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Mara writes: “After N, my first daughter, was born I put together a few resources for friends who were expecting. Over time I have sent this to lots of people who have seemed to find it useful. Of course each person deals with preparation for a baby in a different way as this is of the most personal of things, but I share this in the hopes that you might find something a bit helpful in the preparation for something for which is it impossible to be fully prepared. Welcome to the greatest adventure – parenthood.”
Here is her awesome advice!
In this article:
1. Newborn Advice: What to be prepared for in the first days home with the baby:
2. Annotated Shopping List: List of essentials to be prepared with before the baby comes
3. Books: Two books I found helpful about newborns that I recommend reading before the baby is born, since afterwards it’s really hard to find the time.
People talk a lot about the pregnancy and birth, but not a lot about what happens next. You have just gone through an amazing, but incredibly painful and potentially traumatic experience, are incredibly physically and emotionally tired and then are expected to care for this new being – a being who was just days or even hours ago inside of you. The whole thing is totally mind-blowing. This is an attempt to put some of the things I felt were helpful down in writing in an accessible way for friends about to give birth or having just given birth. While everything is new, it’s very personal and different for everyone and it’s impossible to be prepared, I hope to open the door to talking about the post-birth reality. I feel strongly that it should be something that women friends talk about and shouldn’t be taboo. This document is primarily practical advice which touches on that post-birth reality.
- Try to nap when your baby sleeps (everyone says this and it is hard to do, but try as much as possible).
- Say no to visitors if you don’t feel like it.
- Let other people help you. Give them permission to do what they see needs done around the house if you feel comfortable.
- You may bleed for 6-8 weeks and at the beginning you may have to change the pad every few hours. You may also have very large clots on your pad. That is normal. What is NOT normal is bleeding so much you have to change the pad every hour, or have a clot bigger then a golf ball – this could be postpartum hemorrhaging and needs immediate attention.
- Tell someone if you start to feel bad, unhappy, not yourself, etc. (These could be a sign of Post Partum Depression)
- Be selfish. In order to be a good mom (to take good care of your kids), you have to be good to yourself. For more information, see Park Slope Parents’ “Stressed Out Mom or PPD?”
- Get more advice from Park Slope Parents about managing the family - before, during, after giving birth >
- Have a lactation consultant’s number (or two) in advance of having the baby. That way you don’t have to scramble find one should you feel like you need it (at that point, trust me, you are very emotional and may want the lactation consultant to come immediately). See the list of Park Slope Parents reviewed consultants.
- It is rare that breastfeeding comes naturally to you OR your baby. Remember that you are both new at this and it takes time. And it can, especially at the beginning, hurt. And you are extra emotional. And you just want your baby to be satiated and not cry. All of that together can make it very difficult. Expect that reality and have a lactation consultant’s phone number on hand. It is very easy to damage your nipples quite quickly and really hard for them to heal. Use the lactation consultant’s number!
- Keep track of when you start each feeding. At the beginning the baby may need to eat as often as every 1 hour from the START of the last feeding. (There are apps for this)
- Keep track of which side you finished on as you will start with that side on the next feeding.
- 20 minutes per side per feeding is not uncommon
- Many babies fall asleep while nursing. In order to wake him/her up, make it a practice to do a diaper change in between sides. This will also help you to keep track of how often you do diaper changes and thus how much the baby is eating (wet diaper indicates successful eating.)
- You can also blow on the baby’s face or tickle his/her feet to get him/her going again if s/he falls asleep.
- Use Lanolin on your nipples after each feeding as needed.
- Wear breast pads to prevent leaking in bra.
- Your baby could develop a little callous on her lip from nursing. It will peel off and re-form a few times. Don’t pull it or pick at it. Just leave it alone.
- Begin pumping as early as possible
- This will help build up your supply
- This will provide milk for bottles if your nipples become cracked or too sore for nursing
- Extra breastmilk can be donated to the NY Milk Bank.
- The mechanics of breast feeding and bottle feeding are different. It is important to introduce a bottle in a specific window of time - not too early that the baby has nipple confusion and rejects the breast, but not too late that you have missed the opportunity and will have to work for weeks and weeks to get your baby to accept it. The recommendation is somewhere between 3-6 weeks (after nursing is established) is the perfect window.
- Read more Park Slope Parent member advice about breastfeeding >
- Use alcohol swabs on umbilical cord at every diaper change and keep it dry until it falls off.
- Beware of infected umbilical cord which is dangerous and is indicated by redness and odor.
- Consider using Desitin at every diaper change as a preventative measure. Some people only put it on in order to treat diaper rash, but it works so well as a preventative measure in keeping the delicate skin dry. There are lots of brands, I LOVE Desitin.
- Baby girls can experience minor vaginal bleeding or lactation from your hormones. Don’t be alarmed.
- New babies tend to peel (possibly their entire body) within the first two weeks.
- Baby acne is normal.
- Newborns are at a high risk for infection! Thus:
- Don’t be shy to ask people to wash their hands before they hold the baby
- Kids are always really excited to touch babies, but also tend to have so many germs. Tell them that they can massage the baby’s feet.
