Unfortunately, babies don’t come with an instruction booklet, and even if they did it would be impossible to cover every baby and their individual needs and activities. But your local child and family health nurse is the next best thing and can often be your first port of call when questions arise. We asked Karen Faulkner, child and family health nurse with the Parent Support Team at the Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, for practical and achievable tips to get your child’s development, wellbeing and happiness off to the best start.
1.Get on down
Tummy time is extremely important for motor skills and will help your baby crawl sooner, walk sooner and have better core balance. Lay bub on her tummy on a play mat or rug every day from the age of 1 or 2 weeks. Start with four times a day, for a few minutes each time, and gradually increase this as she gets older. If she doesn’t enjoy it, placing a rolled-up hand towel under her chest with her arms over it can help. This gives more support to her head so she can lift it off the floor more easily. Pop some favourite toys within her reach and get down on the floor to offer encouragement and affection.
2. Have a tete-a-tete
If your pram can be set up so baby faces you, keep it in this position for as long as possible. You can regularly make eye contact with her and she can see your face while you talk and therefore receive much more information. “The more time you can spend gazing at your baby when she wants to be gazed at and talking to her when she wants to be talked to, the better. This will help to build up good connections in the brain and also help with happy endorphins that encourage baby’s development,” says Karen.
3.Keep it simple
Rather than expensive, heavily perfumed skincare products that can be harsh on baby’s delicate skin, try simple sorbolene as a soap substitute and moisturiser. If baby’s skin gets a bit dry, particularly in winter, apply sorbolene four times a day. When changing baby’s nappy, use cottonwool or washable kitchen wipes (such as Chux) with warm water or sorbolene to clean her bottom.
This is a cheaper alternative to baby wipes and, most importantly, much kinder to your baby’s skin.
4. A little light reading
When your baby is 6 to 8 weeks old, choose a simple hard-backed book with clear, straightforward words and pictures to read to her. “Choose a book that you like, as you may be reading it for a long time,” laughs Karen. Research shows that reading to your baby is very positive in helping with speech development and general social interaction and communication.
5. Time to unwind
If your baby has a windy tummy, pop her on the change table and gently massage down towards the direction of her stomach. You can also try bicycle actions with her legs or bend her legs back up onto her body in what is called a ‘C position’.
A baby’s stomach is extremely sensitive in the first three months and these simple techniques are effective in helping her release unwanted wind that might be causing discomfort.
6. Roll over, roll over
When bub is 3 or 4 months old, lay her on her back on the play mat or rug and gently roll her one way and then the other. “Clap your hands and make it a fun thing,” says Karen. Rolling is a crucial part of learning to crawl, so by encouraging your baby to get the feel of it you will be helping her general physical development.
7. The magic touch
Make a gentle massage with sorbolene or sweet almond oil (do not use essential oils) part of baby’s everyday routine. Choose a time when she is relaxed and rested, taking care not to massage over the heart or down the spine.
“You really can’t go wrong with baby massage,” says Karen. “Any sort of touch is valuable.” Massage is a wonderful way to help stimulate your baby’s immune system and circulation, and get rid of wind. It is also a lovely bonding activity.
8. Sit around
From about 5 or 6 months, sit bub on the floor with her legs in a V position. “Babies tend to put their legs together and then they fall over. Put the legs in a V with a toy in the mid-line, because that will help bub focus on her balance. Do this for a few minutes, several times a day, and within a week your baby will have better balance,” says Karen. Support her with your hands around her waist, taking care to not hold too tightly.
9.Raring to go
When bub begins attempting to move on her tummy, hold her legs down so she can propel forward. “Babies naturally put their head down and feet up when on their tummies, because their heads are bigger than their actual body mass,” says Karen. Encouraging baby to put her legs down will help her find her feet and get going.
10.Don’t forget about you
Ask yourself at the end of each day, “What did I do for me today?” This might be something as simple as walking around the block, having a coffee somewhere, reading a magazine or the front page of the newspaper, reading one chapter of a book or emailing a friend.
“I encourage my mums to do this every day,” says Karen. “It’s not about being selfish, it’s about self care.” Your baby absorbs everything, so take a few moments for yourself each day because if you are feeling fulfilled and happy, then so too will your baby.
Karen also emphasises the best thing you can do as a mother is simply “be” with your baby and have fun. “If you haven’t completed your to-do list, don’t worry, just enjoy your baby,” she advises. “Trust your instincts, keep it simple and if in doubt, ask, as help is always readily available.”