It’s been over 10 years since I found out I was pregnant with my first, but I vividly remember how overwhelmed I was figuring out what to expect.
The lists of “must-have baby gear” seemed never-ending, while insight into the postpartum phase was hard to find. None of my friends had kids, and the older women in my family remembered the postpartum phase through the rose-colored haze of distant memory, only telling me how wonderful it would be without dispensing any practical wisdom.
It turns out that motherhood was a rough adjustment for me at first. I’ve written before about my unplanned emergency c-section and the lesson I learned the hard way about taking time to fully recover after giving birth. But those experiences brought wisdom and understanding I didn’t have before, so I wouldn’t change a thing.
Slowly, over my years of having four kids and through close friendships with other mothers, I’ve learned a mountain of information that I didn’t have when I was newly pregnant 10 years ago.
Passing on what I’ve learned
All this information just stays in my brain most of the time, but last week I was delighted to get a text from a younger friend. She is expecting her first baby, and she was facing that same overwhelm I experienced my first time.
She needed help sifting through the vast information online to figure out what she really needs for her coming baby. I was so happy to talk it all through with her, and after our conversation ended, it occurred to me that perhaps other pregnant mothers might find this information helpful, too.
Becoming a mom is like entering a whole new world with a new language. It’s a lot to take in, and I believe in building up the sisterhood and helping out other women however I can.
If you’re pregnant and would like some guidance, here are all the things I really wish someone had told me before I became a mom.
Find ways to enjoy the time spent breastfeeding
Of course, I support your feeding your baby however is best for you. You’ll never catch me telling you how you should feed your baby: I know you are doing what is best for your family! But if you desire to breastfeed, here are a few things I found helpful.
When my oldest was a newborn, I spent so much time breastfeeding that I wanted to know exactly how much time, so I spent a week tracking it. In one week, I nursed for 35 hours! A full-time job is 40 hours a week!
While every baby is different, generally young babies need to nurse a lot. I wish I had known that breastfeeding would take almost as much time as a full-time job.
Once I realized this, my whole perspective changed. Before, I was kind of annoyed at how much of my day was consumed with nursing, but I began to realize I would have to embrace the time spent on it.
I created a cozy “nursing spot” in my living room, a little sanctuary with a comfortable chair and easy access to snacks and water. I stocked up on fun books, movies, and TV shows to enjoy while nursing.
And I began my personal favorite postpartum tradition: With each of my newborns, I’ve picked a long, interesting novel that I’ve always wanted to read and worked my way through it while nursing.
This perspective shift made all the difference! Instead of thinking, “Ugh, time to nurse the baby again,” I would think, “Oh good, time to put up my feet, relax, and recharge while nursing the baby.” This shift helped me so much.
You can also use this mindset shift if you are pumping milk. Even at work, you could read or watch a show (on mute with subtitles, if necessary) while pumping.
Breastfeeding has a learning curve
I was totally blindsided when my oldest was born and I had a really difficult time breastfeeding at first! Nobody warned me that breastfeeding can be surprisingly tricky to get the hang of.
I felt it was worth sticking with it through the learning curve, as I was able to nurse all four of my children until two years of age, as recommended by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
It helps to read about breastfeeding before you have your baby: I liked the book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and the website Kellymom.com. Many women also find it helpful to attend a breastfeeding support group, such as La Leche League. I loved meeting with a lactation consultant as well, and found her help invaluable.
A few notes on breastfeeding …
Many women have very high milk production in the first 6-12 weeks, but then it slows down significantly. I liked to stockpile milk in freezer bags during this time.
High on the list of things nobody told me is that, during those early weeks of high milk production, it’s normal to leak milk on one side while you are nursing your baby on the other. I found the Haakaa pump extremely useful to collect the leaking milk. It saves time, helps you stock the freezer faster, and ensures no waste of that “liquid gold” milk.
I made a big effort to save as much milk as I could in the early weeks and stock the freezer, and then didn’t really pump after that, but just used the frozen milk whenever I needed to leave the baby with someone.
A husband’s role: Defend the sanctuary
One of my absolute favorite things ever written about the newly postpartum period is this blog post, How to postpartum like a boss. I share it with friends all the time.
Many other countries have a beautiful culture of rest, recovery and healing after a woman gives birth. But here in the United States, there is pressure to “bounce back” as quickly as possible. Frankly, I hate it.
A newly postpartum woman is at one of the most vulnerable points of her entire life. Her body is recovering from an enormous physical event while vast hormonal changes affect her mind and spirit. It is common to cry a lot and feel an emotional roller coaster (“the baby blues”). (And of course, please seek professional help if you feel it is needed in any way! Read more about maternal mental health here.)