- Stay away from busy, crowded places (Oops, we took N to the open air market in Jerusalem – the shuk – at 2 weeks old! Bad idea).
- Many babies have their days and nights turned around at the beginning – sleeping their longer sleeps during the day as opposed to at night. This is normal and will end.
- Implement a bedtime routine from the very beginning including warm dimly-lit bath, baby massage, songs, swaddle. At the very beginning when the baby’s days and nights may be mixed up, this will help the baby make sense of the chaos and help them understand sleep signals.
- Swaddle the baby every night when you put him/her to bed. I love the SwaddleMe blanket by Summer Infant.
- Try to limit the amount of light you use for night time feedings and diaper changes.
- Great way to soothe/settle/put to sleep a baby is to stand and sway in a figure 8 motion.
- Use Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s for soothing a newborn: Swaddle, Sway, Shh, Sucking, Side position
- There is an instinct to want to keep the baby so warm, especially when s/he is sleeping by dressing him/her in many layers and a hat. Actually it is recommended to keep the baby’s room at 68 degrees Fahrenheit/ 20 degrees Celsius (which can feel chilly) and dress them in one more layer then you are comfortably wearing. Overheating is a cause of SIDS.
- Do not put anything in the crib (blankets, pillows, stuff animals, pads) – all are hazards until at least 6 months if not a year or more.
2. ANNOTATED SHOPPING LIST: NEWBORN ESSENTIALS
- Nursing bras both regular and sleep/sports - some people recommend getting fancy, expensive ones, but I was okay with the Target brand. Really important to get a few that you will be comfortable sleeping in. I would also avoid underwire.
- Nursing tanks - I loved the ones from Target and wore them under all of my clothes for 2 months. I found them much more comfortable then nursing bras at first when your breasts are so sore.
- Nursing breast pads
- Lanolin breast cream
- Stool softener pills – one of the scariest things post-birth is pooping. I know that sounds like too much personal information, but I feel like no one talks about these things and it is SO scary to have to “push” in the area that hurts SO much. Some doctors won’t discharge the mother from the hospital until she passes her first bowel movement. Stool softeners really help. You can ask the nurse at the hospital to give them to you or buy them over the counter at the drug store. Check with your doctor about taking any medications.
- Tucks medicated wipes/ soothing wipes, helps to keep the very sensitive area clean.
- Underwear ice packs - these can be hard to find but are many times provided to women who just gave birth in hospitals in the US. If you aren’t given any and can’t find them at a medical supplies store, you can make your own by taking an infant diaper, tear it open at the top, stuff it with ice, and then tape it closed so that the ice doesn't fall out
- Thick maxi-pads - you may be bleeding for many weeks after birth
- Disposable Underwear - I actually didn’t end up using these, but it is definitely a good idea to have underwear you are willing to get ruined even if it isn’t disposable.
- The phone number of a lactation consultant!! - Breast feeding is very painful at first and it can take time for mom and baby to get the hang of it. I didn’t understand how important it is to make sure that the baby has a good “latch” – if the baby doesn’t your breasts will be damaged and the baby will be fussy because they aren’t getting enough
- Learning how to get a good latch does not necessarily come naturally for mom/baby. On top of that this has to do with the baby eating enough so it is natural for mom to worry about, PLUS mom is super emotional having just given birth. Needless to say there is a reason lactation consultants exist and I recommend having a number BEFORE you give birth just in case. You don’t want to have to be searching around.
- Read more advice from Park Slope Parents about problems with breastfeeding >
For Changing Table
- I don’t actually recommend buying a “changing table” as they can be super expensive for a piece of furniture that is basically a set of drawers. You can buy a set of drawers at Ikea and then get a changing pad to put on top of it and it serves the same purpose and is significantly much cheaper. Just make sure that the drawers are high enough that you aren’t leaning so far down to change diapers that you hurt your back
- Changing pad
- Cover for changing pad - this is a fitted cover for your changing pad, I would have at least on spare as they get dirty J
- Changing pad liner - I put one of these on top of the changing pad so that if there is a mess, and there is always a mess, you don’t have to change the fitted cover each time. Again, a spare is recommended
- Diaper rash cream
- Baby nail scissors
- Alcohol (for umbilical cord)
- Cotton swabs (for umbilical cord)
- Baby Tylenol
- Make sure to wash all of the clothes in baby detergent before bringing the baby home from the hospital. Carters is a great baby clothes brand – high quality and very inexpensive. Target, Kohls, TJMaxx all sell Carters brand clothes – the rule for newborns is to dress them in one more layer then you are dressed in.
- Long sleeve onesies
- Short sleeve onesies
- Pajamas with feet
- Crib/bassinet sheets
- Lightweight large linen blanket or Swaddle Me blanket - swaddling can be the key to sleep in the first few months. Babies don’t love the process of being swaddled and tend to cry, but once swaddled it is AMAZING how much it calms them. You can swaddle with a regular large light weight blanket (like those linked above by Aden + Anais) but I found it hard to do properly when the baby is protesting and crying. In addition I found that we were never able to tie the regular blankets tight enough and you don’t want the blanket to come undone in the bed since that is a SIDS hazard. Thus I recommend a special blanket made for swaddling. I loved the SwaddleMe which has velcro – to get more for your money get a larger size then you need since you can use one that is too big but not one that’s too small.
