The birth of a first child can be a daunting affair, and one that is fraught with questions. It is the beginning of a whole new era, normally one of sleepless nights and endless diapers. Even the most organized new mom will feel the strain of the new addition. Here we cover some tips for first time parents, to help along the way and ease the load of parenthood.
Being prepared will help make the first few months much less stressful.
Preparing for the event
- Stock up: start stocking up as soon as you find out you are pregnant. Stock the freezer and store cupboard. Set aside extra toilet paper and kitchen rolls. Make and freeze meals. If you prefer to buy ready-made meals, then do so and keep them in the freezer. You will be amazed at just how much time you don’t have after the birth!
- Take a class: your hospital will more than likely run classes to teach the basic things such as how to pick up and hold, bath and so on. It will also give you the opportunity to meet other people in the same situation as you are and possibly make new friends.
- Ask dad to take time off: even taking a week off work will be a valuable time for both of you. It will give dad first-hand experience of the newborn, and also give you the chance to share the workload and chores. It’s a great time for you both to bond with the babe and support each other.
Nursing a newborn
- Learn as much as you can before the birth: Learn about breastfeeding, if this is what you plan to do. While you are in the hospital, ask the nurses all those questions that you have no answers for. They are trained to answer them all. Never feel awkward about asking personal questions, the chances are they have gone through much the same as you.
- Wash your hands: you – and everyone else who handles your baby – should wash their hands or sanitise before picking the baby up. Newborn babies do not have very strong immune systems and can be very susceptible to infections so make it known that you expect this to be done before your little one is handled.
- Prepare: when you are getting ready to feed your newborn – breast or bottle – remember that it is a lengthy affair feeding a newborn. Get yourself a comfy chair, your favourite book and a glass of water. It’s a good idea to use the bathroom first yourself before you settle down. Leave the phone alone and try to enjoy the new experience with your little bundle.
- Pick up gently: remember that a newborn baby cannot support its own head so when you pick the baby up you should always support the head. Slice one hand under the head and neck area and the other hand under the bottom. Gently move so that you have the head in the crook of your arm and the bottom in your hand. This will leave your other hand free to open doors, drink a well needed cup of tea or turn the pages of your book.
- Warm compresses work well: this works well if your breasts are swollen with milk. Heating pads are an excellent idea as are simple warm, wet facecloths. Sometimes you can find flax pillows which you heat up in the microwave oven. All of these serve to make the whole meal time a bit more comfortable for mom. You will find that applying some heat will help the milk flow.
- Frozen peas for sore breasts: if your breasts are sore after a session of nursing, then consider using either a pack of frozen peas or an ice pack. The cold will numb any pain and discomfort.
- Be prepared to feed often: your newborn will want to feed every three to four hours. This is something that you will need to accept. Life will revolve around mealtimes. Your baby will let you know when he or she is full. They will spit out the bottle teat or turn away from your breast. It is very unusual for a baby to become dehydrated but one sign is that there are less than 8 wet diapers per day and a dry and sallow skin. If this happens it is essential that you get to your doctor as soon as possible. Dehydration in a newborn can be fatal.
- Introducing a bottle: If your plan is to bottle feed your baby, then it is a good idea to start this new routine only after a breastfeeding routine has been well established. This usually works out to be just before the three month mark. You may try one bottle a day in the beginning and keep breastfeeding the little one, until you are sure there will be no problems changing over.
- Have visitors when you are ready: before the event, you should decide on how you will handle visitors. Sometimes relatives think that they have a right to spend more time with you now, than ever before. You will appreciate help, but you will also need private time. Not every visitor will be helpful and these you should try to limit until you feel up to. Don’t be afraid to refuse a visitor. Husbands are good at negotiating the point that you are not ready to see people yet.