Many women experience pressure from friends and family to host lots of visitors and get out and about while newly postpartum, and this is where her husband (or other close family member like her mother or sister) has an absolutely essential role.
Nobody should visit a new mother who is not going to take care of her and support her resting and recovering. She should be waited on hand and foot for at least the first week, and longer if she needs it.
Her husband (or closest support person) has the sacred task of protecting her in that newly postpartum phase. It’s his job to keep away anything that would upset or stress her and guard her peace and recovery.
Even if it feels uncomfortable because of other people’s expectations, his first priority is taking care of his wife and creating a bubble of comfort, safety, and care around her and the baby so she can recover and bond.
Of course, he is also bonding with the baby during this time, but because he is not recovering physically, he has a heightened ability to guard that newly postpartum rest time.
Babies can forget how to take bottles
Oh man, I wish I had known this one!
If a baby doesn’t regularly drink from a bottle, many babies will forget how to do it, and will actually reject the bottle entirely.
This happened to me with my oldest, because I didn’t know babies could forget how to take a bottle. He totally rejected the bottle when I had to leave him for an emergency situation when he was about 5 months old, and it was so stressful for everybody.
It doesn’t really matter for the first 6-8 weeks because they’re so little, but starting around 2-3 months, if you want your baby to be able to take a bottle, then I suggest feeding your baby from a bottle once every other day.
You don’t have to do it every day, just enough that they remember how to do it. That way you’re not in a pinch if later on you need to leave the baby with a babysitter or dad and they don’t remember how to take a bottle.
Start gentle sleep training at 12 weeks
Baby sleep is surprisingly controversial! I don’t want to get bogged down in the various camps; I just want to tell you what worked for me, based on my own experience with my four kids.
With my oldest, I never sleep-trained him, but typically would nurse him to sleep. That worked fine for the first few months but became increasingly unsustainable as he got older. It took upwards of two hours to put him to sleep by the time he was a year old, and he absolutely would not sleep in a crib at that point because it was unfamiliar to him. The situation was a disaster.
I was determined to do things differently with my second child, and I was so desperate that I caved and hired a sleep consultant. Best money I’ve ever spent.
I was not comfortable doing any kind of “cry it out,” but I wanted my babies to know how to fall asleep independently. What I learned from the sleep consultant is that the key is to start sleep training at about 12 weeks old. They are little enough to fall asleep while “drowsy but awake” in the crib, without any crying! Then they are used to the crib and fall asleep in it without a fuss from then on. Doing this system, my one-year-olds would fall asleep in their cribs in seconds with zero crying. What a welcome difference from my experience with my oldest!
However you start putting your baby to sleep when they are about 10 to 12 weeks old, that will become their “sleep association,” and they will always want to go to sleep like that for the next year or two of their life. So, you want to start putting them down in the crib, drowsy but awake, perhaps with a pacifier, swaddle and white noise, by the time they are three months old. It doesn’t matter before then, because they are littler and not learning the association yet, but at least one nap a day and bedtime should be in the crib and putting them down awake once they are three months old. It changed my life finding this out for my younger kids.
You can still nurse them to sleep if you prefer that, perhaps for 1-2 naps a day, or have naps on the go in the stroller or carrier as well. Babies take three naps a day for the first 6-9 months so that leaves two naps a day that can be on the go or snuggling and nursing to sleep or whatever you like. It’s actually very useful to nurse them to sleep sometimes, such as on an airplane or for other travel, so it’s not an all-or-nothing thing. You just want one nap a day and bedtime to be in the crib starting at 12 weeks.
You can look up nap schedules to see examples, and you can look up wake windows by age too to know what to expect. Babies are ready to go back to sleep about 45 minutes after they wake up for several months, so it will solve a lot of the “why is baby fussing” dilemmas to know when they need to go to sleep. There are a lot of resources out there for baby sleep, such as courses from TakingCaraBabies.
Simplify nighttime as much as possible
We all know babies are up a lot at night, so let’s chat about how to make nights easier on yourself.
First, baby outfits: Save the button outfits for daytime when you can see what you’re doing, and reserve velcro, magnetic and zipper outfits for the night. You want to be able to dress your baby after a diaper change without much effort. Velcro swaddles are really nice to have too.
If you don’t have a night stand, consider a 3-tiered cart or other storage next to your bed for all of the diapering/nursing supplies, water, and snacks.
I like to keep my babies in a bassinet next to my bed for the early weeks, and typically they move to the nursery next to our room between 3-6 months.
Alright, let’s talk baby gear. I’m (mostly) not going to recommend specific products but rather give you a general overview of things to consider.
