Six weeks into our journey I am reflecting. This is my way to both remember this moment in time and guide others so that they can be just a little more (mentally) prepared.
I won’t tell you about particular techniques like the 5 Ss or other principles and tactics. There’s plenty of well-documented materials on these subjects already out there. And while I will argue that no amount of books will fully prepare you I do encourage you to read up so that you have a base level understanding. I personally found the courses and books to be informative.
The stuff they say you need and the stuff you later discover
There’s so much stuff that people say you need and we did extensive research prior to our birth date so that we could have the house armed and ready for the little terrorist. We were lucky to receive a ton of hand-me-downs and gifts, and our friends and family helped us understand how all the various tools work.
First, here are all of the items we had ready before the baby arrived:
- Clothes. So many clothes. Too many clothes. Don’t bother buying clothes yourself as this is the number one thing people will hand down to you. Because we don’t like clutter we ended up splitting up the piles of clothing into ages groups, and then boxed and labeled them for a later date.
- Nursery. Yes, get that set up before the baby arrives. In fact, do everything you possibly can before the baby arrives that is within your budget and power. Your future self will thank you, as there will be plenty of surprises down the road. For our nursery we have a crib, dresser, changing table, disposable pads for the changing table, diapers, diaper pail, diaper pail bags, book shelf, books, mobile, white noise machine, swaddles, blankets, burp cloths, futon, medical supplies (rash cream, gripe water, etc.), nail clipper, toys, water wipes, decorated wall with decals, monitor, hamper, pacifiers, and sheets.
- Boba Wrap. It protects your baby like the Cloak of Levitation.
- Boppy Newborn Lounger. Newborns love to be curled up a little, and aren’t stoked when laying flat on their back. This thing is our go-to device for plopping the baby down while we frantically run around the house.
- Pump machine, nursing pillow, nursing bras, pads, etc.
- Bath time stuff. You’ll need something to put them in, soap or shampoo that is baby safe, some sponges, and a baby towel.
- Baby safe laundry detergent
- Stroller and car seat combo plus a diaper bag
- A plastic wash bin you can keep in your sink. This is great when you want to drop spent bottles and nipple shields into soapy water to soak, and then wash later in batches.
- Blankets, diapers, bottles, nipple shields, pumping materials, shampoo, and ointments.
So we looked prepared, right? Well, there’s more stuff we later discovered we needed (or at least very much wanted). Here’s the list:
- Power strips. Lots of power strips. There’s so much stuff that needs to be plugged in. When you are tired and frustrated, having to constantly bend over behind a large piece of furniture to swap plugs is torturous.
- Fans and/or AC. We live in San Francisco where practically no one has AC. It just so happens that we brought our son home in the summer, during a heat wave, while the air was filled with toxic smoke from wild fires. This meant we had to keep our windows locked up tight while we roasted inside, positioning our pitiful fans in optimized positions for Mr. Baby. His bassinet was a protected cocoon while we baked in bed. We’ve since invested in a portable AC that is good enough to cool one room.
- The SNOO. The SNOO is a massive leap forward in bassinet technology. Whereas a bassinet just lazily sits there not helping the exhausted parents, the SNOO sways, vibrates, produces heart beats, spews white noise, and increases intensity automatically when the baby starts to fuss. Now, it isn’t perfect, otherwise a lot of my complaints above wouldn’t exist. No product is. But I can say this is a huge game changer for us and has clearly saved us from experiencing worse sleep a number of times. The biggest drawback is the steep purchase price, and thankfully there is an option to rent, which is what we did.
- An electric nail clipper. We had a standard clipper and were too scared to use it on our fragile little blob. With our electric clipper, which essentially is like a Dremel for babies, we trim his nails while he is feeding, as the white nectar acts as a distraction.
- A drying rack just for the baby’s things. I had convinced myself that our standard drying rack would suffice. I was wrong. We ended up with two of the Boon Drying Racks in addition to our adult sized rack.
- A second set of breast pumps. TMI time: when one breast is in use the other will leak. Get two of these so you always have a clean one ready. We use the Haakaa Manual Breast pump. Just be prepared for a fussy baby to Hulk smash it all over the place.
