Brooke’s Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a New Parent

Alright, I’m not going to pretend to be any sort of expert here, as Sadie is a mere four and a half months old.  But I was recently asked by an old friend who is currently pregnant if I had any “tips.”  At first, I was just going to email her back, but then I thought it might make a good blog post, because there are a good handful of soon-to-be new moms that I know, and maybe there’s a take-away here for at least a couple of them…  I got a list like this from my friend, Amy, and some of her words of wisdom really helped me.  And I know much of this won’t be original advice, it’s just stuff that’s worked for our family.  So here goes.

Before the baby is born:

  • Enjoy these last few months/weeks/days with your partner.  It could be a long time before you do anything as quaint as go on a date (and then, it might consist of Wendy’s and Harry Potter).
  • If you can afford it, have your home professionally cleaned at least once before your due date (not too far out, mind you).  We did this, and it was really nice, though the squeaky clean feeling wears off faster if you have pets.
  • Unless you have a husband or partner who is super into it, don’t make attendance at your baby showers mandatory.  Trevor was very relieved not to have to attend any, that’s for sure.
  • Begin organizing your baby’s clothes as soon as you get them washed.  Have a spot for only those clothes that will fit at the time, a spot for the clothes that are about to fit, and some storage for the clothes that won’t fit for a while and for those that have been outgrown but that you want to keep.
  • If you plan on doing it at all, start reading books about babies and parenting now, while you can still stay awake long enough to make it through a chapter.  I didn’t do this, and I’m still playing catch-up.
  • Make room in your freezer.  If you’ve got friends and family, you’re likely to be the recipient of frozen meals.  Accept them, appreciate them, make room for them.  You could eat as long as your baby’s first month off of the frozen goodness of others.
  • Consider a childbirth class, especially if you’re planning on giving birth naturally.  Sure, your body knows what it’s doing, but it really helps to know what your body IS doing along the way.  Also, consider hiring a doula.

Labor/Delivery:

  • Have a plan.  Whatever kind fits for your family, just have a plan.
  • Know your options.  If you don’t know them, you don’t have them.
  • Be prepared to deviate from your plan, if need be.

The first week or two:

  • Take it easy.  Don’t plan many, if any outings.  Enjoy the time with your new family in your nest.
  • Let someone else worry about the housekeeping.  Your job is to figure out how to keep this baby happy, healthy, and alive.  It’s a big job, and it’s hard (but rewarding!).
  • If someone offers to hold your baby so you can shower, nap, brush your teeth: let them.  These offers may be few and far between, so take them when you can.  It’s so easy to say, “No, no, I’m fine,” but then you’ll just end up stinky, tired, and with cavities.
  • If you have a friend who is good at photography, have him or her come take pictures of your newborn.  You’ll put your baby down so infrequently, it’ll be hard for you to find the opportunity to pick up a camera yourself for a while.

Diapering:

  • Cloth diapering is easier than you think.  It’s not for everybody, sure, but it’s definitely not that hard to pull off.
  • Here is a list of the stuff we assembled before Sadie was born.
  • And here is another post I wrote on cloth diapering a couple of months ago.  Since then, we’ve acquired six gDiapers, which we use with either bumGenius inserts or prefolds (instead of their disposable inserts).  I love the gDiapers as a cover for cloth.  The size range is outstanding–the mediums are good for 13-28 pounds!
  • If you do decide to go with cloth: use disposables for the first week or so, until your baby’s poop no longer contains meconium.  That stuff is like tar, and I’ve heard it will wreck cloth diapers.
  • Also, it’s a good idea to let folks know that you’re going to be using cloth diapers before any baby showers.  A) otherwise, you could end up with a ton of disposables (it’s good to have some on hand, but we’ve had to give away most of ours as Sadie is passing up the sizes quickly); B) if you can get a bunch as gifts, you will save A TON of money on diapering overall.  Cloth diapering is by far cheaper over the diapering life of your baby, and even more so if you have a second baby.
  • Oh, and it’s super confusing trying to figure out what detergent to use.  There’s a lot of conflicting advice on the internet.  Just try to find the “purest” kind you can and see what works for your machine and your diapers.
  • A baby with sensitive skin will still sometimes get an irritated booty, even in cloth diapers.  We use a natural salve made with calendula flowers, olive oil, vitamin E, and beeswax.  It works wonders.  More conventional diaper creams can be bad for your diapers.
  • If you’re going to be cloth diapering, you  might as well use cloth wipes, too.  They’re just as easy.

