When I was in labor with Theo, Elie timed my contractions for me on an app we had downloaded to our iPhones–how long they lasted and how far apart they were. At some point, well into labor, our doula suggested that we might not need to time the contractions anymore.
“Please keep timing them,” I said to Elie. “I like data.”
I’m a researcher at heart, and I like to be prepared. When we go on vacation, I spend hours and hours figuring out the best town or neighborhood to stay in, all the places we should eat, and the sights to see. For our home additions and remodels, I create extensive Pinterest boards filled with ideas and samples. And even for dinner parties, I scour cookbooks and create a menu and a written game plan for the evening. I like details.
So imagine the research I put into having a child and trying to figure out what to expect from those first few months. I read a lot. A lot of books, websites, blogs. I asked friends and family for advice on what to expect and how to prepare. I was so prepared that we actually quit our birthing class, because I had already learned everything on my own ahead of time.
As I’m writing this post, Theo is sleeping beside me. As I listen to his coos and sighs, I feel how I have eased into motherhood, and how the edge of newness has softened. I only realize now, as the whirl of those first weeks has settled, how emotional they really were. And how little my research prepared me for the reality of being a mama.
I am quite sure every mama and and dad experiences those first weeks in unique ways, and everyone has their own tips, tricks and gear that help to navigate the flood of emotions and responsibility of caring for this new little human being. I wanted to share the things that helped Elie and me the most those first two months.
And for all the new mamas and dads out there, if it seems overwhelming, know you will soon develop your own rhythm with your new little baby, and the time will pass more quickly than you can imagine Soon this little newborn will break into a big smile when you enter the room, and your heart will melt. We are just two-and-a-half months in, and each day just gets better and better. Here are a few of the things that helped us.
Amazon Prime. I am only partly kidding when I wonder how any new parents made it without Amazon Prime. I can’t tell you how many things I ordered in the middle of the night while nursing, some baby-related and some not. But in those first few weeks, running to the drug store or Target just isn’t that easy, so overcome your embarrassment at the pile of recycled cardboard by your garbage and order your razors or pacifiers or onesies online.
Medela Pump In-Style Breastpump. I didn’t buy a breast pump before Theo was born, because I wasn’t sure if I would need one right away, and I wasn’t sure what type to get. It’s one purchase I wish I had made. It would have saved a lot of stress when breastfeeding wasn’t going well and I needed to start pumping right away. The Medela Pump In-Style is easy to use and easy to clean, and I find it painless. I don’t have the carrying case, and I wish I did. Also, be sure to purchase nipple cream (I love this one) and apply it from day one, after every nursing session. It will help to keep your nipples from chapping and will help them to heal quickly if you have any latching problems.
Nursing Tops. Speaking of breastfeeding, it did not come easy to Theo and me, and so for a long time the thought of breastfeeding in public felt overwhelming. Theo had a hard time latching (he still does, sometimes), and so breastfeeding required quite a lot of hands-on attention. I breastfed in public for the first time when we went to Palm Springs for our first vacation with Theo, when he was about five weeks. Having tops built for nursing made me feel a lot more comfortable and discreet. I really like Milk Nursingwear, because their tops are reasonably priced and they don’t look frumpy, like some nursing tops do.
Baby Carriers. I debated whether or not to include this one, because, in truth, it hasn’t worked well for us. But I know baby wearing has been a life saver for other mamas, and baby wearing can help you to get out for a walk, run errands, or get a few things done around the house. Theo has never really taken to a carrier, and we’ve tried many of them–the Solly wrap, the Baby K’Tan, the Nuroo Baby, and the Baby Bjorn. Theo would tolerate being worn a little better during the first month or so, and Elie always had better luck than me, probably because I give up too easily. Now, he cries whenever we try to put him a carrier to wear him, but we keep trying. I’m hoping that when he has enough neck control to face forward, he’ll enjoy it more. He doesn’t like being swaddled, either, so maybe the two are related.
Snuggle Me Co-Sleeper. We didn’t really have a sleeping plan for when Theo came home from the hospital, other than he was going to sleep in the same room as us for the first three to four months. We thought he might sleep in the bassinet beside the bed, but it turns out, he didn’t like sleeping in the basinet. From his first night home, he slept in the bed between us, which usually ended with him sleeping on either my chest or Elie’s chest for most of the night, because I was afraid of squishing him. We know that wasn’t a sustainable solution, so we started researching co-sleepers. Elie found the Snuggle Me and we actually had it overnighted, we were so desperate to find a sleep solution that worked. And did it ever work! The Snuggle Me is soft and easily fit between Elie and me in our queen-sized bed. Theo immediately slept well in it at night, and we would move it around the house for nap times, too. After five weeks, we transitioned Theo to sleeping in the Snuggle Me on a bench next to our bed, which is where he still sleeps at night. During the day, we put the Snuggle Me in his crib, and that’s where he takes naps.
