Advice for Parents-To-Be

We know three first-time parents giving birth soon. One said this today, "Any advice you have for newborns is greatly appreciated." Wha… wha… whaaat? Open the floodgates why don’t ya? Here are ten things I came up with before asking the mother to narrow the scope of her question.

1) Don’t idealize the birth. Sure, it may go perfectly, or you may require interventions or even a c-section. In other words, don’t be a wreck if the hospital experience doesn’t live up to your expectations.

2) You may not remember much of the labor. Photos and video help. I shot some photos, but they are few and far between because I was assisting my wife most of the time.

3) You get lots of attention before the birth, but mothers often complain of being ignored by hospital staff afterward. It makes sense, right? The major urgent situation is over and there are other major urgent situations in other birthing rooms needing attention.

Because the baby rooms in with you at the hospital, you’ll want a family member there who can hold the baby, etc. while you sleep, although the baby will do its fair share of sleeping.

The dad or whomever assists with the labor is likely to be wiped out too. We had a close friend who has kids assist, and it turned out to be a tag team effort. One person would talk to my wife as she squeezed the person’s hand into juice and the other person would apply back pressure or whatever, then we switched places when someone got exhausted. In lieu of that, a doula is another way to go if you can find someone you like.

4) If finances allow, don’t be in a rush to leave the hospital. Some parents leave the same day. I can’t imagine that because the hospital is separate world where they feed you and provide support. Once home, you’re on your own, kid.

5) There is a learning curve with breastfeeding. Hopefully the nurses will help you with technique. Hopefully your hospital has a lactation consultant on staff and a weekly drop-in period to ask questions. If not, try Le Leche League. Or pay a lactation consultant.

6) Sleep whenever you can.

7) Lean on friends and family for help. Routine housekeeping, food preparation, etc. can become overwhelming, even for dad. Well, entirely for dad. That’s one of his jobs now. Do everything.

8) Take lots of photos. I know they grow up quick, but they really do! It helps to have a digital camera with a flash mount. You point the flash toward the ceiling and you get an illuminated picture without the washed out sterile faces that a built-in flash creates.

9) The whole experience is stressful, but beware of unnatural stress. We went through postpartum (and really, pre-birth) depression and it was devastating. It’s totally manageable once identified and treated and you can then get on with enjoying the happiest time in your life.

10) Get dad in there changing diapers on Day One. By Day Three he’ll be doing it in his sleep. Literally, of course.

OK all you parents who just read this, what advice or information would you tell a couple about to give birth?


20 Responses to “Advice for Parents-To-Be”

  1. Melissa R says:

    Be aware that even if it seems like all is well with the baby things can show up after the birth. My first son had an undiagnosed heart defect and was whisked away hours after birth. My second son had breathing issues because he had extra fluid in his lungs and also spent time in the NICU. This is not to scare the parents to be but maybe if they are aware that things can happen and show up later on then maybe if it happens to them they will not feel as unprepared.

    April 19th, 2006 at 11:38 pm

  2. Dan S says:

    Great list. Here’s a few ammendments I’d make:

    2) You may not remember much of the labor, true. You may not want to. Some people feel that the whole birthing experience is a “beautiful moment” to film and share. But others view it as a “hard days work” that they need to get through. Don’t worry if you aren’t as “excited” about the whole process like you think you are supposed to be. However you relate to it is the correct way.. for you.

    5) If you can’t breastfeed, or choose not to, do not stress about it or feel like you are “less” of a parent. Rule #1 with parenting is: there is no one right way. Do what’s right for you. One wonderful nurse told us: “As a parent, your main job is to ensure the health of the baby, by feeding him or her. HOW you do that is secondary.”

    8) Take lots of photos. But try video as well. Babies move fast, and many cameras can’t keep up. Video works well. But don’t shoot 3 hour epics. (Baby shaking a rattle is cute, but baby shaking a rattle for hours is borrrinng.) Shoot little video “snapshots”, scenes that can be easily posted online and shared.

    10) Get mom changing diapers from Day One as well. :-)

    April 20th, 2006 at 6:01 am

  3. Heather says:

    Very well put!

    1) Excellent point about the birth process. My emergency C-Section was 180 degrees away from the birth I planned. I cried in the emergency room that I didn’t want a c-section. The doctor literally took me by the shoulders and said “you don’t have a choice, get over it and be thankful that we can save the baby.” A HUGE slap in the face that made all the (positive) difference in brining me to reality.

