Getting Ready for Baby
The first few years of your child's life are an extraordinary time filled with astounding changes and rewarding triumphs. However, children don't come with handbooks and navigating each stage of your child's development will likely deliver a new set of challenges and opportunities. Whether you are a new parent, a single parent, researching child care options or looking for tips to keep you child safe the following information and resources may help. If the responsibilities that come with being a parent look a bit daunting and pose more questions than you have answers for, read on and rest easy.
Becoming a Parent
Keep Mother and Baby Safe and Healthy. Taking care of your baby before it's born is every bit as important as taking care of it after it's born. To do that, the mother needs to stay healthy. Expecting mothers should consider these important steps:
See your doctor regularly and follow instructions about sensible eating, vitamin supplements, and exercise.
Choose a birthing facility. Whether you select a traditional hospital, a center staffed by midwives, or another delivery option will depend on your health, your baby's health, your doctor's advice, your personal philosophy, and your insurance coverage.
Choose a childbirth class. Investigate classes available at your local hospital, community health center, or community college. You can also ask your doctor or midwife for recommendations. Before you sign up with any organization make sure the class will meet your needs and expectations.
If you're adopting. Adoptive parents don't always have nine months to begin preparing for baby. In fact, they often don't know how long they have to prepare - sometimes your child arrives with little advance notice. If an adoption is in the works for you, try preparing for baby as much as possible. Shop for child care basics, take a child care class, choose a pediatrician and consider finding a support group for adoptive parents.
Know your finances when preparing for baby. Either with a pencil and paper or a personal finance software program, start budgeting. When preparing for baby, shop around for the best values and choose your purchases wisely. Start with those items that are absolute necessities. And, without sacrificing your baby's safety and comfort, remember to stick to your budget. Consider the expense of childcare or the decrease in income if one parent reduces his or her work hours. If you find you need to cut expenses, begin with non-necessities such as entertainment and travel. Rent dvds, take local vacations, clip coupons, forego dry cleaning. You'll be surprised at how much you can save if you put your mind to it.
Review your health insurance. Be sure prenatal care is covered in your policy, and, while preparing for baby, make sure your choices of a birthing facility and type of delivery are covered.
Find out how to enroll your baby in your health plan before your baby is born. Some plans will not include baby if he or she is not signed up within the first 30 days, so be sure to do so right away. In most cases, adoptive children are eligible for health insurance under the parents' plans - especially if parents are covered under employer-sponsored health insurance. Get the details so you can make alternate arrangements if necessary.
Review your employer's family-leave program. Federal law grants new mothers and fathers 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child and many employers offer disability income insurance payments to new mothers. See your employer's benefits representative for complete details.
Preparing for Baby Emergencies. Take a certified CPR class. Infant cardio-pulmonary resuscitation classes are available from your local Red Cross chapter, American Heart Association or hospital. Keep a refresher demonstration chart near your phone.
Gather a list of emergency numbers and keep them by the phone.
Bringing baby home is the beginning of the adventure. Schedule a little quiet time for the entire family to rest, relax and get acquainted. Limit the number of visitors if you need to, but don't hesitate to accept help taking care of baby from thoughtful relatives and friends if they offer, you'll be glad you did.
In the rush to begin taking care of baby, don't forget to:
Schedule baby's first visit to the pediatrician. Be sure to ask about baby's immunizations, and keep your own record as a backup.
Get a Social Security number for baby. The easiest time to do this may be when you give information for your child's birth certificate. Otherwise, you can apply at a Social Security office. For more information visit www.ssa.gov. You'll need to list your child's Social Security number on your tax return when claiming a dependency exemption for the child for the first full tax year after birth. Failure to do so may subject you to a monetary fine. For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service office in your area or toll free at 800-829-1040.
Childproof your home. Taking care of baby includes placing childproof locks on cabinets, covering electrical outlets, keeping toilet lids down and placing safety gates securely in front of stairs and basement doors. You'll also need to store medications, cleaning products, and all poisonous or hazardous substances out of reach.
