Excerpt: 'Secrets of the Baby Whisperer'

Aug. 15, 2001 -- "Why is my baby crying?" "How long should a feeding take?" These are some of the most frequent questions new parents have, according to best-selling author Tracy Hogg.

In her new book, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, she advises new moms and dads on how to get past the insecurity and fear some have after bringing the baby home from the hospital.

Chapter 1

Oh My God, We Have a Baby!

No event in an adult's life equals both the joy and the terror of becominga parent for the first time. Fortunately, it's the joy that carries on.But in the beginning, insecurity and fear often take over. Alan, forexample, a thirty-three-year-old graphic designer, vividly remembers theday he picked up his wife, Susan, from the hospital. Coincidentally, itwas their fourth anniversary. Susan, a writer, age twenty-seven, had had afairly easy labor and birth, and their beautiful blue-eyed baby, Aaron,nursed easily and rarely cried. By day two, Mum and Dad were eager toleave the hubbub of the hospital to start life as a family.

"I whistled as I walked down the hall toward her room," Alan recalls."Everything seemed perfect. Aaron had nursed right before I got there, andnow he was sleeping in Susan's arms. It was just as I imagined it wouldbe. We went down in the elevator, and the nurse let me wheel Susan outinto the sunlight. When I ran for the car door, I realized I'd forgottento set up the infant seat. I swear it took me half an hour to get it inright. Finally, I gently slid Aaron in. He was such an angel. I helpedSusan into the car, thanked the nurse for her patience, and then climbedinto the driver's seat.

"Suddenly, Aaron started making little noises from the backseat — not reallycrying, but sounds I didn't recall hearing in the hospital or maybe hadn'tnoticed. Susan looked at me, and I looked at her. 'Oh, Jesus!' Iexclaimed. 'What do we do now?' "

Every parent I know has a what-now moment like Alan's. For some it comesin the hospital; for others it arrives on the trip home, or even on thesecond or third day. There's so much going on — the physical recovery, theemotional impact, the reality of caring for a helpless infant. Few areprepared for the shock. Some new mothers admit, "I read all the books, butnothing prepared me." Others recall, "There was so much to think about. Icried a lot."

The first three to five days are often the most difficult becauseeverything is new and daunting. Typically, I'm bombarded by queries fromanxious parents: "How long should a feeding take?" "Why does she pull herlegs up like that?" "Is this the right way to change him?" "Why is herpoop that color?" And, of course, the most persistent question of alltime: "Why is he crying?" Parents, particularly mums, often feel guiltybecause they think they're supposed to know everything. The mother of aone-month-old said to me, "I was so afraid I'd do something wrong, but atthe same time, I didn't want anyone to help me or tell me what to do."

The first thing I tell parents — and keep telling them — is to slooooooow down. It takes time to get to know your baby. It takes patience and a calm environment. It takes strength and stamina. It takes respect and kindness.It takes responsibility and discipline. It takes attention and keenobservation. It takes time and practice — a lot of doing it wrong before youget it right. And it takes listening to your own intuition.

Notice how often I repeat "it takes." In the beginning, there's a lot of"take" and very little "give" on your baby's part. The rewards and joys ofparenting will be endless, I promise. But they won't happen in a day,darlings; rather, you'll see them over months and years. What's more,everyone's experience is different. As a mother in one of my groups,looking back on her first few days home, observed, "I didn't know if I wasdoing things right — and, besides, everyone defines 'right' differently."

Also, every baby is different, which is why I tell my mums that theirfirst job is to understand the baby they have, not the one they dreamedabout during the past nine months. In this chapter, I'll help you figureout what you can expect from your baby. But first, a quick primer on yourfirst few days at home.

Coming Home

Because I see myself as an advocate for the whole family, not just the newbaby, part of my job is to help parents gain perspective. I tell mums anddads right from the start: This won't last forever. You will calm down.You will become more confident. You will be the best parent you can be.And at some point, believe it or not, your baby will sleep through thenight. For now, though, you must lower your expectations. You'll have gooddays and not-so-good days; be prepared for both. Don't strive forperfection.

Homecoming Checklist

One of the reasons my babies do well is that everything is ready for thema month before the due date. The more prepared you are and the quieter itis in the beginning, the more time you'll have to observe your baby and toget to know him as the individual he is.

* Put sheets on the crib or bassinet.

* Set up the changing table. Have everything you need--wipes, diapers,cotton swabs, alcohol — in easy reach.

* Have baby's first wardrobe ready. Take everything out of the packages,remove any tags, and wash in a mild detergent that has no bleach.

* Stock your refrigerator and freezer. A week or two before you're due,make a lasagna, a shepherd's pie, soups, and other dishes that freezewell. Make sure you have all the staples on hand — milk, butter, eggs,cereal, pet food. You'll eat better and cheaper and avoid frantic trips tothe store.

