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7 Ways Your Newborn is Resilient

Is your partner so scared of holding your newborn that they've announced they won't be holding the baby for the first year of life— because they might break the baby.

Or maybe you already have a new baby at home—when sheer panic sets in as you suddenly realize that you are completely responsible for the care and well being of this tiny human! Love comes naturally for your cute little bundle, and the feeding seems second nature, but the ‘care’ terrifies you. This baby looks so easy to break!!

Such teeny arms and legs, that small head that seems like it might roll off the wobbly neck at any moment. Oh, and that soft spot! It all makes this small infant look more fragile than your Grandmother’s creepy collection of porcelain baby dolls.

This appearance of extreme fragility leaves many new parents feeling anxious that they might break their baby somehow. But take some comfort in the fact that you are not alone, and even more comfort in the fact that babies are born already designed to withstand nervous, fumbling new parents and their friends and family.

Although many people feel concerned about the breakability of their infant in the beginning, a little common sense and caution should ensure your baby is just fine. Looks can be deceiving and babies are much more durable and resilient than they look. Unless you are actually trying (and if you are there is something very, very wrong!), for the most part, babies don’t break that easily.

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7 Head and Neck

When your baby is first born her head only looks small to you. It's actually much too big in proportion to the tiny body she has. Not only that, for, roughly, the first month of her life your baby has very weak muscles through most of her body (except that crazy strong grip!) and very little motor control so her neck strength does not support her over-sized head, so without support her head will flop around at the will of gravity.

So, if you forget about her bobble head, and pick her up without supporting her head, her little noodle can roll around or flop backward—possibly far enough to cause her back to arch.

Sound terrifying, right?! Well, as horrible as this might sound to any new parent, after a head flop your baby probably won’t experience any more damage than a little scare—nevertheless, we don’t really recommend making a habit out of it. So to avoid causing your infant the stress and discomfort of contorting in uncomfortable positions every time you pick her up, here are a few tips for lifting her:

--place one hand firmly under her bottom and scoop her up while supporting her head and neck with your other hand.

And don’t despair, your baby should start to build stronger neck muscles by the time she reaches a month old. These timelines are not hard and fast--babies develop at their own rate, and if your baby was premature, the developmental milestones may come later than a baby that was full-term.

Until that time arrives, enjoy that bobble-head stage because it keeps your baby’s attention on you while you cradle him in your arms, giving the two of you a lot of time to gaze adoringly into one another’s eyes, releasing all that wonderful bonding chemical, oxytocin. Because once she can hold her head up and look around, you may spend a lot of time trying to get her attention.

We should also mention that while a little innocent head sagging shouldn’t do much damage, shaking a baby is never, never OK. It often occurs when a parent of caregiver become frustrated with an inconsolable crying baby and shakes her.

Because of her heavy head, feeble neck muscles, and the delicate blood vessels in her brain, shaking a baby can cause both serious injury and trauma, and it can lead to brain damage or even death. It is important to know that Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is not caused by normal, responsible play like gently swinging her (while holding her tightly around the torso) or bouncing her gently on your knee.

6 Soft Spot

Just the name of this part of your baby’s head sounds delicate and goes against everything we know a head should be. Called the fontanel, this small diamond shaped spot is located right at the top of your baby’s otherwise perfect head and for many parents may be the most terrifying part of your infant’s body (except, maybe, for his or her unpredictable and explosive, little bottom).

And if only one fontanel doesn’t cause enough anxiety, we should mention that there are actually two fontanels. The one on the top of the head is usually the most obvious, and so the most worrisome, but there is another small, triangular shaped fontanel at the back of your baby’s head.

If you have likely started too many conversations with, “don’t touch his soft spot”, the idea of someone pushing their finger through that spot and damaging your infant’s perfect little brain probably is on the list of things that strike fear in your heart. But we have news that should quell your fear.