Mood swings — feeling happy one moment and weepy the next — are common among new moms. Other common symptoms include sadness, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, appetite changes, and changes in sleep patterns. It's estimated that as many as 80 percent of new moms experience some or all of these symptoms. Often called "baby blues" they usually last a few to several days.
If you experience the baby blues after your child is born, don't keep it to yourself. Some new moms feel embarrassed or guilty about being depressed when they think they're supposed to be happy. Tell your spouse or a close friend how you're feeling and ask for help. Find time to do something for yourself, even if it's only for fifteen minutes a day. Read, take a bath, meditate, or write in a journal. Don't put pressure on yourself to do everything; do what you can and forget the rest.
Symptoms that last longer than several days may be postpartum depression (i.e., after-delivery depression). Postpartum depression is an illness, affecting moms and dads. It can be treated with therapy, the help of a support network, and medication. Not all postpartum depression happens immediately after childbirth. Some women don't notice the symptoms for several weeks or even several months. Don't try to "go it alone" — there is help. Talk to your doctor or midwife; they can refer you to a professional experienced in treating postpartum depression. You can get more information about depression during and after pregnancy from the National Women's Health Information Center at 800-994-9662.
It's never too early to start planning for your child's education, from elementary through college. By setting aside money now - even a small sum out of every paycheck - you can watch your savings compound over the years.
There are many options available for financial planning for baby. Investments such as U.S. savings bonds, CDs, and money market deposit accounts are generally considered conservative, and are usually federally insured up to $100,000. Stocks, bonds and mutual funds are higher risk but also have greater reward potential. No matter what savings vehicle you choose, the most important thing is to begin financial planning for baby early.
Another way to ensure baby's future is through a will that names a legal guardian and alternate guardian for your child. If you've put off writing a will, now is the time. Without a will, the court may appoint a guardian you would not have chosen. Be sure to check with the individuals you'd like to serve as your child's guardian and alternate before naming either in your will.
There are many types of trusts that may benefit you and your survivors and help to avoid adverse tax consequences. Trusts can be a complicated form of financial planning for baby, so be sure to get professional advice to set one up. Talk to an estate lawyer or financial planner to find out what's appropriate for your specific situation.
Life insurance can help provide for your baby's care, well-being and education in the event of your premature death. As a new parent, you should review existing policies to see if they are adequate to provide for your child. If you have no insurance, or your coverage is inadequate, consider purchasing more coverage. Consult your insurance agent, financial planner, or estate attorney to determine how life insurance can help you with financial planning for baby.
However you got here, by choice or circumstance, single parenting can be a challenging, often stressful way of life. Finding the delicate balance between work, home, children and time for oneself can be difficult. Consider some of the following suggestions:
Identify community resources. Some communities are providing services to assist single and working parents. Hospitals and family clinics now offer "sick-child" care, where health-care professionals take care of sick children so a parent is able to go to work. The cost varies but it can be worth the peace of mind.
Explore employment options. Keep your resume updated and use the Internet as a resource when job hunting. Libraries often provide free Internet access. Look into companies that allow people to work at home or offer flexible schedules.
Coordinate with friends and family members. Full-time employment often means missing out on important after-school athletic events, school functions and other activities. Meet other single parents through your child's school or day-care; you may be able to create a baby-sitting co-op. Rather than trying to make it to every event and blaming yourself when you can't, invite members of your family and close friends to attend.
Communicate. As a single-parent family, you and your children must learn to cooperate and communicate. Keep in mind that while you go to work and fulfill other parental obligations, your children are busy with their own activities. Make sure your children know how to reach you and that you know where to find them. Be sure you all agree on schedules, transportation and all the details relating to a planned activity. It may help to post a calendar that lists the activities, drop-off times, pick-up times, etc. Be sure your workplace allows your children to contact you when necessary.
Identify Potential Problems. Single-parent families are faced with many pressures and problems that the nuclear family typically does not encounter. These may include visitation or custody arrangements, conflict between parents, or adverse reactions to parents dating or entering new relationships. The single parent can help children and extended family cope with these problems by talking about their feelings and working together to overcome them. Additional support can come from friends, family members, and your church or synagogue.
