Cindy Crawford and her son Presley, then 3 years old. (Getty Images)
When Los Angeles A-Listers have a new baby, they have one woman on speed dial: Luiza DeSouza. In her home country of Brazil, DeSouza learned to care for young babies as the oldest of seven children, and then trained as a nurse in a maternity ward, which she says never felt like work. Eventually, her “magic way” with newborns led her to become a sought-after baby nurse for new parents who wanted her expertise one-on-one, and when she moved to the U.S. in the 90s, she quickly began to work for high-profile, celebrity clients (Glee producer Ryan Murphy, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves and The Talk host Julie Chen, and 20th Century Fox Television Chairman Dana Walden, to name a few) who adore her practical and reassuring guidelines.
In the forward to DeSouza’s new book, Eat, Play, Sleep: The Essential Guide to Your Baby’s First 3 Months, client Cindy Crawford writes that during their time together, DeSouza “helped create a sense of serenity around our home that most certainly rubbed off on our son. We were able to avoid that ‘nervous new parents’ stereotype and enjoy our changed roles.” (Son Presley is now 16, and daughter Kaia is 14.)
Courtesy of Luiza DeSouza
So what is the secret to DeSouza’s gift? She says it’s being patient, open and attentive to your baby. “Babies are beings,” DeSouza tells Yahoo Parenting. “They have feelings, they know when they’re respected, and they need us so much.” Below, she shares her suggestions for navigating five major areas of care as soon as your baby is born.
Feeding. DeSouza says that the most essential part of the first days and weeks of parenting is feeding. “If the baby’s rooting side to side, he needs to go to the breast — again and again,” she says. “It requires so much patience at first; a new mother feels that there is no time even to go to the bathroom. But it won’t always be like this.” The same is true of formula-fed babies, DeSouza stresses. They need a lot of time snuggled closely to their parents while drinking. “In those first weeks, the baby will eat and sleep, that’s it,” she says. “So get the baby close to you, lie down with her, rest your body and mind as well — and don’t forget to drink a lot of water.”
Sleeping. Babies will sleep regularly and often for the first couple of weeks, but after that, they need some help learning how to rest. Wakeful periods in the beginning only last 1-2 hours, and then it’s time to sleep again. DeSouza recommends looking for signs like an unfocused gaze, drooping eyelids, or a bit of fussiness. Then take the baby into his crib environment, with dim lighting and quiet music or white noise, to help form a good habit — this is where we sleep.
Another sleep tip: “Young babies like to be swaddled to avoid the jerking movements their bodies make,” says DeSouza. “If they start to move their arms and legs, they get startled and awakened.” Sometimes a full swaddle is best, sometimes leaving arms out is okay — DeSouza recommends observing your sleeping baby and seeing what works for him. Usually, around 6-8 weeks, the twitching movements abate and you can ease off swaddling, but DeSouza says she has kept some fussier babies swaddled longer than that. “It all depends on your baby,” she acknowledges.
Playing. DeSouza says that play is about both interaction and space. While it’s fun to get down on the mat with your newborn to smile and coo, it’s also “not too soon to start the seeds of independent play,” she advises. When she cares for an infant and sees that he’s sitting quietly and contentedly, DeSouza doesn’t interfere: “I put something for him to look at — pictures with contrasting colors or a bright toy — and then I let him be.” She notes that if parents are constantly there to play, babies get used to that and begin to demand it. But left on their own, babies can learn little by little, in small increments of time, to enjoy their space.
Bonding. “Because of regular diapering, feeding, bathing, and soothing, the baby is in a parent’s hands a lot,” DeSouza says. She sees these caretaking activities as the perfect times to really focus on your baby and give her your full attention, even talking to her and telling her what you’re doing. “I know that sounds silly for a one-week-old baby,” she confesses, “but treating her with respect and communicating with her will create trust, even if she doesn’t understand your words yet.” Paying attention to the way your baby reacts, moves, and communicates with her body helps you to get to know her. When parents can interpret even their newborn’s physical cues, that gives them confidence in their caretaking, which helps the baby feel confident — and bonded — as well.
The Routine. DeSouza does not believe in a routine for routine’s sake — her way is to “follow the baby,” especially in the beginning. It’s less of a “routine” and more of a “pattern of care,” but she says that having a rhythm to the day — wake, eat, play and then sleep again — creates a sense of order, security and trust for the baby. “When he knows what to expect, he will feel safe and confident as he explores this brand new world.”
DeSouza also reminds new parents to make time for self-care: “The only thing you have to do in those first weeks is take care of your baby,” she says. “Let the rest go — no thank you notes, no cleaning — what you’re doing is big enough.” Amen.