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New-Mom Promises That Are Fine to Break

happy woman with hand on her heart

Sarah Kehoe

The Promise: I won't drink alcohol as long as I'm breastfeeding.
I made and kept a promise to myself to abstain while pregnant. But three months into parenthood, I was craving a cold one. When our family went to the local Irish Festival, I couldn't take it anymore. Nursing my son in the Baby Bj?rn, I queued up for a pint of Killian's Red. After making my purchase, I popped off my son, who was then sleeping, and took a sip. Everyone noticed.

The Reality: You can safely enjoy a moderate amount of alcohol.
Although it's best to avoid drinking while breastfeeding, recent research suggests that nursing mothers can safely consume an alcoholic beverage once or twice a week, if they time it right. (It's not much, but after months of passing on the pinot, you might be tipsy after half a glass!) Alcohol you consume can be passed to the baby via breast milk, however, according to Nancy Brent, M.D., medical director of the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh. Her advice: "Feed Baby, and then have your drink afterward." Three hours later, the alcohol should be gone from your blood, and it will be safe to breastfeed. Keep in mind that pumping and dumping does not rid your milk of alcohol -- you should do it only to relieve engorgement or stimulate your nursing supply, Dr. Brent points out. It is smart to pump prior to imbibing, though, so you'll have milk if the baby gets hungry before you can nurse him.

The Promise: I won't rush to her every time she cries.
When you were pregnant, you vowed not to hurry to your infant the second she whimpered. (The world doesn't need another diva!) Now, you're dropping everything each time she bursts into tears -- and getting lectures from your mother-in-law about how you're spoiling the baby.

The Reality: For the first few months, it's best to soothe.
It's true that kids eventually need to learn to calm themselves, but infants have only one way to call you back from sleep (or Facebook): crying. For now, it's a good idea to respond, ideally before she starts wailing. Crying can cause her to swallow air, leading to gas, which means it can take longer to calm her down, says American Baby advisor Laura Jana, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). "Reacting quickly helps your baby build a sense that she can trust the people around her to meet her needs," adds American Baby advisor Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of The Happiest Baby on the Block book and DVD. (Go to americanbaby.com/soothe for more of his smart advice on calming your little one.)

After 6 to 9 months, she will learn to cry to get what she wants. "That's when you might sometimes let her cry a bit and not immediately respond," Dr. Karp suggests. This will help your child learn that she won't always get what she's jonesing for simply by turning on the tears.

The Promise: I won't use a swing just so I can get stuff done.
When Jessica Parker's firstborn was an infant, she never touched the baby swing. This mom from Mertzon, Texas, had received one as a gift but worried that Scarlet wouldn't sleep in her bed if she got used to it. But when sister Presley came along, that same contraption was irresistible. "We started using it to save our sanity, but Presley loved it so much that we upgraded to one with sound and multidirectional swinging!"

The Reality: Swings can benefit parents and babies alike.
Your supermom neighbor may regard swings and bouncy seats as neglect-o-matics -- not true! Putting your kiddo in one doesn't only let you finally eat a meal with both hands; it also soothes fussy babies. The rocking and vibration help re-create the oh-so-comforting, round-the-clock movement of the womb, Dr. Karp explains. "I've even made a house call to help a couple set up swings for their twins," he says.

Of course, you don't want to leave your baby hanging all day long, but there's no reason to feel guilty for letting her chill in midair for short stretches of time while you prepare a meal or clean the bathtub. "Parenting is so much tougher than ever before," Dr. Karp says. "We often work outside the home and don't have extended family nearby for support." Moms and dads today need all the help that they can get, so it's fine to occasionally use the swing or bouncy seat as an extra set of hands.

The Promise: I'll give Baby my full, undivided attention at feedings.
Marissa Korchynsky Watson, of Spring City, Pennsylvania, wanted to enjoy nursing her daughter. "During feedings, I tried to limit my phone use to texting my husband, so I didn't have to call out to him," she says. But feedings can stretch on for nearly an hour. "I occasionally played Words With Friends," she admits.