Take Time for Yourself. At least once a month make a point of doing something just for you. It can be nothing more than reading a book or meditating, but everyone needs a break every now and then.
As a single parent, the financial security of your family may be solely your responsibility, but don't overlook the following:
- Create a budget by asking yourself where you can spend less without drastically reducing your standard of living. There are many ways to cut corners including:
- Take your lunch and snacks to work instead of using vending machines.
- Buy in bulk at the supermarket and use coupons.
Entertain at home instead of going out to a restaurant.
Start saving regularly for your children's education by putting money into savings every pay period. If your company or bank has an automatic savings plan, sign up.
Pay off your credit cards each month to avoid interest charges on unpaid balances.
Be sure you either update or create a will. One of the most important items to include is naming a guardian for your children. If you do not name a guardian, a judge will appoint one and it may not be someone you would have chosen.
Obtain adequate life insurance and disability income insurance coverage as this may be the only way to replace lost income in the event of untimely death or disability.
Explore investments, retirement and financial planning with a qualified financial advisor or planner.
Consult a credit counselor if you need help. Most communities offer counselors, low-cost legal clinics and other professional advisors who can help you plan for your present as well as future financial needs.
Choosing Child Care
Balancing your need to work with your need to spend time with your children may be the most difficult challenge you will face. Many care giving options exist; following is information on three of the most common.
A family child care home is a setting in which several children are cared for in the provider's home. Some are licensed and regulated; others are not. Every state sets its own standards. Some operate on a small, informal basis with just one caregiver, while others employ paid helpers. Such an arrangement may offer your child a home-like environment, along with an opportunity to socialize with other children. Depending on the caregiver/child ratio, your child may also receive more individualized attention than a larger child care center can provide and you may find more flexibility in the hours of operation.
Generally, child care centers provide care for groups of children in facilities specifically designed for children. Centers are licensed by the state and must meet state standards for child/staff ratios, teacher training and group size. Centers offer broader social exposure than most other options, and some centers have carefully structured curricula. You may have to work around inflexible hours and inconvenient holiday closings that don't fit your work schedule.
Keep in mind that many child care centers and family child care homes won't care for children who are ill. It's important to ask about sick care policies and have a plan for alternatives if your child is sick.
With a caregiver or nanny who comes into the home, or even an au pair who lives in the home, your child may get the ultimate in individualized attention. If you work irregular hours or have to travel frequently, an in-home caregiver may be able to work around your schedule. This type of child care may be most convenient, but harder to locate and more expensive than the options discussed so far. Not only do you have to pay a salary, but you also must follow the rules that apply to all employers regarding minimum wage, unemployment, Social Security and other applicable taxes. You also need to check with your insurance company about liability coverage on your homeowners and auto policies to make sure it is adequate. Finally, keep in mind that you are totally dependent on your caregiver's state of health and personal plans. Finding a backup if that person is ill or quits unexpectedly isn't always easy.
Whatever arrangements you ultimately make, a great way to save on child care costs is through a dependent-care assistance plan at work. Many employers now offer this benefit, which allows workers to put away as much as $5,000 a year in pretax dollars. This money can then be used to reimburse you for child care costs. Be warned, however, that generally if you don't spend the money you have set aside for the year, you'll forfeit it. If you do not have a dependent-care account at work, you may qualify for the dependent care tax credit on your income tax return. Consult your tax advisor for details.
No matter what type of child care you are considering, ask for word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, relatives and coworkers. Let everyone know you're looking for a caregiver; try your doctor, church, local senior citizen groups or YWCA. If you're thinking about an in-home caregiver, you may want to start your search at a child care agency that specializes in placing caregivers, nannies or semiprofessionals. Be aware, though, that the fees charged by such agencies can be high and that you must check out the agency as carefully as the candidates it refers.
- Why do you do child care? What do you like about it?
- Tell me about your center/home.
- What do you hope to accomplish in caring for each child?
- How do you handle various situations: if a child cries, if a child won't eat, if a child hits other children?
- How long have you (and other staff members) been child care providers?
- What education and special training in child development have you (and your staff) received?
- Describe a child in your care. Listen to the tone of voice used and think about whether you would like your child talked about in that way.
