Five Things Brits Need to Know About Bringing Up an American Baby

Bringing up baby. (Photo: Tim Stewart News/Rex Features/AP)

Bringing up baby. (Photo: Tim Stewart News/Rex Features/AP)

Raising kids is tough wherever you do it, but knowing a few local rules and customs before you get started will help.

Your kid gets two passports
Your child might have been born in the U.S. but — assuming at least one parent was born in the U.K. — he or she is also British by descent. Applying for your baby’s American passport is pretty straightforward, but you will need to present the forms — and your child — in person at a recognized facility, where you can pay to fast track your application. Here’s a good photo trimming site, which you’ll need after you’ve spent several fraught hours trying to get your spawn to pose for a mug shot without violating any of the rules. Incredibly, this first passport is valid for five years. Cue lots of quizzical looks from airport officials when your three-year-old fails to look anything like the pissed-off newborn pictured. But once you have it, the good news is that anytime you return from a foreign country with your little American, the entire family gets to stand in the U.S. citizens line at immigration rather than the never ending one for foreign nationals.

Maternity leave is short
And not necessarily that sweet. Parenting babies in the U.S. can be tougher than in Europe because mothers with jobs are generally required to return to work anywhere from six weeks to four months after giving birth. And so, understandably, they spend much of that time stressing about how they’ll cope leaving such a young infant in day-care or with a nanny. And how they’ll convince their breast-fed baby to take a bottle. And how they’ll manage to stay awake through an entire workday when their kid still keeps them up most of the night. At work, breastfeeding mothers can look forward endless hours spent locked in a toilet cubicle (or if you’re lucky a designated “pumping” room) expressing milk for all those bottles junior refuses to take. The only silver lining is that, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most insurers now provide a free electric pump for new mums. Check your policy to see if you qualify.

You’ll need a pediatrician
Although some GPs in the U.S. will see babies and children, it’s more common to take kids to a pediatrician. It’s easiest to shop around for one before your baby arrives. To help you decide, look for reviews online, join a local parenting forum and ask for suggestions or just turn up and see if the doctor has time for a quick chat. Another couple of things you should know about kiddie healthcare in the U.S.: your new baby will most likely be covered automatically on your insurance for the first 30 days of his or her life, but please double check with your provider. So sometime before the month is up you need to add your baby to your policy. Also, if you were thinking of skipping out on any vaccines, you might want to reconsider: all 50 states require children to have had certain shots before admitting them to a public (i.e. state funded) school. So unless you know for sure that you’ll be able to afford to go private, you’d better get with the vaccination program.

Americans are big on sleep training
It’s much more popular here than in the U.K., and there’s a trend towards doing it early. My (somewhat overzealous) NYC pediatrician says it’s fine — advisable even — to let your baby “cry it out” (referred to as CIO in the blogosphere) as early as eight weeks old. Most British parents I’ve discussed this with are horrified. Then again, some of the Americans I know are equally in the “anti” camp. They’ve politely implied that New Yorkers — me included — are bonkers to even consider
letting a newborn scream itself to sleep, and that no baby doctor anywhere else in the U.S. would recommend this. Anyhow, for sensible, easy-to-digest advice on everything to do with baby sleep — including the dreaded CIO — check out this brilliant (American-written) blog.

Odd and unnecessary baby products are popular in the U.S.
These things are all available in the U.K. too, but Americans go nuts for them while the Brits not so much. What am I talking about? Can I interest you in a baby wipe warmer? Or how about a fabric cover for your changing mat? Great! That’ll make life easier when your kid poos on it multiple times a day. And don’t even get me started on diaper genies. On a slight side note, I’ve been involved in more than one awkward conversation about U.S.-style birth announcements. “So, that’s when my husband puts a photo of our freshly swaddled new baby on Facebook, right?” Wrong. These are the snail mail announcements you’re expected to send out to friends and family. The same friends and family who already know you had the baby BECAUSE YOUR HUSBAND PUT IT ON FACEBOOK. AND TEXTED EVERYONE. THEN ACCIDENTALLY TEXTED EVERYONE AGAIN (he’s tired, give him a break). Maybe I’m missing something here, but this seems like an entirely unnecessary hassle and expense — something no new parent needs, whatever country they live in.

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

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