Firstly, if you’re expecting a baby, congratulations!
I was fortunate to thoroughly love being pregnant. My husband and I were so happy to be expecting our little one, and I devoted hours to reading up on childbirth, babies and so on. Sears, Ferber, Bradley, Gaskin…all the usual suspects. I even read some old classics, like Dr Grantly Dick-Read’s Childbirth Without Fear.
I won’t call it a waste of time, but it certainly didn’t prepare me for what was coming! Likewise, the 16 hours of birth preparation classes. The best advice I received was at a cocktail party, when a new mother saw that I was pregnant, pulled me aside, and whispered “take the stool softener”. My advice to new mothers: TAKE THE STOOL SOFTENER. Really. And then, take another one. Bring the bottle home with you.
Here are some other things I wish I had known.
Maternity leave is not a good time to work through a to-do list. Here are some things to do now if you have the energy:
- Get your non-baby to-do list crossed off, get a hair cut, stack your freezer full of nutritious meals, clean and declutter the house.
- Get your and your other half’s vaccinations up to date (and your family if they will be with you) I think it’s called the tdap vaccine.
- Play music which you enjoy, and which is calming (more Mozart than Mahler; or more Beatles than Britney Spears). Our baby went quiet and relaxed when he heard the CD I played on my work commute. Pure luck, but such a pleasant surprise! Consider making a copy of that CD for the car and bedroom where baby will sleep.
- There are only really 3 things a baby needs, other than your love:
1) Diapers: get a couple of boxes of newborn size, but not too many because you won’t know the baby’s size until delivery. Newborns go through 10-12 diapers per day. Some babies react to certain diapers, so don’t stock up on too many. We use Seventh Generation and they have been great so far. For the long term, I am on Amazon Mom, there’s also diapers.com and target etc. I love the fact I can place an order from my phone, and they are delivered a day or 2 later.
2) Somewhere to sleep, a swaddle and scratch-proofing. In my opinion, the easiest way to sleep is with the baby in your bed. This is not encouraged by experts, but gives the baby your body warmth, and gives you way more rest especially if you can figure out how to feed lying down (get the nurses to teach you while you’re in the hospital). Next easiest is to have a bassinet next to the bed, and the toughest is with the baby in the next room. We co-slept for 2.5 months, then went straight to a crib. Skin-to-skin contact is really important for milk production, but we swaddled our baby at night time for the first 3 months to keep him in the fetal position so that he felt more comfortable, and didn’t wake himself up with reflex actions. Aden & Anais and Swaddle Designs both do great swaddles. There are also little baby sleeping bags called sleepsacks, some of which have integrated swaddles. We had 2 as pajamas, since I couldn’t figure out swaddles in the middle of the night! Instead of mittens, newborn tube socks are much easier to get on and off, and stay on much better.
3) Car seat: most strollers have an optional attachment so you can click the car seat into the stroller. Super helpful if you need to get something done but don’t want to wake your baby. I have since learned that babies aren’t supposed to be in a car seat for longer than an hour or so. We didn’t have a bassinet-style stroller, but it’s too late now! If you’re thinking of having a 2nd child, some strollers convert to a double, and others have an optional board for the older child to stand on, which can attach to the back of the stroller. Not al strollers have those features, so choose wisely!
Everything else is nice to have. Be a bit careful with hand-me-downs/garage sales/consignment stores, since things can get SUPER filthy and covered in poo…unless it can be boil-washed or bleached to within an inch of its life, we just bought new; also there are a surprising number of recalls, so do a quick check first to make sure whatever you’re getting is safe. Here are some things I wish I had known:
- Try to get clothes which wrap around the body rather than go over the head; zip up rather than button/popper up (don’t even think about ties or bows!); have built in socks (“footed”), and which are easy to wash and dry. Co-ordinated colors sounds ridiculous, but it makes it easier when everything in your baby’s wardrobe goes together, to make choosing an outfit simpler.
- Sterilize a couple of baby bottles and pacifiers in case you need them, and get a couple of sachets of infant formula on hand for emergency use. Get a preemie nipple so that if you have to temporarily give a bottle, the baby will have to work hard to get any milk out – if the milk flows quicker from the bottle than from mom, baby might decide not to nurse again. There are lots of bottle designs…plastic, BPA-free, glass, different nipple designs, some that convert to a sippy cup…we use Dr Brown’s and they’re fine. If I was to do it again, I’d get glass, and I’d get one that converts to a cup. I don’t know what we’re going to do with these bottles in another few months, and it seems like such a waste. Get the 8 oz bottles, since that’s how much a baby eats in one go once they’re a few months old. Just put less in them at first. We got 4 oz bottles, and it’s double the washing up. Grr!
