Despite the plethora of tips for new parents and information available to new and expecting parents, the truth is that nothing fully prepares us for parenthood except, of course, first-hand experience. Those who have traveled this journey generally agree that it was only after having children that the most valuable lessons were learned. That being said, if I could go back in time to when my children were infants and tell myself what I really needed to know, these are the tips that I consider most valuable.
1. Don’t overspend.
Babies do not need a lot of “stuff”—retailers only want us to believe that they do. I can’t fathom the amount of new and barely used “necessities” I tossed or donated. Do your research before creating a baby registry and register for gift cards. That way you’ll get what you need and you’ll skip the return lines.
2. You won’t always know what your baby needs and that’s okay.
Maternal instincts usually kick in at some point during the first few weeks—however, don’t beat yourself up if taking care of your baby doesn’t come naturally. Your “instinct” will develop over time and, of course, through experience.
3. Read your breast pump manual BEFORE attempting to use it.
Do not try to relieve your engorged breasts with an unassembled, unfamiliar breast pump in the middle of the night. To avoid a miserable experience, take the pump out during the day, read the instructions and become familiar with it before you actually need to use it.
4. The colic WILL end.
Keep a sound mind, you may feel desperate and hopeless, but I promise, the crying spells will pass. Try putting your baby in a sling, a carrier or a stroller and go out for a long walk if weather permits. Otherwise, place your baby in the car seat and drive to the mall, or find the closest Starbucks drive through and order yourself a treat (decaf). If all else fails, place your baby safely in his crib and take a 5-minute break stress break. Sit down in a nearby chair and close your eyes. Your baby senses tension, so take some deep breaths and do a 5-minute meditation and get yourself back on the beam. Try not to feel guilty every time your baby cries. (Easier said than done!)
5. Babies cry.
It can make your skin crawl and your heartache to hear your newborn cry. Instinctually, we want to jump up and fix it, but most of the time they just need some time to blow off a little steam. Overtired babies tend to become fussy. Turn on some calming music, dim the lights and let your baby figure out how to fall asleep. Learn to recognize the types of sounds that lull your baby to sleep.
6. Use white noise.
My favorite! Try a white noise machine or download an app onto your phone. When my first child was born, I discovered the sounds of a blow dryer or a vacuum cleaner would instantly calm my baby.
7. Try not to feel guilty.
Don’t worry about keeping up with every load of laundry, writing thank you notes, answering emails, etc. Instead, take a nap, read a book, meditate or just lay down with your baby. If you are a first-time mother you may not always follow this advice. However, sooner or later, sleep deprivation will catch up with you. Take care of yourself so you can be the mom your baby needs.
8. Get out of the house at least once a day with your baby.
As long as you’re caught up on sleep, take a walk around the block, meet a friend for lunch, go to the grocery store, or complete an errand. The idea of getting both yourself and your baby dressed and ready to go out may seem overwhelming, but you will endure and return back home with an amazing sense of achievement.
9. Never leave home without a well-stocked diaper bag.
Make sure to have extra baby clothes, socks, diapers, wipes, diaper cream, and a few plastic bags in case you need to bundle up soiled clothes. Also, bring formula (if you are not breastfeeding), extra bottles, a bottle of water and some snacks for yourself.
10. Keep your bottles and breast pump accessories clean.
The good old-fashion method of soap and warm water is an effective and easy way to clean your baby’s bottles and breast pump accessories. Make sure to rinse everything well and let air-dry.
Welcoming a newborn into your life can be a bit overwhelming. The truth is, the experience is new for everyone. Your baby is new to the world and your world is new to your baby. You are on a life-long journey of learning and growing together, and you are never alone on the roller coaster of uncertainties. Support and resources are always available to help guide you on your path, and by all means, scream for help when you feel lost. There is a village eager to support you, I promise.