Baby on board? 100 essential tips for first-time parents (from mums who’ve been there)
Brand new babies may not come with their own manual but we’ve put together something that comes pretty close. Speaking to 30 mothers, Amanda Cassidy has compiled the ultimate list of advice for new and expectant parents – from poonamis, snot-suckers and beyond.
It is the most wonderful, confusing, overwhelming, joyful and vulnerable time of your life and it is safe to say you really don’t have any idea what lies ahead (no matter how many nephews or nieces you have held!) Giving birth to your own child will be up there with one of the best moments in your life – and despite all the other beautiful moments that lie ahead, there are some common pitfalls of motherhood that you can now avoid thanks to some no-nonsense, unfiltered advice from mums who’ve been there, done that and have the stitches.
We understand that everyone does things differently and that not all advice is welcome but we’ve put together some of our top tips that you can pick and choose from depending on your situation. Here’s our practical guide to the earliest stages with your newbie (that we wish we’d known before we became mums).
- Take a photo of the test. It marks the moment your life changed forever.
- Set up an email account and invite all those who will be in the baby’s life to write letters/send photos so you have everything together in one giant cute hub.
- Keep your baby names lists – someday your child will be fascinated about what they were almost called.
- Ditch the high-heels when you start to get achy – there are no medals for martyrs.
- You don’t need everything for the baby before it arrives. Just cover the first few weeks (and you certainly don’t need a highchair for a couple of months).
- You will want an excuse to get out with the baby once home from the hospital, so leave some things on your to-do list.
- Practice with your elaborate baby pram before the baby comes. I learnt this the hard way and ended up being stuck in a carpark unable to fold my contraption back into the car (there were tears from both of us).
- You will want to burn your maternity clothes by week 40. Resist. You will need them for the first few weeks after baby arrives because….hormones.
- Book a cleaner to come in for the first few weeks after you are home with the baby. This will be the best investment you ever make.
- You will have twinges and aches in very strange places. Don’t automatically freak out, growing a human does that.
- Try not to use Dr Google. Make sure you have a very patient GP who will box off half an hour to discuss your 50 shades of pee.
- Try not to wince if people say you are HUGE or TINY – you are housing a little person and everyone’s house is different. (I was once told that my cheeks were HUGE when I was pregnant and cried in the bathroom at work) Try not to take it too personally.
- Milk helps with the heartburn. I suffered badly and shock, I didn’t have a hairy baby.
- Now is the time to buy a thermal mug. This is an essential and life-changing purchase.
- Always arrive at your appointments ready to pee.
- You usually end up buying a second cheap ‘run around’ pram eventually so you don’t need an all singing and all dancing buggy.
- Ditto for all the elaborate baby gear. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
- I never used my nappy bin once.
- Remind yourself that someday you will miss being pregnant. This is particularly important in the last few weeks when you JUST WANT THIS BABY OUT.
- You will cry when you hear your baby’s heartbeat for the first time.
The Birth and beyond
- Maternity hospitals are HOT. Layer it up.
- Bring plenty of change for the cafe, parking, emergency Mars bars…
- Your birth plan will never go to plan. Be prepared to adapt your plans at the last second and go with the flow (literally).
- Don’t be afraid to take the midwives time to show you something. They are shockingly busy, but this is your chance to ask all the questions you need.
- Bring wax earplugs – the other ones don’t work as well.
- Bring an eye mask too so you can get as much sleep as possible.
- Keep a notebook and pen beside you. You will have a lot of information to take in from the paediatrician, midwives etc. It will be a blur so write everything down.
- Keep a note of the feed times of your new baby and their wet nappies. Again, it is handy to look back on especially when midwives ask if the baby has had a wet nappy (to measure hydration).
- Wear a button-down nightie if you can. Handy for feeding and easier to manoeuvre for your own bathroom – especially after a c-section.
- Shaking uncontrollably is normal if you have a c-section. My teeth wouldn’t stop chattering for an hour.
- Don’t look at your own stitches. Some things can never be unseen.
- Be prepared for a tsunami of tears on day two or three. Cry out all those hormones! (I spent three hours bawling because I didn’t know how to wipe a willy).
- If you feel something isn’t right with your mood or you can’t shake the baby blues, speak to someone straight away. The earlier you get professional help the better.
- You will feel overwhelmed a lot in the first few days. Just take it one step at a time and remember you are a mother now, you’ve got this.
- You will become a professional burper. It takes practice to know your own baby’s wind habits so don’t expect to get it straight away.
- You will be a leaky mess (tears, blood, milk) for the first few days. Accept that it won’t last forever. It is all part of becoming a mother and this too shall pass.
- Don’t be afraid to question things. Often new mums are intimidated by the great unknown but listen to your instincts and remember, you know best.
