Spoiler Alert: Truly preparing for a baby to enter your world has pretty much zero to do with breathing techniques or packing the perfect hospital bag.
Growing up in a large family, I had 1 older brother, 2 younger brothers, and a younger sister. But I never had an older sister. I always, always wanted an older sister! Girls with older sisters just KNEW things. They had a certain edge on everything from style to dirty jokes to how to jump rope backwards on one foot with your eyes closed. They were armed with all the knowledge and hand me downs necessary to live a full life. Without the help of an older sister, I was late to find out when side ponytails went out of style, when to trade in my Trapper Keeper for a pink Lisa Frank notebook and folder, and that while you need to shave your legs, you actually do not need to shave your arms.
Little did I know, one day I would marry a guy who was the youngest of 9. All 8 in-laws were married with kids by the time I arrived on the scene, which meant I instantly inherited the womanly wisdom of 8 older sisters! Score. Let me tell you, my new status of YOUNGER SISTER started coming in super handy when I began having children of my own. The advice I received was completely unfiltered, un-sugarcoated, exactly the way I needed it.
As I stare down the final 8 hours of my fourth pregnancy I have decided the following information is too valuable to keep to myself. It is time to pay it forward. So to all the women out there that need the collective knowledge of 8 older sisters when entering this often confusing new phase of life- read on. Take careful notes.
So here it is, the straight to the point list of things-to-know before that adorable little dictator enters your world:
1.) Breastfeeding may be painful, and may not come naturally. It may make you cry, and regardless of your expectations, you may give up or at least want to give up. Know this going in, so you are ready to embrace all the advice from moms out there who have been through it and overcome the same obstacles you’re going to face. Yes you will feel pressure to do it, by friends, coworkers, doctors, you name it, and for good reason. Breastfeeding is absolutely the perfect food for a newborn. There is no debating that fact. But guess what? There is a pretty strong possibility it might not work out. And if you end up bottle feeding, it’s. going. to. be. ok. Let’s keep things in perspective. Your baby is still going to grow up to be a normal, well liked, functioning human being (perhaps because you’ll be neurotic about every other aspect of their lives!).
2.) Really need to make it work though? Here are all the things that helped me nurse each of my children for the first year of life:
a.) drink plenty of water.
b.) get a nurse, lactation consultant, or experienced mother to fix your positioning…. positioning is everything.
c.) give each breast enough time to fully empty before switching sides.
d.) always nurse your baby before pumping what’s left over.
e.) do not start too early with a bottle or they will become too lazy for the breast.
f.) make sure baby gets a good burp after each feeding. This way you’re not mistaking their cries about gas for hunger. Little taps up and down their back until you hear it.
g.) tickle the baby from the chin to their little nose to get their mouth to open wide and get a proper latch. Otherwise you may find yourself with bloody nips. Let me tell you- this is no picnic.
h.) make sure you’re eating enough nutritionally dense calories to produce lots of milk. 3 meals and 2 snacks full of lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber should do the trick. Keep a stash of healthy snacks near you for night feedings.
i.) invest in a good nursing pillow so you’re not holding the baby’s head up during each feeding session (which sometimes results in carpal tunnel syndrome). The nursing pillow can also serve to prop baby up for tummy time/ play time as they grow.
j.) if you are pumping (insert loud elephant noises here): breast milk lasts 6 hours at room temperature, 6 days in the fridge, and 6 months in the freezer.
k.) use your own breastmilk to soothe sore breasts and baby skin issues. Breast milk seriously is liquid gold. Make sure to tell any and all babysitters/ caregivers to refrigerate even the last precious ounce of each pumped baba. They may look at you like you have ten heads, but unless you have ten boobs, continue to issue this critical instruction.
l.) how to know if your baby is actually getting the milk? You will see and even hear gulping. Watch their little throat as they nurse. In the beginning it is difficult to tell, but after a while it will become obvious.
2.) Now is the optimal time to take your child out to dinner. Not when they can sit up on their own, or order from the menu. Yes, they will love the white noise and probably sleep through the whole ordeal and no, no one will care or likely even notice if you have a baby in their car seat at your feet or on the bench beside you. I fretted about this with number 1 and now I have no idea why. Bring them along now, before they turn all Toddler on you, demanding crayons and then poking them into their chicken nuggets in the blink of an eye.
