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Baby's 1st Year

On Tossing, Crawling and Cooing

Advice: Everybody has some. Here are a few more parental pointers on daily life with your fragile addition.

October 12, 1998|MARYANN HUDSON-HARVEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you're not sure how to respond to situations that surface during a baby's first year, don't worry, people will tell you. And tell you and tell you. The advice, though often good, is mostly contradictory, can be condescending and usually comes in the form of an unsolicited question: "You're not reading to your child yet? Why do you have those socks on under his nightie? Are you playing classical music? Do you let your cat get that close to your child? You bathe your child every day? He's got his thumb in his mouth!"

Fortunately, there are pediatricians and other experts who offer standard basic guidelines, and thankfully, there has been reassurance from those such as Dr. Benjamin Spock, who emphasized the importance of touch and told parents to trust their instincts. "Every time you change (your baby), bathe her, feed her, smile at her, she's getting a feeling that she belongs to you and that you belong to her. Nobody else in the world, no matter how skillful, can give that to her," Spock wrote.

It is those same instincts, though, that have us poring through parenting magazines and books, trying to be the world's greatest parent. So, in keeping with the plight, here are a few more concepts to add to the mix.

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Throwing Baby to the Sky: We carry babies as if they are glass and then, in the next second, throw them in the air as if they are made of rubber. They may be smiling on the outside, but that doesn't mean all is well on the inside. "You can have the brain actually move within the skull and tear some of the tissues," said Dr. Frank Manis, associate professor of psychology at USC. "Rocking them or bouncing them up and down is fine, but the motion of throwing them up rapidly and coming down hard is dangerous." To stimulate a baby safely you can massage, tickle, play hide and seek and peek-a-boo. A human face is the best toy, because it reacts to the baby and is constantly changing. When a baby wants to stop, he will signal with a vacant stare or turn away.

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Don't Walk Until You Crawl: Walking seems to be that major milestone that turns the baby into a person and turns a house into a shambles, but we are still in a hurry for it to happen. Experts caution that this is a mistake. Crawling first is a very important function because the motion of having to alternate a leg with the opposite hand helps develop the pattern of crossing the right and left hemispheres of the brain. "My daughter crawled very little and started walking at nine months," one mother said. "When she took piano lessons, she learned the keys in half an hour but couldn't cross over with her hands. We learned later she had dyslexia, and when we took her to a learning center--she was about 7--they put her on the floor and made her crawl."

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Baby Talk: Most babies don't utter their first words until they are 1, but they may still understand what you are saying. A baby's speech is always several months behind his ability to understand. Talk with your baby as though he understands you and use a comfortable style. To encourage him, imitate his sounds when he babbles. When he pauses, repeat a string of his syllables--ga, ga, ga. He may try to repeat it or continue babbling. Using baby talk is fine; a soothing voice helps babies learn to discriminate sounds like Bs, Ks and Ds. They also love to imitate tongue noises such as clicking and hissing.

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Four is Two Too Many: Give a child only one or two toys at a time. A baby may be overwhelmed by too many choices, according to Kathy Dorr, assistant director of the Child Development Laboratory School and teacher at Mt. San Antonio College. "Don't waste money on gadget toys, because children want to do things that their parents do. Give them those that are open-ended and make noise--pots and pans, and empty yogurt containers." For infants, toys should be geared toward the senses, things that squeak, rattle and have texture, such as crinkles, and are easy for a baby to hold, but never small enough to fit in the mouth. Older babies can handle toys that encourage motor skills, such as blocks and balls. While babies can have their favorite toy, alternate other toys frequently. They get bored with the same old stuff.

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A Chilled-Out Thumb: Sucking is soothing for babies and an important function in their development. Whether the child sucks on a pacifier or his thumb is another great debate, but it's important for the thumb-sucker to be a little laid back. "If the child is preferring the thumb it needs to be straight in his mouth and laying there relaxed, as opposed to him sucking like someone is going to take it away, and he needs to give it up by age 5," said Eva Mauer, a pediatrician at HealthCare Partners in Alhambra. "The implication is that with the hooking and pulling they can pull their teeth out."

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