I’ve had more than one occasion where a friend or acquaintance has announced her mom-to-be status, and has welcomed any advice I might have. When I was a new mom-to-be, I found a lot of that sort of advice that was given to me to be invaluable — especially the things that might have taken me a while to work out for myself.
I had contemplated just emailing this to the person I’m directing the advice to this time around, but then I thought, why not just put it out there for anyone who might find it useful? Plus, I can direct other new moms to it in years to come, when my memories of those early months fade with time (which I never thought would happen, but it’s starting already).
First, a bit of a disclaimer, or sort of non-specific meta-advice:
No one’s child is exactly like yours. You can read up on what to expect, you can listen to all the advice everyone gives you, you can try to internalize it as well as you can — but at the end of the day, your child is a unique snowflake who may or may not love to be swaddled, or who may or may not care about being too hot or too cold, or who may or may not fall asleep during car rides.
Corollary to the above: Take any blanket statements about parenting with a grain of salt. Yes, including what I have to say. You as a parent will learn what works for you and your child — breastmilk or formula, crib or bassinet or co-sleeper, cry-it-out or patience-stretching or no sleep training at all — and others have very little right to be judgmental of your parenting decisions (especially without knowing your situation).
Now, on to the more specific stuff.
A birth plan is a good thing to have. However, I know more parents whose birth plans went out the window due to extenuating circumstances than ones whose plan went without a hitch. Be prepared for curveballs. For instance, even though I’d planned a natural, unmedicated birth, I was glad I knew a little about C-sections and epidurals/spinals when my son tried coming out breech.
Pack your hospital bag early. Like, a month early. My son came three weeks early, my co-worker’s came two weeks early (same weekend, same hospital), and neither of us were really prepared to be admitted.
There are lots of resources to tell you what to pack in your hospital bag. As for me, I didn’t read any of the magazines I brought, and I actually didn’t mind the hospital nursing gowns, so I wasn’t upset to have friends and family see me in them instead of something fancier. Considering that your phone is probably also your camera, don’t forget to pack your charger. Also, Connor was much tinier than we’d expected, so bringing a few different sizes of going-home outfits for your child might be prudent.
Take everything from the hospital room that isn’t nailed down. I’m not kidding. Take the burp cloths, the bed protector, the diapers, the baby blankets, the mucus sucker bulb thingie (aspirator, yes, I know), the baby t-shirts, the maxi pads (OMG, the gloriously absorbent hospital maxi pads), lanolin cream for your nipples (ask for more of that, just in case — no need to buy any), formula samples, and anything else you might possibly be able to use at home. Having so many blankets around was helpful for swaddling, since babies leak and puke and generally make lots of laundry. And three years later, we’re still using the hospital burp cloths — or, as they’re called at our house, hankie-dudes (as in, “Do you need a hankie, dude?”).
Baby will need a place to hang out in your living space. The Pack-N-Play with the bassinet and changing station came in super handy, even in the tiny house we lived in. It’s a pain to either get on the floor with a foldable changing pad or drag Junior upstairs for every diaper change.
Read Dr. Harvey Karp’s book, The Happiest Baby on the Block — or, better yet, watch the DVD. The 5 S’s will set you free. My husband swaddled, swung, and shushed our son (what we used to call “Karping”) in front of family and friends at two weeks, and everyone was amazed at how our son instantly calmed down.
Not all kids like or need all 5 S’s. Connor didn’t always need to suck to be calm; we never could get him to take a pacifier, even when we wished he would. On the other hand, just one or two S’s might not do it, so don’t assume that crying when swaddled = this doesn’t work for my kid. Jiggle (“swing”) Junior, use white noise (“shush”), and basically go all out until you figure out what works for you.
When you swaddle, make sure Baby’s arms are straight and down at his/her sides, and don’t be afraid to swaddle tightly. It makes them feel safe and snug. Connor loved the tight swaddles — he’d get out of a loose swaddle like a Baby Houdini, and would smack himself in the head while he was asleep and startle himself awake.
We didn’t think we’d need a swing… until we did. We figured we’d just use the bouncy seat, not realizing that the bouncy seat would only be viable once Connor could hold his head up on his own. The swing is not a babysitter by any means, but it is helpful to free up your hands for a while (assuming you’re not wearing Baby). We used the swing for naps until Connor was too big to safely fit in the swing anymore. (Yes, some experts say your child should not regularly sleep in a swing, bouncy seat, carseat, etc. However, little bitty babies fall asleep just about anywhere, and it’s not always prudent to move them for fear of waking them. Just sayin’. Of course, I am not a medical professional.)
The bathtub rubber ducky thermometer will always say HOT, even in lukewarm water. It’s a farce. Start at tepid, then use your own judgement. Baby will let you know unequivocally if the bathwater is not at the desired temperature. Connor needed a towel or washcloth behind his back, so he wasn’t leaning up against the plastic baby bathtub, otherwise he screamed and hated life. (Mad props to Grammy for suggesting that trick.)
They’re more expensive than regular crib sheets, but we adored our zipper sheets. They were recommended to us by a friend — she actually wrote me a nice long baby advice e-mail while I was pregnant (which, of course, I’m riffing off of here), and the zipper sheets were one of the best bits I got out of that advice. When Junior spits up foul-smelling chunkage at 3am, you’re going to want to be able to just zip out the nasty sheet and zip in a new one. Much better than having to wrestle with a mattress, then the baby, then the laundry.
There’s plenty more I have to offer, but that can wait for Part Two. The act of writing and remembering all this has jogged several memories of what those early weeks and months were like, so hopefully I can come up with some more first-hand advice and suggestions to make your life a little less… freakout-prone, I guess?
Yeah. Also? Take the stool softeners that come with your pain meds. I’M JUST SAYIN’.