- Work out your limitations: If you are constantly depressed and feel emotionally unstable, then seek help. Likewise, if you feel uncontrollable anger towards a crying baby, get help. Postpartum depression is not uncommon. Never shake your baby, no matter how frustrated you feel. Set the baby down and walk away. As long as the baby is in a safe place, it will come to no harm. Take yourself out of the room and calm down. Never feel guilty about having to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed.
- Another reason to cry: some babies cry because they are wet, or cold, or hungry. However, there are some babies that cry when they want to be left alone to sleep longer! Do not dismiss this reason to cry. Just as people get cranky when they get tired, your baby might just want to be left alone to sleep.
- Don’t assume: never assume that the quiet baby has better parents. This is probably not the case. What you should assume is that they are fortunate enough to have a quiet baby. At this early stage in the baby’s life discipline has yet to become a factor. The parents with the quiet baby are just lucky to have a quiet baby. No more, no less.
A newborn baby can sleep as much as 16 hours a day, but unfortunately this is only in short bursts. Little wonder then that new moms are sleep deprived, as they are constantly on the alert for any noises and movement.
- Don’t be too quiet: the womb is not a quiet place! Safe, warm and secure – yes. Quiet – no! Turn on the tv if you feel like it, do the dishes while your little one sleeps. The baby will get used to the noise. There is no need to tiptoe around because the baby is asleep. Just be yourself, the babe will adjust.
- Don’t get angry, get sleep: sometimes it is hard to be that happy new parent that all the books show, and all visitors are expecting. It is not surprising that you are angry or frustrated at lack of sleep. What is important here is that you try to accept that sleeplessness is a part of babyhood. Try not to be angry and tired, you are not going to get a full night’s sleep for a while. Try to accept this and focus on just being tired.
- Share the load: if at all possible try to rope dad into doing some night work. Perhaps one night you could do the late calls and he can do the early hours. Perhaps at the weekends you can sleep in while dad takes care of the morning routine. Remember that the babe is half his and he should get used to his offspring.
- When baby sleeps, you sleep: at first this may not seem a logical solution but you will find if you can cat nap through the day when the little one is asleep, you will be able to handle nights better. No one can be permanently sleep deprived so try this suggestion. If your little one has trouble falling asleep, do whatever you need to do to settle it. At this stage, there will be no bad habits formed, and you may even feel better with an extra hour here and there.
- Avoid fluffy toys: keep these away from your newborn until a few months old. Placing any soft things in the crib increases the risk of suffocation. Remember that your newborn cannot move freely yet and therefore does not need anything to put him in danger.
Feeding, Burping and Soothing
New parents often find it very difficult to work out what exactly the new born wants. Eventually you will learn, but in the beginning, it seems more like a maze to get through.
- Mimic your womb: Remember that your baby has spent the majority of its short life safely coddled inside you, all warm, comfortable and gently moving around. Anything that mimics this is going to be familiar for them and will help to calm them down. Never be embarrassed at rocking your baby. This is what it is familiar with and may help to give you a peaceful night. Even gentle music may help here. Forget the theory that listening to music breeds another Einstein, your focus should be on calming him down.
- Use voicemail: when you are busy feeding the babe, set the phone to have voicemail come on. You do not need to be distracted or feel you have to get up to answer the phone. If it is important, they will call back. It is easier to let a call go to voicemail than to answer when you are tired or nursing. You could even set a daily message updating the progress of the baby and then not answer all day.
- Keep things warm: when you come to change a diaper, remember that your little one has been warm and snuggly for some time and will not be very happy if you wipe his bottom with a cold cloth! Remember that you don’t like a gush of cold water down your back when you are expecting it to be warm. This is going to upset a little one. At worst keep the wipes at room temperature, but if possible warm them up before cleaning bottoms. If your baby is very restless, and the umbilical cord has dropped off then you may try a warm bath together. Have the little one lie on your chest, or however is comfortable for you both. Warm water will be a familiar feeling and he may well drop off.
