Being pregnant with your first child opens the door for many experienced parents to give you advice. Some of it is great, and you should definitely listen (and take notes). But some you should ignore, because even though you don’t know it yet, it just won’t work for you and your baby. The problem: it’s damn hard to decide which bits are worth their salt and which are not. Most rookie parents, like me, will get a few months into this gig and realize there were a few pieces of advice they should have let slip by. Here are a few of mine:
1. You don’t need to take a breastfeeding class.
I rationalized this one by saying, “Well, I don’t yet know if breastfeeding is going to work for us. There might be some issue, and I might have to exclusively pump. Or maybe I won’t have enough milk! So why waste time learning about something that I might not even do?” And anyway, I thought, I’ll see the lactation consultant (LC) in the hospital and she’ll teach me everything I need to know.
Yeah, that was stupid. First, my hospital didn’t let me see the LC, and this despite my asking repeatedly.
The “problem” was that Baby was nursing just fine those first two days. Why let a patient see a lactation consultant if there was nothing “wrong?” (Thankfully this asinine policy was repealed after I wrote a strongly worded letter voicing my dissatisfaction).
A few weeks later, I found myself with an overabundance of milk, a hungry baby, and knowledge of just a few basics about breastfeeding from reading a book. The parts I really needed to know — how exactly to wrestle a squirmy/pissed off baby into the best latching position, the best hold for a long-legged critter, how to handle engorgement, what to do with forceful let-down, etc. — I was completely clueless about.
Would I still have had questions? Probably. Would I have pestered the LC as much as I did, to the point I was calling her several times a week? Probably not. I should have ponied up the $30 and taken the damn class.
2. Buy the cheap diapers and wipes.
Before Peanut was born, my friend Taren gave me some coupons for Pampers Swaddlers. “Yeah, I know, Swaddlers are more expensive,” she explained sheepishly, “but I liked them. So I didn’t mind the extra money.” As a rookie parent, I had no idea which diapers to buy for Peanut, so I just bought what I had a coupon for, and Swaddlers were our first pack of diapers. A few friends made us diaper cakes for my shower, so I also had a couple of other brands on hand, though I didn’t know what brands they were. One set had Pooh on them, and another had Clifford the Big Red Dog.
It became clear pretty quickly which ones rose to the top of the heap. The baby shit her way out of Pooh Bear quickly; he couldn’t contain ANY poo. Clifford did better, but they didn’t have the extra layer of protection around the leg holes, which helped keep her from having blowouts. Plus, we liked the wetness indicator stripe on the Swaddlers, which took the guesswork out of diaper changing, especially at the beginning (and even now; my husband still hasn’t figured out that a heavy, thick diaper is a wet diaper).
We’ve discovered that the 26-cents-a-pop Pampers Swaddlers keep her booty more dry when she sleeps for 12 straight hours, and they do a better job of whisking moisture away from her skin.
Do they cost more? Yes. Do you get what you pay for? Yup.
Same goes for wipes. We had a coupon for Pampers wipes, so we bought a giant pack. When they were gone, we switched over to the Target brand. The Target wipes are thinner and don’t come apart very well. (I find myself whipping and flinging them around, trying to pull them apart with one hand while the other keeps baby’s feet from touching her poopy butt. This flinging undoubtedly causes seven or eight wipes to fly out of the package at once, and me to get extremely irritated.)The thinness makes them flimsy, and flimsy just doesn’t work as well.
Compare it to your own toilet paper — when you’re using soft, thick, two-ply Charmin, you can get a little more, shall we say, intentional about the task, and make sure every bit of stuff is wiped away. When you don’t trust the thickness of your paper, you can’t be quite so thorough, for fear of a Johnny Dirtknuckle* “Whoops!” moment.
So we quickly found that we preferred the thicker wipes, despite the extra cost. Maybe when she’s older we won’t care as much, but for now, we do.
(*Credit to comedian Nathan Timmel for that term.)
3. You don’t absolutely need a changing table if you’ve got something that’ll work just as well.
We had a twin bed in our baby room, alongside the crib. It’s the standard height, and someone advised that I could just use this bed as a changing table. And while that’s technically true — it does work just fine — it’s just not very comfortable. And considering the amount of time we spend leaned over it, I wish we’d sprung for the changing table.Trying to wrangle a squirmy infant into a onesie or a bodysuit is not made any easier by stabbing pain in your lower back from bending over awkwardly.
There’s so much about having an infant that taxes your back anyway — carrying them constantly, bathing them (and for me, pumping is hell on my back, too; you have to lean forward so the milk will run into the little jars). So why add extra stress to your already-stressed back?
