Yesterday I was at an academic conference, but I ended up spending a lot of the time talking to two pregnant colleagues, and I realized that it is time to blog about the stuff that I may do differently next time (if there is a next time); the stuff I wish I had known before Sophie was born.
- Don’t register for your baby-shower alone. Try to enlist a mom mentor who shares your style, so she can let you know things like, if you want a jogging stroller for uses other than jogging, you’ll want to get the kind with a pivoting front wheel – and a baby carseat attachment, which lets you avoid purchasing a whole separate stroller for infants. Better yet, talk to a lot of mom mentors. Offer to take a friend’s kid to the park, then ask the other moms there. Only another mom can tell you that a package of three easily-hand-washable bumkins bibs (with their brilliant pockets) will let you avoid buying dozens of other bibs that will stain & shrink. You’re going to need someone to help you navigate all the marketing forces of the baby industry. It’s an astounding industry, and astoundingly full of dreck, along with a few wonders that are great discoveries.
- Start on cloth diapers if you’re at all interested. It’s easy to go from cloth to plastic, but it’s very difficult to transition a baby from plastic to cloth, because once a baby gets used to the chemically-aided comfort of plastic she’ll be reluctant to give it up. I had read that given the environmental costs of growing cotton and doing excessive laundry, cloth and plastic pretty much even out — but I wish I had known that you can do your own diaper laundry quite easily, and that Happy Heinie diaper covers are far more convenient than all the annoying trips I have made to Target.
- Allow yourself 6 months home with your baby, if at all possible. Breastfeeding usually lasts at least six months: they’re not on solid food until 4-6 months, and it is not going to be fun to pump enough milk to sustain your baby while you’re away. Sleep deprivation varies hugely baby by baby, but the ages 3-6 months are particularly tricky, sleep-wise. If you can possibly wait till 6 months, do.
- Let your baby put herself to sleep as often as possible, especially when she’s about 6 weeks old. Put her down sleepy but not asleep. We didn’t do this, so Sophie learned to fall asleep only with us, while nursing, or walking, or rocking. This meant that every night-waking, she also needed us. Every less-than-perfectly-smooth transfer into the crib, she also needed us to start all over again with the soothing. This was tough. Sophie and I had way too many 2am walks around the neighborhood, in our pajamas, singing lullabies. She didn’t learn to fall asleep on her own till she was 11 months old, and those were a too-sleepy 11 months.
- Get a book on Elimination Communication and try it with moderation. Sophie loves to spend time diaper-free, but we didn’t know about Elimination Communication till she was a year old. We especially didn’t know that you can go diaper-free for just an hour or two a day, then stick a diaper back on your baby when you need to leave the house and go somewhere where a diaper will be convenient. We fell into this without reading the experts, because it just makes sense: it’s good for curing diaper rash, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for Sophie’s own mobility and eventual toilet training too.
- Before having my own baby, I did not understand the parents who stick their children on what looked to me like too-rigid schedules. “Watch your baby, not the clock,” was the kind of advice-book I read. I still agree with this, but with moderation. A baby’s whole world is chaotic, so babies thrive on rhythm and ritual. Set up simple cue-ing events that work for you. For instance, when we pull the shades in Sophie’s room, then put on calm classical music or lullabies, and then nurse in the rocking chair, she knows that what is coming next is a nap, and she really appreciates knowing what is about to come. When those naptimes occur at roughly the same time every day, everyone is happier – just like I, as an adult, like to sleep on the same schedule most days. It’s astounding how much difference this makes. We can’t go out from 9-11 am or 1-3 pm, because of Sophie’s nap rhythm – but every time I decide that naps are not sacred, I regret it. Naps are sacred. Rhythms are useful. Find your own household rhythms and rituals.
- Your baby may be entirely different. Take this advice, and all advice, leavened with a lot of moderation and flexibility. In the end, Dr. Spock was right: you know more than you think you do. And your mother-in-law is right: babies will teach you how to care for them.
I don’t want to leave the impression that all I have are regrets. I love that I found Bradley nutrition to help me through pregnancy. I love that I found slings, which provide the swaddling, swaying, shushing, soothing that so many babies crave, all in one simple piece of cloth. I love that I knew to consciously seek a multigenerational community to help me through motherhood. I love that we figured out to give independent activities to Ben, activities that he is entirely responsible for, like bathtime, and daddy-daughter breakfast dates on any weekend day when I haven’t gotten enough sleep. There’s so much joy. As I type this, Ben is helping Sophie try on his sneakers, and I’m going to go out and join them.