By Halina Newberry Grant
Hey, expectant moms! Here’s some more unsolicited advice!
When I was expecting my baby (who is now a toddler,) it seemed everywhere I turned I encountered advice on how to get through the first months and year with a baby. Some of it was helpful, but mostly it was just hard to take it all in. I figured I wouldn’t know what I needed until I was “in it.”
Over a year later, I can look back at those early months and more clearly see what helped, what I couldn’t have lived without and what I wish someone had told me.
And because you love unsolicited advice, here’s some more…
Hire a doula
Like a lot of expectant parents, we took prenatal classes. We had a lot of information. Information overload, in fact.
I am maybe the luckiest person alive, because my sister is a doula. I knew long before I got pregnant that I would have free access to an actual expert to lean on all through my pregnancy, delivery and beyond. An expert who is actually present, available and on-call. Nothing like a doctor, and so much more useful than a friend!
What I didn’t expect was how, once I was in labor, I didn’t want to think about a single thing. We had our birth plan, but the last thing I wanted was to think about a plan. I didn’t want to think about what might happen next — I didn’t want to think! Period! I wanted only to stay in the moment, feel each contraction, let my birth take its course and my baby come into the world in her way in her time.
Having a doula is like having a professor in the room with you during the final, reminding you that you already have all the answers – but she knows you probably aren’t thinking clearly and don’t want to think, so she keeps that answer sheet right there on hand (the “answer sheet” being her breadth of experience and expertise, and her knowledge of your wishes.)
And she also makes it possible for your birth partner to take a nap, get some food and stay where you need him or her (even if it’s out of the room) throughout.
For those who might wonder, the main difference between having a doula and having a relative or friend with you while you labor is that while your loved ones can share their experiences based on a handful (at most) births, most doulas have assisted at dozens or more births (many have assisted hundreds,) know hospital policies, often know the hospital staff, and are professionals. They are experts, with research and evidence-based suggestions, rather than just opinions. Have your mother there too if it will keep you calm and focused, but a doula will keep you sane, confident and feeling safe.
Moms–If you can afford to take a prenatal class, make it a breast-feeding one
Do NOT expect to know what to do with those breasts just because you have had them your whole life! While breast-feeding is the most natural thing in the history of the world, it is a learned skill. Do not be ashamed to ask for help from a lactation specialist, and get as many sessions as you need until you feel confident and comfortable.
Accept that your baby will probably not sleep through the night for a very long time
There are, of course exceptions. We all know a few. Some babies come by it naturally, some were coaxed into it. My baby was a great sleeper until 4 months. She went to bed at 8PM on the dot every night. I felt so blessed! I had picked my “sleep method” and all was going like gangbusters.
Then we traveled. Then we had guests. Then she got a cold. Then she started teething. Then she had a growth spurt. Then she had sleep regression. Then she had a developmental milestone. Then she had separation anxiety.
Guess what? She stopped sleeping. I couldn’t put her down without her waking up. I felt like I was doing everything wrong.
I bought every sleep-training book on the market. I asked everyone I knew what they did. I tried almost every method, up until she was 10 months old. Some methods worked for a week. Some not at all. They all made me crazy and filled me with self doubt.
Then one day I read the following, and it set me free;
“Getting your baby to sleep is not a battle to be won.”
Here I was, arriving ready for battle, my books the ammunition. I was trying to get her to bend to my will in every way possible.
But once I accepted that my baby will sleep through the night in her time, not mine, I stopped worrying so much. Even though I wasn’t necessarily getting more sleep, I was more rested because I wasn’t in a constant state of anxiety, worry and war.
Put those books down
There is a massive industry out there that is capitalizing on our insecurities and fears as parents. They infiltrate every stage of development – from getting pregnant, to maternity and labor, newborns, toddlers, teens and on and on.
But it’s not just parenting; remember dating? How about dieting?
In the throes of trying to get my baby to sleep, I read book after book after book, each promising to be the answer.
