10 Mistakes New Parents Make

The top gaffes of new parents during baby's first year and how to avoid them.
By Denise Mann
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Matthew Hoffman, MD

All parents make mistakes. Don't believe it? Just think about your own parents. You will no doubt come up with a laundry list of things they did wrong.

The truth is no one is infallible -- especially new parents. But if you know the top 10 most common parenting mistakes, maybe you can keep from making them yourself. So here they are, along with tips to help you avoid making them.

New-parent mistake No. 1: Panicking over anything and everything

"Many new parents have overblown physical reactions to spitting up, vomiting, and other things a baby does,” explains New York City psychoanalyst Leon Hoffman, MD. ”And the baby picks up on that anxiety." Hoffman is the director of the Pacella Parent Child Center. He tells WebMD that parents can literally waste the entire first year of their baby's life by sweating the small stuff. Is he having too many bowel movements or too few? Is she spitting up too much? Is she getting enough to eat or too little? Does he cry too much or not enough? Any of that sound familiar to you? Hoffman says, "This worry gets in the way of being spontaneous and enjoying your infant's first year of life. Babies are far more resilient than we give them credit for."

New-parent mistake No. 2: Not letting your infant cry it out

"We, as parents, think our job is to make sure the baby is not crying,” says Atlanta-based pediatric nurse Jennifer Walker, RN. “That’s because we associate crying with the fact that we are doing something wrong and we need to fix it." Walker is co-author of The Moms on Call Guide to Basic Baby Care. "Babies are designed to cry,” she tells WebMD. They can be perfectly diapered and fed and still cry like you are pulling an arm off."

For the most part, crying is just part of being a baby. But if your infant is inconsolable for an hour and crying is associated with fever, rash, or persistent vomiting, call your pediatrician as soon as possible.

New-parent mistake No. 3: Waking baby up to breastfeed

Mistake or misconception? "Breastfed babies can -- and should -- sleep through the night,” says Walker. ”But there’s a common misconception that breast milk is not thick enough to get an infant through the night. But it is possible and beneficial for breastfed babies -- and their moms -- to sleep through the night."

New-parent mistake No. 4: Confusing spit up and vomit

Walker says, "The difference [between spit up and vomit] is frequency, not forcefulness. Spit up can absolutely fly across the room." Vomiting, however, is all about frequency. "If your baby is vomiting with a gastrointestinal virus,” she says, “it will come every 30 or 45 minutes regardless of feeding."

New-parent mistake No. 5: Not sweating a fever in a newborn

"Any fever over 100.4 rectally in the first three months of a baby's life is an emergency,” Walker says. The one exception is a fever that develops within 24 hours after an infant's first set of immunizations. Walker Tells WebMD, "Some parents may just say 'he feels warm' and give the baby Tylenol. But that's a parenting mistake in this age group. An infant's immune system is not set up to handle an infection on its own."

New-parent mistake No. 6: Not properly installing the car seat

Any new parent who’s tried knows that installing a car seat is -- or at least can seem like -- rocket science. “Once you have chosen the right seat,” Walker says, "go to your local fire station or Babies-R-Us or another chain store to make sure you have installed it correctly.” Or go to get help putting it in. "Your infant's life,” she says, “may depend on it."

New-parent mistake No. 7: Neglecting oral care

"Many new parents don’t think about their newborns teeth or oral health until it is too late," says Saul Pressner, a New York City-based dentist. Your baby is never too young for you to start encouraging good oral health habits. Pressner offers tips to help new parents know how to do that:

— Don't give your infant milk in bed once teeth have erupted. “This will increase the risk of developing cavities,” Pressner says, adding that the cavities are also known as baby bottle decay.
— Use a wet gauze to wipe down your baby’s gums, he says. And start using a tooth brush when the baby turns 1.
— It’s also important to make sure your child is getting enough fluoride. Fluoride is found naturally in water and aids in cavity prevention. Some towns have fluoridated water through the taps. "If yours doesn’t,” Says Pressner, “ask your dentist about supplements."

New-parent mistake No. 8: Ignoring your marriage

"Staying connected within the marriage when you first have a child is really important and can be overlooked," says John C. Friel, PhD. Friel is a licensed psychologist with private practices in Reno, Nev., and Minneapolis, Minn. "Any weakness in that relationship will get magnified by having a child,” he says. “And while you have to focus a lot on the new baby, you must somehow maintain a sense of being a couple." Friel is also the co-author of The 7 Worst Things (Good) Parents Do. Friel advises to avoid this common parenting mistake by "making sure that you are not zoning out when you are not with the baby."

New-parent mistake No. 9: Fighting too much (or too little) in front of your baby

"Even a 3-month old will pick up vibes," Friel says. In terms of fighting, he suggests you ask yourself “Is it scary?” or “Is it frequent?” "Look at the intensity and frequency of your fights," he says. "Snapping every now and then is a normal part of living with another person. And when people start to suppress too much, it's just as bad as going to the other extreme."

New-parent mistake No. 10: Trusting unreliable sources for parenting advice

"Many new parents go to the wrong places for parenting advice," says Walker. "This is a classic parenting mistake," she says, and she advises that you be careful about where you get your information. Walker says, "WebMD.com, the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics are reputable and useful when making decisions about general medical care and immunizations."

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