There’s more than one way to skin a cat, right? (Whoever came up with that saying???) Anyway, there’s really no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to parent, as long as you love your kiddo and are providing a safe, stable home. But, like the ‘top 10’ list I recently posted, there are definitely some strategies that make things easier, amiright?
-BB (Before Baby): You know how when you’re buying a house, your real estate agent keeps saying “location, location, location?” That’s how I felt about motherhood, only I was repeating ‘prepare, prepare, prepare’ to myself. I’m already one of those over-prepared kinds of people, so it made sense to me to get all the things ready for our baby. THIS DID NOT MEAN I READ ALL THE BOOKS. In fact, I read very few books. But, I did a few things I thought helped make it easier to adjust to life with a tiny human that would take ALL of our time and attention for the first few weeks of her life.
- Chill the heck out. It might literally be the best thing you can do as a parent. (If you’re reading this and you know me, please don’t let your laughter bother anyone around you.) Having a child later in life was good for me; being older/wiser/more laid back (apparently a side effect of my pregnancy?!) has helped me/us immensely. Andrew and I have had the advantage of watching everyone around us parent in different ways, and that has influenced how we approach the ‘parenting’ of our daughter. The biggest takeaway for me as an older mom is simply this: YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING. You can’t, and someone else out there has already done the research on whatever issue you’re having–your job is to find the ‘answer’ and implement it to the best of your ability.
- Educate yourself about a few things. You may not need to know everything, but going into parenthood extra prepared never hurt anyone. Want a ‘decent’ childbirth experience? (*I use ‘decent’ here loosely.) Hire a doula and/or take a childbirth class. It’s going to be scary and hard and painful; the best thing you can do ahead of time is know what to expect, ensure you feel seen and heard by your doctor, and be flexible. Want to feel prepared to bring a baby home? Learn how to soothe a newborn with swaddling and shushing; trying to figure it amid the cries of a colicky baby isn’t the time to read The Happiest Baby on the Block. If you’re planning to breastfeed, take a class. Breastfeeding is so natural…yet also so difficult and intimidating, until you get the hang of it. Neither you nor your baby know how to do it the first time, and it takes a few sessions/days/weeks before it becomes easy.
- Have realistic expectations. When in doubt, have low expectations–that way, you’ll always be pleasantly surprised! But seriously, do have low expectations. Your time is no longer your own, and there are a lot of things that will be out of your control. Devote yourself (as a new mama) to taking care of that little baby, allow others to help you take care of yourself, and *try* not to worry about the dishes or vacuuming. (That being said, if the lack of vacuuming is stressing you out, run the damn vacuum.)
- Prepare the house. I went a little overboard on this one, but who regrets that? I set up little ‘stations’ anywhere I thought I might be nursing, each with a small tray of items (lip balm, hair tie, granola bar, some cloth wipes), as well as a charging cord and water bottle. I think I ended up with three of four ‘nursing zones,’ and I was always so glad to have those items within reach. Additionally, I prepared food ahead of time, and stocked my freezer with easy things to reheat, like soups, broths and individual-sized oatmeals.
- Enlist help. Of anytime in your life, THIS is the time to reach out and ask for help. Many times, that means friends bringing a meal, or grandparents taking older kids off your hands more frequently. But do not be afraid to ask someone to do your dishes, or the laundry. I’ve been a dedicated meal-bringer to just about every mom-friend I have, and it was lovely to have so many friends return the favor. You could even ask a friend to make some meals for your freezer before the baby arrives.
Also, Unisom and B6 help for nausea. I didn’t have extreme nausea, but I have friends who swear by this combo.
