Disclaimer: This is one of those “This is what works for my family” type articles. We have only one child. All children are different. These are some ideas that have been useful to us that we hope will be helpful to other parents.
My favorite online source of information about all things child-related is Mothering Magazine’s huge array of free discussion boards.
I absolutely loved the Maya Wrap sling carrier! (Daniel liked it too when Nicholas was small, but for a bigger baby it works best on a parent with projecting hips!) We used it every day from 1-21 months old. It is very adjustable and versatile for carrying the baby in various positions. I was so happy with it that I didn’t try many other carriers, but www.thebabywearer.com has lots of information about what’s available, tips for use, and ways to meet local “baby wearers” to try different carriers. Here’s a nice article about the advantages of “wearing” your baby.
If you’re pregnant in the winter and your coat doesn’t close over your tummy, look for a plus-size coat in a thrift store. After the baby’s born, the coat will fit around the baby riding in any type of carrier that holds the baby on your chest.
We were very happy with cloth diapers. In particular, we liked Mother-Ease one-size-fits-all diapers, which use snaps to fit babies from newborn to toilet training. (Although they do fit on a full-term newborn, they’re very bulky, so we also bought newborn-size fitted diapers and made a gradual transition to the one-size diapers when Nick was about 5 months old.) Mother-Ease diaper covers also are pretty good, but even better and far less expensive are the Dappi pull-on nylon covers sold on many sites. Cloth diapers are now available in a dazzling array of styles and brands! www.diaperpin.com has product reviews and tips for use.
The breastfeeding organization La Leche League has chapters all over the world. You can attend meetings and/or consult with Leaders without joining, but if you join you get their very pleasant and inspiring magazine.
We took Bradley Method childbirth preparation classes and were very happy with the amount of useful stuff we learned…unlike the hospital class that was just the most basic information presented very slowly and annoyingly! I liked the way Bradley taught us many different techniques instead of just Lamaze breathing, which I did not find useful during birth. (It’s really good when you desperately need to use the bathroom but have to wait, though!)
Circumcision is not medically necessary. If you’re leaning toward having it done for cultural or cosmetic reasons, please, at least read up on it and make an informed decision.
These are some books I particularly like:
The Pregnancy Book and The Baby Book by William & Martha Sears
Active Birth by Janet Balaskas
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff (not a parenting book but a general philosophy with applications to parenting, particularly of newborns)
How Children Learn by John Holt
Adventures in Gentle Discipline by Hilary Flower
Watch the video “The Happiest Baby on the Block” for excellent tips on soothing a newborn. Make sure you have several swaddling blankets: 36″x36″ flannel or terry.
Buy just one nursing bra in advance, because you might change size after the birth. Keep the tag/package so you can send somebody to the store to buy more of the same or a different size after you know what you need and whether or not you like the style.
Get lots of gowns for baby to wear around the house. They make diaper changes really easy.
Get a bunch of small, cheap washcloths, or cut some terry or flannel into 6″ squares and hem them. Put them in all pockets and strategic locations around the house for wiping noses, spit-up, and the things you spill while holding a wriggling baby!
Avoid buying a crib, stroller, or highchair until you are sure that you need them. You may have a baby who likes to co-sleep. You may prefer a sling or other baby carrier to stroller madness. You may enjoy holding your baby on your lap during meals until he/she is old enough to kneel on a regular chair. At any rate, you’re not going to need any of these things immediately after birth, so wait and see if somebody offers you a used one!
Here’s my best labor tip that I’ve never seen publicized: The father should get a big book of cartoons that the mother will like, and hide it until she’s in labor. Cartoons are ideal for a short attention span, and humor helps you relax!
Think of childbirth as an extreme sport: You are training for it, like a marathon. If you feel too tired to exercise, put on some peppy music and stretch for just one song. I’m particularly glad I did a lot of thigh exercises and pelvic rocking. I had no pain medication and wasn’t really tempted to ask for it. Honestly, I have had worse headaches! (I’ve had a lot of really horrible headaches, and that was good practice for labor. Not only am I accustomed to surviving brutal pain, but I’m accustomed to a peak–unrelenting pain so intense I can’t focus on anything and sometimes lose the ability to speak–that lasts 20 minutes to an hour. Each labor contraction peaks for less than one minute. No big deal!) No matter how bad it gets, remember that by this time tomorrow it will be over.
Make a little “file” in your mind of images, songs, and quotes that seem like they might be helpful to you during labor. Go over them in your idle moments. Then they’ll be likely to pop up just when you need them. For example, in my last trimester I saw an episode of “The Simpsons” in which Flanders tries to vanquish a sinful thought by yanking his mustache and shouting, “Pain is the cleanser!!!” I “filed” that and managed to think of it when the baby’s head was crowning.
Have your favorite flavor of mouthwash handy in case you throw up during labor. You will want to get the taste out of your mouth to take the queasy feeling away, but you may not have the time or coordination to go brush your teeth.