- Burp gently: because there is a certain amount of air swallowed during feeding, it is only natural that your infant will spit up or become uncomfortable if not burped often. Remember that this is a baby and not an adult so there is no need to be too forceful when burping. Either hold the baby up at your shoulder and gently pat his back with one hand, or sit baby upright on your lap, support the head, and pat his back. Another way to do this is to lay the infant on the stomach over your knees and gently pat the back. In all these situations, you should be prepared for some feed to be regurgitated and have a towel at hand.
- Do a quick change at night: Babies often mix up day and night by being fast asleep during the day and wide awake at night. It is a good idea to start teaching your baby that night time is for sleeping. You can do this by keeping diaper changes quick at night, keep the lights down low and put the baby back right after the change. If your newborn seems to sleep more than three hours in one session during the day, then gently wake them up and play with them. This way you will get them into the habit of playing in the day and sleeping at night.
- Watch the umbilical: before the umbilical cord has dropped off, your baby should only be sponged. This usually happens around 1 – 4 weeks. The same goes for circumcision. Don’t bath before this time.
- Bath time: it is quite alright to bath your baby about two to three times a week. This prevents their skin from drying out too much. Have everything ready before you start, keep the room warm and have enough towels to dry the baby with. Never, ever leave your baby alone in the bath! If you must leave the room, wrap the infant in a towel and take him with you.
- Deal with diaper rash: this is a common thing with babies of all ages. You will know the rash as it is red and bumpy. Most rashes go away in a few days with a good barrier cream. They normally happen because the skin is so sensitive and will become irritated by wet diapers. Change the diapers regularly. Wipe the area clean and apply a good barrier cream. Having the baby go without diapers on for a period of time is also a good idea as the air will heal the rash. Should you have a rash that continues for more than three days, then you should have it checked out by your doctor.
Most dads really want to be involved in this important stage of the baby, but are probably scared to death of dropping the infant – or worse – not doing things the way mom is doing them. He saw you through your pregnancy so now is the time to give him the chance to get to know the little one. He may not change a diaper exactly as you do, but he can learn.
- Let him try: this way you may be able to take a well earned nap! Be assured that dad will do his level best to keep the baby comfy and calm. This is his chance to bond with his new offspring, so take a back seat for a while and let him muddle through. Let him know that if he needs you, you’ll be there, and then go and rest!
- Share duties: there is plenty of work to go around with a new baby and this is the time to share things. Perhaps one night he can cook the meal while you settle the infant. You could leave the baby at home with dad and go and have your nails done. He could do the washing and you do the tumble drying. The lists are endless, in the way that you can share the new load. This way dad will also get some time alone with the new baby.
- Enjoy the new addition: try not to allocate chores to dad which are all the yukky ones. Remember that dads also want to enjoy their new baby. Let him hold the little one until it falls asleep. Let him be around when the baby starts to smile. Try to share all the good things that will come along, as well as the tedious chores.
- Meet another new dad: more than likely your colleagues will not be interested in how you managed to successfully put the diaper on the newborn! However, the dad that you met at the hospital while your wives were in labour will be itching to talk about his swaddling techniques! Get together with each other and compare notes. Not only is this good in the good times, but it will be a help when the going gets tough and you are both having sleepless nights and teething troubles.
Going out and staying sane
- Accept help: you are going to find that you are constantly trying to juggle things like feeding and laundry. Cooking a meal and trying to settle a baby. Accept help when it is offered. If a neighbour offers to cook a meal – accept it! If someone offers to hold the baby while you fold the laundry, let them do it! Every little bit of help takes some strain of you. If people want to help but don’t know what to so, give them a suggestion. Ask them to run the vacuum over the carpet while you bath the baby. Often people want to help but don’t know where to start.
- Let housework slide: right now, there are more important things on your mind than housework. Focus on your new job and getting to know the new baby. You can always pick up on the housework at a later date.