Your baby’s brain is not right there directly under that coin sized spot of vulnerable, pink flesh. Your baby’s brain is actually protected by a thick, strong membrane. That pulsing you may be seeing isn’t something to worry about. It is actually the tiny veins in his circulatory system.

Unless the fontanel is bulging while your child is in an upright position, indicating possible pressure on your baby’s brain, a delicate pulse is perfectly normal and should put you at ease because it means his circulatory system is working.

And although you do need to treat it with reasonable care, unless you or someone else is actively trying to push through the fontanel (and there is something very, very wrong if you are!), the chance of you or someone else accidentally poking through it is basically non-existent by just putting on a hat or gently using a soft brush on your baby’s downy head.

So, why, do you wonder, does you baby have that space in his skull bones? There are a couple reasons, actually. If you had a regular vaginal birth, you are going to be very grateful when you hear the first reason:

--The fontanels helped your baby’s head shift and mold so he could fit more easily through your narrow birth canal. Yay!

OK, so maybe this reason isn’t as exciting as we made it out to be. But consider your birth experience if your baby’s head was solid? Yikes!

-- The fontanels allow your baby’s head to shift and make room for his brain to grow because in relation to the rest of his body, his bran grows very quickly.

The rest of the good news is that the fontanels should begin to close by the time your baby is around 18 months of age. That leaves lots of time for his head to become solid before he gets interested in contact sports. Ok, well, for most parents at least. 

5 Dressing Baby

As a new parent, your baby will give you more opportunities to change his clothes than you could have ever anticipated—and for that matter, you may be surprised to find how many times you will probably need to change your own clothes too.

There is not only the constant flow of shirt-soaking drool but also the seemingly ever-blowing geyser of spit-up that, some days, will seem as steady as Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful. Those are just the beginning. There is always the pleasure of the leaky diaper that seems to sneak up while you holding your baby in your arms while wearing your favourite shirt.

But that diaper leak is a blissful experience compared to the up-the-back diaper blowout that’s guaranteed to strike when it’s least convenient--but, then again, is poop up the shirt ever convenient?

Both epic diaper failures, however, quiet leaking or loud explosion ensures your baby not only needs a new diaper, but probably also needs a bath and full outfit change—including socks. And you probably do too, for that matter. And that many outfit changes can leave some parents in a state of constant dread.

But there is no need quake at thought of all the outfit changes ahead of you. Once you’re done this article, you won’t feel the need to high-five your partner each time one of you manages to dress your baby with her arms and legs intact and still attached. Your seemingly vulnerable newborn is actually pretty durable and they have a rubber-band flexibility that matches any gymnast or advanced yogi.

In fact, babies are born much more flexible than adults—unless, maybe, that adult happens to hold a position in the Cirque Du Solei. And, really, consider the last time you could put both your feet in your mouth at the same time while sitting straight up!

If you’re wondering why babies are born with rubber-band flexibility, the reason has nothing to do with the outfits you are going to try to stuff them into. It is that they need to be.

Your uterus is a small place, and that is where the baby has been living for the last nine months, and growing--especially during the last few months of increased growth.

But your baby needs to fit into your uterus easily and still be able to move around so, as Sandra Hume explains, he has that extra flexibility because he is born with more than 300 hundred bones—that’s almost 100 more bones than the 206 bones that an adult has.

Your baby’s extra bones are soft, and are cushioned by cartilage—the material your ears are made of. As Carlyn Main explains, over time as he grows these bones and cartilage, with the help of calcium in his diet, fuse together and harden to create his adult skeleton. But that process can take almost 20 years.

So until then, all those extra bones are responsible for the springiness in your baby that guarantees that as long as your use reasonable care, you won’t yank his arms out of their sockets with all the bending and flexing you have to do to struggle those little arms into those ever-so-cute, tiny outfits. 

4 Bathing Baby

As you would expect, with all those explosions coming from each end, the art of the outfit-change isn’t the only baby-handling skill you are going to need to master. That beautiful infant of yours is going to need a bath or another, much less enjoyable, smell, will soon mask that wonderful new-baby smell.

