Being a new parent is tough. How do you survive? What should you buy? What should you do? Here are 15 tried-and-true tips to new parents from this mom of three close-in-age kids.
1. Expect the first month to be sleepless. Don’t fight it. Don’t lament it. Just push through it and own it. It gets easier. Those frequent feedings and nighttime interactions are needed, not just for milk supply building and bonding (if you’re breastfeeding), but for stability. You are all your baby has ever known and now he’s in a big new world without any way of comforting himself besides you. (Plus, frequent waking helps prevent SIDS.) This hardship will end, and will soon exist simply as a hazy memory in your distant past.
2. White baby socks only. A former coworker once advised me to only buy white baby socks because babies always lose one sock and matching tiny foot mits is mind-numbing. Being a know-nothing-know-it-all, I shunned the advice and opted for cute printed toe coverings. I paid the price. There were numerous half-loads of laundry entirely comprised of widowed baby socks. Do you know how many baby socks can fit in a standard clothes washer? A metric f’ing shit-ton, that’s how many. Just get a heap of white baby socks and simplify your life.
3. Pop a pee pad under Peewee. In the early little-sleep, countless-diapers days, save yourself some nighttime trouble and pop an adhesive-backed absorbent incontinence pad under your infant insomniac. The pad lays flush against the fitted sheet but saves you from stripping Baby’s bed in the middle of the night due to spit-up, blow-out, or soak-through messes. Just peel off the soiled absorbent applique, toss it, and stick on a fresh sheet protector. If your breasts are leaky, consider puting one under you as well.
4. Go old school on burp cloths. Don’t waste money on pricey pretty burp cloths. Go bleachable and absorbant. Grab a few packs of flat-fold cloth diapers. Your wallet and shirts will thank me.
5. Divide to survive. Division of labor in the home is paramount when children are involved but nighttime is the real battleground. It’s easy for one parent to be saddled with all of the duties if the other has responsibilities outside of the home. This, though, is a marriage killer. Divide duties, share in the suffering, stay together. One parent diapers, one parent feeds. No one escapes infancy unscathed. If there are older children still waking at night, one parent is charged with the elders and one with the baby. The division of labor will strengthen your partnership. Giving all responsibilities to one parent weakens the bond, and you have enough riding against you with your massive life change. You need all the unified strength you can muster.
6. One carseat per car. If you have two cars, each child should have two car seats (an infant can use one car seat with one car seat base per vehicle.) Playing car seat hokey-pokey is an unnecessary pain in the ass that can easily be avoided. Plus, emergency situations do happen… no one needs to be installing a car seat then.
7. Babywear. Bonding, easy feeding, two free hands, protection from germs and grabby strangers, enhanced core strength, no-bra camouflage… the list of reasons why to babywear is lengthy. Go try out a few carriers via a babywearing group or borrowing from friends, and make the leap.
8. Shit happens; size up. Size up diapers sooner rather than later. Frequent blowouts often indicate too small diapers. There’s no reason to keep using too small diapers. Many stores offer store credit, if not cash back, for unopened packs of diapers.
9. Press pause on gripe water. Food journal if your breastfed baby seems colicky. Don’t immediately jump to gripe water. There’s often a reason behind fussiness that can be addressed, a shoddy latch or mama’s food intake are two likely suspects. Anything from beans to dairy can be a possible belly bugger for baby. So opt to food journal before you dose your little one.
10. Just buy a Nose Frida. Sucking your baby’s boogers out through a tube…sounds gross. Get over it. It’s not. (You never come into contact with the suctioned snot. I promise.) It’ll actually be the one opportunity your boogery offspring won’t share mucus with you. This is a must-buy.
11. Medicine cabinet at the ready. Besides the Nose Frida, saline drops or spray, a humidifier, and age-appropriate infant pain reliever should be on hand. Even more importantly, know your pediatrician’s recommended medication dosage for your child because kids are more likely to get sick at 2AM on a holiday weekend than at 11AM on a Tuesday.
12. No formula samples. While pregnant, you’re often sent sample cans of formula. It’s easy to think having them on hand just in case breastfeeding goes awry would be smart. It’s not. Don’t have formula on hand if you plan to breastfeed. If you were going on a life change dietary shift, would you keep your forbidden foods in the house? No because that’s self-sabotage. Breastfeeding may be “natural” but it is hard. With the first baby you’re both wholly new to the endeavor, and even with subsequent children you’re both new that that unique nursing relationship. There’s no shame in formula usage — it’s there for a reason — but if your goal is to breastfeed, don’t enter into the undertaking with your bailout shoot at the ready. If you wind up truly needing formula despite your best efforts, pharmacies exist. Don’t give yourself an out before you even started.
13. Breastfeed without fear. While baby is in-utero, use that time to amp yourself up, prepare family and friends, do what you need to do to make sure you enter breastfeeding with a “no shame” attitude. Use a cover if you wish… or don’t. But don’t build yourself unnecessary hurdles by pumping to bottle feed in public simply because you’re skittish. Forget being a warrior goddess, be a tough mother. Breastfeed proudly and don’t get in your own way.
14. Get the help you need. PPD/PPA and postpartum PTSD are real. I can personally attest to their existence. I can also proclaim how horrid it is not getting the help you need because you’re so focused on having your shit together. You just created and birthed a human, you’re not sleeping, you create more milk and hormones than cohesive trains of thought, you upended your life and toppled your worldview… your shit is NOT together. It’s not supposed to be together. Maternity leave is not just for physical recovery and bonding but psychological healing. Get counseling if you need it. Get lactation support if you need it. Get a housekeeper if you need it. Take care of you so you can take care of everyone else.
15. Be a partner to your partner. In the chaos of new-parenthood, your romantic relationship is more likely than not to get thoroughly trampled. Make sure that’s temporary by making efforts to repair the damage. Your sex drive may be nonexistent. You may suffer some degree of sexual dysfunction. You will be tired and hormonal and tapped out and touched-out and edgy and covered in bodily fluids that are both yours and not. You may feel unattractive. You may feel sore. Whatever your state, make time for the two of you. Whether it’s crumbling onto the sofa to watch a show at the end of the day, or waking up early to have coffee together. Whatever it is, do it. Make. It. Happen. You will not regret it.
16. Try to enjoy it. This will be a blur of spit-up, diaper blowouts, sleepy cuddles, precious coos, and endless loads of laundry, but it goes fast. So fast. And your baby is only a baby once. Some moments you appreciate that this is a one-time fleeting arrangement but, in too-short time, you will look back wistfully grappling for puzzle piece memories. Take a breath. Reframe for the positive. And breathe in the baby scent. This will all be over soon.