- Ignore confusing advice: everyone will have advice for you on how to feed, burp and bath your baby. And everyone’s idea will be different. This is the time to ignore all that advice and work things out for yourself. If you really do not know what to do in a situation, then talk to someone who knows more than most. Ask your doctor or nurse. At the end of the day, you are the new parents and you get to decide what to do for your newborn.
- Stay in touch with the world: go outside on your own. Get some fresh air, even if only for a few minutes. This will bring you back in touch with the outside world. While having a baby is time consuming, it should not mean that you never leave your house. Sit in the garden with a cup of coffee for half an hour.
- See your hairdresser: make an appointment to get your hair done. Leave your newborn with someone reliable and take yourself off. You will feel a whole lot better, and the baby will never even know you were gone. Leave him fed, warm and dry and take some time for yourself.
- Buy a dishwasher: not everyone can do this, but if you can you will find it an amazing bonus in your busy day. Buy the biggest one you can afford and don’t be afraid to use it. A huge part of your day is going to be spent, changing diapers (about 15 a day at first) and the last thing you need to be looking at is the stack of dishes waiting to be washed.
- Go with a friend: the first time you and the newborn go out is going to be a daunting time for you. The sheer work of getting the baby and all the paraphernalia out of the car is in itself a huge task! Take someone with you who has done it all before. Accept their help in putting the pushchair back together and opening doors for you. This will get easier for you the more you do it, it just takes time. Try to go to baby friendly places, where bathrooms are freely available and moms are welcome.
- Secure the baby: make sure the little one is securely fastened in the stroller or car seat. Remember that the baby is still fairly fragile. Limit and rough, bouncy activity. Throwing the baby up into the air and catching him again is not a good idea. Let Uncle Bill know that you don’t want him to do this even before he tries it!
- Keep the bag packed: You never know when you will have to leave the house in a hurry, perhaps to go to the doctor urgently. Keep the diaper bag packed. As soon as you get back home, restock it with anything you have used and keep it at hand in case you need to go out in a hurry. It is a good idea to take a spare top for yourself, along with a change of baby clothes. You just never know when an accident will happen, and you do not want to be left with a clean baby but a dirty top yourself.
- Keep things short: visits, nails, hair. Keep them short. Be prepared to change plans at any moment because the baby has an upset tummy or something similar.
- Doctor’s appointments: try to stay away from Monday morning appointments. Everyone who has caught a cold at the weekend will be in the waiting room. Try for the mid-week if possible. After lunch at the start of the afternoon surgery is the time when you are less likely to have to wait.
- Buy a better jacket: if possible buy a jacket with a hood. When you are pushing a baby and it starts to rain, a hood is far easier than trying to deal with umbrellas. Also, the added pockets will come in handy for extra packets of tissues, gloves and other things that will mean you don’t have to go scrabbling around in bags for.
- Take water with you: Breast feeding makes you thirsty. Take a bottle or a cup of water with you. Try to get a cup or bottle holder for the pushchair so you have water at hand. This means that you don’t have to detour into anywhere to buy bottled water, you can simply carry your own with you.
- Like with like: there are some things that you will only be able to talk to another mother about. Other people – despite the best intentions – are really not interested in what the nappy contents looked like! Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with another mom, she is more than likely just as confused as you are, and will welcome the chance to get a second opinion on her questions.
- Read a book: if possible, join a book club. Remember that it is very likely that you will not read a complete book again for some years! This will force you into doing something productive with spare time, and also keep you in the real world.
- Keep a diary: buy a diary even before the birth of the baby and write sometime in it every day! You don’t need to write an essay, just a few notes about how the day is going, what the baby is doing, when you first saw him smile, and so on. In years to come you will be able to read it and remember, even though at the time you lived in a state of sleep deprivation. It will also remind you of just how precious your first baby was.
Work on your marriage
The first year of a new baby will take its toll on any marriage. More demands are made on your time and strength and you might sometimes feel that everyone wants a part of you and there is not too much left to go around.