The first time you bathe your baby you may end up wondering what jokester greased her up when you weren’t looking. But we can assure you, that jokester was Mother Nature because she came like that. A wet baby can easily fall under the category of ‘most slippery item in the world’.

Bathing that tiny, human version of a greased pig can be enough to give even any fresh parent an intense anxiety attack—what if your wet little bundle slides our of your arms and slips under the bath water for a second? Well, we are here to once again ease you fears and assure you that bath time doesn’t have to be a daunting experience.

And, if your baby doesn’t enjoy the bath the first few times she is dipped, rest assured that most children grow to love water. We can also assure you that although the slippery baby is one of Mother Nature’s great pranks, babies come with a natural defense that compensates for a nervous, fumbling mother.

Babies under the age of six months have an innate swimming reflex. Maybe it comes from spending the first nine months of life surrounded in fluid—but as Natalie Wolchover explains in her Live Science article, when a baby’s head is briefly submerged in water she will spontaneously hold her breath, closing her lungs off from the water.

This reflex is triggered by something called the mammalian diving reflex, and it's one of your baby’s important defense mechanisms. This doesn’t mean you can toss your baby into the lake, pool, or other body of water and expect her to swim like an Olympian, but it does mean that if your baby slips out of your hands and dips under the water for a second, her reflexes will ensure that she will hold her breath and not take water into her lungs.

Even with this amazing reflex, never, under any circumstances, leave your baby or young child unattended in or near any body of water, including a shallow bathtub.

As crazy as it sounds, a young child is able to drown in as little as one inch of water. The World Health Organization warns that drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death worldwide. And for that reason, we thought it worth mentioning that one American company is working to reduce this statistic by teaching babies water survival skills

3 Germs

I think most people can understand the misery for both mother and child when an infant is ill, but some mothers are positively manic about their infants and germs.

While care should absolutely be taken, especially in the first three to six months of life if your child is generally healthy, being and overly cautious mother who sanitizes everything is not really doing your him any good over the long term—unless you think constant colds and stomach flus caused by an under developed immune system as he enters a daycare or the school system when he gets older, is going to be easier.

Trust us, it's not! Not only is your child bigger but his vomits and his diarrhea are also bigger, only now they're made of more solid foods. Insert shudder here.

If you are breastfeeding, your child should be more resistant to infection than formula fed children because, as the NRDC points out, breastfeeding transfers some of the mother’s antibodies to her baby, giving him an advantage against a vast range of disease.

Formula fed children may need more consideration regarding germ exposure, but the reality of the topic “your baby and germs” is that a reasonable level of exposure is an important part of developing a strong immune system. Natural exposure to germs is how the healthy immune system learns to defend itself.

That way, the next time your child is exposed to that germ, he already has a defense and can fight it off without experiencing the illness. This is important for children who will have any friends throughout their life. So, excluding children with serious immune function issues, this pretty much includes almost all of them.

That said, we are not promoting visiting your cousin while she has the Norwalk virus, using dog water to mix your child’s formula, having your infected friend intentionally sneeze on him, or exposing him to something as serious as salmonella.

All of these are bad ideas. While it is important to try to keep your baby away from people who are infected with some kind of illness within the first three months of his life, we are also suggesting that if your baby is generally healthy, a play-date with your friend’s mucky toddler who breathed on him is not going to call for a full HAZMAT suit.

2 Bumps & Falls

Another anxiety inducing topic for new parents is the notorious bump or fall. More times than not, if the fall isn’t far and the bump isn’t too hard, your baby’s tears are more from the scare they had or the indignation they feel.

It's very important to take reasonable precautions to keep your infant safe—because it is just good parenting, so you want to make sure your baby is never left unattended and that young children are not left holding infants without adult supervision. You can also avoid dropping your baby while carrying her or when passing her to or from another person by following these steps:

--To protect your baby from falling from your arms, hold your her close to your body to ensure she doesn’t wiggle out of your grip or fling herself out of your arms if she goes into a startle response extending her arms, fingers, and legs while arching her back.

