Parenting: How to Make the First Years Count
Whetstone, Muriel L., Ebony
YOU'RE finally ready. After years of patience and preparation, you're finally ready to have a baby. Ever since you were a teenager daydreaming in health class, you've fantasized about having your own family. And just as you've charted other major aspects of your life, such as your education and career, you have also prepared for this major milestone. Now, you want to do everything possible to ensure that your baby will be born healthy and will live a happy, emotionally well-adjusted childhood. You already know that your pregnancy and a child's formative years are important in that process. But exactly how does a parent make the first years count?
You are already on the right path, according to physicians and child development experts, because parents of planned babies tend to be better prepared, physically, mentally and emotionally, for the rigors of pregnancy and parenthood than the parents of "oops" babies. "Ideally, all of us [physicians] would like to see a pregnancy planned," says Dr. Fred L. Daniels, a Chicago internist, "because planned pregnancies tend to have less complications."
If you're planning to have a baby, you should first have a thorough physical examination, explains Dr. Daniels. Your doctor will want to assess your nutritional health and run tests to make sure you don't have any hidden medical conditions. You will probably receive counseling about what to expect throughout your pregnancy and advice about the lifestyle changes you will have to make.
Physicians are generally in agreement that all illegal and most over-the-counter drugs, cigarettes and alcohol can do irreparable harm to your unborn child. "There are some rigid physicians," says Dr. Daniels, "like myself who feel that all drugs should be excluded from pregnancy. And since alcohol is a drug, that should be excluded, too."
Increasingly, doctors are encouraging their patients to maintain healthier lifestyles, whether they're pregnant or not. So, if you haven't been eating nutritionally and exercising regularly, now's the time to start. "If you're eating a nutritiously balanced diet," advises Dr. Daniels, "you'll get all the essential vitamins necessary to sustain not only pregnancy but normal health as well." And while you don't want to exercise as if you're training for the upcoming Olympics, he says daily, leisurely walks should benefit delivery. "Your child can only be as healthy as you have been," he says, "and good health is not something you stumble upon; it's something you really have to plan."
Okay--so far, so good. You've learned what to do to ensure both a safe delivery and a healthy child. After the arrival of your baby, Dr. Truddie E. Darden, associate professor and interim chairperson of the department of pediatrics at the Morehouse School of Medicine, says it's just as important that a child begins to immediately receive care from a pediatrician as it was for his or her mother to receive quality prenatal care.
Dr. Darden says a qualified pediatrician will make sure your child is properly immunized, monitor his or her growth and provide nutritional and developmental advice. He or she will also help you make some important decisions such as whether or not to breast-feed. Breast-feeding has resurged in popularity as clinicians have learned more about its nutritional value. Mothers should "hold their babies, talk to them and if they are healthy enough to be breastfed," says Dr. Merceline M. Dahl-Regis, director of the Child Development Center at Howard University College of Medicine, "breast-feed them very early."
Dr. Dahl-Regis says the shared warmth and closeness provided by breast-feeding also promotes bonding between mother and child and stimulates a baby emotionally. A newborn, accustomed to the warmth and security of the womb, needs the emotional comfort and physical nurturing that only holding can provide, says Dr. Darden. But many parents hesitate to hold their babies unnecessarily because they are afraid they will "spoil" them. …