Your Parenting Playbook

New to this baby thing? Not to worry -- we've all been there. Keep these tips in your back pocket. They'll take you from rattled rookie to the MVP of motherhood.

Nonstop crying, zero naps, refusing to take a bottle: You might have sworn you'd be a mellow mom, but during challenging moments, it's a struggle to stay Zen. "The best advice I ever got was, 'You're new at this, and the baby is new at this, so give yourselves time to figure things out,'" says Stefania Vasquenz, of Brooklyn, New York, mother of Stefano, 7, and Cristiano, 5. The two of you will conquer this new world together. And our cheat sheet to the tricky stages will help you do so with fewer growing pains.

    AT 3 WEEKS

    Your baby won't stop crying.
    Think of the first two weeks as the honeymoon, says Megan Faure, author of The Babysense Secret. Your newborn may be calm and able to fall asleep anywhere. Faure's theory: The womb is like a 24/7 spa for your baby, and the relaxing effects can last after you deliver. Then, by the end of the second week, he "wakes up," so to speak. There's no research to explain this, but from a neurological perspective, infants are indeed more alert starting around 14 days old, which means they take in more of the world around them and become susceptible to overstimulation. And just as your infant starts to fuss more, massive sleep deprivation hits you hard. Not a good combo.

    Have you tried this? When your baby starts to cry, nudge him toward rest. Newborns get worn out easily, and their response is to blow off steam by crying. Swaddling often helps, because wrapping your little one like a burrito makes him feel secure, says Carole Kramer Arsenault, R.N., author of The Baby Nurse Bible. Another proven soother: Give your baby a pacifier or even your clean finger to suck on. Sucking can be just what he needs to calm himself down. (Nursing? Handing Sweetie a paci after the first two weeks shouldn't affect breastfeeding success.)

    Many moms swear by the power of the "5 S's," a set of steps created by pediatrician Harvey Karp, M.D., in his book and DVD series The Happiest Baby on the Block. These strategies include swaddling and letting the baby suck, as well as making a shushing sound in your baby's ear, swinging your child, and carrying Baby on his side. Walking, rocking, bouncing, or waltzing your little one around the house can also calm the crankies. Hum or croon while you're on the move. Forget the rattles and other toys, however. Waving one at a newborn may only make him more miserable.

      AT 1 MONTH

      Your baby wakes up the instant you put him down to sleep.
      Babies in their "fourth trimester" (that's what Dr. Karp calls the first three months after birth) yearn for the warmth and smells of the womb. Guess who can provide that? You. It's only natural that your baby prefers sleeping in your arms to lying in her bassinet. Plus, we all have a natural startle reflex about 15 minutes after falling asleep, says Faure. It's involuntary and tends to wake up a baby. That's why some newborns seem to only catnap.

      Have you tried this? Naps are more successful if your baby doesn't get overtired; if she does, it will be harder for her to fall -- and stay -- asleep. Keep in mind that, for the first 6 weeks of life, a baby can comfortably stay awake for only 45 minutes to an hour, says Faure. Right now, it's okay if your infant gets most of her daytime zzz's in a swing or car seat. But at about the 4-month mark, you should get serious about using the crib, so she associates it with satisfying sleep.

      For now, try to set the stage for at least one nap a day in the bassinet or crib. The best time is the morning, about two hours after she wakes, says Kramer Arsenault. You should expect some fussing, "but there's a difference between a baby who is hysterical and one who is just a little upset," she notes. To settle your sweetie, rock her until she's drowsy, then lay her down -- on her back, of course -- and rub her tummy, saying, "I love you. This is your nap time." Step out, and if she just whimpers, she may nod off. Screaming? Go and get her; she's too young to fully sleep train.

      If your baby falls asleep in your arms, it may help to wait out the 15-minute startle reflex. Try keeping one hand on her after you put her down, says Kramer Arsenault. "Stay that way until after she jerks."

      You may also try putting a white-noise machine in the room, which mimics the sounds of the womb, and darkening the nursery. But if, despite your best efforts, the crib nap doesn't work out, it's okay. "Your baby won't be spoiled if you let her sleep on you in the first few months," says Faure.

      Oh, you actually need to get stuff done? Wear her, as Tracy Sullivan, of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, does with her 4-month-old son, Jameson: "The BabyBjorn and Moby Wrap keep my hands free," she says.

        AT 6 WEEKS

        Your baby is unhappy during the evening.
        Oh, boy: Crying peaks right now. Experts theorize that it's a result of both a growth spurt and the nervous system maturing. And your newborn may be especially unhappy at night, because he's hungry or tired from staying awake for longer stretches during the day. No matter the reason, the hustle and bustle of your efforts to entertain him, make dinner, and catch up with your partner could send your sweetie into a crying jag.

        Have you tried this? Babies like to play when they wake in the morning, but keep things low-key as the sun goes down. Give your baby a bath. Put on his pj's. Dim the lights while you nurse him. Play the same, soft music every night, which will cue him that it's time to rest. If you have a sensitive infant who cries more at your overtures, skip the wind-down and focus on getting him into bed, says Faure.

        To end the day, nurse or give him a bottle, burp him, swaddle him, turn on some white noise, and say good night before turning out the lights.

        A final tip for the desperate: Let someone else try. "One time I called my parents and begged them to help. My dad took my screaming daughter at the door, and she settled in his arms," says Michelle Kennedy, of Brooklyn, New York, mom of Devon, now 9. "Now I understand that the more your baby stresses, the more you get tense, and the more your baby stresses. It's a vicious cycle." The good news is that since 6 weeks is the crying high point, fewer tears are in your future.