- Are you (and your staff members) trained in first aid procedures and CPR?
- How much turnover have you had in your staff in the last two years (for day care centers and larger home settings)? Why have people left?
- How long do you think you'll be doing child care in the future? Do you have other plans, such as changing careers or returning to school?
- How much do you charge? Does the fee vary according to the child's age? Is there a discount if I place more than one child in your care?
- Is care available on a part-time basis?
- What hours are you available or what hours is your facility open?
- Are you available/open on weekends and holidays?
- What is your policy regarding sick children? How do you handle situations in which a child becomes ill during the day?
- How many children are cared for and what are their age groupings? What is the adult-child ratio in each group? According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, in a child care setting there should be at least one adult for every
- four infants
- five younger toddlers (12 to 24 months)
- six older toddlers (2 to 3 years),
including the caregiver's own (with no more than two infants under one year).
- Are you licensed or registered? Is your facility accredited by the NAEYC or the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)? This indicates that the facility meets special, higher criteria than licensing standards.
Once you have the basic questions answered, a personal visit is in order. Spend at least 30 minutes. It's important to visit several homes or centers and, once you've narrowed your choices, to visit your favorites more than once. If a home or center doesn't permit unannounced, drop-in visits, find a different care provider. During your visits, count the number of children and the number of employees working with the children and see if it tallies with what you've been told about the ratio. Observe firsthand whether employees put their philosophy into actual practice. Watch how they interact with the children: What types of activities have they planned and how do they handle whiny, disruptive or sick children? Also look at how they praise and encourage children. Is the atmosphere cheerful and relaxed? Is the facility clean and well-ventilated? Are the proper safety precautions in place? Now is the time to ask more questions.
Emotional Development and Discipline:
- What, if any, special programs do you offer?
- What discipline methods do you use? When are they used?
- How are conflicts between children resolved?
- What is a typical day? What games do you play? What will my child do all day?
- How do you provide activities that are age appropriate?
- How often do children play outdoors and where do they play? Visit the outdoor play area.
Staffing, Licensing, Policies and Procedures:
- Can parents stop in unannounced at any time? Do not even consider a facility that does not have an open-door policy.
- Are required licenses posted or available? Are they up-to-date?
- What type of liability insurance do you carry? A family child care home should carry liability insurance (not basic homeowners). Ask for proof of a special rider or policy.
- What is the procedure for notifying parents in case a child is ill or injured? What if the parent cannot be reached?
Health, Safety and Nutrition:
- What physician or hospital is on call in case of an emergency?
- What food do you serve? Are meals and snacks wholesome and nutritious?
- What procedures do you have to ensure the safe pick-up of a child?
- Is there a fire escape plan posted?
- Are there fire escape doors?
- Are there working fire extinguishers and smoke detectors?
- Are fire drills practiced on a regular basis?
- Are there gate guards on doorways and stairwells?
- Are unused electrical outlets covered?
- Are dangerous or toxic substances locked out of reach?
- Is a first aid kit accessible?
- Are emergency phone numbers readily available?
- How does the facility smell (food, dirt, soiled diapers)? Are the diapering areas cleaned and disinfected after each diaper change?
- Are the diaper changing and food handling areas separate?
- Is a sink readily accessible to both?
- Are there soap dispensers near the sinks? Do they make children wash their hands before eating and after using the bathroom? What about the adults?
- Are there paper (not cloth) towels to cut down on the spread of germs?
- Is the outside area fenced and clean?
- Does the facility have peeling paint, rusty nails, etc.?
Even after you've made your child care arrangements, your work isn't done. You always need to monitor the quality of the care for your child's continued well-being and development, and be prepared to change providers if problems arise that can't be resolved. Drop in from time to time to observe how things are going. Try to develop a good relationship with your caregiver and talk regularly about your child's behavior and development.
Protecting Your Child
Alerting our children about dangerous situations has become as necessary as teaching them the ABCs. Teaching children to be aware and alert doesn't mean teaching them to be fearful and afraid. The goal is to train our youth to use their eyes, ears and knowledge to make appropriate judgments about situations, and to encourage children to turn to a trusted adult for help if a problem does arise.