    2) So true, it was like a foggy dream but then again, that could have been the morphine.

    3) OMG – you are so right!

    5) For breastfeeding advice, nurses in labor and delivery can range from completely useless to absolutely wonderful. I will be eternally grateful to the nurse who molded my breast into my son’s mouth at 3 am. That event was the turning point into a successful breastfeeding effort.

    For any new parenting couple considering breastfeeding, a gift of a prenatal and several post natal sessions with a lactation consultant would be a wonderful shower gift.

    If you are interested in breastfeeding, learn as much as you possibly can before birth. I can’t stress this enough. Read everything you can get your hands on. I found A Nursing Mother’s Companion to be the best book for us. Take it with you to the hospital.

    9) The year after childbirth by Shelia Kitzinger is an excellent book about life post-baby.

    10) Good advice!

    My other two-cents:

    don’t bother with cute pjs for the hospital. Birth and what follows is messy business.

    Take a nail file or clippers for the baby. The hospital will likely not clip you little one’s nails.

    April 20th, 2006 at 6:43 am

  4. Kate says:

    I totally second Heather’s point about hospital lactation consultants. I recommend lining up the number of a really good independent, board-certified (IBCLC) lactation consultant before giving birth. With luck, you’ll never need to use it. But when having problems, there is nothing like a calm, reassuring, sensible expert who comes to your home and spends oodles of time helping you get it right. The best money I’ve ever spent on anything baby-related.

    My other bit of advice is a bit less tangible. Don’t freak out if you don’t have strong feelings of love for the baby right away. There are those of us who do not automatically react to the sight of our newborns with an ecstatic, “Oh my precious baby, I love you, I LOVE you!” like all the women in those birth videos do. For some people, falling in love with a baby is a process, just like falling in love with a grown-up. It’s totally normal.

    April 20th, 2006 at 8:15 am

  5. Kenneth says:

    What about those of us doing natural births at home? You know, those who don’t want to be ignored by a hospital’s staff. Those who’d rather have someone *not* pressured by insurance deciding what procedures are necessary.

    Anyway, you have some good points. Really, though, I think the husband (now dad) should be helping out during the whole pregnancy with things like cleaning and dishes and cooking. I know I’ve had to all along because my wife just isn’t able to do it all. I know a lot of dads have problems with diapers, but if you love your wife and child, you get used to it.

    Anyone else get kinda pissed off that you’ll find 20 “I Love Mommy”/”Mommy Loves Me” items to one “I Love Daddy”/”Daddy Loves Me” items (in your general store)?

    April 20th, 2006 at 8:26 am

  6. Chris says:

    They will offer to watch your newborn in the nursery so you can sleep. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS! With our first, my wife and I had that first-time parent clinginess and had him in the room the whole time we were there, and consequently got little rest. We were much wiser the second time around….TAKE HIM, PLEASE!! :)

    April 20th, 2006 at 8:36 am

  7. thordora says:

    Great points. My favorite was “the only way out is through” for the birth.

    And remember you’re stronger than you ever thought.

    April 20th, 2006 at 12:22 pm

  8. Carol says:

    Wow! So many comments — nothing like offering advice to make us all come out of the woodwork, lol.

    You offered up La Leche League’s website which is great. I’d also like to offer up La Leche League’s message boards — . Leaders are available to answer your questions almost immediately. It’s a truly great resource!

    “While breastfeeding may not seem the right choice for every parent, it is the best choice for every baby.” – Amy Spangler

    April 20th, 2006 at 8:29 pm

  9. Matt says:

    Fantastic collection of ideas – I would love to see this information (with appropriate link backs to this blog) on Minti for our community of parents to share and comment too.

    Please consider adding even a little tid-bit of your advice to our site and I hope lots more will visit your wonderful blog.

    All the best and keep the advice coming!
    Matt – Minti Co-founder

    April 21st, 2006 at 5:58 am

  10. Michelle says:

    I just want to add that the monther needs to realize that when you walk in there to have that baby, you are leaving your dignity at the door. Everyone will want to poke and prod you in places most people never see, including you. Once you have the baby, the nurses will expect you to nurse that little one right in front of them. They will ask you to “show them how you nurse”… and they will all manhandle your breasts… get used to it. But, I have to say, if it were not for those nurses and the lactation specialist, we never would have gotten it right. My daughter had jaundice and she did not want to eat. The LS showed us how to get her to nurse even though she did not want to….