- Pacifiers – at first we were totally anti-pacifier, but when I understood the babies have “non-nutritional sucking needs” (REALLY!) I understood why they are important at first. (See some pros and cons of pacifiers here). By the time N was 4 months old we reserved the pacifier only for car rides or other situations where she had to sit still. By taking it away that early she didn’t depend on it to sleep, but at the beginning it was quite important to help soothe her. Because of nipple confusion I would wait until you feel that nursing is well established (a week or two) to introduce it. Most babies prefer one type of pacifier over another.
- Bathing tub or seat - depending on the set-up at your house and the size of your kitchen sink, we have loved using a bathing seat in the kitchen sink. That way you are not leaning over into the tub to do the bath which can hurt your back and you can fill up the sink without using a ton of water. Our sink isn’t that big but N and the bath chair fit into it until 8+ months. Whatever you choose though, make sure it is going to be easy for you to use and deep enough that most of the baby’s torso will be covered with water otherwise they scream because they are cold.
- Soap - I like Johnson and Johnson’s all-purpose soap or Burt’s Bees body and hair wash - no need for separate shampoo and body soap
- Electric Breastpump and all accessories (i.e. breast shields and tubing) - these are expensive but definitely worth getting a good one from a known company if you are planning on nursing and going back to work or just going to be away from your baby at any time (and not expensive at all if your insurance pays for them – thank you Obama!). I have a Medela pump which I have liked. Make sure what you get comes with a small hand pump because you may need to use that on-the-go. Also I have liked that my pump has the capacity to pump both breasts at the same time and has a battery pack in addition to the plug for the wall.
- Bottles - I found it really helpful to get bottles from the same company as my breast pump which screw into the pump so that you can pump right into them, throw them into the fridge and then feed them to the baby.
- Nipples for bottles - make sure to get ones for 0-3 months
- Breast milk frozen storage bags
- Car seat + stroller base - even if you don’t have a car this is important for coming home from the hospital and any time you want to take a taxi. I recommend getting one of the Graco Snug Ride type of seats that then fits into a stroller base. This way you get a stroller and a car seat in one, and if the baby is sleeping after a car ride, which usually they are, you don’t have to wake them to bring them inside. I am sure there are other brands, but Graco is dependable. You don’t need more than this stroller for the first few months and it gives you time to figure out what kind of stroller you want since they are super expensive. However, if you do want to buy a stroller for when the baby is a few months older as well at the same time then instead of buying the stroller base for the car seat you can buy a stroller that the car seat can snap into as well.
- Carrier - this one really has to do with personal preference but is super helpful especially since you won’t always want to drag your stroller around town. Plus, I have found it much easier to use a carrier and for some babies who have trouble falling asleep, carriers can be used around the house to put them to sleep. When N was first born I loved using a sling and she loved curling up in it and going to sleep. There are tons of different kinds of slings for newborns and so I don’t have one specific brand to recommend. Now that she is older I have found both the Baby Bjorn and the ErgoBaby (with Infant Insert) really comfortable and easy to use. The benefit of the ErgoBaby is that when the baby is older you can put them on your back.
Things that may be really helpful to have, but you could ask for them as presents as you don’t need them on day one
- Hooter-hider - nursing cover which is basically an expensive piece of fabric that goes over your head.
- Mobile w/music - great for setting a pattern of “bedtime” – if you put the mobile music on every night from the very beginning of your baby’s life then they will associate the music with going to sleep.
- Bouncy seat - great for being able to put the baby down in a safe, comfy place in the house from birth on, especially when you need to do things like shower or go to the bathroom.
- Playmat - not necessary until at least 6 weeks but then it is really helpful to have
- Diaper bag
- Some friends have been really smart and registered for things like highchairs and umbrella strollers that they will need later on.
I read two books before N was born that I found really helpful and both are super fast reads, like each in one sitting. In fact you don't need to read all of them, just understand the basic concepts (which are very intuitive) and know where to access the info should (i.e. when!) you need it after the baby is born. I actually found reading newborn books (as opposed to pregnancy books) before the baby was born weird, but in retrospect it was SUPER helpful as I definitely didn't have time once she was born:
- "Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp - this book is famous for its 5 S's on how to calm a newborn and they really work. If you don't read anything else, memorize these. Dr. Karp also has a great (and cheesy) website.
- "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer" by Tracey Hogg - If you can get past the writing style of this book (which I found off-putting), I thought the part where she talks about an ideal schedule is super helpful. At the beginning you feel like there is no order in your life and anything could happen at any time. The part of her book where she talks about the EASY (Eat-Awake-Sleep-You) sequence helped me make sense out of the disorder. Again, this one part can be super helpful. I actually didn't like her other advice about sleep training, but that's for when the baby is older anyway.
4. OTHER USEFUL READING & RESOURCES ON PARK SLOPE PARENTS:
- Join a PSP Pregnancy, Baby, or Toddler Group
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