The Reality: Regularly getting distracted can detract from the bonding experience.
"Is it harmful to, say, surf the Web while you're feeding Baby?" asks American Baby advisor Claire Lerner, director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, a nonprofit devoted to the health and development of babies, toddlers, and families. "Probably not," Lerner says. "But feeding is one of the greatest opportunities to connect and encourage social and emotional development." Meals are about more than nutrition. "It's important to tune in, understand when Baby is full or still hungry, and instill positive feelings about food -- and this happens during feedings," Lerner explains. We all know how it feels when a girlfriend keeps checking her email during a lunch date; a baby can sense this same lack of engagement when Mom is distracted.

The occasional text is fine, but rather than regularly "phoning in" your sweetie's feedings, save catching up on email, phone calls, or the latest episode of Up All Night for later, when Baby is engaged in solo play or taking a nap. "There are very few things that can't wait a half hour while you finish feeding your infant," Lerner says. If unplugging during a nursing session makes you antsy, silently repeat a mantra, she suggests. Try: "I'm feeding my baby's mind, soul, and body."

The Promise: I will never offer my baby a Binky.
"Before I had a baby, I thought pacifiers were for the parents' benefit, so they wouldn't have to listen to crying," says Whitney Moss, cofounder and publisher of RookieMoms.com. But when her son was an infant, she realized just how soothing sucking can be. Car rides in particular were stressful until Moss started passing her son a paci. "All of our lives improved," she says. "And he loved it."

The Reality: They're called pacifiers for a reason.
Babies interact with the world primarily through their mouths, and sucking (whether it's on your breast, a bottle, or a pacifier) is one of the most soothing sensations for your tot, Dr. Jana says. So why do pacifiers get such a bad rap? For a newborn, using one may interfere with breastfeeding, because babies often find it easier to suck on a paci than to breastfeed. Fortunately, "by around 4 weeks, most infants have figured out how to nurse and developed a good latch, so using the Binky is no big deal," Dr. Jana says. In fact, the AAP actually endorses pacifier use at naptime and bedtime, because recent studies have shown that sucking on one while falling asleep can significantly decrease an infant's risk for SIDS. (Researchers think this is a result of the sucking motion, which may keep babies slightly more alert and responsive during sleep.)

Make sure you check on Baby's needs, though, before reflexively popping in a paci when he's fussy, Dr. Jana says. (If his diaper is wet, he needs a change, not a pacifier.) She also recommends weaning your child off his Binky by age 1, when the risk for SIDS has passed. "After that, the habit is harder to break. Plus, as kids learn to communicate verbally, the pacifier may interfere with speech," she says. Visit americanbaby.com/binky for tips on curbing the paci habit.

The Promise: I'll create a daily routine and stick with it.
When her daughter, Alice, was an infant, Danielle Chiotti, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, kept naptime sacred. But things have been different with her second-born, Harry, whose snooze schedule conflicted with pickup from Alice's school. That meant Chiotti frequently had to wake him to go get his sister. Can you say cranky afternoon?

The Reality: Routines matter, but parenting requires flexibility.
"Consistency is important for babies because they seek safety and security in the world," Lerner says. "Routines provide predictability." If, from time to time, you have to get to the post office by 5 P.M. or run out to buy milk and diapers before the sitter arrives, then of course it's fine to soldier on through naptime with the understanding that your baby might be grumpy during those necessary errands. "Parents' needs matter too, and it's a true challenge to find a balance," Lerner says.

So how to accomplish anything outside the house and still help your baby get the naps he requires? For Chiotti, it ultimately meant shifting Harry's naptime to earlier in the day. As she made the transition, she relied on a network of friends and relatives to pick Alice up so Harry could finish his nap. On the days it didn't work out, Chiotti simply woke Harry a bit early, and they dashed out. And there's nothing wrong with that; the occasional disruption has a way of encouraging babies to be adaptable. "It's easier to function in the world if we're flexible," Lerner says. Promise you'll remember that, okay?

Originally published in the April 2012 issue of American Baby magazine.

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