My newborn son took months to arrive, but the moment he did, the hours passed in double time. For starters, I didn't sleep through the night -- save the few lovely times he slumbered at La Casa del Grandparents -- during those first, heady months of his life. I simply couldn't take my eyes off him. Swaddled like a baby burrito and tucked into the crook of my arm, he was perfection in a Onesie. I marveled at his button nose, his little Cheerio mouth. All such precise, miniature versions of the man he would someday become.
I was in. All in.
And now that he's a preteen who isn't fond of showering and has the capacity to turn any snack into a crumbfest, those sweet baby moments serve as a touchstone that compels me to be a more compassionate mother.
When things get a little complicated between us, I break out a memory of earlier, simpler times -- often centered around some of the traditions that celebrated his birth. Although meant for the dear boy, these traditions were a pleasant aid that helped me recover, mature and embrace parenthood.
For me, as with many parents, these traditions still serve as important markers of a collective past. One that includes my son, myself and his father, and one that brought relatives, neighbors and friends together. Never underestimate the bonding power of a baby.
Newborn babies, of every culture and in every part of the world, signal the start of family traditions. Other than trying to sleep more than two hours at a time, what will yours be?
Baby's First Party
In many parts of the world, pregnant women don't have baby showers -- but new moms do. The origins of this practice often center around the risk of miscarriage. In Jewish communities, for example, baby showers are traditionally not held until after a baby is born due to the old belief that attention given to the unborn child could also attract bad luck. In some cases, Jewish parents might not buy anything for a baby -- or even discuss names -- until after he's born [source: Rich].
In many Muslim communities, friends and family host a baby shower for new parents on the baby's sixth or seventh day. This co-ed event is a combination feast, party and naming ceremony, and attendees bring gifts for the baby [sources: Baby Center, McKinley].
If your family doesn't already have a post-birth shower tradition, the timing makes it an ideal one to adopt: After several days, most parents are settling into their new roles and ready to show off their baby. Plus, if you're the easily-exhausted-by-visitors type, the event prevents a constant stream of well-wishers who unwittingly interrupt nap time.
An Adorable Outfit (or Two) to Wear Home
I'd delivered a baby three days earlier, and it was time to go home. I repacked the mad-dash-to-the-hospital bag, showered and slipped into terrifically stretchy post-baby pants. Then it was Baby's turn. I cajoled his noodly elbows and knees into one-piece footie pajamas with a matching cap (he was already a sharp dresser). Before I could even grab the camera, though, I heard a contented snuffle -- and realized why his grandmother had given him two going-home outfits.
I'll probably never understand how such tiny newborns can create crises of such large proportions (events I now call poo-mergencies), but this one demanded a change of clothes toute de suite and a new family tradition: giving and receiving going-home outfits. It's a concrete, inexpensive wish list item and a great way to involve grandparents or other family members -- Baby's older siblings, for instance -- in the big event. Although you may encounter the classic complaint that it's more difficult to find cute clothes for boys, at least there are options available. Until the early 1900s, male and female infants all dressed in gender-neutral white gowns.
While nearly any adorable, newborn-size outfit will do, you'll want to avoid waistbands, even if they're elastic. A simple one-piece outfit, loosely skimming Baby's tender belly button-to-be, is a good choice, as is a matching hat. Even in the summer, it's a good idea to cover a newborn's head; it helps regulate body temperature. And you'll get bonus points for a matching blanket -- you can place it in Baby's bassinet and use it as a complementary background for Baby's first photos.
Meals for the Family
The only thing better than a potluck dinner, replete with comfort food and community flavor, is having one delivered to your house -- for weeks on end. Although you may not opt for dozens of hard-boiled eggs, which new mothers in China traditionally eat to regain strength after childbirth, a home-cooked chicken noodle casserole could probably offer similar results.
This continual feast has been called a food chain, food tree or simply good fortune, but regardless of the name, the process usually goes like this: During the last few weeks of a woman's pregnancy, a friend or family member will volunteer to organize others to deliver home-cooked meals after her baby is born.