- Newborns can’t breathe through their mouth, so if they get a cold, it’s important to get it seen to immediately. Have saline solution (preferably in a disposable dropper like those ones for putting eyedrops in, as they’re easy to use and hygienic) and a Nosefrida on hand. The nosefrida is about $20 but worth every penny!
- Breastmilk is super hydrating and anti-bacterial, so if you get sore nipples, a couple of drops of milk really helps with healing. A few pads are worthwhile to absorb leaking milk. You can get disposables or washable, just make sure they’re soft as your nipples will probably be very tender. If you’re planning to breastfeed for more than a couple of months, I recommend bamboobies as they’re the softest I could find, they don’t leave any bit of cotton/material on your breast, and they are relatively discreet. They have sales every now and then, announced on their facebook page. If you leak a lot of milk when nursing, there’s a little thing called a milk saver. It collects the leaked milk from the non-nursing side, so that you can build up a stash. Once you have enough for a full feed, someone else can feed bambino while you sleep! Yay!
- The boppy pillows are a little C-shaped pillow that wraps around your waist, which your baby rests on during feeding. I found it useful in the first few weeks, and we used it again once he was learning to control his head muscles. He now sits on it, on my lap at the dinner table. Overall worthwhile but not at all essential. A regular pillow is fine too.
- Baby carriers are AWESOME. They keep your baby happily close to you, plus you get two hands to use! This is how I managed to go supermarket shopping. It keeps your baby nice and warm, and counts as “tummy time” which prevents a flattened head. I love the ergo, but it wasn’t much good until our baby was 3 months old. The infant insert was complicated and didn’t look comfortable for our baby. Try on a few carriers and find one you like – everyone likes different ones, depending on their body shape, size and the baby’s preferences. A lot of people raved about babybjorn and mobywrap for newborns, and ergo for 3 months+.
- Bouncers are a godsend. They are portable little chair-type things for your baby, which means you can have a shower, go to the bathroom, or do stuff with your baby within your sight. They are also useful in case your baby gets a cold; the more upright position helps drain their sinuses so they can breathe easier. Our baby slept in his bouncer while he had a cold. Some vibrate and play tunes…if yours does, get rechargeable batteries so that you don’t get caught out at 3am.
- A glider/la-z-boy is GREAT if/once you have a separate nursery. The idea is to be able to nurse comfortably on the chair, then put the baby back in the crib. I just use an office-style ergonomic chair, and put my feet on a smaller chair, and it works fine. Be careful not to fall asleep with the baby in your arms while in the chair! (or get a chair which you think would be safe in that situation)
- Changing table, or a dresser with a changer on top. The height is important as it will save your back. Have all the “stuff” within reach, so you can keep one hand on the baby at all times. They can be really wriggly! The soft changing mats with contoured sides help to keep the baby in place. The expensive covers are unnecessary –we have a stack of cheap plain white (bleachable!) towels. We used up to 5 per day for the first few months, as there were so many leaks! The towels come in handy for so many things (next to changing table for when our baby pees while being changed, rolled up in a C-shape to support his head while he’s sleeping, as a nursing cover, as a baby towel, under his highchair etc).
- Wipes can be disposable (I recommend Costco Kirkland wipes as they’re gentle) or washable pieces of cloth. Some people just wash the diaper area under the tap after each change. It’s your call.
- It’s handy to have a bag of things ready by the door, so you can grab it and go out. I used a big beach tote I already had, but there are special diaper bags available. Mine doesn’t clip onto the stroller handles, but I put it in the basket underneath. Less of a tipping hazard in my opinion. It contains about 10 diapers, a pack of wipes, white towel to lay our baby down on, nursing cover, and a few outfit changes each in a ziplock bag (you can put the dirty outfit into the ziplock bag and it prevents smells/leakage).
- Babies can’t use sunscreen until 6 months, so no point in getting any. I used a sun hat and huge umbrella as a shield, and avoided 10am-4pm sun.