- Breastfeeding is a funny one. If you choose to nurse, it usually feels pretty easy the first day or two, then it gets a little harder for the next few, and then gets easier again after a week or two. I wish someone had told me this.
- Don’t underestimate the vulnerability that comes with having a little piece of your heart on the loose. Make sure you mind yourself too.
- You will worry about your newborn baby constantly every day. This won’t last. There will always be something different to worry about but don’t fret – it’s natural!
- We fussed about with cotton wool and water to clean baby during nappy changes initially, but water wipes would have been a lot more convenient – especially during particularly bad poonamis in the middle of the night.
Back home with baby
- You will be tired. And not like tired from pulling an all-nighter in college. Or a heavy weekend. It is a physical and emotional tiredness that no manual can really ever prepare you for.
- As soon as the baby is out, it is like all nine months of your period come at once. Many mums also say that their periods are much heavier after having a baby.
- You will lose that lovely luscious pregnancy hair. You only really lose what you gained in pregnancy. Expect to end up with ‘baby hair’ short tufts of sticky out bits at the front. This too shall pass.
- Go easy on yourself. Don’t give yourself a hard time over losing weight, going out, breastfeeding. Know that you are not alone – even if you feel like it sometimes.
- No one is really as together as they seem. That aura of confidence is probably masking the usual flap us mums find ourselves in most of the time.
- Everyone will have an opinion. Be prepared to smile, nod and carry on as you are unless it’s a wanted opinion! Be confident with your choices.
- Be honest and upfront when it comes to visitors in the early days. These are the days when you are emotional and tired! Nobody needs visitors unannounced.
- When you do get visitors – hand them the baby and take a shower. Everyone tells you this for a reason. The visitor will adore time alone with the baby and will be delighted to help – and most importantly, you can have a peaceful shower.
- Whatever cute cuddly toy your baby seems to adore, get a spare!
- The same tip applies to whatever blankie your little one falls in love with.
- Poonamis exist (for baby, not us). Their developing digestive system means sometimes their cute poop squirts out quite violently and seeps up their back. This is normal, but it is a good idea to be aware that it happens (usually one minute before you leave the house).
- Always carry a spare babygro and vest (see point above).
- The baby will, at some stage, roar non-stop in the back of the car while you are driving. Stay calm until it is safe to pull over. They will get used to the motion of the car eventually.
- Prepare to feed your baby in the strangest of places. When they are hungry, they are hungry.
- You will soon discover what a snot-sucker is – a contraption that allows mums to manually clear our baby’s snotty nose. Truth is that you will do anything to relieve the baby’s bunged up nose.
- If your baby is particularly windy, refluxy or unsettled after a feed. Try keeping them upright for half an hour after they drink. This can help relieve the uncomfortable feeling their underdeveloped systems sometimes experience after eating.
- Some babies go through the ‘witching hour’ for about 4 hours in the evening where they don’t settle well. For us, it was between about 8pm and midnight. Be prepared to walk and rock and jiggle until they fall asleep. We watched entire box-sets while one of us walked a marathon in our living room.
- Don’t get too caught up in routines and times in the first few weeks. Do whatever it takes to get you through the first phase of new motherhood. You will start to see the patterns emerge and get on a schedule very naturally that suits you and your baby best.
- Remember that babies do not know time. Do not panic when three hours after the last feed your baby is still sound asleep. Unless you are physically not feeding a baby when it wants to be fed, they won’t starve! Go with the flow and don’t wake a happily snoozing baby.
- Your relationship will change. In what direction is up to you. Look after each other, be open and talk things out when things get stressful. Let the tears flow!
- At some stage, you will have to have the ‘you are not doing enough’ talk (even if they totally are).
- Motherhood can be very lonely after the visitors stop calling to see “the new baby”. Get yourself to a parent and baby group or some sort of social meet up. You probably thought you were never the type to go to one of ‘those kind’ of meetups. Trust me, everyone else there thought that too.
- You don’t need fancy outfits and clothes for your baby. Babygros for the first six months will be grand. Also, BABIES DON’T WEAR SHOES.
- You really don’t need to bathe your baby every night. However, you might actually benefit from a bath and some downtime more than your baby.
- Parenthood often throws up unexpected discussions you were never expecting to have with a partner. Things like where do you stand on sleep training, housework, being the breadwinner, education, religion, mother-in-laws. You might find you both have very different ideas on topics you never realised you had opinions on.
- Be prepared to take deep breaths and listen to each other.
- Get yourself measured for a bra if you are breastfeeding or have just finished breastfeeding. You may have unexplained back pain and discover that a properly fitting bra is the solution.
- Cooking may feel like a totally overwhelming thing to manage after your baby arrives. If visitors offer to bring something, get some dinners in.
