that:
* if it is smaller than a golf ball, she will choke on it. (It’s unbelievable the number of things that have small parts and can be chocked on by a baby—nuts or seeds on food, cigarette butts, safety pins, small parts of toys that can be detached. It isn’t always at all obvious.)
In general, this is an area where it is OK to let your hidden neuroses run you—for a while. They will get some judgment and then you have to start backing off, but not yet, not yet…
Babies do not like it when you take away from them an interest object that they were about to put in their mouth. From her point of view she is a little scientist investigating the world and forming conclusions about it and you are getting in the way of her doing her job. Fortunately, she has at this age, virtually no short term memory. So she’s easily distracted. I always kept a couple of small toys on my person so I could distract my kid, take away the icky thing he was clasping, and as he began to wail, put some other brightly colored object in front of him.
Incidentally, I hate play pens. Admittedly, they are useful for a mobile baby when you have to take a shower or are cleaning the house. But a kid in a play pen is not exploring the world. Stop holding that baby and stop cooping him up. Baby proof the house and then put him down on the floor and let him explore. If he’s about to go after something he can’t have, substitute a safe one. Put the fragile china cups up out of reach. If you insist on holding the baby all the time, don’t be terribly surprised if they are late in walking. They have got to explore the world through creeping or crawling (my non crawling kid wiggled to things) in order to get the idea that walking is efficient & faster.
Here is another area where people have strong opinions ranging from “drop the baby off and go back to work” to “stay home till the baby graduates from college.” The right answer depends upon the a number of factors (family finances, personality of the baby, personality of the mom, personality of the dad, beliefs about childrearing, whose research you’ve read on the subject, etc.) I went back to work at two months & my kid does not appear to be an antisocial axe murderer. He’s got lots of friends, is relatively nice to his mother, & got into the college of his choice, so it didn’t appear to have been a bad decision. But I know babies for whom that would be the wrong decision. So make the decision that is right for your family & then don’t feel anxious about it.
Once the childcare decision is made, selecting the right childcare is a time consuming and critical process that involves quite a lot of research and input from both parents. Good day care centers have long waiting lists. Good nannies need to be interviewed. Incidentally, it has been my experience that many so called feminist husbands park their feminism at the front door the moment that the baby is born. In particular the issues of “Selecting Child Care,” “Taking the Baby to the Pediatrician,” and “Missing the Important Meeting To Stay Home with Sick Child” are the ones that separate the feminist men from the chauvinist boys. (I am happy to report that my husband did the bulk of the work in selecting our first childcare provider, and that he took our son to the pediatrician fully as often as I have. I stayed home more with the sick kid, but that was because Andrew wanted me to.) Moms have to do all the work of pregnancy, labor, delivery & breastfeeding, but if both parents are working full time then there is no reason why they need to do more than half the work of selecting childcare, going to pediatricians, staying home with sick babies, finding babysitters, changing diapers, etc. Half.
Here are some things to think about in connection with the issue of selecting childcare:
1) Personality of the baby. Don’t forget to include that in the decision, especially in figuring out the timing of the move back to work and the type of child care chosen. Developmentally, kids go through a needy, clingy, don’t-let-mom-out-of-your-sight phase that occurs somewhere between 9 and 15 months and may last for quite a while. This happens to lots of kids, and it tends to happen right about the time where they really get the concept of where they end and where mom begins, & that they are separate. (At birth, they are understandably kind of unclear about this but they get it normally by month 10.) I think it is a better idea from the baby’s standpoint to initiate child care before or after this stage than to do it during this stage.
Some babies are hearty and gregarious and other babies who shy and retiring. With the shy & retiring ones, they may actually benefit from being around other kids rather than staying home with mom. But you might want to stay home longer with this one, or pick a smaller group day care, or a nanny plus a “mommy & me” group rather than going into a larger infant care group. Just don’t forget to think about it from the baby’s point of view, not just from the standpoint of what is best for the parents.
With both the nanny and the large or small day care center, be sure to ask open ended questions and make sure you understand what the day care provider’s beliefs are about raising kinds, because this person or institution will have your child for a large portion of his waking hours. Take the time to make sure you get somebody that shares your beliefs. In my case, the day center helped to form my beliefs and I learned a great deal by understanding and assimilating their philosophy for managing conflict. (More of this will be revealed later.)
If you want to stay home with the baby, make sure that there is still a play group introduced early. I worked at a K-12 school for 17 years while my son was growing up and noticed that those of his friends with stay-home-moms adapted better to kindergarten if they had had some significant play group experience. The kids who had gone to pre-schools were, of course, old pros.
