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Age, Social Class, and New Parents

HOWARD FISCHER, MD
Wayne State University

I recently had the privilege of visiting a couple in Europe; I arrived the day before their first child was born. The parents are both in their mid-30s. They both have advanced degrees. They each speak 4 languages. They had read a bunch of “baby books” before their daughter arrived. Labor and delivery went well. The mother’s milk came in on day 3, and breastfeeding went well.

On day 5, the couple went home with their new daughter. Once they got home—as a wise friend once said—they acted as if (and surely thought): “We’re home now with our baby. What do we do now?” So, here is a mature, educated couple with a longawaited baby. They love her, even had a pediatrician visit them, but they felt as disarmed by the presence of this tiny new person as any single teenaged mother.

It’s been a long time since I had the chance to observe new parents “up close and personal” for an entire week. (I was a new parent 27 years ago, and I seem to have forgotten much of what the first few days were like. Maybe I was as stunned as this new father seemed to be?)

What are the points I’m trying to make in this brief essay? First—and this is obvious but bears repeating: we should not make too many assumptions about parents’ preparation for the arrival of their first child based on their education, age, or social class.

Second, as pediatricians we should expect plenty of questions and be available to answer them.

And last, as with many things in pediatrics, expect that time will help. New parents, with some encouragement, realize (as Dr Spock said) that their common sense will assist them enormously in most new situations.

Congratulations to these, and to all, new parents.