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Parenthood in the first year
by Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail & Assoc Prof Dr Norimah A. Karim

IN our previous article, we gave an overview of what happens during labour, and what mothers should pay attention to after giving birth. In this article, we continue to take a look into the first year of parenthood.

While babies are adorable and cuddly, taking care of a newborn round the clock is an entirely different situation. If you are a first-time mum, here are some basic baby care information to give you a heads up.

Handling the fragile

There is no better feeling than cradling a baby in your arm. But being new to motherhood, you may be nervous or even afraid of holding your baby because the little one looks so fragile. Indeed, many new mums fear that they might inadvertently hurt their baby if they are clumsy or not gentle enough when handling the infant.

If you had attended antenatal classes, you probably would have learnt some basics on how to hold your baby. Your confinement lady, mother, or mother-in-law will also be around to give you some advice.

One important aspect that you need to be cautious about while carrying your very young baby is - always use your arm or hand to support your baby's neck, as the neck muscles are still weak and not strong enough to support the head in the first few months.

The other two main pillars of baby care are changing diapers and bathing baby. You may feel all awkward doing these tasks initially, but will slowly learn the ropes of taking care of your newborn. Just relax, and enjoy the moments with your precious one to foster a close mother-baby bond.

Dads may also want to lend a hand in carrying out simple tasks, such as changing diapers or burping baby after a feed. It is a great opportunity to be close to your newborn and it is important that you feel a part of this new family circle.

Best nutrition in life starts now

Breast milk is the very first and best gift you could ever present to your newborn. Why? Because it has the perfect blend of nutrients in the exact right amounts to meet your baby's every nutritional need. It is the best food for babies.

The benefits of breast milk are myriad. For one, breast milk promotes better digestion and absorption of nutrients. Babies who are breastfed are also less likely to develop allergies and experience fewer illnesses, such as colds and diarrhoea.

The World Health Organization recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively (i.e. no other food or water) for the first six months of life, and if possible to continue up to two years together with complementary feeding.

Generally, all mothers can breastfeed, but you may encounter some obstacles in the nursing process, especially if you are new to this.

Some common breastfeeding problems include sore nipples and breast engorgement. Most of the time, these problems can be overcome or reduced if you nurse frequently, ensure baby latches on properly when breastfeeding, and apply some simple breast care steps.

Whether breastfeeding is possible upon returning to work after maternity leave is a concern of many mothers. To deal with this, you need to make plans before resuming your full-time job. For instance, you can express breast milk two weeks before resuming work and store them in the refrigerator; your baby-sitter can then feed baby with the breast milk stock while you are at work.

You should breastfeed or express your milk as often as possible to ensure regular milk production. This means that you will need to express your milk even at work.

Whatever it may be, try not to let such obstacles stop you from giving the best to your baby. You can talk to a lactation consultant should you encounter any problems with breastfeeding.

Keeping infectious diseases at bay

Just giving your baby the best nutrition is not enough; you also want to protect him from the threat of various infectious diseases.

While some life-threatening infectious diseases have been eliminated from the world, there are still many harmful bacteria and viruses lurking around in the environment. The only safe and proven way to protect your vulnerable baby is through vaccination.

Therefore, it is crucial to get your baby vaccinated following the Malaysian Immunisation Schedule, which is a list of mandatory vaccinations scheduled under our country's National Immunisation Programme. Under this schedule, your baby will receive routine immunisations for protection against tuberculosis, hepatitis B, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio, Haemophilus influenzae type B, measles, mumps, and rubella. These vaccinations will be given at different intervals from birth until 18 months, and subsequently when she/he reaches schooling age.

Other optional vaccines are also available to offer protection against infections not covered in the immunisation schedule, such as chickenpox, hepatitis A, Rotavirus gastroenteritis, and pneumococcal disease. The latter two can cause serious complications or even be fatal among very young children should they get infected.

However, receiving vaccine injections, not once, but many times, can be traumatising for the little one. Therefore, combination vaccines - vaccines combining multiple antigens into one single injection - may be a more convenient and less "painful" option. Fewer shots and less pain for baby, less hassle for parents. Talk to your baby's paediatrician to find out more about optional and combination vaccines.

Things certainly change when there is a baby at home, and there is a lot to learn. But worry not, as your maternal instinct will naturally kick in and to help you do what is right. You will gain the experience and knowledge of parenting over time.

You can learn more tips on caring for your baby in the first year in the Positive Parenting 10th Anniversary commemorative publication, Welcoming Baby. Those who are interested in purchasing a copy may contact the Programme Secretariat at 03-5632 3301 or visit

This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association's Positive Parenting, published in conjunction with Positive Parenting 10th Year Anniversary.

Positive Parenting is an expert educational programme initiated by the Malaysian Paediatric Association, collaborating with other expert organisations, namely the Nutrition Society of Malaysia, Malaysian Mental Health Association, Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia, Association of Registered Childcare Providers Malaysia, National Population and Family Development Board Malaysia, and Malaysian Association of Kindergartens.

For further information, please visit


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