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10 smart things you can do for your baby

How you treat your infant now can affect his or her health, safety and intelligence throughout childhood and beyond. Consider these recommendations to:

  1. Breastfeed. The Surgeon General recommends that all babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months. Breast milk is the most complete form of nourishment for babies, is easier to digest than formula and may even help to increase children’s IQs. Research has shown that babies who aren’t breastfed exclusively are more likely to get sick, and breastfed babies may be less likely to develop diabetes, asthma or certain childhood cancers.
  2. Go back to sleep. In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began recommending that all babies always sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Since then, SIDS incidence has dropped considerably. Other ways to reduce SIDS risk: Use a firm crib mattress; remove pillows, stuffed animals and comforters from the crib; and use infant sleep sacks instead of loose blankets.
  3. Properly install the car seat. Baby car safety is so important that hospitals don’t release newborns without car seats. But research shows that most people don’t install the seats properly, which can lead to death or serious injury during an accident. See whether your local police or fire station offers free installation.
  4. Fight germs. Infants don’t have fully developed immune systems, so they need to avoid people with contagious illnesses. Demand that anyone who touches your baby washes his or her hands first, especially if they’ve sneezed, coughed, used a tissue, gone to the bathroom, changed a diaper or touched a pet. This can help stop the spread of disease.
  5. Give baby enough iron. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in this country. It can cause anemia. In infants, it can delay movement and mental function. Your baby should get enough if you breastfeed for 12 months and introduce iron-fortified infant cereal at 6 months. Or, use an iron-fortified formula.
  6. Provide tummy time. Babies need time on their stomachs to strengthen muscles they’ll use to roll over and crawl. Aim for three to five minutes, a few times a day. As your newborn gets older, do it more often. If baby fusses, pull out some toys or simply place him or her on your chest while you lie on the floor.
  7. Vaccinate. Babies are vulnerable to many diseases. Stay on pace with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–recommended schedule. You may have heard rumblings that vaccines might be linked to autism, but experts at the AAP and the Institute of Medicine have concluded that there’s no connection. Don’t forget the flu shot: All children ages 6 months to 19 years need one every year.
  8. Read together. Introduce books as early as possible. Babies love the closeness, attention and sound of a parent’s voice, even if they don’t understand the words. Choose durable books so your baby can’t rip them. Read for only a few minutes at a time, but lengthen reading sessions as your baby grows. Point to pictures and use silly voices to make reading fun.
  9. Child proof your home. When your baby can crawl, make sure your home is safe. Crawl around to see the world through his or her eyes; remove dangerous items from reach; and consider installing safety latches on cabinets, soft bumpers on table corners, safety gates at stairways and child-proof covers on electrical outlets.
  10. Turn off the TV. Kids who watch the most TV are more likely to be overweight and sedentary. The AAP recommends that children younger than 2 watch no television. Instead, have them go for a walk or play.