SURVIVING BABY'S FIRST YEAR : JOYFUL TIME CAN BECOME A STRESS FEST.
Laura Anderson remembers standing over her screaming baby's crib one night and wearily asking, ``What do you want from me?''
Trying to figure out how to pacify a cranky baby was just one of the challenges Anderson, then 26, faced as a first-time mom. And it certainly wouldn't be the last.
The first year of parenthood is filled with joys, surprises and happiness. But it can also be a stress fest full of frustration, confusion and self-doubt - even for the most prepared parents.
Those feelings can be eased, however, by using common sense, calling your doctor and limiting the amount of advice you heed, experts and mothers say.
For Anderson, now 28 and the mother of 2-year-old Cassie, trying to adjust to the new responsibilities of parenthood was, at times, ``very consuming.''
``It was very difficult,'' she says. ``It's a lifestyle adjustment, going from you and your husband to this thing that's very demanding.''
First-time moms worry about everything, she says, from the rash that suddenly appears on the baby's face, to when the baby should start walking.
What makes things more confusing is the amount of advice new mothers get from friends, family and books, adds Anderson, now pregnant with her second child.
``You're flooded with information from outside sources, and everything's conflicting,'' she says. ``I found it was easier to choose what was best for me and my family ... I almost wonder if you're better off winging it.''
Dr. Rick Lujan, a Crestview, Fla., pediatrician, is well aware of the information overload new parents experience.
``That makes them a little bit nervous,'' he says. ``They're new parents, they don't know what to do, and everybody else seems to know what to do.''
To keep matters simple, ask your doctor for his or her ideas, Lujan says. And don't do anything drastic, such as changing the baby's formula, without consulting your physician first. ``We don't mind being called,'' he says.
Lujan and his staff give new mothers a booklet addressing common baby health problems and symptoms, such as hiccups, fevers, rashes and crankiness, so they know what's normal and what isn't.
He also recommends a book by Bantam Books - and backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics - called ``Caring for You and Your Baby.'' It costs about $30 and covers a host of topics of interest to new mothers. ``It's very comprehensive,'' he says.
Most parents get a bit frazzled because they don't know what's to be expected, he says.
For instance, babies typically sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day during their first month, awakening every few hours. They may also cry for no apparent reason. ``That's what runs parents a little bit ragged,'' he says.
Although both behaviors are completely normal, a mother may not see it that way. ``The mother thinks she is doing something wrong,'' he says. ``They will blame themselves first and start an emotional roller coaster.''
The baby, in turn, senses his mother's confusion and becomes upset by it - making the mother feel even more stressed.
Above all, be calm
The trick? Try to stay calm and in control. ``We recommend that you act like the quarterback,'' he says.
Gail Holcombe is a licensed psychotherapist with Bridgeway Center Inc. in Fort Walton Beach who also helps teach the center's Tots and Toddlers program.
While many parents-to-be are well-read on child-rearing, it doesn't compare to the real thing. ``They're not prepared, no matter how much you tell them,'' she says.
The first shock is realizing how little sleep parents of newborns get, she says. If you're not feeding the baby, you're changing him or sleeping, ``and most of the time, you're not sleeping.''
Some fathers feel left out, especially if the baby is breastfeeding, she says. Counter that by letting the father give the baby water, or letting him perform the bathing and diaper changing jobs himself.
Moms who stay home with the baby must suddenly cope with not being around adults all day, Holcombe says. It's important to make a concerted effort to talk to another adult, even if it's on the phone.
A big part of surviving that first year is to take care of your own needs, as well as your baby's, says Jan Peterson, an instructor with ``Welcome Baby,'' a class offered by Family Preservation and Support.
Plan - before the baby arrives - who will do which tasks, she says. Develop a support system of friends who can share ideas or even baby-sit so you can take a break. If the baby is crying, check to make sure he's OK, then place him in his crib and walk away for five minutes to calm your nerves. It'll pay off in the long run, she says.
Parents ``have got to take care of themselves so they can be there for their baby,'' she says.
Photo: First-time parents may be overloaded with other people's well-intentioned advice. To keep matters simple, ask your doctor for his or her ideas.
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Apr 6, 1997|
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