Enjoying Your Baby Grandchild's First Year

Making the most of the time from birth to age one

Grandfather playing with baby grandchild on sofa
Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

There’s nothing more exciting than having a new grandbaby. If it is your first grandchild, you’ll have a little adjusting to do, as you figure out what grandparenting style fits you, pleases the baby’s parents, and meets the needs of the little one. If you’re already a grandparent, you’ll be just as excited but perhaps a little less nervous as you welcome the new arrival. Here are several principles to keep in mind to make the most of your baby grandchild's first year.

Several Relationships Are Involved

During your grandbaby’s first year, you will want to be around as much as possible, as that is when some crucial bonding takes place. Almost as important as bonding with your grandchild, however, is fine-tuning your relationship with the baby’s parents. If this is their first child, you’ll be adjusting to seeing them as parents. They’ll be figuring out how much help and advice they can accept from grandparents without sacrificing their autonomy. It’s a delicate dance that will require compromise and flexibility on your part. If it’s not a first child, you will have other grandchildren’s needs and emotions to consider.

Some young families want to have their baby all to themselves for a few days or even a few months. It may be hard for you to understand why you can't visit your newborn grandchild, but you must respect the parents' decision.

You’re Not in Control

A hard part about grandparenting is not being the one in control.

You may think that the baby is being overfed or underdressed, but these calls are not yours to make. Obviously, if there are any signs that your grandchild is suffering, you’ll want to say something, but if it is a matter of judgment, your judgment is not the one that counts. In a perfect world, the baby’s parents would ask your opinion about baby care.

In actuality, they are more likely to turn to books, online sources, their friends, and their pediatrician.

Baby Care Practices Have Changed

If it has been only a couple of decades since you had a baby, you are probably fairly current with baby care practices. If, however, it has been thirty or forty years, you will find that many things have changed. Many pediatricians no longer recommend using alcohol on the umbilical cord. Breastfeeding mothers avoid supplementing with formula, and babies are seldom fed on a schedule. Babies are absolutely not to be put to sleep on their tummies, and fluffy blankets are taboo. That last sentence is really important, as stomach-sleeping and too-soft covers have been implicated in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Some Things Never Change

Some of the parenting practices that were used are all the rage today. Swaddling is an ancient practice that has been repopularized by Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, The Happiest Baby on the Block. Swaddling is one of his Five S’s to calm a baby, and the other four S’s--stomach/side position, shushing, swinging, and sucking are likewise things that we might have done to soothe our children when they were babies.

It’s Possible to Be Too Helpful

Some parents prefer to handle things on their own.

They might prefer not to let grandparents babysit until the baby is older. Perhaps they don’t need any help cleaning the house or running errands. They may not want company on doctor visits. All of these things could be true, but you’ll never know unless you ask. If your help is not needed, ask again a little later. The attitude of the baby’s parents may change radically after the first couple of months.

Learn What Not to Say

Parents can be touchy in the early days of a baby’s life, especially about comparisons. It's important to know what not to say. Never say, “Shouldn’t he be pulling up by now?” or, even worse, “Judy’s baby is younger and she’s already pulling up.” Celebrate the milestones -- the first words, the early steps -- without focusing on exactly when they occur. As long as the baby’s parents are being sensible and following the pediatrician’s advice, refrain from questioning the way they feed, bathe, clothe, and otherwise care for their child.

Educate Yourself

The more you know about baby care and child development, the better grandparent you will be. Just resist the temptation to show off your knowledge.

Learn the Things to Do That Will Always Be Welcome

There are certain activities that parents will seldom mind grandparents doing.

  • Changing Poopy Diapers. There are few parents, no matter how devoted, who mind missing out on a few messy diapers.
  • Reading to the Baby. Babies as young as four months may be ready to enjoy simple books. There’s no such thing as being read to too much, and harried parents sometimes have trouble working it into their schedules.
  • Taking the Baby Outside. Almost all babies love to be outdoors. Grandparents can take babies for a little look-see out in the yard, or pop them in a stroller for a walk around the block. As long as the weather is amenable, and you are careful about sun exposure, everyone will benefit.
  • Taking a Turn With a Fussy Baby. Fussy babies often respond to being walked, bounced, or swung, and all of those can be very tiring. Just remember to be very quiet and gentle.
  • Playing With the Baby. Try singing, counting toes, playing peek-a-boo and pattycake, and all the spontaneous little games that make the baby laugh. These are great brain-boosters for children. Also, if the baby’s happy, Mom and Dad are likely to be happy, too.