    April 21st, 2006 at 6:20 am

  11. christie says:

    This is a good list — I would just add to #1 that the perfect birth experience is one that ends with a healthy baby (or babies, in my case — a pair of feet-down twins, now three years old) and a healthy mom.

    And a hearty “amen” to Dan S’s comment above — HOW you feed the babies is secondary to the fact that they get fed and loved up. No mom should beat herself up if breastfeeding isn’t possible or desired.

    April 21st, 2006 at 11:36 am

  12. Carol says:

    I disagree with Dan S’s comment and Christie’s comment in that we shouldn’t down play the importance of breastfeeding. It is important. Period. Every baby deserves love and every baby also deserves to be breastfed, if at all possible.

    We should stress to soon-to-be-parents the importance of breastfeeding, support them through their journey and help them find the resources they need to succeed (La Leche League, IBCLC’s, education, etc). We all do the best we can with the resources we have at hand :)

    April 21st, 2006 at 7:26 pm

  13. Drew says:

    Everyone will have advice. Take the stuff you like, discard the rest, and don’t worry too much about hurt feelings.

    Dads in the delivery room: take care of yourself. There’s a whole team to take care of momma and the baby; they don’t need you fainting at the wrong moment because you didn’t eat a sandwich.

    Dads in the delivery room: wear comfortable shoes. Know how to take care of your back. ASK her what she needs or wants.

    Don’t be shy about telling people that you WANT TO SLEEP! Be prepared to put up a sign. EVERYBODY comes in and out. Audio testing, family members, picture people, lactation consultants, etc. Dads: kick people out after a reasonable time. Some people (grandmothers) will stay far past the time when they should leave.

    Have at least one preemie outfit, in case that cute outfit for the ride home doesn’t fit.

    Install the carseat at least a month before the due date. It’ll be there for a looooong time, so an extra month won’t hurt. And the nurse won’t roll her eyes as you struggle with it.

    Be prepared for many incidental expenses. Meals for dad, breast pump rental, lactation consultant, flowers, baby clothes, etc.

    Diapers. You don’t have to change the baby’s diaper every two seconds. Use some diaper cream prophalactically, and let the baby (and yourself) sleep. (Although we always changed the poopy ones.) Also, learn how to tell when a diaper is wet. Take a dry diaper and pinch the underside. Now pour a little bit of water and let it soak in; it’ll feel slick now when you pinch it.

    Collapsable baby tubs are for suckers.

    April 26th, 2006 at 7:03 am

  14. Kim says:

    Hope this isn’t too graphic:

    Mom, bring a multi-pack of cheapo cotton underwear, a size larger than you’d use pre-baby. Something you don’t mind throwing away after wearing once, because it is going to get stained. (You would not believe what the hospital gives you to wear postpartum.)

    Also, there is a pain-relieving disinfectant spray that can work wonders on your nether regions during the first few days. Bring a can, and apply after the washing routine they’ll teach you. It helps.

    Food. Nursing moms will be hungry. Friends, consider sending chocolate instead of flowers– especially if she’s deprived herself of chocolate during the pregnancy.

    Remember that everything you bring in, you’ll have to haul out to the car when you leave– plus baby, flowers, gifts, etc etc.– and dad will have to do 90% of it, unless you have friends/relatives willing to wait for hours for the unpredictable checkout to occur. Minimalize the crap if possible.

    One exception (for me) to the above is a boppy-type nursing pillow. It’s bulky but worth it.

    Gowns, not PJs, for mom. Button front for nursing. Consider that, if the baby’s got any health issues and isn’t allowed in your room, you may be making many trips through the hospital to see him/her. (I didn’t, and had to do it wearing some fairly embarassing stuff. I hardly noticed, but thought about it later- coulda planned a little for that.)

    Ditto the lactation consultant comments. USE them heavily while in the hospital, where they’re free and available. Also, the preemie outfit comments. I’d buy one package of preemie diapers for home, too- you can always return them if not needed.

