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Just like riding a bike — I hope

By Debbie Leffler • Jul 25, 2019 at 12:00 PM

My task today is to write several columns ahead because I’m going to be away for a while. I still plan to do that and I have several ideas, but I am way too excited about this upcoming trip to write those other columns right now. So I’ll start with this one.

I am going to Chile to be with one of my daughters who is expecting her first child. I bought the plane ticket well before the due date, so I don’t know if the baby will already be born when I arrive, or whether I will be there days before the birth. Nature does what it wishes and does not care about my flight plans.

Since these days I sometimes have trouble remembering people’s names and places, and even remembering why I opened the refrigerator and what I was looking for, I am a little concerned that I will have forgotten what I knew about caring for newborn babies. It’s been three decades since I brought a newborn home from the hospital.

True, I have done it five times, albeit it was in the 1980s. When I express my concern to friends who have helped with their new grandbabies years after their own babies were born, they reassure me that “it all comes back” and I will have no problem.

One of the things I remember is that, even though I had read that newborn babies sleep 75 percent of the time, it seemed to me that my newborn was awake much of the time. I think that’s because newborn awake time comes in short spurts.

I also remember saying to myself, trying to overcome my insecurity in the face of my tiny, dependent being, that newborns, although in some ways fragile, are actually quite able to survive and so I shouldn’t worry about doing things “wrong.” Most will grow and thrive despite their parents’ well-meaning fumbling. I will remember this as I watch my own daughter find her way.

I nursed all of my babies and I am a strong proponent of breastfeeding. It is nature’s way, it provides some immunity to disease and breastmilk is always available and cheap. When our first baby was 2 months old, our return flight from Nebraska (visiting in-laws) left us stranded in Chicago overnight. Thank goodness for that milk supply I automatically had with me.

Of course, with the passage of years comes new baby products and new advice. I asked my daughter if she has a warm blanket for the baby’s crib — Chile is in the southern hemisphere and it is winter there (not too cold there, but still not our July). She told me babies should not be covered with blankets because they could smother. Instead, she has baby clothes that are like a blanket sack.

One of the newfangled things some people have given my daughter for her baby are called “swaddles.” They are used to wrap the baby. Some of these are large, soft and light-weight. I remember learning how to “swaddle” our newborns using a receiving blanket and wrapping it around the baby to envelope the arms and legs (the theory being that the baby is used to a small, enclosed space in the womb and so may find the space around his/her body after birth distressing). But now there are these special items known as swaddles. I can show my daughter how I used to “swaddle” my babies — but if I wasn’t there, I see there are also YouTube videos on the subject.

On the inside of a gift box that came to our house, there was advice about talking to newborns. That brought back a memory of one of my first pediatrician visits. The nurse was weighing my baby and said my baby was looking directly at her, and so the baby must be used to me talking to her. This seemed to surprise her. “Of course I talk to my baby,” I thought to myself.

I will talk to this newborn baby, too — in English — and this baby will hear the sounds of English and Spanish — both languages, spoken lovingly, welcoming a new life to the world.

Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]

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