One night, something clicked; I realized that the last time I felt this confused was when I was on an endless cycle of dieting. Each new book I bought promised to be “THE ANSWER” to my problems THIS diet would finally, once and for all, put my weight/food problems to bed.
And in my single years; I read every self-help, how to land your dream man kind of book I could get my hands on. I was broken, and these books could fix me.
When it comes to parenting, I had to come to realize that no one was an expert on my child. Not even me. She reveals herself to me a little more each day – there is no code to break, no missing information. And how on earth could a stranger writing about babies in general know what to do with her?
The only book that I will name as an exception is “The Science of Parenting” by Margot Sunderland. This book might as well be called “Here’s Scientific Proof, Based on Neuroscience, That Love is the Answer.” I am personally a fan of science, and will take evidence from scientists over endless opinions any day of the week.
Throw away those butt creams. Throw away those lotions. Definitely throw away anything with synthetic ingredients and fragrance. Even essential oils can be irritating to a baby’s perfect skin. All you need for after baths, for diaper changes and massages is coconut oil.
I have only ever used coconut oil on my baby and she has never had a diaper rash. Any redness she’s ever had I have applied coconut oil to and it has almost instantly disappeared.
Exchange all the things you don’t like BEFORE the baby arrives
Even the most loving friends and family members will buy things that weren’t on your registry, and even though they’re well-meaning, you have enough onesies. Do yourself a favor, exhaust yourself in your 9th month running from store to store with (hopefully!) gift receipts in hand, exchanging all those unneeded items for gift cards and store credit. Then, when you have your baby, GO USE THAT STORE CREDIT. That’s when you’ll really know what you need.
Teach sign language to yourself and your baby
I started signing with my baby when she was 6 months, and when she was 8 months old, she signed her first sentence; “Nursing. All done. Daddy.” In the months after, she would say her first words (Mama, Papa, balloon, ball) but she has a large vocabulary of signs (some only just resemble the ASL signs.) We have developed our own little language of adapted signs that make it so easy to communicate with each other. I can only imagine the number of tantrums we’ve avoided because she’s able to clearly tell me what she wants.
There are some great websites that offer video tutorials of everyday signs you can use with your baby.
If you’re like I was, you think co-sleeping is for crazy hippies who don’t want a marriage, and who over-indulge their baby’s every whim.
Before I had my baby (and in her first 6 months of life,) every time I would come across the suggestion to co-sleep, I would roll my eyes and move on. I knew which method I would use to get my baby to sleep in her crib, and that’s where babies belonged, so that mama can get a good night’s sleep.
Then the “no-sleeping” phase began (see #3.) Out of necessity, I started bringing my daughter to sleep with us in our bed in the middle of the night. It was the only way I could get any sleep at all.
Then came the “you’re doing it wrong!” voice in my head. So I did some research.
It turns out there are massive neurological benefits to co-sleeping — it’s not just about emotional attachment and bonding (though, really, what’s wrong with that?)
And when it comes to the health of my marriage, let me just say – we can all stand to be a little more creative.
Walk your dog with your stroller before you have the baby
Yes, you’ll feel like a fool, with a massive pregnant belly and an empty stroller, but your little buddy has to know that the stroller comes before him, and trust me – you will need practice navigating the sidewalks with a dog that doesn’t want to mind you anymore in one hand, and a stroller with a screaming baby in the other.
Also, accept that your relationship with your dog will change. Your dog will probably change too. Roll with it, and if you can, hire a trainer to help with the “new issues” when they arise.
Forget those other babies; your baby will develop in his/her time
Mother Nature made it so that you believe your baby is the most important thing in your world. Everything about her is unique, including when she will get her first tooth, when she will sit up, when she will crawl, walk and sleep through the night. It doesn’t matter what your neighbor’s baby is doing. Enjoy every milestone as a tender bonding moment in your own little family without the pressure of measuring it against someone else.
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