As soon as your children can articulate a sentence, you should begin teaching them how to protect themselves. The following are some basic safety rules to convey:
- If you get separated from your parents in a public place, go to a checkout counter, security office or lost and found area. Tell the person in charge that you need help finding your parents.
- If someone wants to take your picture, say NO and tell your parents, day care provider or teacher.
- Do NOT get in a car or go anywhere with any person unless your parents have told you that it is okay. (Parents: Share a code word with your child known only among family members. Stress to your child that anyone offering a ride unexpectedly, even a family friend, will have been given the code word in advance.) If someone follows you on foot or in a car, immediately get to a safe area.
- Don't approach the car of anyone who claims to be asking for directions or looking for a lost pet.
- If someone tries to take you somewhere without your parents' permission, quickly get away from him or her and scream, "This person is not my parent."
- Always ask your parents' permission to go somewhere and try to have a friend with you.
Simply telling children not to talk to strangers could mislead them. More often, children are harmed by someone they know, a relative, family friend, neighbor or other familiar adult. A clear, calm and reasonable message about potentially harmful situations and actions may be easier for children to understand than a profile or image of a stranger.
Teach children at an early age that they:
- should trust their feelings.
- have the right to say no to what they sense is wrong.
- should not keep secrets from their parents.
If someone does approach them in a manner that makes them feel uncomfortable, they should tell their parents immediately.
The internet is not governed by any entity. This leaves no limits or checks on the kind of information that is maintained by and accessible to internet users. Parents should be aware of what's available on the internet and how to restrict their children's access to certain material. A great deal of content exists on the internet that is not appropriate for children.
Some of the potential risks of unsupervised online activity include:
- Becoming a target of cyberstalking or harassment that includes repeated and unwanted contact through the internet that is rude or threatening.
- Receiving viruses from other computers that could damage or destroy your hard drive.
- Exposure to sexual predators who use the Internet to try to reach out to children for sexual purposes.
Sexual predators may target children online while maintaining relative anonymity. The nature of online interaction allows deception about the predator's identity, age, and intentions. Millions of children online form a large pool from which predators can select victims. Thus parents and educators need to carefully supervise children's activities while they are on the internet
Most online services and internet providers allow parents to limit their children's access to certain services and features such as adult-oriented "chat rooms" and bulletin boards. Check for these controls when you first subscribe. Here are some helpful hints that also can minimize many potential risks:
- Keep the computer in a central location, such as the kitchen or family room, rather than in a child's bedroom. This way, everyone in the family can access it.
- Don't use computers and online services as electronic baby-sitters.
- Set and discuss reasonable rules for using the computer.
- Become familiar with the services your child can access and how they work.
- Show interest in how your child is spending time online, and have your child explain what he or she is learning.
- Consider using a pseudonym or not listing your child's name if the service allows.
- Never give out identifying information or personal information in a public message such as a "chat" or bulletin board, and be sure you're dealing with someone both you and your child know and trust before disclosing identifying information in an E-mail.
- Beware of any offers that involve meeting someone.
- Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your child to inform you of any such messages and, if you or your child receive a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy to your service provider and ask for their assistance.
- Should you become aware of the transmission, use or viewing of child pornography while online, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by calling 1-800-843-5678. You also should notify your online service.
If you can't immediately locate your child, stay calm. Most likely, your child is safe, preoccupied in an activity and doesn't know you are worried. If your child is missing at home, first, search the house. For a young child, you should check closets, piles of laundry, in and under beds, inside old refrigerators, wherever a child could crawl into or hide and possibly be asleep or not able to get out. For an older child, check with the child's friends, with neighbors or at other hangouts. If you still cannot find your child, call the police immediately.
If your child disappears when shopping, notify the manager of the store or the security office and ask for assistance in finding your child. Then telephone the police. When speaking with the police, identify yourself and your location and say, "Please send an officer. I want to report a missing child."
When an officer arrives to take your report:
- Give your child's name, date of birth, height, weight and any unique identifiers.
- Tell when you noticed the disappearance and when you last saw your child.
- Describe the clothing the child was wearing when he or she disappeared.