- White noise machines all seem to have a huge flaw: they loop the same sound every 4 seconds. And the loops are painfully obvious so your brain can never relax. I scoured review after review on dozens of products and this was a common complaint across all of them. So I ended up making a playlist on Spotify that has true ambient, white noise tracks which I play from my phone. Once the baby isn’t in our room this won’t be an issue, as he doesn’t seem to notice the poor audio construction.
- Window shade to shield the baby while in the car seat
- Tap night lights. We bought a couple of these to keep on our nightstands. These are key because they emit a low level of light, which keeps both the baby sleepy for the dream feed and your partner happy when they aren't on their shift.
- A thermometer. The ideal temperature for a baby's room is between 68 and 72 degrees.
You’re going to receive a lot of advice that won’t always pan out. Take it all in and recognize that not everything will work in your favor. And likewise keep in mind that something that works one day won’t necessarily work the next. You’ll experiment in search of the holy grail just to discover that there is no perfect recipe. This isn’t a mystery to be solved. This is a marathon. This is about endurance.
People will tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps. That this is your chance to make up for all those interrupted moments late at night. What they won’t tell you is that it’s not as simple as “baby sleeps, so I sleep”. In reality, babies grunt a lot when they sleep, so at night when you sleep near them, your quality of sleep will decrease. Plus, if you’re like me, that sound machine that soothes him will have the reverse effect on you.
When it comes to you trying to nap during the day, even with two parents working full time to serve the tyrant king, you can’t expect to always be on break when he goes down because while you were spending all that time cleaning, feeding, changing, soothing, and agonizing over the baby, a multitude of chores have amassed. So you scramble. You clean all of the bottles, empty the diaper pail, toss in a load of the baby’s soiled laundry, scrub that spit up from the couch, and reset the pumping station. And that’s just the baby’s stuff. There’s plenty to still do for the house. Perhaps the house is in disarray and you accept this as a temporary state of turmoil. Even still, you need to empty the dish washer, get groceries, satisfy the grand parents with photos texted their way, feed yourself, use the bathroom, and, if you are lucky, try to squeeze in some exercise. All this is to say is that his down time does not 100% equate to your down time, so mentally prepare for this. And if you are like me and my wife, telling your brain to shut off for a nap, despite how utterly tired you may be, holds no guarantees.
There’s another factor: the baby doesn’t always sleep on its own, particularly in these early months. The first 3 months of life are what are known as the 4th trimester where the baby is most at peace when you emulate womb like conditions. When it comes to sleep during the day, this may mean that he just wants to be held. Since it’s unsafe to sleep while the baby is attached to you this means you might as well use the time to get those previously mentioned chores done. Thankfully there is a cheap and effective device to make this a hands-free operation, and that’s the Boba Wrap. For us it works like magic, as it essentially mimics the womb which makes the baby king very pleased. Very pleased indeed.
I’ll keep this brief, as there’s just too much to say here and the journey isn’t over yet. Long story short, our baby is an inefficient eater. He takes far too long to get full, is a fussy eater, and the advice we received from various professionals would fall flat time and time again. We ended up having a tong-tie procedure performed that may or may not have helped a little.
We received lactation consultation over the phone, email, and Zoom, due to COVID-19, and needless to say this is a service that can only go so far via virtual means. After hitting many dead ends we finally were able to find an in person LC, though we remain to see if their advice will reap any benefits.
The good news is that our baby is growing. We just have to feed him longer and more frequently than one should, which is frustrating for both the parents and the baby.
I’m sure I have more to say. I just can’t remember or think clearly any more. My brain is mush. Even now I write this as quickly as possible as the time-bomb ticks in his stroller that we were too scared to take him out of prematurely.
Despite the complaints it is worth it. You will be frustrated and exhausted, and then out of nowhere he will surprise you with a smile that will melt away all of your anxiety.
My top advice is to be patient. Be patient to your partner, to your baby, and to yourself. A wise man once said “Take care of yourself, and each other”.
Good luck out there.