Beyond Birth: Five Ways To Prepare Yourself For Life With A Newborn

Let's take a moment to talk about how to navigate new human life, as a parent: It is difficult, and it is beautiful. Up this week: Life with a newborn — and a few hard-earned lessons we'd like to share.

When my first son was born, our beloved pediatrician came to our room to give him a once-over before we headed home. We’d been holed up in that room for 48 hours getting to know one another: the baby, crying and crying for the milk that hadn’t come in yet, and me, panicked and obsessed over when it would come in. And during that time we had the gentle, around-the-clock care only nurses can provide. The doctor asked me how I was doing and I burst into tears. I wasn’t ready to go home. My 43 hours of labor and subsequent C-section on New Year’s Eve were a blur compared to what happened after. The morphine drip in the staging area before you enter the recovery room, the first bathroom visit, the all-over puffiness of my new body, the profuse sweating, the shakes, and the crying — my god, the crying. The handing over of my new baby to me minutes after he was ripped from my womb and the expectation that I would safely hold him in my arms in the bright elevator where two strangers beamed at me, and then continue to keep him safe for the rest of his life. Ironically, the birth was all I tried to prepare for and could not prepare for.

I needed information on what happened to your body when you were no longer swollen with pregnancy, and a chapter about how cracked your nipples could be from on-demand feeding. I needed a hospital tour that was less about what your room would look like and more about how to bathe and diaper and swaddle your new baby when you got home, using all the products you hoarded from the hospital in the big-enough bag you were instructed to bring. Where was the list of white noises your baby might love and where to download them from? A lesson on babywearing and putting together a stroller, and an explainer course on car seat strap placement?

But you know what? Most of this information is actually out there! It’s just not being pushed on us nearly as aggressively as the birth-preparedness stuff. Which brings me to the first piece of advice on my list of How To Prepare For A Newborn:

1. Plan to actually take the free classes you’re offered… and take them AFTER the baby comes. The breastfeeding class offered twice daily at my hospital was a godsend. I brought my own, live baby and got a lesson on different holds and positions rather than trying to remember what I once practiced on a doll. Find a class on how to use your baby carrier and let them show you what to do you with your own, actual baby. The knowledge will give you confidence and you will meet other adults in the same situation which brings us to my second piece of advice, which is…

2. Get a support group. I went to one mom and baby yoga class and that is where I looked around me and saw new moms whipping out their boobs to feed their babies — gasp! — outside of their living rooms, which until then I hadn’t done. We went out for lunch afterwards and I learned how to change my baby’s diaper in a public restroom, which is a skill I hadn’t even considered needing to know until then. A friend of mine signed up for a friend-finding app and met new moms that way. The transformative, earth-shattering work of being a new mother is just more palatable (more magical, even) when you have the support of other people who are experiencing the same thing.

3. Don’t commit to a sleeping situation until your baby comes. Every baby is different and every parent is also different. You won’t know if your baby likes to be rocked or swung or jiggled or vibrated until he or she arrives. And you also don’t know what you’ll be comfortable with until then, too. Co-sleeping, bed-sharing, a crib in their own room, a crib in your room — it’s a decision you’ll have to make (and re-make, and re-make) when it’s time. See if you can borrow items from friends or neighbors until you know what works, and then make a final purchase.

4. You know how people are always asking pregnant women if they want to practice holding their babies and it makes you uncomfortable because you feel like they’re judging your maternal-ness? Who cares! Hold them, rock them, feed them a bottle! Change their diapers, swaddle them, and ask their parents one hundred and forty thousand questions that are burning deep inside your soul. The answers may come to you at twilight one day as you face yet another hurdle on this profound journey.

5. Practice a mantra. Make sure that mantra brings you courage, peace and strength. My mantra is Nothing Is Permanent. The pain of childbirth has an end time, your baby will not stay awake for 24 hours forever, your milk will come in, your house will get clean, the circumcision wound will heal. You will leave your baby safely in the care of a babysitter, your baby will sleep through the night, and so will you. Later, your toddler may come into your bed every single night for a year and the minute she stops you’ll be wistful for that period where she did, because absolutely nothing is permanent when you’re raising a child except perhaps for the increasing love that enters your heart the day she is born, and the reality that as much as you prepare, there is more on-the-job learning than any other pursuit in the world.

A few more resources for parents everywhere:


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