Not every grandparent has raised an infant--and even if they have, chances are that things have changed.
When I mentioned my husband and I were going to a grandparenting class, most people replied with laughter and exclamations of “Why would you need a class to be a grandparent?!?” I guess on the surface it does sound a little silly, but there were several reasons we signed up for a class. I have raised two children, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a newborn. I needed a refresher course especially since I’ve offered to provide childcare when my daughter returns to work. My husband and I married when my kids were 11 and 12, so he skipped the entire baby stage and became a parent when the kids were able to sustain life independently. That may be exaggerating, but at least they could hold their heads up, roll over and order pizza. He loves kids and kids seem to love him, but he has never been responsible for infant care and was anxious to learn as much as possible in preparation. My final reason was the evolution of knowledge as it pertains to infant care. Things have changed, and I need to change with the times so I can provide the best care and safest environment for my grandchild. We are so excited about the impending arrival of our first grandchild, and we’re committed to being the best grandparents we can be.
We arrived at the class with lots of excitement and a little trepidation. Along with a dozen other expectant grandparents we sat in a classroom watching slides and listening to the nurse-instructor educate us about newborns. She kept saying things such as “since you’ve all done this before” and “you know this from having your own children,” assuming we had all been parents before becoming soon-to-be grandparents. Surely my husband isn’t the only one to skip that step. With divorce and remarriage being common, I’m sure there are other “step grandparents” that have no infant experience.
I watched my husband’s eyes get bigger and his face become a few shades paler as we heard about all the possibilities for serious accidents. I admit I felt anxious despite my previous parenting experience and silently renamed the class, “101 Ways you Might Accidentally Kill your Grandchild.” We thought we were prepared for our grandbaby but we quickly realized what we think of as our cozy cottage is actually a horror house of potential baby hazards.
Of course, the crib I used for my kids is now considered completely unsafe as the slats are too widely spaced and the side slides down, a big no-no. The instructor also emphasized that there should be nothing in the crib but a firm mattress with tight-fitting sheets—no blankets, no bumper pads, no pillows, no stuffed animals—nothing that could interfere with breathing.
Car seats are another area that is fraught with potential errors and, considering car accidents are the main cause of death in children five and under, this deserves to be a top priority. Apparently, the installation of a car seat requires a mechanical engineering degree; four out of five are installed incorrectly.
Our fears increased as we heard the horror story of the little girl who swallowed a button battery at her grandparent’s house and tragically died. Because my husband falls asleep anytime he’s not in motion, he was particularly upset hearing the tragic tale of the grandfather who fell asleep on the couch with a baby, who suffocated in the cushions.
Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children ages five and under and can occur in a pool, a bath or a bucket of water. It only takes a second for a fast-moving toddler to escape, and it only takes an inch of water to drown, so the best prevention is constant adult supervision around water. At this point in the class, my husband and I were imagining the worst scenarios and feeling a little panicked at all the possibilities of what we could do wrong.
The information didn’t get easier. Some of the most pertinent changes since I had children involve the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Although there are still questions about the exact cause, the research suggests it is most likely related to respiratory issues. Co-sleeping is the number one cause of SIDS. Babies should not be sleeping in the same bed as parents, but the new recommendation is that babies sleep in the same room as the parents for the first six months to a year. Babies should always be put to sleep on their back, which is a big change from when I had children. The room should be kept at a temperature of 68- 72 degrees and have gently moving air, such a ceiling or floor fan set at low. The use of pacifiers, once good breastfeeding has been established, also decreases the risk of SIDS. We all know smoking is harmful and should never be done around children. Second-hand smoke increases the risk of SIDS, and new evidence shows that even third-hand smoke, such as the residual smoke on clothing, increases the risk of SIDS.
We also learned the importance of parents, grandparents and other newborn caregivers receiving Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccinations at least two weeks before the baby is born. There has been an increase in cases of whooping cough, partially due to the decrease in people getting vaccinations. It is also recommended that infants not be around any unvaccinated people, especially until the baby has finished receiving all their vaccinations. Because of their undeveloped immune system, you should also avoid having the baby around large crowds until they are at least three months old.
We left the class feeling nervous and unprepared for grandparenting. In fact, I’ll say my husband was more than a bit anxious about his upcoming “granddad” duties. Should our daughter and son-in-law trust us with their precious baby? But instead of wallowing in the self-doubt and fear, we made a plan:
- Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
- Turn our hot water heater down to 120 degrees to prevent hot water scalding
- Put all medications, batteries and cleaning supplies in high cabinets with safety latches
- Put the poison control number on our cell phones, 1-800-222-1222
- Have our daughter sign an Authorization for Treatment form in case there is need for medical treatment while we are providing child care
- Completely “childproof” entire house including installing outlet covers, removing the long cords on window blinds and making sure window latches are secure. Install safety gates at the bottom and top of stairs
- Postpone the dream of having a backyard pool until the youngest grandchild is five
- Call doctor and schedule our Tdap vaccinations
- Buy items to keep at our house to make visits easier: a crib, high chair, swing.
- Take a deep breath and enjoy, it’s going to be wonderful!
Although Steve will be officially a step grandparent, his role will in no way be less than a “real” grandparent. He may be a bit nervous now, I am also, but our love and excitement greatly override all the anxieties about being grandparents.
Bring on the baby!