Having a new baby is more stressful than new parents expect. This is particularly true for first-time parents, to whom the entire experience is new. Fortunately, newborns are resilient, certainly emotionally—nothing a new parent does in the first few weeks, or even months, is likely to have a permanent effect on the child’s psyche. Indeed, averaged out over years of parent-child interactions, one wrong step, or even a handful of wrong steps, is unlikely to do any lasting harm in the grand scheme of things.
Nonetheless, there are things new parents should know. For mothers who choose to breastfeed, there’s a learning curve—it’s not something a new mother will automatically be able to do correctly right out of the gate. That means that if the baby doesn’t feed correctly on the first try, it’s not a failure on the mother’s part. In any case, if breastfeeding proves impossible or impractical, it’s no big deal. While breastfeeding is by no means unhealthy, many of the claimed benefits are exaggerated, or have no real evidence backing them up.
New parents should also know about common health problems with newborns. Colds and coughs, even fever are normal. Vomiting—or spitting up—is pretty much inevitable. None of these are typically signs of a major health problem, and they usually go away after a few days. If they seem unusually serious or last for a long time, however, it’s a good idea to call the pediatrician. Even a parent who has a vague feeling of something not right can benefit from calling the doctor, if only for peace of mind. Pediatricians are used to first-time parents, and generally have a good sense of what’s simple worry and what is an actual problem.
In general, in fact, new parents who aren’t sure about something should ask—the obstetric nurses, doctors, friends, family. There is such a thing as too much advice, but risking that is worth the comfort a parent has knowing that they’re doing it right. Instinct is a good guide; it is vanishingly rare for something that feels right to be completely wrong, and doctors and nurses will usually be able to warn about these things. Cleanliness is something else that occupies the attention of new parents, but in fact, children can safely get dirty. The important thing to remember is that parenting has been done successfully for millions of years.