I give medical advice to new and expectant parents all day long as a pediatrician. When I had my own baby, though, I learned some more personal lessons about having a newborn. Some were practical, some were about perspective. Many were downright humbling. Here are some of the most important tips I give parents-to-be now that I have my own little love nugget at home. Hopefully, they will help with your mommy (or daddy) metamorphosis as well:
1. The birth is just the beginning.
Before baby arrives, many parents focus primarily on learning about the birth of their child versus learning about the weeks and months after that fateful day. There’s good reason: the act of giving birth is scary and can be painful. Still, I encourage parents to focus more on baby than on birth. After all, you will be taking care of another human being 24-7 and the hospital does not send home an owner’s manual.
2. Buy a bunch of zip-up sleepers.
No snaps, no buttons. When your baby is a newborn, you want easy access to all those poopy diapers, especially at 2 am. I will never forget my husband fumbling with my daughter’s tiny snaps in the middle of the night, mumbling under his breath about the makers of such “ridiculous get ups.” He was right. Lose the fancy clothes while at home until about 3 months. Stick with zip-up sleepers at night.
3. Adjust your expectations.
You will have fun again, you will have date nights, you will at some point (kind of) get back to who you were before you became mommy or daddy. Right now, though, it’s time to dig in your heels and expect there will be a lot of tough days and nights. There will be moments of complete bliss, to be sure, but being a parent can be, well, annoying at times. You don’t have your freedom, you lose control of your schedule, you get lost in a sea of feeding and pooping and sleeping, then doing it again. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Is it hard? You betcha. Better to be mentally prepared for a period of awkward transition than to expect smooth sailing from the get-go. Becoming a parent, just like starting any new and challenging job, usually involves a steep learning curve at the beginning.
4. Before your baby is born, buy these things:
1 small box of newborn diapers. You don’t know how big your son or daughter will be and you’ll be sad if you have a storage shed full of newborn diapers when your child is a size 1 within a week of birth.
Tons of wipes.
A hospital grade breast pump and Vitamin D drops if you plan on breastfeeding. Breastfed babies need 400 International Units of Vitamin D per day until they reach 1 year of age.
A place for your baby to sleep. Many parents use a bassinet next to their bed for the first few weeks of their baby’s life for easy feeding during the night.
A car seat.
These are the essentials. You will receive and buy many more items but, if you have these things, you’ll be able to survive the first few weeks.
5. Embrace Technology.
Diapers, cleaning products, baby toys: they can all be purchased online and delivered to your home for a small fee. Have a friend set up an online meal calendar (http://mealbaby.com, for example) so that friends can bring warm food to nourish your family. This is the time to take advantage of a few modern conveniences. Really, you have more important things to do than drive around town, like sleep and bond with your baby.
6. Plan to accept advice.
It really irritated me at first, especially as a pediatrician, when my mom would give me parenting advice. She hadn’t done this is 30 plus years, what did she know? But the reality is, she had the ability to see things about my daughter that I could not. She also was not exhausted like I was. Same goes for friends with older kids – they can be a huge wealth of information. As my friend said when I was just 4 weeks into the process, “Don’t feel bad if you don’t always know what to do. You went to medical school, not mommy school! I imagine the things they teach in mommy school are much different than what they teach in anatomy class.”
Just take everything as a suggestion and as an interesting perspective and then filter, filter, filter. Not everyone’s opinion is something you will use with your own child but, if you are open to others’ observations, you will be less frustrated and more successful.
7. You will buy a lot of stuff.
Some things your baby will love, some your baby will hate. Some your baby will hate now and love later. Don’t throw it out or sell it until you are really sure you don’t want it or until you have a second child who also hates it.
8. Embrace the fact that your home will not be a serene haven of adult life for several years.
If you have toys and play mats and kid’s stuff all around, do not stress out that your house will never be as neat and tidy as it once was. It won’t be. That’s life. Congratulations, you have a child now. Where there was serenity, there will now be a little being full of joy and life (and noise and mess).
9. Focus on sleep. Then focus some more.
The sleep habits you help your child develop from a young age (as in 2 weeks old), are important. However, if you fail (or feel like you are failing) at getting your child to sleep well, it’s wasted energy to beat yourself up. I read all the books and tried my best to help my child develop healthy sleep habits. At 3 months, it felt like I was spinning my wheels. Just now (at 6 months old) our hard work is really paying off.
10. Take a lot of pictures and, even more important, VIDEOS.
The clichés are true: it goes SO fast. You will cherish those little memories over and over, even the hard moments. And, even if you take a million pictures, you will wish you had more.
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