Along with pertinent information from the new parents, such as food allergies or dislikes, the organizer rallies other volunteers to deliver a meal on a specific day. The delectable deliveries start arriving the day that the mother returns home from the hospital or birth care center and continue for two or three weeks. The meals, which could be as basic as a single entrée or as complex as a four-course feast, can be delivered at mealtime -- hot and ready to eat. Or, if it's more convenient for volunteers, the prepared meals (along with reheating instructions) could be delivered early in the day. Volunteers who live outside the area could have a meal delivered from a local restaurant.
Be aware that this outpouring could have unintended consequences, though. After three weeks of meal delivery by good-natured folk capable of turning out improbably flaky two-crust pies, I seriously contemplated adding another baby to my brood. Immediately.
Create a Baby Card Book
Even if you're more likely to start a baby blog than a physical scrapbook and your child receives a play-pretend cell phone instead of a silver spoon from his grandparents, you may find some baby keepsakes difficult to part with. It's important to develop a system for storing keepsakes, as well as discerning what to keep in the first place. Early adopters of a "do I keep it?" decision tree can avoid creating Seussian stacks of memory boxes that threaten to take over house and home.
Priority keepsakes will likely include clothing and accessories that were worn in religious or cultural ceremonies, as well as a couple pieces that trigger strong memories of your baby's newborn days -- like that outfit she wore home from the hospital. Avoid keeping stuff like flowers and baby care items that won't stand the test of time. The flowers, even if properly preserved, will continue to slowly disintegrate.
One gray area is greeting cards. Sure, it makes sense to save a copy of the baby announcements you sent out. But what about the dozens of congratulatory cards you received? Consider compiling them into a binder that fits neatly on a shelf. Not only will you be more likely to enjoy the cards this way than if you tuck them into a storage box, but this little project takes only a few precious minutes to complete. Simply cut the cards apart at the seams, punch two holes in each side of the card and slip them onto binder rings [source: Design Editor].
Take a Break
In many cultures, new mothers often stay home and take a month-long break to rest and recuperate. Although postnatal women were traditionally advised to not wash their hair or brush their teeth (which, to be fair, could have caused illness in the days when clean water was hard to come by), those restrictions are no longer as popular. Other restrictions, such as a getting a reprieve from household chores or eating copious amounts of nutritious food, still are.
The Latin American tradition, called la cuarentena, encourages postpartum women to rest, eat certain foods (like chicken soup) and avoid other foods (like overtly spicy dishes) for 40 days. In China, the tradition is called zuoyuezi (or "doing the month"), and mothers of newborns are advised to eat hearty fare, such as chicken, eggs and ginger, and to avoid going outdoors for a month [sources: Tuhus-Dubrow; Buchan].
In both cultures, family members or close friends take over household duties while postpartum women recoup. Although for many modern women these aren't entirely practical traditions, it does offer food for thought -- especially if you're pondering how busy you'll be in just a few months when your baby becomes mobile.
What are good traditions for families during the summer? Read about 5 summertime family traditions at HowStuffWorks.
- Baby Center. "Baby Showers Around the World." (Feb. 7, 2012) http://www.babycenter.com/0_baby-showers-around-the-world_9332.bc?page=1
- Buchan, Noah. "Doing the Month." Taipei Times. Nov. 12, 2006. (Feb. 14, 2012) http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2006/11/12/2003336078
- Design Editor. "Baby Week: Card Keepsake Project." July 14, 2010. (Feb. 7, 2012) http://designeditor.typepad.com/design_editor/2010/07/baby-week-card-keepsake-project.html
- Maglaty, Jeanne. "When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?" Smithsonian. April 8, 2011. (Feb. 13, 2012) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html?c=y&page=1
- McKinley, Amanda. "Passport to Pregnancy: Traditions from Around the World." Pregnancy and Newborn. (Feb. 11, 2012) http://www.pnmag.com/pregnancy-lifestyle/friends-family/passport-pregnancy-traditions-around-world
- Rich, Tracy R. "Birth and the First Month of Life." Judaism 101. (Feb. 7, 2012) http://www.jewfaq.org/birth.htm
- Sehdev, Paul S. "The Origin of Quarantine." Clinical Infectious Diseases. Vol. 35, no. 9. Page 1071. 2002. (Feb. 14, 2012) http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/9/1071.full
- Tuhus-Dubrow, Rebecca. "Why Won't This New Mom Wash her Hair?" April 11, 2011. (Feb. 7, 2012) http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/04/why_wont_this_new_mom_wash_her_hair.html