A friend of mine is pregnant with her first baby due in July. A few weeks ago, she asked if I had any advice for her, which is sort of like asking a pastry chef if she has anything sweet. I put myself in her shoes, remembered how overwhelming everything felt in those months before — and after! — the baby came, and condensed my advice into what I thought was the most important to keep in mind. Mostly, I stuck to product recommendations because, if you’ve never had a kid and don’t know many people with babies, it’s hard to know what stuff is necessary — or just useful — in those early months and what’s stuff that some company is just trying to sell to chumps who don’t know better. Keep reading for the advice I shared with my friend and feel free to pass it along to your pregnant pals or use it as a guide for baby shower shopping.
You’ll have your own birth plan/ how you want to do things (or not; I didn’t really), so I won’t get into all that, but I will say that if you have a vaginal birth at a hospital, be sure to take home everything that is offered to you. You’ll want to bring home extra disposable panties (don’t ask, just take ’em), maxi pads, and bed pads, especially. Also, that squirt bottle for … um, squirting water on your nether regions.
After the baby
Best thing I did was form a new mother’s group. I did this when I was about seven or eight months pregnant. I just searched for neighborhood parenting yahoo groups, posted a message for woman due around the same time I was, and set up a get-together shortly before we started having our babies. There were about 20 of us who all gave birth within a few weeks of each other and, during the first few months of our babies’ lives, we’d meet up a lot for lunch potlucks, walks, happy hour (you wouldn’t think it, but bars during the day are a great place for new moms to congregate!). Having that connection in the crazy, early months made such a difference in my well-being. And 18 months later, I’m still close with a few of the women (and their families) and we get together on weekends and sometimes for ladies’ nights in the hood.
Your hormones will be wackadoodle in the first few weeks after giving birth and it’s totally normal if you feel like crying all the time. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or that you don’t love your baby or that you have postpartum depression, but/ if it goes on longer than a few weeks and if you ever have thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby, definitely talk to your doctor or midwife.
Know that the first three months will be hard and they will pass. The sleep deprivation, the struggling with nursing, the not really knowing your baby — all of that will work itself out and things will begin to feel more normal again. It’s also a beautiful time, full of lots of bonding moments, so soak up the good stuff and don’t feel bad if you don’t love all of it. (And don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help in whatever form might work for you. I got a prescription for a low-dose anxiety medication that I still take once or twice a month when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed).
Get out with your partner — sans baby — as soon as you feel comfortable leaving him with someone. Drew and I got out for a brunch on our own when Jack was two weeks old (Drew’s brother and SIL babysat) and it was great. Then, when Jackson was 2 1/2 months old, we hired a real babysitter and went to some Christmas parties. After that, we just established that we’d go out at least once every three weeks, even if it was just for a quick bite to eat in the neighborhood. This has been essential in keeping our marital bond strong and reminding us that we are a couple before we’re parents.
Stuff I Recommend
(This should go without saying, but of course, whenever you are able to borrow this stuff instead of purchase, do that! Most of this crap you’ll only use for a few months, so it’s great if you can get away with not spending a lot on it. We borrowed a lot from friends whose son is a year older than Jackson.).
Kind of tricky to learn how to wrap, but look up a how-to video on YouTube or ask your childbirth instructor or a friend to show you (I can even show you on Facetime if you want). These are great for when your baby is super small (newborn to 4-ish months) and makes walking with them really easy. I used this exclusively until Jackson was five months old (never even used a stroller once until then).
Ergo (plus newborn insert)
Functions like a wrap, but holds more weight and isn’t as tricky to get on and off. I didn’t think this worked as well for a newborn, but it’s not so bad if you have the newborn insert. Still, I definitely preferred the wrap until Jack was a few months old.
Although a big purse or tote bag will do in a pinch, I love a traditional diaper bag for all the pockets and different sections to store different things. Some, like the one I own, even comes with its own changing mat kept discretely in a bottom zipper section. We also have this Skip Hop bag, which Drew and our babysitter uses. I think this Ju-Ju diaper bag would be a great baby shower gift as well.
Skip Hop Diaper Changing Mat
If your diaper bag doesn’t come with its own changing mat, be sure to get one! This one is easy to clean and fold and fits well in most bags.
Infant tub with newborn sling
Fits well in most sinks and babies seem comfortable in it.
Inflatable duck tub
Great for travel! But also great to have as a smaller contained space in a big tub.
JJ Cole Bundle Me
You put this in baby’s stroller or even bouncy seat in the winter months to keep him all cozy and warm (bonus for you: it helps the baby sleep more).
White noise giraffe
I seriously don’t know what we’d do without this thing.
Bjorn travel crib
Very similar to pack-n-play, which a lot of people like, but we have this instead and like it a lot; it’s very lightweight and is relatively easy to travel with. Also doubles as a “play pen” when baby gets mobile.
Sleep Sacks (we like the brand Halo)
After the baby grows out of swaddles — which could be anywhere from a few weeks to many months (but 2-3 months is about average–Jackson was over it after about 3 weeks) you’ll want to use sleep sacks. Blankets aren’t good because they are a hazard for little babies who can’t roll over yet.
Dr. Brown’s Bottle warmer
We had another bottle warmer that broke on us, but this one is still going strong.
Zutano fleece booties
Unlike a lot of baby booties, these actually stay on. Plus, they’re cute and warm. Did I mention that they stay on?
Aden and Anais swaddle blankets, crib bedding, and bath towels.
Pretty much everything Aden and Anais is super soft, durable, and well-designed (both aesthetically and practically). I don’t think a day has passed that we haven’t used an Aden and Anais product.
Graco Snap-n-Go stroller
This is great because the car seat snaps into the stroller frame (be sure to buy each, of course), making transportation a … snap. Perfect for the first few months. Seriously, don’t even bother buying a “real” stroller until your baby is at least four months old because this snapping-the-car-seat-in-stroller-frame is so much easier and you can only do this for the first few months, so live it up! When Jackson was about five month old, we switched up to an umbrella stroller (the UPPAbaby G-Luxe, which we love).
Not every baby likes a swing, so if you can try one out before your purchase — or, better yet, borrow one from a friend — that’s the way to go. We used this one, which Jackson loved. He also liked this one, which he got to try at a couple of friends’ places.
This is a necessity. I’ve never met a baby who didn’t love and need a bouncy seat. This will buy you hours of hands-free time to actually do stuff like cook, check your email, and maybe even bathe.
There are two popular brands that make these things — Bumbo and Prince Lionheart. We inherited a Bumbo and it was fine. These are perfect from months like 3 to 6-ish, as the baby is learning to sit up and is strengthening his or her core muscles. This is basically just a big piece of rubber to pay for and store that your baby will likely only use for a few weeks — although it’s very useful for those few weeks! — so if you can borrow this one or find a cheap used one, that’s the way to go.
They sell everything you will need, have free delivery, and will deliver to your door within 48 hours, often within 24 hours, and sometimes even as quickly as 12 hours after you place your order! Through their different sibling sites, you can also get pet food, groceries, toiletries — anything you need, really. This is a god-send if you don’t have a car or have your hands full with a child and just need your shit delivered straight to your door.
Finally, if someone offers to throw you a baby shower, don’t turn them down! Say yes, register for all this crap, and be genuinely grateful when people help get you started on your new — expensive! exhausting! — life as parents. You will have plenty of opportunities to return the favor.