Here are 5 things you may want to get your baby started on early in the first few months of life (not in order of priority!) and the reasons why:
1. Taking Water
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding (i.e., no other food or drink, not even water) for the first 6 months of a baby’s life. Personally I think a little bit of water really won’t hurt, as long as it is not in a sufficient amount to interfere with breastfeeding. The confinement lady that helped me strongly encouraged me to start giving my then 2 week old baby a little water when she started hiccupping, and to begin getting her used to taking water. While I’m not sure giving water that early really made a difference to her accepting water later on as a drink, it has proven extremely useful in those hiccupping moments (see post titled ‘An Easy Cure for Hiccups’)!
2. Mouth Cleaning
Getting started early with mouth cleaning will get the baby used to the sensation of having something scrubbing in the mouth, and can pave the way to eventually transitioning over to a toothbrush. With a very young infant, simply use a small thin piece of sterile cotton gauze and wet it with cool boiled water. Wrap this cotton gauze around your little finger before gently cleaning baby’s gums top and bottom, then softly scrub the top part of the tongue. When you bring the wet gauze near baby’s mouth, you can open your own mouth to encourage baby to mimic you, and lots of praise when she cooperates always helps! As baby gets older, you can gradually move on to using a larger piece of soft cloth wet with water.
I began this practice daily as part of a bedtime routine when my baby was about 2 months of age. She didn’t really know what was going on then, but it certainly got me into the habit of cleaning her mouth. By 4-5 months of age, she had gotten so used to having her mouth cleaned before bed that she opens her mouth when I bring the wet cloth near her face and never complains when I do it!
The advice I got while in Singapore was that it was important to get baby into the water as soon as possible (we gave the baby her first bath at 10 days of age) to get the baby used to this quickly. It was also believed that this would help the baby sleep better afterwards. In a way, it makes sense to get the baby back into an aqueous environment partly to remind the baby that she came from a wet womb environment not so long ago. I could also see the difference: a screaming unhappy baby turning into a calmer and happier baby about a month later from daily baths. So it may be best to get some sort of routine going with your baby earlier rather than later. This can be as simple as a few minutes in a warm bath 2-3 times a week.
4. Difference Between ‘Day’ and ‘Night’
‘Day’ and ‘night’ are new concepts for your baby since he or she has just spent the last 9 months in a dark cozy womb. Helping your baby see a difference between ‘day’ and ‘night’ can help with sleep training later on. At night, keep lights low and voices quiet with minimal distractions, even during breastfeeding. In the daytime, turn up the lights and sounds! Have more noise, play some music, talk more loudly, interact and play lots with baby. Along with these cues (i.e., dark is for sleeping so no playing, versus daytime is more noisy and bright with music, people and interaction), it might also help to darken a room slightly during daytime naps too. Dark curtains or black ‘blackout’ cloths over a window in the baby’s room can come in handy at times like this.
5. A Noisier Environment While Sleeping
It is often said the womb environment is a noisy one, so at the beginning babies may be used to sleeping through a great deal of noise. One of the best things you can do is to get your baby to continue to be used to sleeping in a somewhat noisy environment especially during daytime naps. You can use music or some white noise to help create a level of background noise, or carry on with some household chores so baby gets used to sleeping through that. For music, start by putting on some soothing music while baby is awake and about to fall asleep (music with singing often works well) and this can help ease the transition to sleep. If you prefer, you can choose different soundtracks, types of music, or use the radio. If you consistently play certain songs during baby’s sleep time that may also help send a cue to your baby that naptime is coming up. The backdrop of noise will help drown out extraneous or sudden noises, so baby will be less likely to wake up, and you get to do more around the house without having to tiptoe about!