Sleeping:

  • Trevor’s one piece of advice: be prepared to be exhausted the first few weeks.  Eventually you’ll get used to running on less sleep.
  • Try to sleep when your baby sleeps.  This was super hard for me at first–I always wanted to get stuff done when she was napping in her crib.  Lately I’ve been accomplishing this, though, because I’ve accidentally taught Sadie that the best way to nap is with my boob in her mouth.  So now I’m stuck on the couch with her when she naps.  Not good for the productivity level, but certainly good for the rest level.  And I’m sure she’ll outgrow doing this, as this is her fifth or so sleeping arrangement at nap time.
  • If you’re breastfeeding, unless you’ve got a miracle baby, or unless you’re sleep training your baby, just be prepared to wake up several times a night to nurse your baby.
  • Know that IT WILL GET BETTER.  For the first six weeks or so, every time Sadie would wake up to nurse, she’d also poop in her diaper.  Trevor would get up and change her diaper every time, and then one of us would spend about 30 minutes to an hour trying to get her back to sleep.  Once she quit pooping during her night time feedings, it was like a miracle.  We now put her in her “night time” diaper (a doubled-up bumGenius) at about 7:30; Trevor puts her to sleep and in her crib by about 9; then, every time she starts to wake up (two to four times a night), I get her out of her crib, nurse her, and put her back in her crib without her fully waking up.  Sure, she’s still waking up a good bit, but it’s MUCH less energy-intensive than it was at first.  Your night may end up looking totally different from this, but I really think that once your baby isn’t requiring frequent night time diaper changes, your life will get a little easier.
  • Know that every baby is different.  What I described above is how things work for us.  There are many different sleeping arrangements available to you.  We chose to have Sadie’s crib in our bedroom.  That facilitates the easiest nights we can have for now.  I have a friend, though, whose baby is a very noisy sleeper, and it’s difficult to tell if he’s waking up to nurse or just being noisy.  They’ve got their baby in another room, because they needed him to be able to really let them know that he was actually needing to nurse.
  • A LOT of people are going to ask you if your baby is “sleeping through the night.”  If you tell them no, be prepared for lots of sympathy and lots of advice on how to make it happen.  If you’re tired of this advice, just lie.  You’ll know if you and your baby are getting enough rest (and nourishment).  Don’t worry so much about meeting the expectations of others when it comes to how “well” your baby sleeps.

Breastfeeding:

  • Unlike our mothers’ generation, there is a great deal more support out there for breastfeeding.  Take advantage of lactation consultants, either through your hospital or a local group.  It’s instinctual for babies, but moms (especially in our culture where we almost never see a breastfeeding baby up close until it’s our own) have to learn how to do it.
  • Discomfort in the beginning is normal.  Persistent pain is not.
  • Start practicing side-lying breastfeeding early on.  The sooner you master this, the sooner  you can lie on your couch all day breastfeeding your baby without getting up.  I’m sort of kidding on the all day thing.  But I seriously almost never breastfeed sitting up when we’re home…
  • You’re going to be super hungry and thirsty when you’re breastfeeding.  It’s like the first trimester all over again in terms of the constant eating (if you’re like me).  Keep snacks and water on hand.
  • Nursing tops that pull down at the neckline are no good for breastfeeding in public unless you use a cover.  I wasted some money on a top like that.
  • Some women choose to use a cover in public, some don’t.  I thought I would and I got one, but I’ve since passed it on.  I don’t think one way is better than the other, I just didn’t want to mess with it.
  • Yes, you do need breast pads.  Because, yes, you will leak milk.  Dark, patterned shirts show less leakage (though more spit-up, so weigh your options).

For Dads/Partners:

  • Remember that you helped make your baby, so now you’ve got to help figure out how to take care of your baby.
  • Just because you aren’t lactating and can’t breastfeed your baby, you can still nurse your baby.  There are many ways to nurse a baby, and only one of them requires boobs.  In fact, everything in this post applies to you, unless it has to do with boobs.
  • Okay, here’s a boob one for you–don’t act like you’re milking the mama’s boobs.  It’s not as cute or funny as you think.
  • Learn tricks early on to soothe the baby in your own way–that way your baby has two people she can turn to when she’s upset.
  • If it’s your turn to calm the baby down or put the baby to sleep, keep your cool.  Your baby isn’t trying to annoy you, and he’s not trying to make it personal.  He’s just tired and needs your help getting to sleep.

