Childcare manuals like the “What to Expect” books are such “must haves” because few of us want to begin the journey to parenthood without a clue about what to anticipate or how to cope. Unfortunately, there’s no primer available for the person who is truly clueless about what to expect: the baby. The only way he or she learns about the world is by understanding what to expect from you. If you pick him up every time he cries, he’ll come to count on comfort. Feed her quickly when she’s hungry and she’ll assume that she will always be nourished. By creating a warm nest of consistent care, you ease your baby’s transition from womb to world. And you create a foundation on which she can build an understanding of what it means to be in this strange new place.
Having their expectations met allows babies to make assumptions about the world that help them learn. Like little scientists, babies make hypotheses that they then test (Will Mommy make that funny face if I drop my bottle again? Will she pick me up if I cry?). If the baby is always left guessing, his confidence that he can ever begin to understand his environment is going to be pretty low. Of course, babies vary greatly in how much they crave routine-some are more rigid, others more flexible. Being consistent doesn’t mean you have to set his feeding and sleeping on a strict schedule. What is probably most important is that you try to be consistent when it comes to your emotional responses. Studies show that babies whose needs are responded to on a consistent basis have what experts call a secure attachment to their mother or whoever is taking care of them most of the time. This means they feel connected and safe, which is supposed to be a harbinger of growing up to be a relatively happy, well-adjusted person. Those whose needs aren’t met tend to be poorly attached, which some experts believe makes it a struggle for them to make connections with other people as they grow up. Those whose needs are met inconsistently tend to be insecurely attached-which means, basically, that they feel insecure. And since the world offers most of us plenty of unmeetable challenges, bad luck and broken pretzels, it helps to let your baby start out with some confidence that he can handle what life dishes out.