The reason it’s so hard to give advice about baby gear is because every family’s situation is different. At the end of the day, you need almost nothing for babies, pretty much just clothing, diapers, a car seat, stroller, crib and baby carrier. But different families have different needs, so many other products will become a real lifesaver for one family while somebody else thinks it’s totally unnecessary.
Also, a lot of the “must have” items become useful later than you might expect. I didn’t start using a stroller until after my oldest turned one because he hated strollers as a baby, and we didn’t use the highchair until he was about 9 months old. You may be able to hold off on getting those things if space is an issue, although on the other hand, it may make sense to add them to your registry for your baby shower so you receive them as gifts instead of buying them yourself later.
The thing that helped me most was remembering that the stores will still be selling all these same products after the baby is born. If you change your mind about something, you can always get it later!
Baby-wearing is one of my greatest life hacks, and I’ve made hundreds of meals with a baby happily hanging out in a carrier on my back. My very most-used baby item has been my Kinderpack baby carrier. When my oldest was a baby, we belonged to a babywearing library where you could rent a new baby carrier every month, so I tried 12 different carriers that year and my husband’s and my favorite was the Kinderpack. It can be used without an insert from birth and is very comfortable. I like that it’s adjustable so both my husband and I could use it.
A soft wrap like Solly Baby or K’Tan is really nice for the newborn phase as well. Meh dai-style carriers are a popular choice too, as they have the comfort and versatility of a wrap because they’re very adjustable and you can both front- and back-wear but are as easy to use as a soft-structured or buckle carrier.
But there are many great carriers out there, so choose your favorite.
If you’re having your baby in the winter, you might want a baby-wearing coat. This is something I didn’t even think about when pregnant, but I ended up really wanting one, and I used it a ton once I had one!
Strollers and car seats
The biggest thing to think about with newborns and strollers is that they fall asleep in the car seat or stroller a lot, so you want an easy way to transfer them between the two. The Doona stroller is a clever solution, or you could get a snap-n-go stroller for a car seat, or a travel system. Lots of good options!
Consider the height of both parents in choosing a stroller. Tall parents may find it hard to use a stroller with a short handlebar. You’ll also want to make sure the stroller fits in the trunk of your car, so check the folded dimensions and compare to your trunk size before buying. This factor is especially important if you don’t have a garage or easy place to store your stroller.
I never realized this before I had a baby, but for many families, it makes sense to have multiple strollers for different activities. For example, I have a very narrow double stroller for public transportation and museums, a heavy-duty one with giant wheels for hiking, and a small umbrella stroller for short outings and travel.
If you are having your baby in the winter, a shower-cap-style car seat cover was a lifesaver with my three winter babies, as they keep the baby cozy and warm without a ton of extra layers and are safe to use on car seats.
I like using a small bassinet next to my bed in the early months, something like the Halo Bassinest or Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper.
After that, it made sense for us to have a crib that turns into a toddler bed. My daughter who turns five this month is still sleeping in her crib as a toddler bed.
A lot of my friends swear by the Stokke Trip Trap, which grows with your kid, and I had good success with the basic inexpensive IKEA high chair. But there are many great options!
If space is limited you might want a highchair that clips onto your table, and those are nice to take with you if you travel.
Diapers can be surprisingly dependent on your baby’s size and skin health. My friend whose child is allergic can only use Pampers Pure. One of my children had diaper blow-outs until we switched to Huggies, while the others were fine using diapers from ALDI, Target, or Costco. You may want to try a few brands to see which work best for your baby.
Also, I do recommend a diaper paste spatula, even though it’s not strictly necessary. It is so nice not getting that stuff under your nails!
Another thing that can be surprisingly variable! Babies often have their own preferences about bottles, and many parents try a few different ones before finding one their baby likes. It may make sense to borrow a few kinds from friends or buy a “mixed pack” of bottles to try out before you buy a whole bunch of one kind.
Bottle warmers are usually unnecessary, as it’s faster to warm up milk with a kettle or even just running it under the tap. Sterilizers are also unnecessary, as you can just boil it all in a pot.
Swings and bouncers
I wouldn’t recommend these. I used swings and bouncers a lot with my older children, but after two of them ended up needing physical therapy for delayed motor skills, I learned from the physical therapist that the best place to put your baby is on the floor so they can practice rolling, tummy time, and other motor skills. Nobody tells you this!
Just put your baby directly on a blanket on the floor when they’re not being held; it’s a lot better for them. I learned this lesson the hard way, so you don’t have to!
I liked The Baby Book by Dr. Sears, Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina, and The Natural Baby Sleep Solution by Polly Moore.
Kellymom.com is super helpful for breastfeeding advice and many of my friends swear by the Wonder Weeks app to know what to expect at each stage of the first year.
Well, friends, this has been a total brain dump of everything I know about babies after having four kids. I hope it will be helpful to you!