The following was produced in partnership with Kaiser Permanente, who deliver high-quality health care and coverage all from one place to make it easier for today’s parents to stay on top of their family’s health.
New babies should come with instructions. They don’t. And no one agrees on anything. So the best that a new parent navigating the shifting landscapes of shoulds and shouldn’ts can do, is bone up on vocabulary so they can at least understand what everyone is arguing about. What is needed is a glossary full of terms lest an army of nurses, well-meaning family, doctors, and doulas (we’ll get there) leave dad and mom both dumbfounded. So we’ve created just that, a new parent lexicon boiled down to the essential terms.
Fifteen of these are technical terms you never knew existed that someone, probably sporting a PhD at the end of their name, will use to describe your baby. The remaining five are terms we made up because they’re desperately needed. Try to guess which is which (answers at the bottom) while prepping to flex a whole new vocabulary.
The first sign that parenting is going to be messy: this foul-smelling, green and black toxic gunk babies pass for their first poop outside the womb. It comprises the remains of the mess babies soak up in the womb including mucus, amniotic fluid, and bile (the triple crown of nasty). Once meconium is out of the way, infant poop is surprisingly reasonable to deal with while your baby subsists on breast milk. Don’t get too excited, though. Solid food is coming.
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Bone-free gaps in newborns’ skulls that help them pass through the birth canal, without which there wouldn’t be enough morphine in the world for mothers to endure childbirth. Also known as soft spots or further reason for nervous new parents to freak out. Don’t worry. As babies grow older, they also grow whole skulls to protect their precious brains. Until then, watch the head!
Despite sounding like the site of the newest and greatest Sandals resort, this just means baby hair. Most babies lose lanugo before birth but some are born with light, soft, dander-like hair on their skin. Like puppies, but way more expensive.
Babies are born with perfect timing and disgusting senses of humor that allow them to perfectly time diaper blow-outs and epic spit-ups for maximum embarrassment and inconvenience. Just put on a new suit for your brother’s wedding? Enjoy the poop carnation. Skyping into a work call? Hope you like regurgitated milk on your screen.
A phenomenon that causes about five percent of babies to secrete milk from their nipples at birth, regardless of gender, which isn’t as alarming as it sounds although nonetheless jarring. It’s believed to be caused by a combination of hormones passed on through breastfeeding. It’s also known as neonatal milk and it’s really not a problem. There’s no connection to disease or abnormality and it goes away on its own. Promise.
That soft, whispery, sing-songy, lilting voice new parents seem to naturally default to. And with good reason — they’re conversing with an easily startled little creature that demands 24-7 comfort. Also known as baby talk, motherese seems stupid to many fathers at first. Until they spend more than five minutes alone with their newborn.
The liquid gold mothers’ breasts pump out in just the first few days after birth. Soon enough, the familiar, thinner variant will flow by the gallon. But early on, this thicker, yellow-tinged, artisanal small batch of breast milk comes densely packed with all the calories and proteins that help babies grow and stay healthy.
Gnaw of Cthulhu
Just when babies have figured out a small fraction of the world, tiny bones force their way through vulnerable, sensitive gums. Sometimes the experience isn’t merely unpleasant but transcendently painful for child and parent alike. The terrible pain strikes instant fear into the hearts of most mortals, yet is somehow no match for an adorable, 55-year-old rubber giraffe.
The hormone produced by the pituitary gland that’s responsible for milk production, also known as a magical biochemical that transforms breasts into nourishing miracles of nature. It enlarges the breasts during pregnancy and, after birth, spurs milk production when triggered by an infant suckling at the breast. Low prolactin levels can affect the mother’s milk supply; prescription drugs can help increase production.
The white substance babies are covered in when they’re born that looks like a stew of cottage cheese, wax, and snot. Isn’t childbirth beautiful? In the womb, the substance keeps babies healthy and protects their skin from acidic amniotic fluid. Once babies are born, it sticks around, nestling in folds in the skin. It’s not harmful and may actually be the reason everyone keeps asking to smell your baby.
Not a new word but it takes on a new definition and importance for parents in the first few months. Latching refers to a baby’s mouth-hold onto a boob. It’s an instinct but some kids don’t snap to it, sometimes requiring new parents to attend breastfeeding classes, work diligently on positioning, and wonder how their kid will ever learn algebra if they can’t figure this part out.
Amazeburp (Alt.: Gasplosion, Love Bloat)
The incredulous look on a baby’s face when they find sweet relief from gaseous bloat. It combines the wonder and awe of a profound religious experience with the low roar of a claxon. Despite the name, it also applies to farts and held-back poops.
A term you’ll hear people say with the confidence and authority of a medical term that really just means a baby cries. A lot. No one knows what causes colic but theories connect it to allergies, lactose intolerance, and nervous parenting. The only thing people know for sure is that it’s no fun. For babies, parents, or anyone.
A woman (or, sometimes, a blind man) who assists in childbirth and may provide early childhood care. They aren’t medically trained and occasionally lean hard into yoga teacher mumbo jumbo, but there’s no need to be uptight about it. Expectant mothers love them and they really can make birth easier. Plus, new parents should welcome all the help they can get.
The instinct that causes newborns to reach out and hug themselves when startled or stiffen and clench their fists for comfort. At first, it can be alarming. But when you realize the baby’s in no real danger, it just becomes a cool trick.
Stone Cold Soother
The signature baby-holding move that convinces crying babies to calm down, named for parenting and wrestling legend “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Also known as the grip or the hold, the Stone Cold Soother takes many forms but the effect is always the same. Can be paired with gentle rocking, shushing, or cooing for maximum comfort payload.
Also known as a stork bite or salmon patch, nevus simplexes are small pink or red patches that appear on the faces and necks of about a third of babies. The marks are caused by the dilation of blood vessels and may darken when the baby gets upset. They’re nothing to worry about. They don’t indicate trauma or disease and usually fade on their own.
Pressure on the head in the birth canal during a head-first birth that sometimes forces soft, pliable heads (remember those fontanels?) into oblong shapes. Affectionately known to some dads as the “Our baby looks like Yoda” effect or “Will it stay like that?” complex. It may take a little while, but their heads usually snap into a more rounded shape.
The understanding that a physical object still exists even when it leaves your sight for a second (no matter how much you try to close your eyes and make your baby’s never-ending pile of dirty laundry disappear). Babies aren’t great at this, which is why they’re so amused by peekaboo.
The frothy mix of drool, mucus, and undigested food that trickles out of a baby’s mouth as they peacefully nestle on your shoulder. It will ruin every shirt you own until one day, when your kid is too old to do it anymore, you’ll spot a familiar stain on another dad’s shoulder and flash back to some of the most disgusting, happiest moments of your life.
Were you able to spot the made-up terms? Feel free to start referencing Sick Sense, Gnaw of Cthulhu, Amazeburp, the Stone Cold Soother, and Snargles as soon as the situation calls for it. You shouldn’t have to wait long.
This article was produced in partnership with Kaiser Permanente, which delivers high-quality, integrated health care and coverage. To learn more, visit kp.org.