Step by Step
The first year of parenting can seem like a marathon of body and mind. Your arms become toned without stepping into a gym. Changing diapers, coordinating naps, and sitting down for feedings can gulp up an entire day. Each month launches new developments, with all their joys and uncertainties. Some days it seems you don’t even have time to sit on the floor and relax with your baby.
As the weeks went on with my son, Noah, many stages I thought would last forever just glided by. I found that the more frazzled I felt, the more he and I benefited from my dropping everything and playing with him, even if I returned to doing laundry ten minutes later. Here’s a guide to enjoying what you have while it’s right in front of you.
Months 0 to 2: Getting to Know You
At six or eight weeks, just when you’re feeling bone-tired and your baby has hit a wall of fussiness, she starts to smile. Suddenly you’re doing everything you can to coax out another grin. Until then, try these ways to enjoy your newborn.
- Memorize every feature of your baby’s face while she lies in her crib.
- Watch her fall asleep on your chest. You may think she’ll always be a lump, but this stage really doesn’t last long.
- Dance with your baby to music and decide which songs are her favorites.
- Walk everywhere with a front carrier and marvel at the droop of her neck when she falls asleep.
- Join a mothers’ group, where you’ll get support and notice your baby’s individuality.
- While she’s eating, feel free to muse upon your dreams or read poetry aloud—she won’t stir at this point, unlike later when the slightest noise will distract her.
Months 2 to 4: A Gradual Awakening
Around three months, I noticed that Noah showed a sudden awareness of the world, as if he was starting to understand what I was saying. I too was more alert as he began to sleep longer stretches. Take advantage of this curiosity and level of interest.
- If your baby hasn’t liked the stroller until now, three months is a good time to try again. His new comfort can make outings to the zoo or the park much easier, and he will drink in the different sights.
- Ask for a booth at a restaurant and put the infant seat next to you or your spouse. You may be daunted by eating out at this point, but it will seem easy in retrospect once your baby starts to move.
- Perform an impromptu puppet show among stuffed animals—witty dialogue not necessary.
- Give your baby a tour of the house: light switches, photographs, cabinet hinges. Right now he is a willing audience for just about anything.
Months 4 to 6: Complete Curiosity
During this time, I found that I could predict more accurately when Noah would be hungry or need a diaper change. As a result, I took fewer supplies on excursions and became a little more spontaneous. Some doctors call this the “golden age” of babyhood because your child is friendly and predictable, yet still immobile. The possibilities for fun really begin to open up now.
- Introduce board books with flaps that your baby can touch, such as Eric Hill’s Where’s Spot? or Karen Katz’s Where Is Baby’s Mommy?
- Rotate your baby’s toys every couple of days to see what she prefers; then search for more like them. I found that Tupperware and plastic ladles were just as good as $10 trinkets.
- Experiment with different ways for your baby to make noise: a crinkly paper bag, a wooden block, a metal mixing bowl.
- Stack a pile of clothes with different textures and let your baby plow through them.
- Sit your baby in front of an aquarium at a restaurant, where her eyes will track the fish back and forth, back and forth.
Months 6 to 8: Babies in Motion
These months often mark an evolution from staying in one place to scooting across the room. At my mothers’ group one week, Noah stared at other children crawling; the next week, I could hardly keep up with him! Many children can also sit up on their own, allowing them to manipulate a toy. Take advantage of their sociability and delight at this age, and know that this is the last time you’ll be able to sit still for long.
- Keep a camera nearby as your baby tastes a jar of green beans or broccoli.
- Entertain your baby with a few toys in the bath, where a chorus of “Rubber Duckie” is always in vogue.
- “Retire” a favorite toy and then bring it out a week later for a look of wonder.
- Take your baby on a hike in a backpack for a new view of the world.
- Head to the park, where your baby can roll on the grass while you sit with a cool drink.
Months 8 to 10: What a Wonderful World
By this point, many babies are crawling effortlessly. Batten down the childproofing hatches and get out of their way! It was at this point that I started getting a workout while Noah explored. In addition to following your baby as she roams, you can also try these quieter pastimes.
- Lie on your back and hold your baby while rubbing her tummy and kissing her cheeks. Guaranteed giggles!
- Read books aloud at the local library or bookstore to learn which ones make your baby’s eyes go wide.
- Pause during stroller rides to let your baby gently touch flowers and shrubs at her level.
- If your baby is cruising, lie on the couch with two magazines—one for you to read, one for her to tear up—and watch her inch your way.
Months 10 to 12: A Little Human Being
As your baby barrels toward his first birthday, you’ll witness so many transitions that you won’t want to blink, and you’ll wonder when your baby started to look like a little kid. At this stage, Noah became especially interested in other children and wanted to pull up on anything with a ledge. You will likely feel that all the first, relentless months are long behind you, and joyful moments will burst out regularly.
- Make a board book with pictures of the family members and friends your baby sees frequently. (Try C&T; Publishing for blank books.)
- Continue to talk to your baby when he babbles. Give him time to expound on his subject before you reply with “Oh, really?” or “How interesting!”
- Strap your baby into a shopping cart after a good meal and a nap, even if you don’t need many groceries. He’ll love looking at the colors and the people, especially at large warehouse stores.
- Take your baby to parks, the beach, playgrounds—anywhere he can roam without borders. And don’t worry about the dirt. Wet wipes or a splashy bath can take off the day’s grime.
Year One and Beyond
By the time your child is a year old, the months that stretched ahead when he was a newborn have now been filled with accomplishments for you and your family. The early days you thought would never end are now a distant, hard-earned memory. You’ve figured out how to have fun with your child; now watch his imagination expand as he figures out how to have fun with you.