I’ve been flattered to receive a string of similar emails lately from women expecting their first babies: “Any advice for a first-time mom? How to prepare?” I chewed on this question for some time before realizing that I was attempting to tackle two lines of inquiry in one fell swoop: the existential, identity-oriented one and the practical, what-to-have-on-hand one. On the former: everyone experiences birth and matrescence differently, and — in my opinion — there is truly no way to prepare yourself, which I mean in the most reassuring of ways possible. I would simply say this: be kind to yourself. Make space for whatever emotions you have. It took me nearly a year to accommodate the reality of my birth experience. Now that I have, I look back on it proudly, with a kind of smugness that I believe I have earned. Try to enter into it with an open mind: you may experience a wild surge of motherliness, or feel a kind of ecstasy, or sob uncontrollably, or linger in the breakers of cool relief (as I did). Whatever you feel, it is true and right and good. But make space for yourself and whatever it is that motherhood brings to you.
The latter is a bit easier to write about: practical advice on preparing for a baby. Below, my top tips for first-time moms:
- Pack your hospital bag early. There is the pragmatic side to this tip: you may go into labor earlier than expected and you don’t want to end up, as a friend of mine did, attempting to orchestrate the packing of a bag through the emissary of your husband while you are in labor. My friend laughingly said that her husband packed “a random assortment of household items,” including a fine-toothed comb she’d never seen before. Ha! But there is also a more philosophical side to this: for me, packing the bag helped me “own” the fact that I was going to go into the hospital and deliver a baby. It helped me face and mentally prepare what was coming in a very specific way, as I was forced to imagine what it might be like to spend a few nights in a hospital. What would I want? What would I need from home? It was a big first step towards mentally accommodating mini’s imminent birth.
- Pack a robe. There are all kinds of guides to what to put in your hospital bag, and most of them are over-inflated. Definite must-haves: shampoo/conditioner/soap (that first shower is heaven), phone charger and extension cord (sometimes the outlet is far from your bedside), and a robe. I had a c-section and did not feel like messing with changing into pajamas (#noextramovementsplease), but I did have to walk the halls and attend a weird “dismissal class” where they covered the basics of infant-care. I am so glad I packed a robe so my butt wasn’t hanging out for the whole world to see in my hospital robe. I packed a pretty floral one, but if I were to do it again, I’d pack this supersoft one from Eberjey.
- Take a breastfeeding class. I willfully avoided parenting classes of all sorts because they stressed me out. I seriously regret not having taken a nursing class. I have mentioned this before, but I feel as though most moms fall into one of two categories: you need to read everything you possibly can in order to feel empowered as a new mom, or you prefer to rely on instinct and the advice of a select few to feel empowered as a new mom. I am in the latter category. Too much information gives me anxiety and I find myself overthinking and overanalyzing every little thing — it’s paralyzing for me! Meanwhile, a mom friend of mine once said: “I need to read it all. Information is power.” You know yourself, and you know whether you will function better having read widely, or read little. THAT SAID. I do so strongly wish I’d taken a breastfeeding class prior to having mini. I had no idea what I was doing, and there is so much going on in the aftermath of a birth that I almost felt as though I didn’t have the capacity to tackle yet another thing. So I fumbled through things and I am confident I botched those first few days of nursing, which in turn led to a chronic undersupply, which in turn led to nearly eight months of exhausting feeding-and-supplementing-with-formula. If I could do everything again, I would take the damn class.
- Pack a practical coming home outfit for yourself and your baby. I just visited with a friend who had a baby last week, and we were laughing about her “first time mom” gaffe of not having packed an appropriate coming home outfit for her daughter: “We packed one of those nightgown things for her so we could easily access her diaper, but didn’t realize how badly we’d need pants when we’d put her in her carseat. And we also forgot socks. And the hat didn’t fit. First time parents over here.” I have another friend who packed a crisp cotton romper type outfit for her newborn son: “Oh man, he looked so uncomfortable and I wished I could only put him in soft cotton pajamas!” My strongest recommendation is to pack a newborn-sized cotton sleeper from Kissy Kissy. The softest cotton ever. Depending on season, you should also pack a soft sweater coat (<<we had this classic for mini in pink) and a hat and booties for layering. And for you: assume you will emerge looking six months pregnant. Startling and possibly depressing — but true. I wore maternity leggings (<<these are the best), a loose-fitting button-down (for ease of nursing and overall comfort), slip-on shoes (I wore my Gucci Princetowns, but I’m in love with these for a little flash of fashion), and a comfortable, plush sweater or coat. Aim for comfort and ease of removal.