    If you have to share a room with another mom, for God’s sake don’t entertain a herd of well-wishers for hours on end– even if you’d like to. Have a little compassion for your neighbor.

    January 6th, 2007 at 9:37 pm

  15. rose says:

    just a hint, since preemie diapers are expensive. Newborn diapers are the same size, they just absorb more. My three pound son wears them, as the preemie diapers cannot absorb what he puts out…he’s amazing. Oh, and if you can’t or would rather not breastfeed, you will get a lot of flak about how you’re a horrible person and how you should just throw the kid in a gutter since you’re basically doing that anyway by using formula, blah blah blah. Breastfeeding is great, but not everyone can or desires to. My breasts, my business. My daughter would scream every time she saw my breast and refuse to eat no matter how many times lactation came in. With my son, I was so scared he’d die I didn’t pump because I didn’t want to be lactating and planning a funeral for the baby the milk came in to feed, and then I did start but it quickly dried up. Breastfeeding is awesome, but don’t beat yourself up. Your kid isn’t ever going to need therapy because you didn’t breastfeed him/her.

    January 26th, 2007 at 11:17 pm

  16. Linda says:

    Best advice I can give is not to worry or panic when your baby cries. Yes, it means you need to take care of him or her, but you shouldn’t rush yourself when you’re fixing their food, or diapers, or whatever it is. Crying is their only way of communicating at first, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re “bad parents” or doing something wrong. Take your time and do it right when tending to your baby, even if it means crying.

    On a minor note:
    This may vary from hospital to hospital, but at ours, only the lactation consultants (who were not in on all shifts) could dispense samples of lanolin creme for breastfeeding. They literally kept them under lock and key. I was fortunate that a friend gave me a tube and said to bring it to the hospital. It’s one of those little things you might not think to bring, and it makes a huge difference in comfort.

    January 28th, 2007 at 10:22 pm

  17. Dylan says:

    Another thing, learn all you can about the consciousness/awareness of babies, and newborn capabilities. It’s amazing how different we treat our babies if we understand that they have opinions and ways to communicate them, and that what happens before, during and after birth matters, and is remembered.

    And also that if you are upset by the birth experience, your baby probably is too (and might be even if you aren’t) and there are ways to resolve painful memories for baby and mom.

    March 28th, 2007 at 5:05 pm

  18. nestingdollgirl says:

    you can’t spoil a newborn. if the baby is crying, try to soothe it. their needs are relatively simple in the beginning. they need to be fed, they need to be changed, they need to be burped, they need to sleep. if the baby is crying, its probably one of the above. go through the whole list until you figure it out. eventually you’ll learn from teh context of your baby’s cries what they are trying to communicate. babies communicate by crying. they are incapable of “comoforting themselves.” heck, i know grown adults who can’t comfort themselves… that’s why people have a beer or zone out in front of the tv or go for a walk. babies cant do that. they cry bc something is wrong and they stop crying either bc someone figured out what was wrong or bc someone let them cry themself to exhaustion and they passed out. babies learn their emotions from you and totally pick up on your energy. they’re probably more freaked out than you could possilby imagine, dont freak them out even more by stressing about everything. dirty diapers will get changed, spit up will be cleaned up, all in good time. focus on being calm and loving every moment you are with your child. if you freak out they’ll freak out. if you have to let the baby cry for a few more minutes while you collect yourself in the bathroom, better to do so than to hold a child while feeling angry, resentful or anything negative. (sorry for the stream-of-conciousness style)

    June 21st, 2007 at 1:56 pm

  19. KC says:

    During my second delivery, not only did I have the nursery take the babies when I wanted to sleep, but I also brought a sound machine, to cancel out all the background noise. I really wish I had done that with the first child.

    December 20th, 2007 at 9:59 pm

  20. Jen says:

    Spend those last few days lounging around, eating, and resting up as much as possible (this goes for both parents). Go in to labor as comfortable and well-rested as possible.

    Bring a 3mos. outfit along, too! Little Lizard went home in a t-shirt from the hospital and some too-small pants because she couldn’t fit into the adorable little newborn outfit we brought for her.

    Watch for postpartum depression. It’s a life-threatening illness. If the baby blues last more than two weeks, go to the doctor. If you feel like something is horribly wrong before then, go to the doctor and explain what’s going on.

    March 12th, 2008 at 4:27 am