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It's your first pregnancy. And suddenly it seems as if everyone in the world has an opinion about how children should be raised, a mix of half-baked knowledge and things their grandmother said. For the young mother-to-be, things can get confusing, and not a little worrying.

To begin with, you may have mixed feelings about the whole thing. Will you be able to gather up all the energy having a baby demands ? There may be pressures within the family. Will it be a boy or a girl ? Along with the dreams come the questions. How should I bring up my child ? What should I do if he fails an exam, refuses to eat carrots, watches too much TV ?

Whether you are a first-time mother or you have a school-going child, this guide, we hope, will provide some of the answers. Remember, though, that each child is different and no one knows your child better than you do. Your love. Your caring. Your support. In the end, that is all that counts.

Baby knows best

She's a helpless little creature who does nothing but snooze, bawl and slurp milk. But surprise, baby knows a lot about her energy needs. Her way of telling you is simple. She wakes when she's hungry, she cries when she has to be fed.

Breast-feeding or the bottle ?

Before you make up your mind, consider the advantages of breast-feeding. Breast milk contains all the essential nutrients your little tot needs in an easily digestible form, especially iron. It helps build immunity against diseases, and reduces the chances of infection. Not to mention the immense satisfaction it gives to both mother and child.

What you eat is what your baby gets. You'll have to watch your diet closely if you are breast feeding. That means plenty of fruits and vegetables (preferably salads so that none of the vitamins are lost in cooking), lots of milk to give you calcium for your growing baby, meat for proteins and an egg a day for essential vitamins, minerals and proteins. If your husband smokes make sure its while you are not in the room.

Bottle feeding can be combined with breast feeding if you are a working mother. You can breast-feed your baby during your maternity leave. Later you can switch to the bottle while you are at work and breast feed your baby whenever you are at home.

Feeding your baby.

If you are not breast-feeding, make sure you give your baby only pasteurised, homogenised milk (with the fat broken up, its easier to digest). You may need to add missing nutrients.

Breast fed babies are rarely constipated, since the milk is easily digested. For the others, it may be a real problem and you may need to give your baby some boiled water in a properly sterilized bottle.

How much weight should a baby gain ?

Babies normally lose weight in the first few days and regain it later. The average baby gains about 2 pounds a month in the first three months. The process slows down later. Remember, though that there is nothing like an average baby, your child may gain weight at a different pace.

A day in the life of a mother

Nap. Wake up. Bawl for mama. Gulp milk. Burp. Snooze again. A baby's daily routine may be simple, but yours will be a bit more demanding when you are nursing a child. It's quite likely that your day could begin sometime in the middle of the night, when baby cries far a feed.

How often should you feed baby ?

Most mums work out a schedule in which baby is fed every four hours. It isn't easy, but with a little guidance, you can work out a similar routine. In the beginning, you may need to interrupt baby's nap if it is feeding time.

If she wakes too soon after feeding, she probably hasn't had a full meal. If she wakes an hour early, see if she can hold out till feeding time. The rule of thumb is that your tot shouldn't cry or go hungry for long periods.

A word on diapers.

You can use disposable diapers (convenient to use) or an ordinary cloth diaper. Most mums use the disposable one when they take baby out. Watch out for diaper rash, caused by damp cloth against soft and tender skin.

Baby's bath time.

Most kids love bath time, whether it's a sponge bah or a tub bath. Before the mid-morning feed is a good time for a bath. Since most babies, especially under-weight ones, don't have too finely tuned a temperature control system, make sure the room is reasonably warm. The water should be at body temperature (90F 100F). If your baby's skin is dry, or easily chafed, you may need to use powders and baby lotions.

Watching them grow.

The First smile. The first time she cuts a tooth and keeps you up all night. The first time she gurgles 'mama'. There's nothing more fascinating to watch than a baby growing up.

The Great Explorer.

Your little one's first contact with the outside world will begin when she starts grabbing at everything in sight (watch out, it might be your nose). By 9 months, your baby will be eager to go exploring on all fours. If your little crawler is ambitious, she may try standing up too, or take her first tottering steps at the age of 12 18 months. Between 1 and 2 you'll also notice if your baby shows signs of being left-handed. Remember that forcing children to use the right hand can cause stuttering and emotional problems in later life.

Is your child a slow developer ?

People around you will always be comparing your child to others, "My little niece could say her ABC by two." Don't worry if little Raju seems to be slow to catch up. Many babies begin to pick up words after the first year, but that doesn't mean that late talkers are less intelligent. If you still feel worried, consult your doctor.

The first tooth.

Your baby may cut her first incisor any time between 3 months and a year. Teething makes your little brat cranky and causes loss of appetite. Let her chew a rubber ring to exercise her teeth, and keep painted toys out of the way. Calcium and phosphorous (found in milk), vitamins C and D, and fluoride in the diet will give her stronger teeth. A baby's milky diet can cause tooth decay, so make sure her mouth is always clean (brushing teeth can wait till age 2).

Look who's talking now.

