So much excitement can come with expecting your first baby. Friends and loved ones might want to throw you a shower. You might be thinking about names or how you’ll reveal your baby’s gender, if you choose to find out.
All of that excitement can become overwhelming quickly, especially if things don’t go exactly as expected during pregnancy or delivery. And when the baby comes home, new parents often are surprised by how much they have to learn. The potential for failure can feel like it’s lurking around every corner.
Most parents have been there. And there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We asked 10 of our patients who’ve had more than one child to share their best advice for first-time parents.
These are their words of wisdom.
1. Try to set reasonable expectations.
Every pregnancy and every birth experience is different and somewhat unpredictable. It’s smart to have a set of preferences in mind for pregnancy and delivery – for example, a desire to exercise every day or have a natural birth. But if, for some reason, you wind up on bedrest or need a C-section, it’s easy to feel crushed when your expectations aren’t met. Consider what’s best for you and your baby in the moment, not what you might have envisioned at the beginning. And find a doctor you can trust so you won’t feel inclined to second-guess the recommendations, which may leave you stressed out and unhappy in one of the most important moments in your life.
2. Cloth diapers are super handy.
Even if you ultimately decide to use disposable diapers, grab a few packs of cloth diapers. They’re versatile and can be used for cleaning up spills, dusting, or draping over the shoulder as a burp rag. In fact, some parents continue to buy them for cleaning long after their baby is past the diaper stage!
3. The room does not have to be perfect before baby comes.
Really, all you need to have ready is the bassinet or baby sleeping area; a changing table; diapers; wipes; and many, many onesies and sleepers.
4. You don’t have to run to the pediatrician with every cough or sniffle.
New parents worry, and we get that. But bringing your baby to the pediatrician’s office with every tiny symptom can expose the baby unnecessarily to other kids’ germs. If you’re worried, call the pediatrician's nurse to see if an appointment is necessary. That said, if your baby has a high fever; seems lethargic; or isn’t eating, peeing, or pooping normally, it’s time to see the pediatrician.
5. Pack light when you go to deliver your baby.
A few weeks before your due date, pack some toiletries, comfortable clothes such as loose sweats or a housedress, and a few outfits for the baby. Your hospital of choice can provide a list of items to bring, as well as items to leave at home, such as valuables. Though you’ll need a car seat to take your baby home, you don’t need to bring it when you’re admitted. It will be in the way of doctors, nurses, and visitors. Check out our list of recommend items to bring to the hospital.
6. Correct latching is vital for successful breastfeeding.
Some babies catch on to breastfeeding quickly after birth, but many don’t. The mom who contributed this tip said that for two weeks after her baby was born, she dealt with blisters and sores on her breasts. Her friends told her breastfeeding would be uncomfortable, and she thought it was normal. Finally, she got a lactation consultation and realized her baby hadn’t been latching properly. If something feels wrong or isn’t working, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It just means you need a little help, and that’s OK!
7. Babies are tougher than you think.
I taught my 2-year-old son that his little brother was “made of glass” when we brought him home, but nine months later, they were already wrestling on the floor. While newborns are delicate, you may be surprised by the level of noise they can ignore, such as the vacuum cleaner, and the positions they can assume (and sleep in comfortably). Babies spend several months in the womb, which is constantly noisy – they’re used to this type of environment.
8. Proper swaddling can make/break your baby’s sleeping.
This is a big one! Until birth, your baby had never experienced free range of motion. The baby had been cramped in the womb for months, and that sudden freedom to jerk the arms and legs during sleep has to feel kind of strange. Ask a nurse to show you how to safely swaddle your baby for security while transitioning into the new world. Proper swaddling has saved a lot of frustrated tears from sleep-deprived babies and parents!
9. No two babies are the same.
This one may seem obvious, but you wouldn’t guess that by the mounds of (often unsolicited) advice you’ll receive during your baby’s first few months of life. What works for a friend’s or coworker’s baby may not work for yours. Don’t let anyone make you feel like a bad parent because you do things differently from them. Ask your doctor, and trust that you will receive healthy recommendations for your baby. It can be tough at first to figure out what your baby needs, but there is no one better for the job than you.
10. Everything will be OK.
Take a deep, calming breath. Most of my patients who are seeing us for their second, third, or fourth pregnancies say the same thing: Being a parent is a difficult, and no one is perfect. Our advice is to focus on the health and happiness of your baby and yourself.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, and try not to worry about keeping up with your pre-baby lifestyle. Dirty dishes and laundry can wait, and your baby is little for only so long.
Important bonus advice from the Your Pregnancy Matters team: Your emotional and physical health is just as important as your baby’s. If you feel depressed, overly anxious, or physically ill, call your Ob/Gyn right away to be examined for postpartum depression or another condition.
Asking for help does not mean you’re failing as a parent. In fact, getting help when you need it makes you a better parent and helps keep your baby safe and healthy.