As special as the experience is, caring for a baby is also stressful and anxiety-provoking for many parents. A specialist Mediclinic paediatrician advises what to expect in the first year of your child’s life.
The first 12 months of your baby's life are busy and exciting, but they can be overwhelming, says Dr Raksha Takoordeen, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg. “You’re coping with changes in your body, while welcoming into the home a new tiny person who requires your constant attention. You’ll also be adjusting to new sleep patterns, which often involves very little sleep, and if you have other children, trying to help them adjust too. However, these challenges slowly resolve as you adapt and discover what suits you and your newborn. Try to relax and give yourself time to embrace the process.”
How you feed your baby is important from birth. “Breastfeeding is truly the best feeding choice as the colostrum that is produced from even before your baby is born contains all the magical ingredients designed to prepare and protect the gut and immune system for the rest of your baby's life,” says Dr Takoordeen.
Breastfeeding can be difficult at the beginning and your Mediclinic team will help facilitate this process. If you’re unable or choose not to breastfeed, it’s advisable to discuss the choice of formula and safe feeding practices with your paediatrician.
Dr Takoordeen also advises moms to feed their babies only milk for the first six months. Exclusively breastfed babies don’t require water or any other complementary liquids during this period. “Moms returning to work before the six-month period can express breastmilk and safely store it in the fridge. If you’re unable to keep up with your baby’s requirements, supplementing with formula is an option, unless you’ve been medically advised not to. Again, always discuss this with your paediatrician.”
You can start gradually introducing solid food from age six months, with baby’s milk feed continuing throughout this weaning process. Try to prepare all meals fresh and if possible, avoid store-bought preparations. To assess for allergic reactions and intolerances, introduce different foods one at a time.
The most satisfying part of the first year is watching your baby grow and reach their developmental milestones.
The first six weeks are purely for growth, after which baby will start becoming more alert and aware of their surroundings. “They will start to smile, babble, coo, and recognise their parents. Hold your baby close to you and make eye contact,” says Dr Takoordeen. “It’s important to engage and have ‘conversations’ as often as possible. This helps develop language and communication skills. Starting tummy time at this stage is important for motor development.”
Three to four months: Your baby will become more mobile. Their head control becomes stronger, and they will start rolling over. They’ll also become more attentive and be able to track moving objects with their eyes beyond the midline.
Six months: Baby will recognise and respond to their name. They’ll be able to hold an object in one hand and transfer it to the other hand, as well as being able to sit unsupported.
Nine months: “At nine months, baby should be very mobile, crawling and exploring the household,” says Dr Takoordeen. “Be sure to baby-proof their surroundings to avoid accidents and injuries. They’ll develop a pincer grasp and be able to pick up and transfer the tiniest objects to their mouth, so be aware. Baby may become anxious around strangers at this stage. They’ll love games like peek-a-boo.”
One year: Your child will now be a fully grown toddler. They’ll be able to stand and walk around while holding onto furniture. With more confidence, they may already be able to take a few steps unaided. At this stage, they should be able to say a few words and express their feelings well. To help your little one learn and grow, it’s vital to read to them and encourage active play.
What if my child hasn’t reached their milestones?
If your baby hasn’t reached these basic milestones, don’t hesitate to contact your paediatrician. For premature babies, developmental milestones are corrected according to their gestational age at birth for the first two years of life. Your paediatrician or clinic nurse will assess milestones at each immunisation visit, so you can raise any concerns at these vital visits.
Why are immunisations necessary?
In the first year, your baby must also have several immunisations. Dr Takoordeen says it’s imperative that parents follow this schedule as the vaccinations develop a baby’s immune system and prevent serious illnesses. “Each immunisation visit is also a great opportunity for your healthcare professional to assess the growth and development of your baby and address any problems that may arise.”
When should I seek immediate medical help for my baby?
Most babies go through periods of mild illnesses and upsets, experiencing minor infections, irritations relating to teething, and so on. However, Dr Takoordeen warns that if your baby shows any of the following signs, seek medical assistance immediately:
- Starts refusing feeds
- Severe vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- Uncontrollable fever
- Is lethargic.
Your baby's first year is a journey of great growth and discovery. Try to remain calm and attentive to their cues. As stressful as the first year is, you are not alone. Instead of taking advice from well-meaning family members, friends, or the internet, consult a qualified healthcare professional.
To find a paediatrician near you, visit www.mediclinic.co.za