Between the ages of 1 and 3 your baby will graduate from goo-goo-ga-ga to asking more questions than you can handle. It's the time when toddlers wake up to the world around them. Careful, what they learn will shape their personality in later years. Will they be timid or shy, friendly or withdrawn ? It all depends on whether you are over protective, harsh or tolerant. So keep the sharp objects, polythene bags, matches and medicines out of their reach and let them explore the world.

The terrible twos.

Age 2 is when your child will be out to prove he has a mind of his own. Kids can get choosy about what they eat, and sometimes it may seem they can't stay out of trouble. Set limits by all means, but encourage their independence. If you are firm and insist they learn to put away things, wash up and dress by themselves, you'll give them a sense of responsibility. It's a better way to build discipline than spanking or saying 'no' all the time.

This is also the age when kids are beset by groundless fears. You may feel stretched at times, but remember mollycoddling tends to make the fears bigger. Some children stutter at this age, this doesn't necessarily mean they are going to grow up speaking like that. Your little Nina just learned to speak and if she is tense or excited, the words don't come out right. If the problem seems acute, your doctor can suggest some tests.

The wonder years.

Between 3 and 6 is when your kid's imagination will be at it's most vivid. More often than not, they will play the monkey and imitate their parents. Playing house, going to work, cooking mud pies are all signs of their fascination with adult behavior.

Guns for boys and dolls for girls.

Most parents try at this time to make their kids conform to certain roles. They get worried if a boy seems too interested in cooking and other such woman's work. Its probably healthier for children if you let them explore whatever they find interesting, without curbing their imagination.

Going to school.

It may seem a little early for your child to join the rat race, but the truth is that many parents put pressure on their children so that they get into a good school. Your little tot will adjust better to this world if you haven't been over protective, if you encourage them to learn and explore. Ease the pressure, there'll be enough later.

Ask me why.

Why is the sky blue ? Why did Fluffy have to die ? Where do babies come from ? You may find it hard to answer all these questions at times; some may even shock or embarrass you. Hush-hushing them doesn't help. Children have over-active imaginations and making a subject taboo in conversation won't banish it from their minds. It might be simpler to say matter-of-factly that children come from a seed in mommy's stomach - they can find out more when you think it's the right age.

Stepping out into the big, bad world.

The years before teenage strikes with a rash of pimples are the most trying ones for most mums. Between 6 and 11, your kid is exposed to a whole new world, to new influences. You may worry about the friends he plays with, his progress at school, or if he is picking up bad manners, foul language or habits like stealing and lying. It is vital that you tackle these situations with understanding. Make it clear that you disapprove but don't humiliate your child. Try to find the reason instead.

First class first.

At school, remember that standing first in class isn't always important. The competitive spirit is a healthy thing, but if your child starts getting exam nightmares, you know there's too much pressure on him. Unfortunately, many schools are rather like factories today, with an unnecessary emphasis on rote learning. You or someone from your family may need to put in extra effort to make sure your kids are learning something. This doesn't mean tuition. It means making boring subjects come alive, connecting dry-as-dust geometry to real life. Arithmetic is probably better understood if it's your kid's pocket money that's being counted.

Remember in case of failure your child isn't always to blame. Teachers find it hard to give each kid individual attention. It's easier for you to find the real reasons.

My son, the engineer.

It's great to see dreams for your child's future, but is it the same dream he or she is seeing ? A boy with no head for abstractions will make a poor engineer or doctor, and a misfit in his career. It makes more sense to see where his real abilities lie. (An aptitude test may point the right way). Any profession, be it such frowned-upon careers as theatre or art, can be rewarding and profitable if you allow his talents to develop freely.

A mother's trouble-shooting guide.

Aches, pains, colds and fevers are a part of your baby's growing years. Here are some common illnesses you should look out for (do check with your doctor in all cases).

Fever

The first thing you should know about fever is that it is not a disease. It is one of the ways by which the body gets over infection. Your baby may develop fever with mild infections like colds or ear infections.

Tonsilitis

Tonsils grow until 7 or 8 years and then gradually become smaller. It is only in extreme cases that tonsils need to be removed. Talk to your doctor.

Allergies

If your baby is allergic to milk, chances are it is inherited. Breast-feeding is ideal in such cases. If your baby is already on formula and has stomach problems, your doctor will be able to suggest a different one. A common allergy is a nose allergy caused by an extreme sensitivity to pollen.

Eye troubles

Aching eyes trouble with studying and headaches are some of the symptoms of defective vision. A common eye complaint is a sty which is an infection in a hair follicle of the lashes. Your doctor can prescribe an ointment.

Colds

Sneezes are a plot of growing up and little Nina is probably no different. Kids could catch a cold from their friends. Nervousness or tension also lowers their resistance to colds. Make sure your child doesn't come into contact with anyone who has a cold. That's the best way to avoid one.

Bed wetting

Most children between 2 - 3 years stop bed wetting at night. But sometimes, the problems continue. Your child may not be able to control his bladder. This may be a physical or nervous reaction. You will need to reassure your child about his fears.

Stomach upsets and aches

After one year, a common cause of stomach aches is a cold, a sore throat or the flu. Other not-so-common causes include intestinal allergies, chronic indigestion with gas.