-Newborn Stage: Also known as the ‘DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU’ stage. I swear, if I ever hear the advice “sleep when the baby sleeps” again, it will be too soon. I’m not a napper, never have been, never will be. I think I took one nap while Maelle was a newborn. I felt much better using those pockets of time to do things I wanted to do, like relaxing or even a normal household chore. In the beginning, we used two bedrooms: we set up the bassinet in our guest room, and Andrew fell asleep there with Maelle in the evenings while I enjoyed a hot shower and fell asleep in our own bed. In the middle of the night, he’d wake me up to feed her and we’d switch rooms so he could have the bedroom in the morning to get ready for work without waking us up. (This worked for us because we spent the first part of the evening together on couch, watching Netflix and nursing, so we went to bed late and I generally only had to feed Maelle once at night.) In the same vein as our ‘separate bedrooms,’ I had a friend who took shifts with her husband. They both work full-time and very much appreciate having their own ‘free’ time, as well. So, even in the newborn stage, they took 6- to 8-hour shifts with the baby. At the time, that kind of schedule didn’t appeal to me. HOWEVER. Two-and-a-half-years-later, I realize that my lack of incorporating longer ‘shifts’ (or any shifts at all, let’s be real) of time in which Andrew had Maelle has translated into me now having very little time to myself, even when Andrew is not working. So, in retrospect, I should have started blocking some ‘me’ time on the weekends, even just 3 or 4 hours, early on so that I could feel like I had bigger breaks, and Andrew would be used to ‘solo-dadding’ more often, and for longer stretches of time.
-Infant stage: Another gem you hear often as a new mama is “Don’t wake a sleeping baby.” Yes, YES wake the sleeping baby if she’s taking a giant nap during the middle of the day. You want them to sleep for long stretches at night as soon as possible, which means less sleep and more feeding during the day. Of course newborns will sleep a lot in the beginning, the trick is to keep the naps to no more than about 90 minutes (two hours, max). We ended up with a decent sleeper, and I credit both Andrew’s ‘sleep’ genes and this advice from the lactation consultant at the hospital.
At four months, we started solids on the recommendation of our pediatrician, as Maelle hadn’t gained a lot of weight the previous month. We’d planned to do ‘baby-led weaning,’ which is the practice of giving a baby soft foods to start, instead of purees. I loved the idea, but babies don’t have enough hand-eye coordination before six months to even attempt to get food in their mouths. With Maelle being younger and needing to actually ingest SOMETHING, I had to be flexible (see above) and we started oat cereal with mix-ins, like peanut butter, bananas, avocados. She quickly got the hang of it, and I was able to offer soft solids soon thereafter. Baby-led weaning isn’t for everyone, and as my pediatrician friend says, “It’s a great practice, a terrible religion.” There are some fantastic pediatric dietitians on social media; check out @kids.eat.in.color and @feedinglittles for tips and tricks on how to offer foods and handle/prevent picky eating.
Another sleep-related win we had was with sleep training when she was six months old. I’d imagined this being some long, tear-filled (for both baby and mom) process; instead it took a few sessions each night for a few nights. (Again, all the praise hands for that!) I didn’t plan it out (like I did for potty training, see below), instead I Googled ‘sleep training’ at 2 am one night when Andrew was out of town and I was frustrated. I read the cliffs’ notes version and set a timer on my phone for 3 minutes. (Apparently I ended up doing the Ferber method, also called ‘check and console.’) I waited, soothed without picking her up, and set the timer again. Within a week, she was sleeping through the night. (This short paragraph makes it sound so easy. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t ‘easy,’ either. I realized we hadn’t helped her learn to self-soothe, which motivated me to try sleep training. I was nervous about how it would go, and very thankful when it wasn’t the cry-fest I’d seen on TV. Every baby and parent are different, and there are many different methods out there to help your baby–and you–sleep through the night.)
-Toddler stage: This season is so much fun, but so much work. Maelle has been on the move since she started crawling around nine or ten months. Baby jail helped a ton, as we were able to set it up in various locations (and adjust its size) to contain her. I love that Andrew does bath time each night, which gives me a break and chance to do the dishes in peace. We potty trained early, at 21 months, and while the first four days were absolute torture, I’m so glad we did. You can read all about our experience here. I highly recommend the book Oh Crap! Potty Training. Once you’re out and about with your newly potty-trained kiddo, put chuck pads EVERYWHERE. Yes, they look a little ghetto (cover them up in the stroller with a blanket), but your kid WILL have an accident and you WILL regret not having one under them. I have one in her stroller and carseat at all times, and thankfully have never had to clean pee out of either of them. I now have a giant chuck pad under her crib sheet, as Maelle is learning to hold her pee during naps. Trust me on this, you will not regret it.
Here’s wishing everyone happy babies who sleep, eat and poop!