* Don't take too much to the hospital. Remember, you'll have several extrabags — and the baby — to bring home.

TIP: The more organized you are before you come home, the happier everyonewill be afterward. And if you loosen the tops of bottles and tubes, openboxes, and take all new items out of their packages, you won't have tofiddle with such things with your new baby in hand!

I usually need to remind mothers, "It's your first day home — the firstyou're away from the security of the hospital, where you get help,answers, and relief at the push of a button. Now you're on your own." Of course, a mother is often happy to leave the hospital. The nurses may have been brusque or given her conflicting advice. And the frequent interruptions from hospital personnel and visitors probably made it impossible for her to rest. In any case, by the time most mums come home, they are usually either scared, confused, exhausted, or in pain--or maybe all of the above.

Therefore I advise a slow reentry. When you walk through the door, take adeep, centering breath. Keep it simple. (You'll be hearing that a lot fromme.) Think of this as the beginning of a new adventure, and you and yourpartner as explorers. And by all means, be realistic: The postpartumperiod is difficult--a rocky terrain. All but a rare few stumble along theway. (More about Mum recuperating during the postpartum period in Chapter7.)

Believe me, I know that the moment you get home, you'll probably feeloverwhelmed. But if you follow my simple homecoming ritual, you're lesslikely to feel frantic. (Remember, though, this is just a quickorientation. Later on, as indicated, I go into greater detail.)

Start the dialogue by giving your baby a tour of the house. That's right,luv, a tour, as if you're the curator of a museum and she's adistinguished visitor. Remember what I told you about respect: You need totreat your little darling like a human being, as someone who canunderstand and feel. Granted, she speaks a language you may not yetunderstand, but it's nevertheless important to call her by name and tomake every interaction a dialogue, not a lecture.

So walk around with her in your arms and show her where she's going tolive. Talk with her. In a soft, gentle voice, explain each room: "Here'sthe kitchen. It's where Dad and I cook. This is the bathroom, where wetake showers." And so on. You might feel silly. Many new parents are shywhen they first start to have a dialogue with their baby. That's okay.Practice, and you'll be amazed at how easy it becomes. Just try toremember that this is a little human being in your arms, a person whosesenses are alive, a tiny being who already knows your voice and even whatyou smell like.

While you're walking around, have Dad or Grandma make chamomile tea oranother calming beverage. Tea, naturally, is my favorite. Where I comefrom, the moment a mum gets home, Nelly from next door nips over and putson a kettle. It's a very English, very civilized tradition, which I'veintroduced to all my families here. After a nice cuppa, as we call it,you'll want to really explore this glorious creature you've given birth to.

Limit Visitors

Convince all but a few very close relatives and friends to stay away forthe first few days. If parents are in from out of town, the greatest thingthey can do for you is cook, clean, and run errands. Let them know in akind way that you'll ask for their help with the baby if you need it, butthat you'd like to use this time to get to know your little one on yourown.

Give your baby a sponge bath and a feed. (Information and advice aboutfeeding is in Chapter 4, sponge bathing on pages 156-157.) Keep in mindthat you're not the only one in shock. Your baby has had quite a journeyhimself. Imagine, if you will, a tiny human being coming into the brightlight of a delivery room. Suddenly, with great speed and force, thatlittle body is rubbed, poked, and pricked by strangers whose voices areunfamiliar. After a few days in a nursery, surrounded by other tinybeings, he then has to travel from the hospital to home. If you adoptedhim, the trip was probably even longer.

TIP: Hospital nurseries are kept quite warm, almost womblike, so make surethe temperature in the baby's new "woom" is around 72 degrees.

This is a perfect opportunity for you to pore over your miracle of nature.It may be the first time you see your baby naked. Get acquainted with hisbits and pieces. Explore each tiny finger and toe. Keep talking with him.Bond with him. Nurse him or give him a bottle. Watch him as he getssleepy. Start him off right, and allow him to fall asleep in his own cribor bassinet. (I have lots of sleeping tips in Chapter 6.)

"But her eyes are open," protested Gail, a hairdresser whose two-day-olddaughter seemed to be staring contentedly at a photo of a baby propped upon the crib bumpers. I had suggested that Gail leave the room and get somerest herself, but Gail said, "She's not asleep yet." I've heard the sameprotest from many new mums. But I'm going to tell you straightaway thatyour baby doesn't have to be asleep for you to put her down and walk awayfrom the crib. "Look," I said to her, "Lily's hanging out with herboyfriend. Now you go lie down."

From Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate With Your Baby, by Tracy Hogg, Melinda Blau (Contributor). © Jan. 30, 2001 , Ballantine Books (Trd) used by permission.