The Perfect Grandbaby
BY CHERYL HARBOUR
There’s no doubt that grandparents have “baby fantasies” just as parents do. We envision perfect grandchildren who go through life without a bump in the road and grow up to be important, successful and happy. There’s no harm in imagining.
But accepting – even embracing – the reality that human beings don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful can lead to happiness, too.
From the very beginning, if you haven’t seen a newborn in a while, you might notice – and wonder about — certain characteristics. The baby’s head may be oddly shaped – long and narrow, short and wide, or not perfectly symmetrical. The sections of skull in a baby’s head are flexible to pass through the birth canal. The skull becomes more rigid in the coming weeks.
Newborns often have puffy eyes – in some cases so puffy that the baby really can’t open them until the puffiness recedes.
The baby’s skin may appear bruised, blotchy or blemished. These conditions usually resolve in a matter of days, weeks or months.
Did your new grandbaby get your full, lush head of hair or Granddad’s receding hairline? Too soon to tell. Some babies are born with a lot of hair, which often falls out in the coming weeks and it can be months before their “real” hair grows in.
The truth is, when it comes to beauty, we probably weren’t objective about our own babies and we won’t be with our grandbabies either. To us, they will be beautiful.
We hear from experienced GRANDs, that one of the wisest things you can do is be ready to accept your grandbaby for exactly who they are.
When a GRANDbaby has a special condition
What happens when a baby has a physical or developmental factor that is unusual or unexpected? In that case, grandparents can be an important source of help and source of encouragement. You can also be a source of up-to-date, reliable information that will guide the baby’s parents toward intelligent decisions.
Fortunately, there is good news about improving prospects for babies with the most common special conditions
Not all babies are born at precisely nine months or 40 weeks, which is now the term applied to full-term pregnancies. In fact, only about 4-5% of babies are born on that 40-week “due date.”
About 12% of babies in the U.S are born prematurely — earlier than 37 weeks – and about 2% of babies are born before they reach 32 weeks. These babies typically have “low birth weight,” considered to be less than five pounds, eight ounces.
There’s no denying that the more premature a baby is, the more difficulties he or she may have at the beginning. The baby may need intensive medical care, including help with breathing and eating.
But there is very good news about the survival rate and the outlook for babies born prematurely. Today’s outcomes for these babies are dramatically different from what they were just decades ago.
According to the March of Dimes, a baby born at 34 weeks has about the same odds (above 95%) of surviving as a baby born full term full-term. The survival rate for babies born between 22 and 28 weeks has increased from 70% to 79%. Of course, every week of pregnancy is important for development, and medical experts now have many ways to intervene, either before the baby is born or right after.
How do these babies develop as they get older? A new study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and led by Duke Health found that compared to extremely preterm babies born a decade ago, a larger percentage are developing into toddlers without signs of moderate or severe cognitive and motor delay.
If your GRANDbaby is born prematurely, how do you help the family move forward?
Most babies born prematurely will need to spend extra time in a Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Most of these units have extremely strict rules about hygiene; some allow only parents to visit, others allow grandparents to visit, too. You can help your son or daughter and partner with anything outside the NICU so they can spend more time with their baby there. If you’re allowed to visit, start the bonding now in whatever way you can – talking, singing, holding, touching – whatever the medical experts permit.
As the baby gets older, when you’re looking for developmental milestones, be sure to allow for an “adjusted age.” The baby needs time to catch up, so you can add the time they missed in the womb to the age at which a milestone typically happens.
For some inspiration and encouragement about pre-term babies, enjoy this video about Ward, born 3-1/2 months before his due date.
Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. Approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome.
Lifespan has increased significantly for persons with Down syndrome – from 9-11 years in 1900 to 25 years in the early 1980s to an average of 60 years today.
Certain physical challenges frequently come with Down syndrome, such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, childhood leukemia and thyroid conditions. The good news is that many of these conditions are now treatable, so it’s possible to be a healthy person with Down syndrome.
The best news about babies born with Down syndrome is that so much is known about the syndrome, and there is a well-established, strong support network. Educational specialists have studied how best to teach children with Down syndrome. For example, babies with Down syndrome tend to be “visual learners” so are often taught sign language before they are able to speak.
In schools, most Down syndrome children participate in regular classes as more schools have become “inclusive” of children with disabilities. An increasing number of individuals with Down syndrome graduate from high school and go on to participate in postsecondary academic and college programs.
In all likelihood, the future for people with Down syndrome will become even brighter. Research is taking place, including clinical trials with drugs designed to improve memory and learning.
It would be unrealistic to expect yourself not to be concerned about how this grandbaby will navigate through life and what impact that will have on your son or daughter and partner as this child’s parents.
Twenty or thirty years ago, the term “autism” was virtually unknown to most people, but these days it’s a common concern. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that autism cases in the U.S. had risen from 1 in 166 children in 2004 to one in 68 children in 2016. For boys, the occurrence is 1 in 54. But health officials believe that the statistics show an increase because of changes in the practice of assessment and diagnosis.