- We were told not to bathe our baby for a week, just give sponge baths instead. After that, we used a large sink in the laundry room. Line the sink with a towel, put in a capful of baby wash, put our baby in the warm water (test with your elbow and wrist for temp), then cover him with another towel to keep him warm. He LOVES his baths! It’s great to build in a daily bath as part of bedtime ritual, if you baby likes them. You can get special tubs for babies if you think you need one. Burt’s Bees do nice baby bath and it’s all natural.
- For cribs, the recommendation is to get a tight-fitting mattress, and covers which are elasticated the whole way around so that they stay in place better. Bumpers are a suffocation hazard unless they’re mesh. If you get a second hand crib, watch out for slat spacing and drop sides, which were both regulated on quite recently.
- Pacifiers. We didn’t get any at the hospital, and they recommended not giving our baby one until after month. So, I was a human pacifier. Big ouch! I recommend getting a pacifier and not opening it unless you need it. If your baby is just sucking for comfort and not swallowing, use it! (see this for hints about whether baby is tired or hungry…it was and still is hard for me to tell the difference. I have to think where he is at in his routine). There are lots of pacifiers, the easiest was the plain green one-piece one with a hole for your finger, so you can wiggle your finger in the baby’s mouth (which helped get our baby interested). Mam pacifiers are nice because you can hold your baby right to your chest without a piece of pacifier digging into you.
- If you want professional photos, arrange it now. At the time it was a pain, but now I am so glad we had photos at 2 weeks and 2 months.
- A car seat canopy. I just drape one of our baby swaddle blankets over the car seat, but you can get an actual canopy which attached to the handle and looks tidier.
- For some reason, it seems people don’t like talking about birth. It is an AMAZING experience, but very intense. Meaning intense excitement, intense pain, intense joy, intense everything. Just intense. My hormones were all over the place, and I cried for no particular reason every now and then for about a week. Just watching the news was too much to bear. It was very odd, but bothered my husband more than it bothered me.
- Don’t worry if you vomit or get diarrhea, it’s not unusual and is not something to panic about. It’s the body’s way of creating space for the baby.
- Birth can be VERY painful (some people have a dream birth though, hope you’re one of them!). I’m very glad that I lined up an epidural, because even though I didn’t take it, it helped mentally to know that there was a plan B for pain management. Don’t worry about stitches, I didn’t even feel them even though I didn’t take any medication, as the oxytocin had kicked in! I had tears which I didn’t even feel, as they had completely healed within a couple of weeks (whereas the hemorrhoids took a month to not hurt like hell every time I moved! 6 months later and I’m finally okay again…THANK YOU CITRUCEL POWDER!)
- Do lots of squats while you’re pregnant. If you’re planning a natural birth, do some more! The breathing practice and birth classes were a waste of time…I think I swore my way through the whole birth! Squats helped dispel the pain of contractions, and made it easier to get back into shape after the birth. A warm bath also eased my contractions and felt absolutely wonderful, and the occasional popsicle provided a nice distraction from the pain.
- Know that you have some control over what happens during birth. Talk to your partner about your birth plan. Even though it almost certainly won’t turn out that way, at least he will know what you want. I was in so much pain that I was unable to think, never mind speak. My husband was 100% my advocate and I was so glad we were on the same page about what we wanted. Of course if the doctors need to take over, that’s a different story.
- After delivery they will offer a stool softener. Take a couple! (if they don’t offer one, ask for it) Bring the bottle home and take them until you know you don’t need them. They don’t interfere with breastfeeding at all.
- They have lots of cool gear in the hospital room. If they let you, bring everything you can home. The little sachets of Vaseline or aquaphor are great for the first week, as baby poo starts out like tar, and it’s much easier to clean if the bottom has a bit of cream on. (it’s sponge baths only, until the umbilical cord clamp and circumcision have healed). There are a few weeks of bleeding after giving birth (you not the baby!), so you will use those nasty looking mesh panties the hospital provides. I took about 5 pairs home, and they came out intact from the washing machine. It was a pleasure to eventually throw them out! The mattress-sized sanitary pads are awesome too. Ditto the cup which you use to pour warm water while you pee. (sorry for the detail).
- Before going home, call in a prescription for a hospital-grade rental pump (usually covered by insurance), and if your nipples are already a bit sore ask for All Purpose Nipple Ointment. The ointment is a combination of antibiotic, steroid, and anti-fungal agents that will treat a mild infection.
- Make use of the nurses and doctors; if you have any questions, ask them. They will show you how to swaddle, breastfeed, breastfeed lying down, change a diaper, etc.
