Your 18 Week Old Baby
With an 18 week old baby, childcare is an issue at the forefront for many parents about now.
If you are a parent in Australia, you are generally entitled to 18 weeks paid parental leave. While some mothers choose to extend that time with unpaid leave or access additional paid leave through their employer, for many this week marks their return to paid employment after childbirth. In other countries, paid leave may be longer or not exist at all.
If you're leaving your 18 week old baby for the first time, this will be a big week for both of you, and one of huge adjustment.
Whether you feel sad having to return to work or have been counting down the weeks, part-time or full-time paid work plus the continued care of your baby will mean changes for your whole family. Rest assured, this is usually a positive experience for all involved, once you fine tune the practical aspects. It's normal for both parents and baby to feel some separation anxiety, and to find the transition period challenging.
Feeding Your 18 Week Old Baby
If you have been preparing for working and breastfeeding, you've probably been introducing your baby to a bottle for a few weeks now. For some babies, this is a simple process and they switch easily between bottle and breast. Other babies do not, and it can be an ongoing struggle to get them to accept a bottle. This is particularly common in babies aged 4–6 months – unfortunate timing for this return to work period! It's highly likely that your baby will behave differently with their carer. An experienced bottle-feeder can usually coax a baby when you are not there.
Other babies take to a cup more easily than a bottle, and a simple straw cup can surprisingly be the solution! If you've arranged flexible work hours to begin with, or to go to your baby when needed for feeds, you might find this works best for the first few weeks, while your baby adjusts.
If your baby is in the care of a friend or family member, you might need to remind them of your goals around infant feeding. If you intend to exclusively breastfeed until around six months (without formula or solids before that age) your baby’s carers need to clearly understand what that means.
It might feel silly to list or specify what your baby must not be fed – including rice cereal, orange juice, rusks or other foods that were considered appropriate at this age in the past. Making sure you leave more than enough expressed breastmilk with clear instructions on how to store, thaw and feed it will ensure formula is not given ‘just in case' or because your own milk has been mishandled or wasted.
Your 18 week old baby might be showing interest and enthusiasm around others when they eat, so it's important to let carers know this does not mean they should share with him. And that includes “tastes” of foods and drinks which they believe won’t hurt. As parents, you get to choose when and how your baby begins solids, and this needs to be respected. If your 18 week old baby is in a daycare facility which includes meals in their service, regularly remind them your baby is not yet having food and share your plan for introducing solids when the time comes.
Sleeping And Settling
If you have used gentle methods for helping your baby fall asleep or calm his crying, it's also important to share these with your 18 week old baby’s carers. Whether it's informal care with family or friends, private care with a nanny, or formal care in a day care centre, the techniques you use at home should be supported and used, to give continuity and familiarity to your child and peace of mind to his parents.
Obviously, breastfeeding to sleep is not an option, but if you wear your baby in a sling or carrier, pat or rock him to sleep or hold him in arms when he cries, you need to clearly communicate this with them. It's not for them to judge how you care for your baby, but to simply follow your directions on how they should do it. If they cannot or will not do so, then you will need to work together to find techniques acceptable for you all.
Extinction methods of sleep training, like controlled crying or cry it out (CIO), should never be used without a parent’s knowledge or consent – make this very clear if you suspect your carer might consider using them.
Play And Development
You might be concerned being away from your baby during your working hours will mean you miss out on his milestones and development. It helps to know that most professional carers allow parents to see their baby roll, crawl, sit or walk for the first time and not mention it if they observe it during care. Your first time will be just as exciting, even if he practiced a little earlier in the day. You might need to specifically ask family or friends to let him surprise you, rather than greet you at the door with news of what you missed.
If your child care arrangements take your baby into a new environment at a centre or home, he will enjoy the excitement of new toys to explore and play with. In a centre, he should be surrounded by age-appropriate toys in a safe environment. If you're leaving him with family or friends, you will need to check that he will have suitable toys to play with, and supply some if he doesn’t.
If your carer also has or looks after older children, make sure their toys are played with and stored in such a way that your 18 week old baby can’t get hold of them. Many toys designed for children older than three years can be a choking hazard for younger babies and toddlers. Family members caring for a baby in their home might appreciate a safety check and a collection of toys left for your baby’s use. Older relatives might need tactfully reminding about age-appropriate play, and that some toys thought safe in the past are not now, in case they have family treasures in the cupboard.
Your 18 week old baby will thrive on the attention he gets in a good care arrangement, and your time together when you are not at work will continue to be most important to you both. It is hard if your baby cries or shows distress when you leave him – or even when your return! Most experienced carers know this is normal and lasts a very short time after you leave. Say goodbye to your baby when you leave (rather than just disappear) and don’t linger, which only makes it harder for all involved. His carer will distract him with an interesting toy or activity and his short attention span will, for once, work in your favour!
Being back at work with a baby who is still waking regularly through the night is extra challenging. Others might think they are being helpful by telling you your baby should be sleeping differently. So you are probably asking How Much Sleep Does My Baby Need? And the answer will probably come as a surprise