Advice from the field: Practical tips for new parents (that no one seems to tell you!)

In the past week, I’ve found out that two girlfriends of mine are expecting. How exciting! I’m glad my baby will have friends his age!

These babes on the way got me thinking though about advice I’d like to offer to the new moms. This advice comes mostly from “first-time parent” mistakes and some tricks I’ve learned in the past 10 1/2 weeks. This by no means makes me a pro at being a parent. It’s just some observations I’d like to impart to others.

1.) Breastfeeding is hard work. No seriously. It doesn’t come naturally. It’s something both mom and baby have to learn. And it takes about eight weeks before things really start to click. In my case, Jonathan was using a nipple shield. Premature babies frequently use them because it makes feeding easier. The nurses in the nursery told me to use the shield until Jonathan reached seven or eight pounds. Jonathan reached that point after a month. Keep in mind that’s a month of believing that the silicone nipple shield is what a nipple tastes and feels like. Weaning him off the shield was difficult (but necessary because shields can decrease milk supply and they are a pain in the butt to carry around with you everywhere and keep clean). I started pulling the shield a few minutes after he started eating and gradually allowed him less and less time with the shield until he’d only have it until the milk let down and then he’d have to hook on to the actual nipple. It took until about seven weeks of age for Jonathan to finally wean off the shield.

On top of that I’ve struggled with the pain that comes with breastfeeding. By that I mean clogged ducts, clogged nipple pores, sore nipples, flaky nipples, and on and on and I’m sure you don’t want to hear anything more about my nipples so we’ll move on to advice. First of all, pick up some lanolin (easy to find at your local Target or possibly the grocery store). I’ve tried both Lansinoh and Medela and I prefer the latter. It goes on smoother which is a big deal when anything that touches your nipples other than your child’s mouth makes you want to howl and crawl out of your skin. Secondly, when it’s just you, your better half and the babe at home together, feel free to let the girls be free. You don’t have to worry about the child seeing you unclothed until they’re about 2 or 3 years old. And the aforementioned girls will thank you for the free time.

Some final (and probably most important) hints: Make sure you have a really good breast pump. I think my lactation lady friend put it best: If the company also makes bottles, the company doesn’t want you to succeed at breastfeeding. So stick with a company that only makes pumps, i.e. Medela. My lactation lady said she’s heard of Medela pumps being the only ones that haven’t maimed someone. Yes, maimed. And think about what body part of yours is getting maimed. Ouch.

That being said, only pump until you’re comfortable with the milk stash you’ve built up. No longer! I definitely pumped too long, which made my body think I was feeding twins. I was making waaaaay more milk than Jonathan could eat, and he’s a very good eater. I have a deep freezer full of frozen breast milk (which is great for down the road!). Anyway, I had a lot of issues with engorgement (and consequently clogged ducts, clogged nipple pores…) until I started weaning myself off the pump. Now I pump once every other day or so. Your milk supply will match your baby’s needs, so let it! Pump only a little (like an ounce) if you need to to stay comfortable and prevent clogs. The best way to pump out the clogs is for your baby to nurse.

And finally, I really recommend finding a lactation counselor. Go through your hospital, through the La Leche League, get help through the website The Leaky B@@b. But get help! If you can, find a 24-hour breastfeeding hotline. You’ll use it. I’ve called at 11 p.m. before for help with a seriously awful clogged duct (boob swollen to TWICE the size of the other one and nothing would come out!). These ladies will be there for you and they’ll make breastfeeding easier until it, well, gets easier. Add to this your own breastfeeding research before baby is born! Do it! Learn all you can.

2. You will be drowning in baby clothes. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT buy any yourself. You’ll get plenty from friends and family. Save your money for the big stuff like strollers and cribs. That being said, make sure family and friends are aware of your child’s age during the various seasons. I have loads of clothes for my son (which truly I appreciate!) that likely won’t fit him during the appropriate season. I have scads of long-sleeved fleecy onesies for the 6 months range. At 6 months, it will be June. Possible that it will still be cold where I live then. Possible that Jonathan will wear those clothes before he is actually 6 months at the rate he is growing (behold the power of breast milk!). But it’s also possible that I’ll either end up donating the clothes or keeping them for baby #2 (who is several years away from even being considered, so don’t get excited!). So, in short, make sure your family and friends know that your little bundle of joy will be 6 months old in the middle of January, so those cute short-sleeve onesies and baby sandles probably won’t even have their tags removed. (There’s another hint — ask for gift receipts and don’t remove the tags! That way you can exchange the clothes for something that is seasonally appropriate.)

3. Make sure your baby’s car seat has a base that remains in the car and a seat that lifts out. The first car seat we bought did not have this feature. Consequently my husband and I were lifting our infant son out of his seat and just carrying him around in freezing temperatures. No bueno. We’d also wake him up taking him out of the car seat and if I’ve only learned one thing in my short time as a parent, it’s LET SLEEPING BABIES LIE. My mother ended up buying us an infant seat that has the base and detachable seat. But Jonathan will probably outgrow that within a month or two! And then we’re back to the original car seat. Thank goodness it will be summer!

4. Register for the big things; or, ask and you shall receive. We wanted to cloth diaper our son so we registered for a cloth diaper package that cost $400. Yikes, lots of money. But we have very generous family and friends and we ended up only contributing about $80 of our own money to the diapers (which are great and  we’d spend that much a month — or more — on disposables). We also registered for a crib, for a stroller, for an organic baby mattress, etc. All large purchases that again, our family and friends came through on and helped us purchase. If you’re worried about the price but you really, really want something (like I really, really wanted cloth diapers and an organic mattress), suggest that your friends and family go in together on gifts. They won’t be offended. They’ll appreciate knowing that they helped get you something you truly wanted.

5. You need a vibrating infant bouncy chair. Yes, you do. It’s a miracle worker and it will allow you to go to the bathroom by yourself. This is the one I have.

6. Watch The Happiest Baby on the Block. We were lucky to watch it at the hospital while we were waiting those long five days to be discharged. Very good tips on how to soothe your baby and they work!

7. Babies have a lot of trouble passing gas for those first few weeks. Jonathan groaned and moaned and grunted for hours every day for about a month. This is because infants don’t have super developed gastrointestinal tracts. My husband and I didn’t know this and were quite frankly shocked by how hard our little boy was trying just to pass gas or have a bowel movement. It helps to move their little legs like they’re riding a bike, or to get them sitting up in the aforementioned infant bouncy chair. Put a rolled up towel under the crib mattress so the baby is sleeping at a slight incline. Gripe water is good too (whether or not your baby has colic; ours did not have colic). We liked the Wellements Gripe Water for Colic brand. The doctors in the hospital told us that there’s really no evidence that gripe water works, but it sure seemed to help!

8. Be noisy when your baby is sleeping. If you make your baby’s sleeping environment dark and silent all the time, he or she won’t be able to sleep anywhere that isn’t dark and silent. So make noise. Let your child fall asleep in the bouncy chair in the living room while you’re watching a loud action film. Take your sleeping child to noisy restaurants. The more environments your child can sleep in, noisy or not, the better for the both of you!

Anyway, that’s all for now (and Jonathan is waking up so I’d better sign off). I hope this offers just a little bit of assistance to new parents!

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One thought on “Advice from the field: Practical tips for new parents (that no one seems to tell you!)

  1. Pingback: Things No One Tells You About Being a Parent | Perfect Medium.

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