First few weeks
Babies start out on a 2 hour cycle which looks something like:
- 25 minutes – feed on one side
- 5 minutes – diaper change
- 25 minutes – feed on other side
- 40 minutes – sleep
- 25 minutes – awake and alert
- Your baby NEEDS to eat every 4 hours, so if they sleep too long, the advice is to wake them up for the feed.
- Have just one thing that you want to get done each day, even if it’s as simple as taking a shower or going for a walk around your block. Showers will feel wonderful, so try to have one every day if you can. Watch out for water streams and towels, they can sting sensitive skin.
- After the first 10 days, if you can, outsource for a few hours per day so that you can sleep. 4 hours of consecutive sleep will feel amazing, if you can get it. I got by for 2 months on adrenaline, then crashed. 4 hours of sleep was enough to recharge for another few weeks. Wait 10 days so that your milk supply isn’t diminished by not feeding often enough.
- Every baby is different, and there are very few things that are absolutely right or wrong. For that reason, no textbook is certain to help you (although for us, Tracy Hogg’s the baby whisperer was AWESOME and our baby was finally on a routine at 4 months despite being a very strong-minded individual!). I highly recommend joining a new moms group to exchange ideas with other moms about things that help, and to just vent if necessary. I joined a free one at our hospital, but there are others like PEPS, La Leche League etc. Try to find one now, and figure out when/where they take place, so you can just go once you’re ready. If people aren’t all that friendly, suggest all grabbing a coffee together after class. That’s what someone in my class did, and over coffee was when we actually became friends. (don’t actually drink coffee while holding the baby, spills cause scars!).
- Once you’re ready (for me it was after the first month), a few visitors are awesome, especially if they bring nutritious food and can hold your baby while you sleep for an hour. Staying in your pajamas is a nice way to hint that you don’t want them to stay for very long. Try to limit children visitors, as they tend to carry germs from school/daycare.
- Keep your smartphone and charger close to hand. Welcome to one-handed life!
- Wrist strain is quite common after a few months of holding a baby. Make sure to sleep with your wrists straight (hands in line with your lower arm), that way at least they are getting a bit of a break.
- I set up a little station on either side of my bed, each had a large water bottle, soft light, and device. Phone one side and surface on the other. Whichever side our baby was nursing on, I could get those things with the free hand. Trying to reach around with one hand, while propped up on pillows and holding a fragile-looking newborn was thus happily avoided.
- Some people have no problem with breastfeeding, but I found it very painful and was one feed away from giving up on so many occasions. It took a couple of months for it not to hurt, but was absolutely worth it. I’d recommend sticking with it for as long as you can. It’s so easy to get around and about without having to worry about carrying and mixing formula, washing and sterilizing bottles, etc. Plus it’s healthy for new mothers and is a great way to bond with the baby and get to know him or her. It does feel weird, but is actually pleasant once you get used to it. I love feeding our baby now, and I never thought that would happen!
- Watch these videos as many times as you need, and practice with a teddy bear! http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/FeedingChecklist.html. There are lots of books too.
- There are some great support groups if/when things go wrong, like La Leche League, lactation consultants, etc. Lactation consultants were covered 100% by insurance. There are some great ones and some not to good. Try to get a recommendation now or while you’re in the hospital, and keep the number somewhere easy to find.
- Breastfeeding is supply and demand. If you have to give formula, make sure to pump so that you keep up your milk. There are all sorts of ways to improve production, let me know if/when you need to know more. Hopefully it won’t be an issue.
- If you’re planning to freeze your milk, you will need storage bags. Lansinoh ones have been great.
- A hands-free bra means that you can pump both sides at once, and have use of your hands. It’s difficult to hold a baby, but typing etc are fine. You can buy a special bra, but I just got an old sports bra and cut a small hole in either side, for the pumping attachments to go. It’s working great.
- Pumps use a nipple shield, which is a plastic cone that looks like something out of a sci fi movie (or Austin Powers’ fembots). If you’re at all uncomfortable, it’s worth getting sized to make sure you’re using the right fit (none of your actual nipple should get into the tube) and using a bit of olive oil to reduce friction.
- Take pictures and videos while your baby is young! When you’re pumping at work, it helps to have baby pictures to look at, as it encourages milk flow.
It really does get easier with every passing day/week/month. If it all gets too much, take each day or hour at a time, and remember the first 40 days are the hardest, or as my family told me, the first 40 years!