          AT 3 MONTHS

          You're headed back to work, and your baby won't take a bottle.
          Leaving your baby is hard enough without the added fear that she'll starve without you. Don't worry, she won't. But a baby who knows only breastfeeding at this age will naturally be a bit thrown off.

          Have you tried this? Don't force the issue. Let your baby take charge, says Kramer Arsenault, who is also a certified lactation consultant. During playtime, give her the bottle and let her investigate the nipple with her gums and tongue. You can tilt the bottle forward, but allow your baby to draw it into her mouth herself. "Don't push it in," says Kramer Arsenault. A better strategy is to wait until she's distracted by something, like a view out the window, and then place the nipple near her mouth. Her natural instinct to suck may kick in.

          Other strategies: Feed your baby while she's in a bouncy seat, not in your arms or your usual spot on the couch. That way, drinking from a bottle is a different experience. Similarly, have Dad, your sitter, or Grandma do the feeding. And try a variety of brands of bottles and nipples; some babies are particular.

            AT 6 MONTHS

            Your baby wails in the car. You feel helpless.
            A tot in the car might be crying for all the usual reasons -- he's hungry, wet, or bored. But some babies also balk at car rides because they're motion sick, says Faure. "Staring at the seat, your baby might think he's not moving, which doesn't match the feeling of the car's starts and stops," she notes. Naturally, his road rage leaves you on edge behind the wheel.

            Have you tried this? First, remind yourself that your baby is not in danger, and the best thing you can do is drive carefully. A quick fix is to turn up Beyonce; upbeat music may keep you happier and distract your crier at the same time. Of course, if you're en route during naptime, it's wiser to pop in a lullaby CD. Keep a favorite blankie or lovey in the car for him to clutch when he's tired. And stash a bag of toys that he gets his tiny hands on only during car trips. (But be prepared for Baby to let go of one and have it roll out of reach. Pull over if you want to grab it; never take your hands off the wheel.)

            "My daughter would not sleep in the car and would scream in traffic," Kennedy remembers. "A bottle of breast milk would sometimes help. That and a lot of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' and 'Old MacDonald.' And sometimes the only solution was to pull over and nurse her until she calmed down." In other words, for long rides you'll have to make several pit stops. Forget making good time!

              AT 9 MONTHS

              Your baby goes on a nursing strike.
              Once your baby gets busy with big projects such as crawling and standing up, nursing, her first passion, might seem like a bother. "An older baby may be more interested in playing with finger foods," says Kramer Arsenault. Resisting your breast can also be your baby's way of telling you something's not quite right: Perhaps she's teething, your milk supply has dipped, or your body has a new smell because of a different soap you're using. But take heart if you're determined to stick with breast milk for a year or more: A nursing strike does not necessarily mean that your little gal wants to be weaned right now.
              Have you tried this? A baby this age may want to snack for five minutes and then play, which can try a mom's patience. For a more productive nursing session, feed her in a dimly lit room away from distractions. Also try different nursing positions, says Kramer Arsenault. Breastfeed while walking around, for instance. This change may be enough to keep her focused. Or nurse when she's sleepy.

              If these methods don't fly, stay calm. "If five minutes go by and your baby is not nursing, stop trying," says Kramer Arsenault. Pump to keep up your supply (and to prevent engorgement), and offer your baby expressed breast milk in a bottle or sippy cup. Then try nursing again at her next feeding session.

                AT 12 MONTHS

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                Your baby is waking up again at night.
                There are a hundred reasons for a baby this age to be waking up, says Faure, including the fact that he is teething or has an ear infection. But one surprising reason your child may suddenly become a night owl is an impending major milestone, such as walking. "It has to do with the brain processing this new behavior," says Kramer Arsenault. Your kiddo may also awaken at night if he isn't getting plenty of doze time or enough calories during the day. But more likely, the reason for that 2 A.M. cry for Mom is habit, says Faure. Instead of settling back to dream world on his own, he wants you to nurse, rock, or cuddle him.

                Have you tried this? Usually, a 1-year-old needs two naps a day to be well rested. And while every child is different, when it comes to eating, the goal should be three meals and two snacks a day. Your child's diet should include a variety of solid food and no more than 16 to 24 ounces of formula a day. (You don't have to limit nursing.)

                If you suspect the trouble is that you're coddling your baby to sleep, find a lovey -- a soft blanket or stuffed animal -- your munchkin can snuggle with, Faure recommends. Then start sleep coaching. It can take four or five nights and will involve crying, so be prepared. Wait until you're ready, so you don't confuse your baby. How it works: When your child wakes up, say, "Here's your little bear. I love you," and put the lovey back in his arms, explains Faure. Then pat and reassure your baby before you walk out. Try not to pick him up, even if he is hysterical. Instead, hug him in his crib and whisper to him to calm him down. Remind him it's sleepy time, and peck his cheek, then step out. Repeat this, waiting increasingly longer before you go to him (first 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15 minutes), until he finally nods off.

                Remember through the tears that your child is okay. He's not in pain, and you'll both be happier when he's had enough sleep. If you're consistent and don't backtrack, this plan will work, even though the project might seem daunting to you right now. After all, you've tackled other big challenges during Baby's first year, and one thing's for sure: You've proven you can handle them!

                Originally published in the September 2013 issue of American Baby magazine.