Autism affects a person’s ability to process stimuli, communicate and interact with others. Most signs of autism don’t appear in very young babies, but when a child nears the age of one, you might have cause for concern if a child cannot or does not:
- Make eye contact
- Smile when smiled at
- Follow objects visually
- Do “back-and-forth” gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving “bye-bye”
- Initiate or respond to cuddling
- Follow the gesture when you point something out
- Have warm smiles or big playful expressions
The good news for autism is early intervention.
A study at the University of Washington – the first to look at long-term outcomes after early intensive autism intervention – found that found that “two years after completing the intervention, children maintained gains in overall intellectual ability and language and showed new areas of progress in reduced autism symptoms.” The technique being studied was the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM).
There’s also a legal basis for early intervention. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), enacted in 1975, (and renamed Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 2004) mandates that children with various disabilities, including autism, are entitled to early intervention services and special education.
To help people better understand autism, the television show Sesame Street is introducing a new character named Julia who has autism. She’s the first new Muppet introduced on the show in 10 years. Sesame Street also has introduced a campaign called “See Amazing in All Children.” The goal is to give children with autism and their families someone to identify with and to help others be more accepting.
Sesame Street produced this video of “The Amazing Song” as part of the “See Amazing in All Children” campaign.
A word about autism and immunizations
In recent years, a debate over whether there might be a connection between autism and immunizations has received media attention. But in early 2015, Autism Speaks, the U.S.’s largest autism advocacy group, issued a statement negating any link between autism and immunizations. The spokesperson for the group said, “Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”
Be there” for your grandchildren by taking care of yourself
Are you getting enough of these three essentials?
Of all the advice about what you can do to keep yourself young and vibrant, here are three important nuggets of wisdom we keep hearing over and over from the experts. All are related to the way the human body changes as it ages – requiring us to adjust our habits to make sure we are getting what we need.
Don’t come up short on Vitamin D
We have all become smarter about the sun and the damage it can do to skin – so we’ve learned to cover up and apply sunscreen. The result is that most of us aren’t getting the nourishing Vitamin D that the sun naturally gives us. A Vitamin D deficiency results in a variety of conditions people relate to getting older: aches and pains, tiredness, weakness, loss of bone strength.
Why aren’t we getting enough Vitamin D? In addition to avoiding sun exposure, our skin (where sunlight is converted to Vitamin D) thins as we age and is unable to produce as much Vitamin D as it used to, as well as changes in our intestinal “equipment” reducing absorption.
These foods are rich in Vitamin D: fatty fish (ie. salmon, trout, halibut) fish oil, egg yolks, dairy products, fortified cereal, and mushrooms. But filling your plate may not do it all. If you decide to add a Vitamin D supplement (it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before adding a supplement) the usual recommendation is Vitamin D3 because it’s more easily absorbed. The Food and Nutrition Board recommends 800 IU per day for seniors.
Eat protein to keep your muscles strong
My GRANDbaby 2 As we age, our bodies don’t use protein as efficiently as they used to so it becomes more difficult to build and maintain muscle mass. Since proteins are found in every cell in our bodies, so not having enough of it can also contribute to impaired wound healing, loss of skin elasticity, and an inability to fight infection.
The key advice is: Try to have protein with every meal. Big green, leafy salads are often the choice for eating “light,” but to stay strong, add some protein to the greens.
Foods that are good sources of protein:
- White-meat poultry
- Milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Nuts and seeds
- Lean beef or porkWater, water everywhere
You’ve heard it before – by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already in the beginning stages of dehydration. And becoming dehydrated can have serious effects, including
- Difficulty walking
- Dizziness or headaches
- Rapid heart rate
- Low blood pressure
As we get older, dehydration becomes more common because the amount of body water decreases by approximately 15% between the ages of 20 and 80. To add to the problem, we sometimes have decreased sensations of thirst, we take certain medications, or we generally eat and drink less than we used to.
So, keep the cool, clear water handy and drink it often throughout the day, and these juicy fruits and vegetables can also help: Watermelon, celery, cucumbers, strawberries, and lettuce.
Q. My grandchild’s parents both have demanding careers. My son’s company gave him two weeks of parental leave and my daughter-in-law will go back to work after three months. I don’t tell them it worries me, but it does. How is daycare working out for young children.
A You’re not alone in this concern. Families were much less likely to have two working parents when we were raising our children two or three decades ago. Today, more than 60% of mothers with young children work outside the home. Studies are constantly being done about how day care affects young children and many of them are reassuring, mostly because of the differences observed later in childhood for children who were in daycare and those who weren’t, seem mostly insignificant. In fact, a study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found slightly higher cognitive and academic achievement scores among teens who spent time in high-quality daycare as young children.
The key word there is “high-quality.” Factors such as the level of interaction between children and their caregivers, the ratio of caregivers to children, and the education and qualifications of the day care staff were found to be most important.
One other aspect is that children who spent time in day care were the exception in our day. Now their peers are likely to have had similar experiences and daycare is more the “norm.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cheryl Harbour is the special editor of our “My GRANDbaby” section and author of Good to Be Grand: making the Most of your Grandchild’s First Year, a combination of up-to-date information and grandparently inspiration.