The Happy Sleeper Book. Theo has always been a good sleeper at night, almost from birth. But he hasn’t always been a great napper. Early on, part of that problem was because we didn’t realize how often he needed to nap, or for how long, resulting in him becoming overtired and hard to put to sleep. Somewhere around 6 or 7 weeks, I stumbled upon this book and ordered it in the middle of the night on Kindle. I immediately started reading (the hours of breastfeeding gives you lots of time to read), and the information just clicked. I started applying the principles for newborns to four months old, and Theo’s sleep patterns started to improve immediately, although every day is still different. (For more on Theo’s sleep schedule, see this post). I highly recommend reading this book before your little one is born.
Meal train. A good friend of ours set up a meal train for us, for those first few weeks after Theo was born. This was such a blessing, because in those first few weeks, finding time to eat anything, or even drink water, is a challenge, never mind cooking. Bonus points for foods that you can eat one-handed, which will come in handy as you’re learning to nurse. Don’t worry, you’ll get good at it. It’s great if friends and family can help with breakfast, lunch and snacks, not just dinner. I think I had lactation cookies for breakfast every day for weeks. There are online programs that make the scheduling easy, and you can help select days and times that are convenient for you, as well as specify food preferences.
A daily bath or shower. The oxygen mask analogy applies here. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. For me, taking a shower every morning and putting on make-up made me feel human, even if I was just staying in bed and nursing all day. Ask your spouse or another friend or family member to hold your sweet little one for 10 minutes in the morning while you get a few minutes to yourself. And if you don’t have anyone at home, try just laying the baby on a towel or in a swing next to the shower door. That way, you can easily hear him if he starts to fuss.
Limit Visitors. Everyone you know is so happy for you, and everyone wants to come by your house and give you a hug and snuggle your sweet baby. And you want them to! You want to share this joy with the people you love. But, you are so tired. And your hormones are shifting, and you’re teary half of the time. And you’re trying to figure out breastfeeding. And you’re worried about the baby catching a cold from someone who forgets to wash their hands. And you’re uncomfortable in this body that aches from bringing another human being into this world. So be nice to yourself, and limit your visitors for those first few weeks, until you’ve figured everything out and had a chance to get to know this little person. The people who love you will understand. Except for immediate family, we limited visits to one a day, for only 15 or 20 minutes each. Believe it or not, that felt like more than enough. Elie was the gatekeeper for visitors, and it really helped to have him managing the correspondence, the schedule, and the hosting. Even if you’re the ultimate hostess, let your husband (or your Mom, or your best friend) play that role for a while. They will love it, and you can just take a deep breath.
Supportive Partner. This should really be number one on my list, because I don’t know how I would have gotten through those first few weeks without Elie by my side. I’m just going to brag on my husband for a moment and say, he is amazing. For someone who never intended on being a father, he became ‘Super Dad’ the moment Theo was born. He felt instantly at ease with our son, holding him, soothing him, feeding him, changing his diapers. In the first few weeks, Elie got up with me for the nightly feedings, to hold Theo when I needed to pump, or to help sing him to sleep. I love watching him with our son. And Elie wasn’t just there for Theo. He made me coffee in the morning, reminded me to drink water, made sure I ate regularly, rubbed my back, kissed my cheek, and told me I was a great mama. And everything he did, he did with a loving and cheerful spirit.
If you are a mama doing this on your own, or if your husband has to go to work right away, perhaps you can ask friends or a family member to come by for an hour or two every day, just to give you a break. My Mom was also at our house during those first weeks, making dinner, doing laundry, keeping the house clean, giving our kitties attention, and doing dozens of other things I probably never saw. My mama is also amazing, and selfless. So, don’t be afraid to ask for support from the people who love you. They want to help.
And that gives you time to just snuggle that sweet baby and start to get to know this little person you and your spouse created together. It is an awe-inspiring journey.
I took these pictures of Theo when he was 11 1/2 week old. You know he’s still really little when you’re counting half-weeks.