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David Baxter PhD

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Avoiding Common Mistakes New Parents Make
By Genevieve Richards

Becoming a parent is likely to be the most exciting, and possibly the most nerve-wracking, occasion you will ever experience. It's no wonder that your every waking moment (let's face it, at this stage, that is most of the time!) is filled with thoughts about your baby. In the face of the enormous responsibility to do right by this little person, doubts about your new-found parenting skills may be uppermost in your mind.

The following tips come from parents and experts alike, and will show you that most new parents experience the same feelings and doubts you do, and that all new parents make mistakes. Here is a chance to learn from some of others' mistakes and get through those first few months a bit more easily.

Don't forget to pamper yourself
To your new baby, you are the sun, the moon, and the stars. You need to look after yourself and take time out for you every now and again. Ask your partner, your mother, or a good friend to look after the baby for a few hours while you do something for yourself: take a relaxing bubble bath, visit the hairdresser, meet up with a friend, or just catch up on a bit of sleep-you need your sleep more than the housework needs to be done.

Don't neglect your partner
After a day of what will seem like continuous feeding and diaper changing, the last thing you will probably feel like doing is spending your evening recounting your day to your partner-but this together time is important. Marcelle Falconer, mother to 22-month-old Maxine, says, "After Maxine was born I would spend all day with her, and then when Sean came home in the evenings I would have to relive the day for him-this was exhausting for me and I also felt like I was boring him with the tedium of my day. It is only now that I can recognize how much we needed that time together each day and how it helped us bond as a family."

Eating isn't the answer to everything
Allison Mills, mother to six-week-old Charlie, says of her husband Cam: "Every time Charlie cries, Cam thinks he's hungry, even if he has just been feeding for the last hour." Be assured that your baby cannot possibly be hungry every time he or she cries. Babies cry "a lot" and for a multitude of reasons: they may be tired, suffering from a stuffy nose, or just in need of a clean diaper, to name just a few reasons. As your baby gets older you will recognize his or her different cries and learn to act accordingly, but remember that without the ability to talk, crying is a major form of communication for your little one.

Seek advice (but don't believe everything you hear)
Many parents will find that beginning with their child's conception, seeking opinions and information from trusted sources helps them glean invaluable advice about pregnancy and the new baby. "On the day of Jack's birth I think I finally realized that I was totally unprepared. A lot can be said for reading a couple of those "baby" books. I learned how to treat diaper rash and what to do when the baby is in pain from teething," says Mick Bell, father to 15-month-old Jack.

That said, pregnant women may be stunned by the amount of unsolicited advice and information they receive, and this advice doesn't usually stop once the baby is born. Some of it will be a wonderful help, and some will be blatantly ridiculous; trust your gut instinct and go with your own intuition, and don't be afraid to take questions to your family's healthcare providers.

Ask for and accept help during the early days
Caring for a new baby is exhausting work and takes its toll on both Mom and Dad. Don't be afraid to ask a close friend or member of your family to help you out when you need it, whether it is to do your grocery shopping for you, or just to sit with the baby for a couple of hours so you can catch up on some much-needed sleep. If you don't accept help when it is offered or ask for it when it is needed, you may be setting an unwelcome precedent for yourself: people may believe you don't need any help when you need it most.

Focus on the essentials when setting up the nursery
Marketing companies would have you believe that if you do not buy every conceivable piece of nursery furniture, clothing item, lotion, potion, and toy that you are not a good parent. This is rubbish! Ask friends with children which items they found most useful and then weigh their advice against your own lifestyle. With regards to outfitting the nursery, the only essentials are a place for your baby to sleep, diapers, selected items of clothing, and feeding equipment. So don't stress out if your nursery doesn't have the latest of everything; your little one won't even notice.

Tell the truth at pre- and post-natal classes
If you are having a rough time of it, tell people. Likewise if you are taking to motherhood like a duck to water and loving every minute of it. Allison Mills found that many people pretend that all is well and that their child is sleeping, eating, and doing everything according to plan, which puts extra stress on those parents whose little bundle of joy is a screaming, non-napping mess most of the day. For a lot of new parents, other folks in their pre- and post-natal classes are the only support network around. They need to be told the truth, warts and all.

Remember that a baby is not the answer to all your problems
Sarah Liebenberg says that she and her husband George really believed that having a baby would be the "cherry on the cake" to their marriage, and that "being very happy after difficult times we felt that a baby would complete us somehow; having been together for ten years and having successful careers, we felt it was time we started a family. We are now facing the most difficult times to date in our marriage." This is not a totally uncommon phenomenon, even for those who thought they were prepared for an addition to the family.

"At first, it may be more difficult than you had hoped to embrace your new roles as parents," says Dr. Miriam Stoppard, author of Conception, Pregnancy and Birth. "You may resent the loss of your own income and the satisfaction of doing a demanding job well, and you may envy your partner his relatively free and independent lifestyle. Your partner, on the other hand, may find it difficult to cope with the stress of being the only wage earner, and may feel shut out from your intimate relationship with your baby."

Dr. Stoppard advises that couples keep talking to each other, explaining their feelings and trying not to let misunderstandings alienate them from each other.

There is no doubt that becoming a parent for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. There will be times when you will make the odd mistake, but don't fret over it too much. You are not alone, and most of the time the mistake is easy to correct with little or no fuss from your child.
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