How to Prepare for Your First Child
No other event in your life – not marriage, not a new job, not even a month-long vacation to Switzerland – will alter your life as much as your first child. From sleep and work to exercise and running errands, babies will rock your world. Just how can a nine-pound bundle change so much in the course of a day?
Consider your pre-baby routine as it stands now. When you and your spouse want to see a 9:00 movie, you head out and do it. Need a haircut? Make an appointment and go. And when you’re super tired after a long week the Saturday sleep-in is non-negotiable. Newborns have a different idea on how your life should run. They need to eat every three hours. Around the clock. They get fantastically fussy just when your hands are full preparing dinner. And after weeks of getting up at night, when you feel a deep tired ache down to your bones, desperately needing a night (not a day, not a week, but just a single night) off, babies pick that night to randomly wake up at odd hours. Which means you’re up too.
But lest you swear off the whole ordeal, understand that bringing children into the world is a supremely important task. Life as we know it ends without babies. Children simply illuminate how selfish we are with our time. No article or blog can prepare you for that realization, which lies at the core of why babies are so difficult. You’ll simply have to run through the fire knowing that billions of others have done the same and survived. There are, however, a few ways to prepare for selfless giving that break the ice a bit and prepare your current routine for baby.
Select a list of reliable babysitters.
You will need time away from the baby with your husband. Repeat eight times. Then repeat again. Even as early as a month after delivering, you both need to spend time as a couple, because that’s who you were first. When Junior grows up and hits the road, you don’t go with him. And if you have a ridiculous notion that as long as you stay with your spouse through the child’s early years and then split when he goes to college, you failed as both parent and spouse. The last day of your marriage is more important than the first. So get the sitters lined up and keep dating! Make sure your babysitters (especially for a newborn) are older and have CPR training.
Define “help” to extended visitors.
Don’t wait until birthing recovery (which is amazingly painful and lingering) to let your family know the best way to support you when baby gets home. Define it clearly for your mother-in-law or it will be the most miserable week of your life. The best advice I got was to tell people staying with me to help with cooking, cleaning, and other house stuff so I could relax with our new baby.
Organize your house and keep it clean.
Don’t be insane about it but having a place for everything in your home will make life so much easier when baby arrives. The only thing worse than sleep deprivation is sleep deprivation in a pigsty. Cut the cable to hire a maid if you can’t seem to get it done yourself. Routines for housework are great. I always unload the dishwasher in the morning and stick dirty dishes and utensils in it throughout the day before running it at night. Laundry is done during three days each week. I alternate cleaning the carpet and tile every other day so it stays relatively clean. If you’ve worked until the baby comes this will be a great transition to being homebound for a while. You might be tempted to think the house will stay clean because you’re “at home all day to do it”. Good luck with that.
Find friends with kids and help them out.
Your schedule is wide-open right now, whether you know it or not. Get some buddies who are a bit further along on the journey and soak up any information you can from them. Volunteer to change diapers, feed their little Princess, or just clean house. It becomes immeasurably harder to help each other out after your baby comes, so use your enormous amounts of time and be an extra hand to another new mom. You’ll also get a good refresher on baby care.
Practice 3-minute showers.
I always put my first in the swing in our bathroom while I took a rapid fast shower, since I preferred to nap when she did. While it was a bit over-stimulating to her, it worked out for us in those early weeks. Gone are the days of 20-minute showers followed by half an hour to primp. Even if you make the time to do it when hubby gets home you have other things to worry about. You still need to take a shower and look presentable, but just do the basics.
Play with your new baby equipment.
Open and shut the stroller. Do the same with your play yard. Stock up on all sorts of rechargeable batteries and have them ready for the annoying toys Aunt Mildred gives to you. Practice installing your car seat, removing the infant carrier and lifting the handle up and down. Even stick a baby doll in it! Making these routine things automatic will remove some of the stress after delivery.
Arrange once-a-week help from a friend.
This is different from getting date-night help. Once-a-week help can be from your mom, cousin, or someone else with a young baby. This is your time to get a haircut, grocery shop, or take a long nap if you need it.
Don’t buy a bunch of stuff. Especially not blankets.
Unless you just moved or truly have no friends you will be bestowed with more unnecessary frills than you could hope for. The pint-sized snuggly crib animals and homemade blankets will come out of the woodwork. Plus it’s easier to buy things you know you and your family need. A solid percentage of baby junk is just that. Wait a couple weeks before blowing your wad. And when it comes time to buy baby stuff, buy used or use coupons to save money on a purchase that is likely only going to last a few months before it’s grown out of.
Read two or three baby books, but no more.
The best way to find good baby books is to watch other moms whose children respect them and behave. Then ask them if they would recommend anything that helped them. Most of the literature on the subject of babies is completely contradictory and will drive you insane if you take it at face value. Observe other moms and get the scoop directly from them. Authors and folks with letters after their names don’t know you, your child, nor your unique circumstances.
Stop working early, if you can.
The shift from full-time work to full-time baby is immensely tough. To stop work a couple days before birth and then transition to the home immediately is too much stress, even though many women make that same path. I’m convinced that lack of mental, emotional, and physical preparation for such a life change contributes to post-partum stress. Stop a few weeks early and get your mind set on this meaningful yet daunting shift. You need time to talk with your spouse and outline your new responsibilities.
Avoid intentional sleep deprivation.
Most pregnant women have a tough time sleeping anyway. But there’s no need to “get in the routine” of up every 3 hours. Get your rest now and get to bed early to prepare for the labor marathon and ensuing weeks of sleeplessness. It’s really not that bad. You get to spend time nursing or bottle-feeding your little one. That time is so limited and precious that you’ll eventually miss doing it.
If you’re like I was before children, the thought of giving up every inch of myself for a baby terrified me. Each part of the daily routine is turned over on its head to make way for an infant. What I didn’t expect was the accompanying feeling of acceptance through all of it. We can’t head out with our kid-less friends until midnight. Or eat dinner without having to jump up a dozen times. We cherish things like singing kid songs, going to bed early, and reviewing pictures of the new bundle. But neither of us mind that change. The desire for the things we used to do is gone and we don’t miss it.