Welcome to First Things First! This series will help you prepare for a range of life changes. Think of each installment as an instruction guide that will either give you time to locate a safe landing spot or help you hit the ground running. Each article will contain a handy checklist you can reference so you can remain calm, cool, and in control of whatever life hands you..
Introducing Your First Baby into the World
Proper adulting places you in control of your life’s choices (at least theoretically). It can lead you to your first real job, first apartment, first new car, first house, first bit of serious travel, and more. Congratulations on making it this far.
It also could mean you and your partner might decide you want to have your first baby.
Let’s not sugarcoat the situation: A baby will completely change your world, as you’re consumed by a world of diapers, crying, night feedings, and sleep deprivation. Suddenly, your entire life focus shifts toward caring for this completely helpless and totally dependent infant child — and you’ll do all of this happily, because your kid will totally steal away your heart.
So how do you prepare for something this earth-shattering? The truth is it’s not easy (and you can’t completely prepare), but we’ve gathered up lots of helpful information to help you manage your transition to becoming…(gulp) parents.
1) Read The Manual
Read by 93% of all expectant mothers, What to Expect When You’re Expecting has been the standard “owner’s manual” for pregnancy since it first appeared in 1984. It’s also so popular that you shouldn’t be surprised if you get multiple copies from friends and family. While this book offers enormous insights about pregnancy in general, remember that the definitive information about your own condition comes from your personal health care provider.
And Dad? Not only will you gain weight, but you’ll probably also experience sympathy mood swings, anxiety, and perhaps even nausea. There’s a whole lot that you as an expectant father need to learn.
2) Get Regular Prenatal Checkups
For women, it’s important to understand pregnancy is more than just weight gain and nutrition. To help you have as normal a pregnancy as possible and remain healthy, it’s important to have regular prenatal visits with your health care provider. Your body has to do some serious rearranging to prepare for the birthing process. There’s lots of hormonal actions occurring that do incredible things: the softening of joint cartilage at the pubic symphysis by the hormone relaxin or lactation effects from oxytocin. A regular visit with your physician simply benefits you and your baby as your body experiences these changes.
3) Carefully Consider All Your Options
Fifty years ago, having a baby was a heavily medicalized process. That has drastically changed over the passing decades, leaving expectant parents with a host of labor, delivery, and infant care options to consider. While there’s no “right way” to do any of these, it is important that you decide on the details of your child-birthing experience:
- Consider your labor and delivery choices: Should you choose a doctor or a midwife? Hospital or home birth? Choose the option that makes you feel comfortable and safe.
- Birthing classes such as Lamaze and other prenatal classes help both parents work together to understand and prepare for labor and delivery.
- Think about pain management — epidural, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), or none at all.
- Breastfeeding might technically be best for all infants, but it’s not always the best solution for the family as a whole. Learn and understand the facts about breastfeeding vs formula, as well as your options for collecting and storing your breast milk for your baby if you plan to return to work after your child’s birth.
4) Planning the Nursery
Most first-time parents want to assemble the perfect nursery room for their first baby. Some spend lots of time and money into it, creating a darling room with soothing pastel colors, cushy bumper pads, and cute stuffed animals. Unfortunately, not only is this sort of thing cognitively ineffective for your child, but it can be dangerous.
From 0 to 3 months, newborn babies’ vision is 40 times less accurate than adults. Not only are your newborn’s eyes still developing, but so is the visual cortex of their brain. For the most part, infants only see in shades of black, grey, and white.
At 3 months, the cones develop in their eyes to the point where they have clearer vision with color. Consequently, cognitive stimulation with high contrast patterns and shapes offer far more stimulation to a newborn and helps develop their brains quicker. Downloadable images are all over the web. Print them out and make a mobile to hang above your child’s crib and watch them stare in wonder.
In short, we recommend not overwhelming and overstimulating your child with the decorations in the room.
Deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has been decreasing in the US for about 20 years. In 2014, the CDC reported 1,500 infants died of SIDS with many, but not all, attributed to hazardous sleep conditions. According to a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), parents should share their bedroom with their baby for the first year of life (but not in the same bed). This way, parents can easily monitor their child’s sleep more readily.
Other recommendations to keep your baby safe include:
- Always place your baby on his or her back for every sleep time.
- Keep soft objects, toys, or loose bedding out of the crib. This includes pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, and bumper pads. There is no evidence that bumper pads prevent injuries, and there is a potential risk of suffocation, strangulation, or entrapment.
- Infants should receive all recommended vaccinations.
- Supervised, tummy time is recommended daily to facilitate development.
5) Diaper Time: Cloth or Disposable?
Having a baby is also all about catastrophic messes. Newborns produce frequent liquid poops, and while things become more solid with older babies, they make up for it in sheer volume. The dilemma then is do you use cloth or disposable diapers?
If you use cloth diapers, there’s the problem of mess, smell, and a bucket of diapers to wash (assuming you don’t sign up with a diaper service). If you go with disposables, there’s the expense to put up with plus the hassle of those times you suddenly run out – not to mention the potential environmental impact. And while it’s good to discuss the expense and environmental impacts of disposable diapers , when 3 am rolls around, your need for sleep might make you reconsider that position.
Of course, all that changes right around 3 months when your baby begins to sleep through the night — which could open the possibility for compromise. Use cloth diapers during the day and a disposable for night. Ideally, as your child grows older, they’ll be more aware of being wet sooner and potty train faster. You save money by relying mainly on cloth diapers during the day but get more sleep by taking advantage of disposables at night.
6) Preparing for the Costs
You see that list of stuff above? It all costs money. Even if you think you’ll get everything for your first baby donated from friends and family who’ve already had kids, there will always be something new you want to buy for your child. Thus, while you can’t anticipate every expense (and believe me, I’ve tried), we recommend re-visiting your current budget and doing your due diligence with research into determining how you’ll account for the increased costs of having a kid.
Good luck with adding a new person to your family!