- Tell the officer if your child is mentally challenged or drug dependent.
- Listen to instructions and answer any questions as completely as you can.
- Provide police with a recent photograph.
- Write down the officer's name, badge number, telephone number and the police report number.
- Keep a notebook and record all information about the investigation.
Tell the police that you want your child immediately entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File. This ensures that any law-enforcement agency in the country will be able to identify your child if found in another community. There is NO mandatory waiting period for reporting a missing child to the police or for entry into NCIC. Then, call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 and the National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY.
Don't panic or lose sight of the immediate task at hand, locating your child. If you think your child has run away, keep in mind that many children return within 48 hours.
Most likely, the following precautionary measures will never prove necessary. But just in case your child might disappear:
- Keep and update regularly a complete written description of your child. Include date of birth, color of hair and eyes, height, weight, unique physical attributes and any other significant identifiers (braces, pierced ears, eyeglasses).
- Take color photographs of your child every six months. Photographs should be of high quality and in focus so the child is easily recognizable. Head and shoulder portraits from different angles, such as those taken by school photographers, are preferable.
- Make sure the dentist updates your child's dental charts each time an examination or dental work is performed.
- Know where your child's medical records are located. Medical records, particularly X-rays, can be invaluable in helping to identify a recovered child. It is important to have all permanent scars, birthmarks, blemishes and broken bones recorded.
- Arrange with your local police department to have your child fingerprinted. In order for fingerprints to be useful in identifying a person, they must be taken properly. Your police department has trained personnel to assist you. The police department will give you the fingerprint card and will NOT keep a record of the child's prints.
For More Information
The quarterly Consumer Information Center Catalog lists more than 200 helpful federal publications. For your free copy call 1-888/8-PUEBLO (1-888/878-3256) or visit www.pueblo.gsa.gov.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists offers free, educational publications on topics such as Nutrition During Pregnancy, Having Twins, Postpartum Depression and more. To order or download these publications, visit www.acog.org.
The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development publishes a wide variety of materials that provide health information related to its research. Topics include Autism, Infant Health, SIDS and more. Most publications are available for viewing and printing by visiting www.nichd.nih.gov/publications.
This website is the federal government's resource for information on women's health.
This is a great site for parents with children of any age. You can select the age of you child and then find lots of helpful information which is relevant to your child's stage of life.
Anything and everything you ever wanted to know about adoption. The site includes resources on assistance, information and support to everyone who is touched by adoption.
Child Care Aware
Child Care Aware is a non-profit organization which provides the resources to support parents in finding child care and raising healthy children. This site provides easy hands-on searching for child care information for your specific neighborhood.
This site helps parents find child care in their area, and offers information and resources for parents who depend on child care.
This site is dedicated to kid's health information. Parents can find accurate, up-to-date information on important issues ranging from child behavior and development to nutrition, general health, surgery, and immunizations.
Parents Without Partners
Parents Without Partners provides single parents and their children with an opportunity for enhancing personal growth, self-confidence and sensitivity towards others by offering an environment for support, friendship and the exchange of parenting techniques.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
This website is for a non-profit organization which attempts to locate missing children as well as educate the public. You can search their database of missing children, learn how to protect you child, and read some success stories. Be sure to visit the "Resources for Parents & Guardians" section.
Wireless Amber Alerts
Receive AMBER Alerts on your cell phone. Visit this site, select up to five zip codes -perhaps for your home, office and other areas you frequent - and you will receive a text message if an AMBER Alert is issued in or near that zip code.
This Internet safety resource from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America uses the latest technology to create high-impact educational activities for even the most tech-savvy kids of any age group.
This site provides information on how to childproof your home and the correct use and installation of car seats and safety restraints.
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Visit this site or call the Product Safety Hotline to find out about safety and recalls on toys, appliances, furniture, and the other household products. 1-800-638-2772; TDD: 1-800-638-8270.
Family Education Network
This site provides parents with information on topics ranging from education and learning to family entertainment and health and nutrition. Parents will find educational printables, parenting ideas, expert family advice, arts & crafts projects, activities for children of all ages (babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and K-12 children), and more.