While visiting my in-laws, I used their crib — whose mattress raised several inches higher than ours — as a changing table. It was glorious. No bending over to get to baby! The poopy diapers and wriggly arms/legs were right there, front and center. It was lovely.
My husband on the other hand doesn’t have this problem. He’s just the right height to get down on one knee and change her comfortably, but despite being almost 5’10”, I’m too short to make that work. Now I wish we’d gone with the table up front. It’s a bit late now. She’s getting so big, she’d outgrow it in a flash. So we’ll make do with the twin bed. Just don’t be surprised if I complain about my achin’ back.
4. Babies don’t need lotion.
Bull. Shit. I followed this adage right up until Peanut was a week old, and when her hands and feet were so dry they were red and chapped, I said Screw it, my baby’s getting lotioned up. First we used Aveeno, but I discovered that there’s something about it that makes dressing the Aveeno-lotioned-baby very difficult. It’s not very viscous, and it’s kind of sticky.
So we eschewed the “fragrance-free only!” advice and tried Johnson’s Baby Lotion. The old school pink stuff. It worked great, and we haven’t noticed anything bad like rashes, irritation, etc. It’s the moisturized baby jackpot.
(Addendum: Later on, Peanut developed eczema, and we switched to Vanicream. It’s thick as hell and holy hell, it works like a charm.)
5. Read about all the major schools of thought on infant sleep. Then pull from each of them to find what works for you.
Don’t waste time reading seven different books. There are only a few necessities you really need to know. Babies make noise while they sleep. They fuss sometimes when transitioning from one stage to the next, so DO NOT PICK THEM UP until they are really giving it hell. Let sleeping babies lie. Get them in a routine of regular wake-up times. Have a bedtime routine as well. The extreme plans of baby sleep training — the really rigid ones that actually make you think you are in control of your child’s sleep (ha!) — are generally crap. Your kid will make the rules. His or her temperament will dictate everything. Just roll with it. And do what feels right. If you get to 4 months and you’re going insane, talk to your pediatrician for guidance, not some kook in a book.
6. Any ol’ white noise machine will do.
We registered for any ol’ white noise machine, not realizing there was a big difference between the available choices on the market. We discovered when we started using it that it was too quiet and the sounds were creepy. I did some research (the kind I should have done up front) and landed on the Holy Grail of White Noise machines. It’s been almost the same design for 50 years, and it’s perfect. We even take it with us when we go to my parents’ or in-laws’. I got lucky and found ours on a Target Daily Deal for just $45. I won’t lie, it’s expensive, but well worth the price. The other noise machine isn’t wasted, though. My husband takes it when he travels for work, to drown out noise from the adjacent hotel rooms.
7. Any ol’ burp rag will do.
Sure, it’ll work, but it won’t work WELL. This one is big in our world because my little Peanut is a spitter-upper. Many, many times every day. And in large quantities. Sometimes it’s just freshly drank milk, but other times it’s half-digested milk, and a lot of it. We go through baby outfits like nobody’s business, and accordingly, we go through burp rags like mad, too. The burp rags made from washable diapers are the most absorbent, so I like them best. Plus the slight texture to the fabric makes clean-up easier.
But honestly, kitchen towels are just as good. They’re also bigger (which for us is a bonus, since there’s nothing worse than wiping your child’s face with a burp rag only to discover you’ve just slathered her face with the contents of her last spit-up). True, they’re less “cute,” but they are by nature super absorbent. When your kid’s spitting up all over the place, aesthetics become less important than functionality.
8. You shouldn’t have anything in the crib.
This is a big one. There were a lot of “don’ts” that we “did” in the first few months. We used a blanket in the crib (tucked in tightly, so it couldn’t creep up toward her face) because her hands and feet were so cold at night. She slept in a Baby Papasan from 4 weeks to 7 weeks, with the Papasan situated inside her crib (the reflux made this a necessity). And we put a large rice-filled sock in her crib every night, warmed in the microwave (pretty sure that’s a no-no, but for a baby who loves nothing more than sleeping ON people, it’s a lifesaver). But sometimes, you do what you’ve got to do to get by. And provided you’re keeping safety top of mind, it’s okay. A happy, well-rested baby is pretty damn important, so just do what you need to do. But for the love of Pete, make sure you’re being safe FIRST.
The neat thing about parenting is that this is just my list. Right now, somewhere out there, someone is reading it and thinking, “Hey, I love the Target brand wipes!” And you know what? More power to you. The list is different for everyone, and the only way you figure out what advice you should have taken or ignored is using good old fashioned trial and error. But perhaps some of my advice will hit home and work for you, too.