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.

  • expatmum

    Interesting that you think US parents are the sleep nazis, as my experience (albeit ten years ago and more) was the opposite. All my UK friends have their kids tucked up in bed by about 7pm; not so much here, in fact some of my kids’ friends stayed up till almost the same time as the adults.

    • dw

      If this story is to be believed, France is the capital of “crying it out”.

      I’ve seen both sleep Nazis and sleep hippies out here in California. It all depends upon the parents’ temperament and cultural background.

    • Meghan Peterson Fenn

      Yes, I agree. I’m an American expat in the UK raising my kids in England and the done thing is to feed the kids at 5pm, bath by 6:30 and in bed by 7pm at the latest. I never manage that and when my older kids were much younger, I always felt I was doing something wrong!

  • dw

    You will start pronouncing the word “ate” like the number “eight”, even if you didn’t before (it’s in too many baby/toddler stories).

    • nb

      Diaper genies….aka I’m too lazy to throw out one nappy at a time so I’ll shove them all in here and wait til its overflowing with the filthy things ;)
      ooohhh I’m going to get it for that, I can’t wait!!

      • dw

        You throw out your nappies one-by-one in the outside garbage/rubbish? Who’s watching the baby while you’re doing that?

        • nb

          I left it on the changing table…..or maybe there’s a crib or bassinet or a floor in the room. same as people have done for yearsssssss before the genies arrived ;)
          p.s that’s a joke, I didn’t leave it on the table before anyone actually believes that!!

          • dw

            So what did you actually do with “it”?

          • nb

            I am bored with this now, IT shall be IT because I choose to keep my kids private, too many whack jobs in the world these days but since they have both made it past the baby stage I think its safe to say that IT was fine, IT survived and the house didn’t have a genie, that’s the end of that. So long, cheerio

          • dw

            Bye. Thanks for sharing.

        • expatmum

          Don’t forget dw, that babies sleep sometimes, and if your garbage/trash thing is just outside the attached garage, you’re not exactly leaving the baby unattended.
          I had a Diaper Genie but I must’ve been doing something wrong a it still stank.

          • dw

            Well, they certainly don’t sleep every time they’re put on the changing table, so something has to be done with the dirty diapers when they’re awake. I don’t understand the previous commenter’s implication that people who use a Diaper Genie for that purpose are “lazy”.

            Today’s Diaper Genies work fine — no smells at all and I only have to empty it 2 or 3 times a week.

  • dc

    Oops, looks like my comment got deleted (I hope not on purpose)? In any event, I wanted to say that since I am an attorney with experience in special education, parents should know that vaccinations are not mandatory. Every state does have either medical, religious, or philosophical exemptions, should parents wish to exercise them. Some states also allow proof of immunity (titer test) as an exemption.

    • dw

      The map here shows which exemptions are available in which states.

      • dc

        Yes, it’s actually private schools that can have vaccination requirements without exemptions, not public schools. Public schools cannot deny a child admission, which is guaranteed by law, if the child’s parents have claimed a vaccine exemption under the laws of their state. Thanks for providing a link to the laws- I always think it’s important that parents know what the law actually says, since, in my experience, it is often quite different from what they are told by their child’s school.

  • Debbi

    Really good apart from parents that are sleep nazis.. I’ve found more parents in US let their kids stay up late compared to UK parents

    • expatmum

      AND – let’s not forget, they take them with them when they go out. LOL

      • JR48

        Kind of hard not to do that if you’re BF’g…

  • Megan

    I think some of this junk is New York. :-) Middle of the country is a lot more sane.

  • JR48

    Missed a spot with time off from work…The FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from a job if you’ve worked for an employer for a year, they have more than 50 employees and you’ve worked something like 1200 hours in the past 12 months. The employer might force you to use sick hours or vacation time if you want any of it paid.

  • troublesometots

    Everything in this article is 100% true. And I’m not just saying that because you mentioned me and the world “brilliant” in the same sentence.

    (But thank you because that’s just totally delightful!)

    Americans DO buy lots of stupid baby stuff. The hard part is that we have this multi-billion dollar market of stupid baby products that are working hard to convince you that you need it all, and when you’re pregnant and desperate to be prepared it’s hard not to know what is critical. Note: Wipe warmers = not critical. Swaddle blankets = critical.