- Make a date: after the novelty of being with the newborn wears off, it is time to get back into being a couple again, even if it is only one night a week. Have a date night. Enlist the help of a reliable person to babysit. Go out! The baby will survive! Enjoy a meal, see a movie, take a walk. Show your partner that he is still the most important person in your life.
- Snuggle up: if you can’t go out, then do the next best thing. Snuggle up, watch a movie, hold hands. Be the couple you were before the baby came along.
- Patience: remember that this is a learning curve for both of you. Dad might not feed the newborn as well as mom, but he is doing the best he can. Let him work it out without criticizing him on his technique. This is a whole new era for you both and communication must come first to keep your marriage working.
- Support each other: make sure you back him and and take his side instead of siding with your mom. He is the one you chose, he should also take your side instead of him mom’s. The newborn is your joint affair and this means that you as a couple should now depend on and support each other.
- Discuss disagreements: don’t leave things up in the air. If there is a problem, then discuss it, come to a conclusion, agree to disagree and work the solution. But never leave it hanging. Communication is the key here, as a couple you should try to talk about any problems which arise from the newborn.
- Sleep when you can: take advantage of any extra sleep you can get! With all the added work load, your bodies need rest. Take turns in letting the other one sleep. When you are comfortable, leave the baby with someone overnight so you can get an uninterupped night of sleep. Cat nap when you can, you need it!
- Adapt: be prepared to adapt and change if needed. This is a very trying time and changes will need to be made with a new addition. Try not to be set in your ways. Remember that there might not ba a right and a wrong way now, you may need to compromise on some things, and that’s ok. This is good grounding for later when things like discipline comes up. If you start off discussing these thing, it will be easier as you go along.
- Don’t be afraid to say no: be honest with yourselves and family. They might mean well, but hosting the Christmas dinner with a newborn is a certain way to cause arguments and put extra stress on you, not only as person but also as a couple. Be polite and refuse. There will be other times when you can take on more work, but right now, you should take on as little extra as you can. Even attending things like family get gatherings may seem daunting now, and you should never feel obliged to attend.
- Agree on budgets: having a baby is expensive and there will be more bills involved. The key here is to talk to each other, set realistic budgets about who spends what, and stick to them. Take into account that there may be emergencies that crop up from time to time, and if possible, keep a certain amount of money aside for eventualities like that.
- Don’t compare: don’t compare your husband to someone else’s who seems to be the perfect dad. Also don’t compare yourself with other women who are the perfect mom in your opinion. And lastly, don’t compare you baby with the baby down the road. You as a family unit are all individual and should work as a unit. Never mind about the couple next door, focus on being the best family you can.
- Learn from the baby: read the signs from your baby that tells you he is hungry, wet, cold or sleepy. Share these signs with dad so you both know what to look for.
- Have a life: watch the news once a day. There are other things going on outside. Try not to become so involved in the new baby that you forget about anything else. This is particularly important if dad works. While he will love to come home to you and the little one, he might actually wish for a decent conversation which does not include diapers and dinner! Don’t forget your social life. If you used to meet friends once a week, get a sitter and start doing that again. Remember that there is life still out there, even with a baby.
- Enjoy the journey: the first year of your baby’s life will pass so quickly, even with all the frustrations and worry that comes with it. Before you know it, the little one will be walking and then off to school! Enjoy those precious moments, take heaps of photos, stick them in an album, put them in a frame. Remember that when the going gets really tough, things will get better.
Things you might like
Here is a pack of Newborn diapers which will keep you going when you first come home.
This very handy adjustable carrier sling will make it easy for you to go out with your newborn.
This cute little 3 piece cardigan set is perfect for a newborn’s first outing.
For bath times, this deluxe tub will provide many happy baths.
This cute rock and rattle toy will keep little ones amused.
Remember: there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Each parent is a human being just trying to do their best in raising their child. As a new parent, you should just be the best you can, enjoy your new baby and learn as you go along. Keep an open mind and enjoy the journey.