--To safely receive your baby from the arms of another person, cradle both of your baby’s arms with your hands facing upwards, overlapping at your waist level. Rest your baby’s head in the crook of your elbow and support her body with the rest of your cradled arm.

However, all that said, no matter how careful we are, accidents can still happen. Some suggest there is little need to panic if your toddler shoves your baby from the couch, as long as there is not a hard or pointy surface for her to strike her head on.

You can probably avoid the ER unless you have reason to believe something is very wrong. There is a higher than likely chance that she will be OK, and a regular check up by a doctor is probably fine. This is because children are actually designed to withstand a fall. And some children have survived unimaginable falls, including from a moving train and out an 11-storey building.

While we are not endorsing trying this out, we just want to ease your post-fall panic. Since force of impact is what causes the damage, and a baby’s low body mass reduces the impact when they fall from a reasonable height (and in the case of miracle babies, a shocking height—but do not try that at home).

It's simply a matter of basic physics. Your baby will not experience as much damage as an adult falling the same distance. The saying, “the bigger they are the harder they fall,” is true. Adults have a higher mass creating a greater level of impact when they fall. Which means a lot more damage.

Also, children’s puny little muscles serve a purpose in protecting them—it means when they trip and fall forward their limbs crumple easily, lessening the chances of a break. Adults, in comparison, stiffen almost guaranteeing a break or fracture.

They also instinctively sit on their bums when they feel unsteady, ensuring they are cushioned not only by their chubby little butts, but also by the diaper they are most likely wearing. This may be the only scenario when you are grateful for a full diaper.

Lastly, infants are structurally sound in a fall, possibly more than an adult. Their additional body fat provides cushioning and their softer bones allow for more shock absorption than the stiff bones of a grown up.

All these protective details may be because babies fall or bump their heads or bodies so frequently once they start crawling and walking. And although it's important to do your best to shield them as much as possible, you can probably return the helmet and cancel your order for a year supply of bubble wrap suits—it's probably overkill.

The falling that babies do while learning to walk is not only natural part of being a baby and a natural part of the process of learning to walk. Some falls are not a natural part of growing and learning, so balancing your baby at the edge of that pit you dug in your yard, or letting her scale your bookshelf are probably not your best ideas. 

1 You Aren’t Doing it Right

One of the most common anxiety causing concerns many new parents have, especially before their baby is born, is that they will somehow damage their infant because they don’t know what they are doing. Many women fear that they will not have any maternal instinct because they aren’t a “baby person”. The reality is that many mothers are not a “baby person” or maternal before their infant was born.

According to what psychiatrist, Elyse Rubenstien told babycenter.com, maternal instinct is something that we are born with and it instils a natural tendency to want to protect and nurture our children to ensure their survival. It is present in almost all mothers, both human and animal, and is triggered by the release of hormones, including oxytocin, during and after the birthing process.

For the mothers that did not give birth to their babies, scientist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has reassuring words, “A woman who is committed to being a mother will learn to love any baby, whether it's her own or not”.

In her interview with Salon.com she also suggests that the longer a baby is close to his caregiver, and especially the more time that is spent between them looking into each other’s eyes, the more bonding that will occur.

If you find that you don't feel an overwhelming urge to protect your little one, or that your parenting experience begins to darken after your baby is born or your anxiety level increases to an overwhelming level, it's important to talk to someone about the possibility of postpartum depression.

As a mother, once your baby is born, your life changes. And although it may feel terrifying before your baby arrives, once you are holding that beautiful little bundle in your arms, you will begin to experience intense and protective emotions and desires you never expected. That's your baby’s best defense right there.

You may be surprised to find that after your baby is born you feel the natural pull to trade in your six-inch pumps and a wild night on the town for a breast pump and a quiet night on the couch. 

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