3.) One SIL told me to drink at least one full bottle of wine before having to you do you-know-what again. A second SIL used a metaphor about throwing a baseball down the hall. Read: that may be no picnic either. Moving right along…
4.) Infants have a strong sucking relax and at the time of this publication it is still very much legal to give them a pacifier/binky/dummy/soothie. It is also legal, but only in the state of New Jersey, to name your children Binky, Dummy, or Soothie.
5.) Your life is now all about trial and error, and never feeling like you’re getting it quite right. Mastered breastfeeding? On to sleep training. Mastered sleep training? On to walking. Mastered walking? On to potty training. And so on, and so on. Compare yourself to no one, compare your child to no one, and you may just survive the mental anguish of parenting a young child.
6.) You’re never going to let your child watch tv? Good one! They’ll be trilingual by age 4? High five. High fructose corn syrup? Not on your watch, right? Wrong. You may be the most skilled and loving parent in the world, but one day your child is going to come home from a birthday party with a goody bag, and want to eat the m&m’s. They are also going to want to know who this Peppa Pig chick is. Your kids will still turn out just fine if you can lighten up a little on this stuff.
7.) Easy on the God complex. Other people can and should spend time with your children, without your hovering over them. This one took me WAY too long to figure out. You may know your child’s needs and wants better than anyone, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend every waking hour with them. Children need to know that they can feel safe with several trusted adults, including your partner, your parents, your in-laws, vetted babysitters, etc. It takes a village my dear, not just one neurotic mother on a mission to shield her baby from anyone who isn’t her clone. If you take a break, they will totally survive. On the flip side, if you never take a break, you will not survive.
8.) Babies need closeness, movement, white noise, a few swaddle blankets, and calories. They do not need Burberry onesies or 500 toys. Read books, sing songs, and keep it simple for them. Spend the money on a much needed massage. And because you’re wiping up a whole lot of it lately, do not apologize about drooling during said massage.
9.) Take all advice, including mine, with a grain of salt. I am about to become a mother for the fourth time, and I now know that this baby will be every bit as unique and beautiful and imperfect as his brother and sisters. They all evolve at their own pace. If something isn’t working, try going at it from a different angle. Just because your neighbor’s daughter is walking at 8 months does not mean yours will be crawling into her senior prom. Most moms need to hear just this: keep your expectations in check. Keep your sense of humor. Be kind to yourself, and also to your partner who is helping to raise your child/children. Parenting a young child is the ultimate test of mental, physical, and emotional toughness. Rise to the challenge by taking a deep breath and not letting the little things get to you.
10.) You knew it was coming. After 6 weeks, get back into the best shape of your life, or at least your pre-pregnancy wardrobe, by walking, drinking water, eating whole foods, eliminating junk food, and regularly doing the safe and effective workouts found right here on Postparty that are custom designed for your recovering postpartum body and new lifestyle. Don’t go mad trying to lose the baby weight all at once. Before 6 weeks, don’t even think about doing planks, pushups, or burpees. Your abs, back, and overall core are not there yet. Trust me here. You run the risk of developing Diastasis Recti (painful condition that keeps your ab muscles split apart, resulting in an unsightly mummy tummy “pooch”, back pain, and occasionally surgery). There are much safer ways to re-tone your abs at this vulnerable stage in your life. This is just one of many reasons why not to rush back into your one-size-fits-all circuit training class or even your hot yoga studio straight away. Stick with me on your iPad for at least 6 months, while you and your baby figure each other out, and then I promise you’ll be cleared for whatever trendy workout craze strikes your fancy. By that point you’ll know what your body is and is not ready for. And the nice ladies in the babysitting room at your gym will be safe from your boring monologues about how to keep your little peanut alive for the next hour while you slave away on the treadmill!
There you have it ladies. All the little yet invaluable things I learned from those who went bravely before me into the never-a-dull-moment world of parenting. Wish me luck tomorrow!