- Be prepared for early newborn feeding contingencies. It’s true that Amazon makes those early days of parenthood so much easier; if you need anything, you’re basically a day away from receiving it. That said, I would strongly encourage you to buy one canister of baby formula in advance just in case. We did not care for the formula we had to give mini at the hospital; Hipp was far gentler on mini’s stomach and did not have that disgusting smell so many other formulas do. (But do your own homework to find one you like/respect! We loved Hipp and also loved the online boutique A New York Baby — she ships FAST and free.) We also had two different kinds of bottles on hand, as babies can be picky about nipples. We loved Philips Avent’s infant bottles (I like that you can swap out nipples to different “stages” or “speeds” as babies grow more adept. I’ve heard some babies always prefer stage 1, but mini would get frustrated with how slow the milk was coming out, so we upgraded to 2, then 3, then 4, and all the nipples fit in the bottles). Comotomo was good, too, but we found the caps were annoying and that they tended to leak. But my point is this: have a canister of formula and a few kinds of bottles just in case. If you don’t end up needing them, formula is always a welcome donation, especially at my favorite philanthropy in New York, the Good Plus Foundation, which provides diapers and baby gear to families in need. I had the opportunity to visit their facility and it is INCREDIBLE. I think they said 80 or 90% of all donations received are administered to families in need within A MONTH because they have a sophisticated “requesting” system so families can receive exactly what they need when they need it.
- Buy two sizes of baby diapers — N and 1. Mini lasted in the newborn size (N) for maybe two weeks? But some babies are BIG and are ready for the 1s right away.
- Set up more than one changing station in your home. This was a revelation to me: I had assumed I’d always retreat to mini’s nursery for a diaper change. But with mini in our bedroom for the first few months of her life and me recovering from a c-section that made navigating stairs less than optimal, I realized I wish I had multiple changing stations throughout the house. I ended up setting up two additional changing “stations”: one at the foot of our bed and one in our living room area. I had a micro Gathre mat at each one (<<I love these, as they fold up tiny and are easy to wipe clean; I would throw the one in our living room into my diaper bag every time I left the house), a weighted OXO wipes dispenser (<<trust me, you need this; otherwise, you pull out 290809 connected wipes while trying to hold a baby in place and keep poop off your hand), hand sanitizer, and a stash of diapers and diaper cream (for a long time I liked Aquaphor, but I now believe that Weleda’s Calendula Cream is THE BEST OF THE BEST. I lot of moms swear by Boudreaux’s Butt Paste — the name! — but I found it annoying to apply). I kept all the changing gear in monogrammed LL Bean bags that could easily be whisked into a closet when company was present and repurposed for future use. I’ve also seen these nifty diaper caddies which smartly keep diapers, etc, organized.
- Have more than one place to “put the baby.” I was just chatting about this with a dear friend who is expecting her first about this: I never put any thought into what I would do all day with a new baby. I suppose I vaguely assumed I’d be holding her most of the time and then put her in her bassinet when she was asleep? But the truth is — for me — I spent a lot of time posted up in our living room, with the bassinet a floor above and my arms exhausted. I realized I needed somewhere to put her in basically every room, so we ended up distributing our “baby holders” throughout the house. We had her 4Moms Rockaroo in the kitchen and her Boppy in the living room (slash wherever I was in the house — I love how lightweight and easy to move this is). We also occasionally put her down in the bassinet attachment to her Bugaboo stroller when we were in the front entertaining area. I wanted to buy a Rock N Play (<<people lose their minds over this) for our basement, but Mr. Magpie insisted we could do without it. He was right, I’m sure, but let my line of thinking show you that it’s always nice to have extra spots to deposit the baby! I remember thinking before mini came: “Why do you need so many contraptions for one baby?” Trust me on this: it’s a blessing to relieve your arms.
- Stock the fridge with easy-to-throw-together food, and stow snacks in your bedside table. Some friends of mine smartly prepared a ton of meals in advance of the birth of their son and then put them all in the freezer so they’d have dinner prepared for the first few weeks. We did something similar and then relied on the generosity of friends who brought by meals for us to enjoy. I would also stow crackers and especially oat bars (good for milk production) in your bedside table. I was ravenous while breastfeeding mini and often ate these at like 3 a.m. Mr. Magpie would sometimes wake up and eat one with me — ha! I loved those Quaker Soft Oat bars that come in brown sugar or peanut butter. PERFECT.
- If you’re having a c-section, I already shared some of my top tips for c-section recovery but be sure to have a stepstool by your bedside! (For the design-centric, how chic are these stepstools?!)
- Take everything they give you from the hospital. They give you a lot of “free” stuff (“free” in quotes because you’re ultimately paying for it; even with insurance, it’s expensive to have a baby! I think we had to pay nearly $10,000 out of pocket). Take everything. The diapers (we left with like a box of diapers!), the swaddles, ESPECIALLY the disposable underwear, the pads, the formula and bottles, the lanolin, etc, etc. Take it ALL.
- If you’re inclined, write a special little note to your loved one. I wrapped a silly little “daddy and me” book and penned a sweet note for Mr. Magpie to open after mini was born. Meanwhile, Mr. Magpie wrote me the most beautiful letter I have ever received in my life and I was way too emotional to handle it in those first few days. I read the first paragraph, bawled, and then took a break. Read the second paragraph the second day, etc. But the point is this: anything you can do in advance, you should! Sappy love notes included 🙂
Moms: what else would you add to this list of practical tips? All advice welcome except for “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” HA!
P.S. A dreamy nursery.
P.P.S. A well-vetted registry checklist. Though — don’t fret if you don’t have it all by the time baby arrives! That’s what Prime is for. You can ease into things 🙂
P.P.P.S. Gifts fit for a royal baby.