The gear:

  • There is a crapton of baby gear out there.  Always keep in mind several things when considering a purchase: 1. Do we have room for this? 2. How long will our baby use this?  3. Could we borrow this from someone else at first to see if our baby even likes it?
  • Aside from clothes and diapers, the next biggest material need of a baby is blankets.  Be sure you’ve got a good handful of receiving blankets.  And nab a few from the hospital (those are good ones, and we’re sorry we only took one and promptly lost it).
  • There are a number of items we have been really glad to have.  1. A nursing pillow (but beware of Boppy Dependency–I’m kidding on this one).  I still use mine for the middle of the night feedings, and it was sooo helpful for keeping Sadie’s weight off of my c-section incision.  2. The Bumbo seat!  Sadie was sitting in hers by six weeks, so we’ve gotten a ton of use out of it.  We’ve not used the play tray for it so much, though.  3. A ring sling.  Aside from when you’re hiking or jogging, this is possibly THE BEST way to haul your baby around–much easier than schlepping that huge car seat around.  4. A sound machine.  There are a lot of options out there for this one.  We started with a teddy bear that hangs on the crib and makes womb sounds.  It’s good for blocking out noises during nap times.  But it’s the sound of RAIN that really calms Sadie down and actually helps her get to sleep.  I discovered this with an app on my iPhone.  Then we were given a Sleep Sheep To-Go, which is great for the car seat.  And recently I got a machine that plays a lot of different sounds (including rain, of course), but that PLUGS IN–that was the best idea ever, since we were blowing through batteries and wearing out my phone.  5. Dogs and cats.  I’m so not kidding on this one.  Our pets have provided countless hours of entertainment and comfort for Sadie.  I’m pretty sure the first time she laughed was at our two dogs.  Of course, one can raise a baby without any of these things, but they sure have made our lives a touch easier so far.
  • Consider items that multi-task.  If you don’t have the space or the cash for both a swing and a vibrating chair, check into swings that also vibrate.  There’s no rule that says your baby always has to swing in the swing.
  • There are, of course, a number of items that you can definitely get by without.  I think the little bath tub things are a take-it-or-leave-it piece of gear.  Sadie took her first bath in one, and hated it (probably had more to do with the water being cold).  So I started taking baths with her.  She’s not complained during a single one, and it takes no more time to do it this way than it did getting the little tub ready (though, admittedly, more water).  With the help of the Bumbo, I can manage to give her a bath by  myself.

Miscellaneous:

  • Patience and perspective are your two best friends during stressful times.  Your baby does not have the mental capacity to manipulate you or to torture you on purpose.
  • Learn to swaddle!  Whether with a receiving blanket or a special swaddling blanket, learn it.  Many of the nurses at the hospital are good at it and will teach you if you ask.  Some babies resist at first, but it is an incredible way to calm a baby and help him sleep.
  • Babies change amazingly rapidly.  One day your baby can’t roll off the bed, and the next day she can.  Watch out.
  • If you think you might have Postpartum Depression (or anything resembling it that makes it harder to take care of yourself or your baby), get help.

I feel like I must be leaving obvious stuff out, but I think that’s a pretty good start!

Are you a new parent, or an experienced one?  Help me add to this list!

Are you an expectant parent?  What else might you want tips on?

11 thoughts on “Brooke’s Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a New Parent

  1. Lindsey

    I am not a new, experienced or expecting parent (someday!) but I enjoyed this post – I like hearing what REAL people have to say about their experience having a baby. I especially loved these little gems:

    1) If you’re tired of this advice, just lie.

    2) Your baby does not have the mental capacity to manipulate you or to torture you on purpose.

    I’ve been reading for a bit now (linked from casadekaloi) and I’m happy for you that you’ve found ways that work for you.

    Your daughter is adorable – I love the pics of her laughing with the kitty 🙂

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      Thanks, Lindsey! And thank you for commenting–always glad to find out who is reading the ol’ blog.

      Reply
  2. Elizabeth Spann

    WOW, Brooke. This was an awesome post- and time consuming as well, I’m sure! Thanks for all the advice. As a hopefully-one-day parent, this is really helpful. It’s nice to have someone be so honest about these issues that all new parents face! 😉 Love ya.

    Reply
  3. melissa

    dude, you could write a book, and i would read it! someday when i have a child, i will lay on the couch and side-feed the baby from my boobies (or whatever that’s called) and i will remember to send someone out for breast pads. 🙂

    Reply
  4. eve

    Excellent advice Brooke. I am especially interested in the baby gear section. It seems like there is so much you ‘have to have.’ It is refreshing to know that it is not really all mandatory or necessary! I love having friends with parenting experience to share. I can’t think of a thing you left of this list! It was great to see you and yours last night. I really enjoyed my time holding sweet Sadie. You sure have a darling baby.

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      It was great to see you and Colin last night, too! We need to get him around Sadie when she’s in one of her fabulously darling moods, so she can charm the heck out of him!

      Reply
  5. Sam

    THANK YOU THANK YOU for my post!! (i’m sure it’s not just mine but I’m claiming it!!!) I loved it… printed it, and promptly made Mike read it! We are taking the cloth diapers section with us to Cotton Babies (yeah we are lucky because the store is actually here in St. Louis) so we don’t forget what to buy! And I love the Bumbo seat bath idea!!!!!

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      Oh, I’m so glad you liked it and found it useful! I’m really excited for you guys, and I hope I get to see your little one before he or she gets too old. How lucky that Cotton Babies is in STL!

      Reply

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