What do you wish you’d known when you were expecting your first child? What should you have bought, and what could you have left on the shelf? What do you wish you’d known about sleeping and feeding before and after your baby arrived?
There’s a wealth of information out there, but I knew little about it when I was starting out on the road to parenthood. So if you’re expecting your first baby, here are some of my favourite links – the stuff I wish I’d known.
So what do you need to buy when you’re expecting your first baby? Not as much as you think, is the answer I would give my former self – time travel allowing. Like many excited new parents-to-be, full of joy and disposable income, my husband and I over-did it.
There’s no exhaustive “things no parent needs” list, because where I might say the Top and Tail bowls were a waste of money, another mum might swear by them. And while I never bought a changing table, I know others who love theirs. So, like most things parenting, there’s no dogma. But holding back isn’t such a bad idea – buy the essential-essentials, and then wait to see what you need later on – that’s something I’d tell my former self too.
But enough hindsight – you need lists don’t you. So for some practical, sensible advice, try this great list from the ever-pragmatic Sinéad from Bumbles of Rice.
For a light and very funny take on useless baby products, check out this list from Mind the Baby.
And for newborns, this concise list from Vanessa at Sessa Daily includes just ten items.
The birth stuff:
How do you know when it’s time to go to the hospital? That’s something I worried about, and really, you just know. But as that sounds less than helpful answer, here’s more practical advice from Sylda at Alphabirth: How will I know when to go to the hospital?
And for the birth itself – how do you prepare? I’m not sure there’s any “one size fits all” rule. I will tell you what I believe – that again, knowledge is power. That knowing even the practical and logistical side of what happens when you go into hospital is helpful. That knowing what Oxytocin is, or knowing what answer you want to give if asked permission to break your waters, is all good for helping you feel more calm and more confident. There are others who would say ignorance is bliss, and I can’t argue with that – I think it comes down to personality and individual preferences. But if you’re someone who likes an element of control in your life, then knowing a little bit about what to expect has to be a good thing right?
One topic that may not be covered in ante-natal classes is C-Sections – so this is a really useful guide from Lucy at LearnerMama.ie who has had three unplanned C-Sections, and knows her stuff. Knowing what’s involved in a C-Section, whether planned or unplanned, should greatly reduce anxiety, and Lucy has covered everything in great detail here.
And for some lovely positive birth stories, check this out from 42 Weeks
The feeding stuff:
If you’re planning to breastfeed, you could just wing it, and lots of people do. But while it’s clearly the very definition of natural, it is also the case that many new mothers need support. That might mean some guidance from a midwife, or help from a lactation consultant, going to a breastfeeding class or group while pregnant, contacting one of the many support organisations available, or even just reading up in advance and knowing what to expect.
This is a really good article from YourBirth.ie on preparing for breastfeeding. It ends with “get your box-sets and munchies sorted” because breastfeeding “gives you a free pass to sit on the couch watching box sets and eating biscuits all day – while burning calories” – that’s one part of breastfeeding I really, really enjoyed – my drug of choice was Toblerone-and-Facebook.
Unfortunately, hands-on, practical support for breastfeeding mothers in Irish maternity hospitals can be hit and miss. For every woman who has had a midwife latch her baby on for every feed until she masters it herself (which was my very fortunate experience with my first baby), there’s another who is left to figure it our herself. Sometimes this has a happy ending (see this post from Stuff and Nothing) and sometimes not (as was the case for a good friend of mine)
But this is really a case of “knowledge is power” – if you know what to expect, and you’re determined to succeed, you more than likely will. The key point is to ask for help, and reading beforehand means knowing when to do that, and knowing where to look.
The sleeping stuff:
What I wish I’d known: babies are not machines, they are not clockwork, they do not slip into a routine on day three, and they don’t know the difference between night and day. I wish I’d understood that night-time waking is perfectly normal. But because I was being asked “Is she sleeping through the night?” I thought there was something wrong with waking up, and for that reason, I resented the waking. Not that I’d have loved being up at 3am just because I understood it was normal, but I might have been less frustrated.
What you might not want to hear: go to bed early when you can, sleep during the day if you can, take it easy on yourself, eat well, and set yourself up as best you can for those night-time wakings. If you’re breastfeeding, consider learning to feed lying down – this is something I didn’t try until my third baby, but it was life-changing. And some day, your baby will sleep through. And you might just miss those night-time wakings (no, I didn’t either 🙂 )
The general stuff:
“What would I have done differently?” or “What advice would I give my former self” – these are questions many of us ask ourselves in the years that follow a first birth.
There’s a common theme – take it easy on yourself, don’t stress about routine, sleep when you can, ignore unwanted advice, accept help.
Enjoying the newborn stage can be a challenge for a first time mother, but listen to the wise and beautiful words of At The Clothesline, writing about her fourth child in The Fourth Trimester
What do I wish I’d known?
I wish I’d known more about where to get good information – I’ve written an entire post about this called Information is Power which I can summarise as follows:
- Just because it’s in a book, doesn’t mean it’s true – this comes from someone who thought that surely only valid parenting advice would ever be published – not so.
- Just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s not true – sure, Google can be frightening, but the internet has vast amounts of brilliant information if you know where to look
- Facebook groups can be a lifesaver
And if I could pick some things to change?
I would have let go. Let go of the worry about how long she slept or how long she fed. Let go of the need to keep the house tidy and cook dinners. Let go of the idea that I needed a routine. Let go of the parenting books. Let go of the anxiety about getting it wrong. It’s a short, short time, although the days can feel long; I would tell me former self to sit back and enjoy it – pick up a book, put on a film, eat some chocolate and hold the baby close. Because now that baby is seven, and she’s the one reading books and watching films and eating as much chocolate as she can sneak when I’m not looking, and I don’t know where the time went. And when I think back to those early, lonely days, it I want to hug her tightly and say I’m sorry for getting everything so wrong.
But you know, I’m not sure that I would have listened to myself, or anyone else, giving me this advice. And maybe that’s OK – maybe the muddling through is a rite of passage, a learning curve. And maybe if you’re patiently awaiting your first birth as you read this, it’s too much to take in. Maybe the point is that you have to learn it yourself.
Perhaps true learning comes from trying things out and making mistakes and finding your own way. What’s certain is that there is no one-size-fits-all method; no book or website or friend can have every answer. Tips and ideas and bit of advice are good to have on hand but mostly, learning by doing is the tried and trusted method when it comes to parenting. And in the end, the common sense answer is usually the right one.
PS if you’re still stuck for a baby name, and looking for something Irish, you might find one in this list of unusual Irish names that I’ve put together for eumom: 18 Unusual Irish Names for Girls and Boys