2) Choices. Here are the basic choices with some pros and cons.
Baby stays at home with mom.
If you enjoy it and can afford it this is great. When the kid is older you can supplement it with a pre school or other classes. Your kid is right there and you can personally handle care.
* For the two career professional family, this can be an economic disaster.
* You can be a good mom and still not want the undiluted company of a non-verbal child 14 hours a day.
* I learned quite a lot about child care rearing from my day care providers, many of whom were professionals in the field. It helped me be a better mom.
* If you are sick, then there is no backup when you are the sole caregiver.
Baby stays at home with another relative—e.g. grandma.
Tends to be free or low cost. Kid gets one on one care and love.
It is very hard to set rules or limits for somebody who is caring for your kid as a favor on a reduced cost basis. This isn’t an arms length transaction. You may have reduced control. May be hard on family relationships if disagreements arise.
Baby stays at home with exclusive (possibly live in) Nanny.
You can see how the nanny is interacting with your kid and it is easier to monitor whether your rules are being followed or whether the kid is being parked in front of the TV.
Fairly easy to have Nanny double as a baby sitter (for extra pay or trading off for other time. Some Nanny’s are also willing to cook dinners or do light housekeeping.
Expensive, especially if you do it legally (i.e., pay FICA) and if you get a certified Nanny from an agency.
Loss of privacy, especially if Nanny is live-in.
No backup if Nanny is sick.
No coverage during Nanny’s vacations.
You form a very intimate relationship with the Nanny & it can be stressful to disentangle if it isn’t working.
And what about the nanny from hell?
Baby goes out to small family day care center.
There is a lot of variety. This can be swell. If you ask around and have enough information, or if it is a very small center and you like the people, this can give great flexibility. You have your privacy because you arrive and depart with the baby. In a larger center, the caretaker may arrange for coverage when she is sick. Centers can be state regulated, and this gives you some assurance that there are standards of safety for the child. If you don’t like the Center, you pay by the month and it is easier to move.
* There will be other kids, and if there are too many, your kid may not get enough attention.
* If the center is NOT state certified, there may be safety issues and you won’t know. (There may be in your own house too, though—the certification is pretty rigorous…)
* The center tells you when they are taking holidays—you have less control.
* Still may not have backup if the provider gets sick.
Baby goes out to larger infant care center.
A larger center provides more stability. Vacation times are known up front at the beginning of the year. There are multiple care providers so you know that coverage will be available. There is “late care” coverage (at high cost) in case you are delayed at work. There is supervision by the staff of the providers, so there is a higher assurance of quality of care.
Parent education and training may be available & may be of very high quality with a good center.
For folks interested in private schools, the center may be connected to a preschool or even to a private elementary school, making the whole issue of admissions to the next level less stressful..
* There may be 4 infants to a provider, or for older kids, six to a provider. That’s a lot, especially for an infant to get adequate attention.
* Babies who are exposed to lots of other babies get sick more than babies that stay home alone. This is going to happen anyway in kindergarten—there is a year where the kid gets exposed to all sorts of viruses and the whole family gets the common cold three or four times. But 2 months is a little early.
There is no one right solution to this issue. If you do the research and have a little luck, and if you pay attention to what sort of solution will be best for your particular baby’s personality, then it will be fine.
What we did is that I stayed home with the baby for two months. Then my husband stayed home with him for three weeks. I think this was really important—taught him a lot about childrearing and bonded his relationship with our son.
Then we put him in a very small (but certified) family day care center where it turned out he was the only paying child—and they didn’t add another one because the lovely woman running the center was pregnant with her own second kid. He stayed in that for a year and then went to a larger infant care center. We think that the early exposure to other kids made him more self confident and we’re pretty happy with how our decisions turned out.
I do have one last axe to grind about the 2 to 6 month period. I think that far too many parents are driven by the idea of getting their own lives back to normal. And that’s understandable, especially if you have a demanding job or have had a bad pregnancy. But from the baby’s point of view, this first six months is pretty overwhelming. There he was, perfectly happy, in this nice womb, and now people are expecting him to eat and drink and breathe and poop AND get packed into car seats and go places. It is rude of us.
So it is my belief that it is best to introduce new types of outings fairly slowly and notice whether the baby likes it. If a two month old baby cries when you take her out for a visit, or if she passes out from sheer stress when you take her shopping, then it might be that she isn’t ready to go out of the house that often yet. Play it by ear. She’ll get used to it all in time—and probably by age six months you will be able to go places with her again. But don’t rush it. This first six months will never come again, either in her life or yours, and it is really OK to spend quite a lot of time just sitting around and singing to the baby or going on little walks carrying her.