If you get stitches, make sure to take home the “peri bottle” for cleaning them. Most drugstores do not sell those, and it’s far easier to use one than to take a sitz bath.
If you give birth in a hospital, don’t let your baby stay in the nursery. They do not take good care of babies there; they just line ’em up and let ’em scream. Resist nurses who want to take the baby “so you can get some rest”; you can rest just fine while baby rests next to you or on your chest.
One thing nobody told me while I was pregnant that turned out to be important is that when a mother has Type O blood and her baby has another type, the baby is very likely to develop jaundice. If you have Type O blood but your baby’s father doesn’t, read up on jaundice and be prepared to make treatment decisions. One available treatment is the bili (pronounced “billy”) blanket, a flexible light panel placed against baby’s back and connected to a machine by a cord so that you can hold the baby and move around in a 5-foot radius and nurse a lot (which is good for jaundice). Nicholas was so jaundiced that the doctors insisted on 24 hours in Neonatal Intensive Care (using stronger blue lights from more directions) where I was allowed to hold him only at strictly scheduled feeding times, and when his bilirubin level came down enough to switch to the bili blanket, he couldn’t get enough cuddling! It took him about 24 hours to recover from the stress of being isolated. I don’t think we would have made different treatment choices if we’d had more information, but it would have been comforting to feel like we knew it was being done right.
Try not to freak out if your nipples get really, really sore and chapped at first. This will pass very quickly as your skin adjusts to the saliva. Use a lanolin cream after every feeding. Take ibuprofen and deep breaths.
If you find that in the first few minutes your baby is nursing, you suddenly feel sad, panicked, or angry, read about Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. I didn’t have this myself, but after reading about it I want to make sure that mothers who do experience this strange phenomenon know that they are not alone and not doing something wrong!
Assume baby will want to be within 5 feet of another person at all times. It’s only natural to be alarmed if you’re an 8-pound helpless person and you find yourself alone—BEARS could get you!!! Give baby a couple of months to learn that there are no bears in your home (except teddy bears) and meanwhile carry baby around the house with you, and have someone else hang out with him/her when you need a break.
Enjoy television and videos while baby is tiny and will ignore them, nursing or sleeping in your lap. Children under 2 should not watch any TV, so once baby takes an interest in the screen you won’t get to watch much for quite a while!
As the mother of a newborn, you are likely to feel overwhelmed in the first month, no matter how much help you have, because you’re the only one who can feed this ravenous clinging creature who always seems to scream for milk just as you were about to do something for yourself! Your suffering will seem obvious, but a sleep-deprived father is not a very observant person, so try to ask for what you need even if it seems silly, like asking him to feed you a few bites of food when you’re having to nurse just as dinner’s ready. (You’ll probably need to hold the nursing baby with both hands at least until he/she can support his/her own head.)
Keep some healthy snacks and a glass of water in the nursery. Being up during the night and making all that milk will make you very hungry and thirsty. I recommend granola bars, wheat gluten jerky (I know it sounds awful, but it’s great), and nuts.
Try a nursing camisole. There are some expensive ones out there, but the ones from Target are fine. They’re great as a tank top in summer or as an undershirt in winter; you can nurse without having a cold draft on your stomach.
Here is an honest, thorough article on having sex after giving birth. Many of the physical and emotional aspects change, and there are also practical effects of having a baby around all the time!
Consider taking a picture of your baby in the same place, with the same prop, on each of his/her month birthdays. We photographed Nicholas in the corner of the couch with a certain stuffed bunny every month for the first year and have done it every six months since. It’s a fun way to see how he’s grown! (Thanks to Kelsey & Mark for this idea!)
If you plan to return to work before the baby is weaned, check out my advice on breastfeeding while working outside the home.
Strategy for bathing a baby too young to sit up: Put infant seat on floor next to bathtub, facing away from faucet. Line seat with folded bath towel. Start filling tub with water at the temperature you like. Set out clean clothes and diaper. Take off baby’s clothes and diaper and put baby in seat with hand towel (or cloth diaper) tucked between legs and under bottom. Hang towel for drying baby within reach of tub. Take off your own clothes and get into tub. Talk to baby while you soak and wash yourself. Then bring baby into tub and set him/her in your lap. Lightly splash baby, gradually wetting more and more of the body, then wash. Put baby back into seat, pat with towel, then tuck towel around baby. Get out of tub, dry off, and put on robe. Dry baby more thoroughly and get him/her dressed.
Baby books are great, but in those harried first months you may not get around to writing things neatly on the correct page in that archival-quality book that you want to protect from drool! I hung a wall calendar in the nursery, kept a pen nearby, and jotted down milestones on the day they happened. It worked so well that I continued into the second year, noting each word the first time I heard him say it. These notes can be transcribed into the baby book later (said the mother of a three-year-old, planning to get around to this someday…).