- Be flexible, understanding and open. With your expectations of each other, of yourself, of your relationships, of going back to work, not going back to work.
- It takes a village to raise a child and inter-generational contact and support is important. Even if your mother-in-law drives you batty.
- Try not to take things personally. Your baby is not you and does not represent you. Nor does the fact that they cry a lot, don’t want to be put down, or they don’t roll over when the books say they’re supposed to, or they don’t gain weight as quickly as the new baby down the road reflects you or your parenting. Babies are individuals. I have birthed, fed and raised three daughters who are all so different as are their milestones, their talents and their personalities.
- Babies are not mini adults. Lower your expectations around what they are capable of. Most babies are not sleeping through the night by 6 months. And most babies will not perform according to any book. On your first night out/evening out/hour off with your partner, section-off 15 minutes to talk about the baby. And then concentrate on each other, your relationship. Talk about how you are feeling, what you need. Parents often get lost in parenthood.
- Take turns if you have a supportive partner. Whether that’s feeding, changing or both, especially during the night. You’re in this together!
- Trust your instincts. If you think something is wrong or even a bit “off” with the baby, get them checked out. No doctors appointment is ever wasted, even when that means all is fine – it’s peace of mind!
- Congratulate a new mum on the child’s first birthday, she will appreciate it.
- Even if breastfeeding, get the dad to do the early night feed (10/11pm) so mum can get some solid night’s sleep before the middle of the night feed.
- If you have friends in a similar baby-shaped boat, create a babysitting club with other young parents and take turns minding the baby for each other.
- Grandparents and other family members often want to be involved so give them a practical task to take charge of like looking after the garden or minding the baby and you can get on with other tasks. In my case, my mother-in-law did all our washing and ironing for a few months after the birth of each of our babies.
- Don’t stress too much about the state of the house. You will suddenly find there is stuff everywhere with a new baby – clothes, toys, gifts etc and it can get a bit in on you. If you can afford a cleaner, go for it. If not, a family member might help out or else just leave it. Your house will not always look like this – your time with your newborn is precious so don’t sacrifice it for washing the floor or clearing out the fridge
- Don’t compare your child to others. They are people, not handbags.
- Public health nurses have the ability to raise you up as a new mum or make you feel crappy. Knowing this might help ease some of the stinging remarks I’ve heard over the years.
- A good night’s sleep will cure most ills. Try it and see.
- Soothers get a bad rap but they hold a special place in my mothering heart.
- If you are planning a family holiday, try to fit it in between the ages of 3-7 months. You have a grip on feeding, you are through the blurry parts and the baby isn’t yet mobile.
- Allow your child to fill their own day with fun. They don’t always have to have you in their face, smiling. Sometimes it is nice for them to watch the trees swaying outside or follow the shapes the sunlight makes across the walls.
- Playpens might be primitive, but there will be times when they are mobile and you need to pop them in to keep them safe for a few minutes.
- You can never have enough spit-up cloths. I practically wore them as scarves for the first year of my daughter’s life.
- If you are renovating or moving house before baby comes, try to make sure appliances are up high. Wobblers love trying to put on the microwave when they are low down.
- You will rethink some of the things you said to friends/sisters with children. I remember vowing never to let my child eat crackers in my car after watching my sisters kids make a mess. Ha. You will find yourself doing most of the things you swore you wouldn’t.
- Print your pictures as you go or you will have a cloud full of photos that you will never have time to frame.
- Vicks vapour on their feet at night helps with a bad cough.
- Don’t let it be too quiet when they are sleeping or they will wake at any noise. We kept our usual busy household and now our children can sleep through anything.
- If baby won’t settle in the cot, pop a hot water bottle in first for half an hour to make it cosy and then take it out and tuck them in. Toasty.
- A gentle hand on their chest is a great comfort to babies as they drift off to blanket street.
- In the night, if you have to feed or change, keep everything quiet and dark. Too many interruptions in the night will get them in the habit of waking. Get a lamp with a dimmer in the room you feed.
- If you are bottle-feeding, consider a hot water flask next to the bed to mix the feeds to save on coming down to the kitchen to boil a kettle in the night. I found the temperature was perfect by the time it came to early morning feeds.
- Pause for 1 minute every afternoon and assess yourself. Are you dirty? Are you hungry? Are you lonely? Self-care is important too.
- It’s OK to leave the baby with someone you trust and go be alone for a bit.
- You may no longer be able to trampoline without peeing a little – do those kegels EVERYDAY!
- You will really appreciate the people in your life worth appreciating.
- Every month you will get to know your baby better and better. At first, they are simply cute blobs you vow to fiercely protect, but as you get to know them, their little personalities start to emerge and you end up falling in love over and over and over again. It truly is a love like no other.
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