- Family and Parenting
Preparing For Your First Child
Now that you are nearing the end of the amazing journey that is pregnancy, one issue understandably begins to preoccupy your thoughts: how do I prepare for this baby? Although nothing can really prepare you for what it is like to be a parent for the first time, there are a few things you can do to get ready for the big day that your little one makes his or her entrance into the world. These include things you can do prepare for the birth of your child, for bringing your darling home, and for coping and muddling through the first few weeks of life with a newborn.
Labour and Delivery
Since announcing your pregnancy to friends and family, this is probably the thing that has been most talked about. No doubt you have heard countless horror stories about how one friend was in labour for 36 hours only to eventually deliver by emergency c-section or how another friend went over two weeks and ended up being induced. The truth is, nobody knows how your labour will go, and hearing repetitive gruesome accounts about how it went for other women will do nothing valuable for you. Every woman is different, just as every pregnancy is different. That being said, there are several things you can do to help make sure the day is a little easier on you.
Know the signs of labour:
Hollywood would have you think that labour goes something life this: out happily shopping one day, your water breaks with a force comparable to that of a torpedo hitting the Hoover dam, you are then rushed to hospital in an ambulance and after a couple hours grunting and screaming, you push out an unblemished baby boy or girl. Not quite. Contractions can start before or after the water breaking, and for some women, the water leaks out slowly or not at all. Contractions usually start out slowly, much like period cramps, and increase in intensity and frequency as labour progresses. Most hospitals will send you home if your contractions are less than five minutes apart, but every institution has a different policy. Talking this over with your health care provider will help you to know when you should come into the hospital, and they will also be able to give you tips on how to manage pain and discomfort in the meantime at home. Going to antenatal classes is an excellent way of preparing for labour and delivery.
Have a birth plan:
With your significant other (or birth partner) and your health care provider, plan how you want to proceed through the labour and delivery process. Some women are adamant that they do not want any pain relief or medication, while others are quite keen to be offered epidural aesthetic as early on as possible. There are certain medical procedures that obstetricians may want to perform during the delivery, for example episiotomies, that have both advantages and disadvantages to them. Knowing your thoughts and decisions on issues such as these before hand will eliminate the panic and indecision you may feel when asked about them if the time comes during delivery. Just make sure that your birth plan is flexible – no matter how you think you want your labour to go now, you cannot control it one hundred percent and you may feel completely different about your decisions once you are actually in the throes of it.
Pack your bags several weeks in advance:
Have everything you want to take with you to hospital ready in advance for the big day – your toiletries, pyjamas, a housecoat, some books, maybe even a teddy bear? Whatever you think you will want with you, have it all ready. This includes a bag for the baby with plenty of sleepers, baby grows, diapers, etc. Though don’t fret too much if you aren’t pre-packed when the time comes – you can always send someone home to collect these things.
Have your route planned:
Know HOW you are going to get to the hospital – the route and how long it will take. In some cities, public transportation is the quickest and easiest way for anyone to get around. Knowing in advance how you will get to the hospital will ease much stress and anxiety for you on the day.Make sure that the car always has enough petrol in it or that you have cab money ready if you decide to taxi it.
Make sure your significant other/birth partner is contactable:
He or she may be at work or out when the big day comes – make sure they are reachable by mobile phone and ready to be at your side when the time comes that you need them.
Feeling at Home Already!!!
Bringing Baby Home
Labour seems to be the thing that most people focus on throughout their pregnancies. Yet comparatively, it inhabits only a modicum of time in the lifelong journey that is parenting. But no matter how the delivery goes, it all becomes a distant memory once you are holding that bundle of joy in your arms. Depending on the baby’s and your own medical status, you may go home the same day that you deliver, or you may be kept in for some days afterwards. Once you are released from hospital, you will be glad that you have done some preparation in advance to bringing your baby home.
If driving, you will need to make sure that you have a properly fitted car seat for baby to sit in. Under no circumstances should baby be taken in car without being snugly secured into a car seat. Many hospitals have a policy that a qualified member of staff comes out with you to ensure that it is fitted properly.
You may have noticed in your last weeks of pregnancy that you experienced a sudden burst of energy and activity that you hadn’t previously enjoyed. You may have busied yourself with rearranging furniture and housework such as washing floors, dusting, etc. This is what women refer to as the ‘nesting instinct’, and many believe that it is a sure sign of the impending delivery day. However, not all women experience this level of energy or feel well enough in their last trimester to do the nesting. Many women (who can afford to) hire a cleaner a few weeks before their due date to do the odd jobs that they haven’t been able to do themselves. It is important that your living space is organised (it will make things easier on you) and clean (it makes things easier for the baby, who has no immune system!) before you come home from hospital, as you certainly won’t have a lot of time or energy to do many things afterwards. Though don’t think your house has to be spotless – this is the real world after all, and both you and baby need to fit into it!
Having the baby’s nursery ready in advance is also important to helping you settle in. Some things you will need may include:
- baby grows and sleepers (several of them – you will end up going through at least two or three a day at the beginning!), hats to keep babies head warm
- nappies and diaper cream, wipes or cotton wool, non-perfumed and non-coloured baby soap and lotion
- baby bedding and receiving blankets
- a bassinet/Moses basket and crib for later
- baby monitor
- feeding apparatus: bottles and sterilisers if you plan to formula feed, breast pads, nipple cream and possibly a breast pump if you plan to breastfeed.
Having these things ready in advance – unpacked, tested out, washed, and set up – is helpful. The more you can do before baby comes home, the better. Nobody wants to spend their first day at home setting up furniture, washing baby bedding, or running to the grocery store diapers.
Coping With a Newborn
This is no doubt the most difficult part of becoming a parent for most people: you’ve made it through the trials of labour, had the baby, brought her to her new home that you’ve meticulously cleaned and lovingly adorned with baby décor and supplies, and… now what? It is daunting for every new parent to suddenly realise that they are in charge of looking after this helpless little being who they barely know, and the very magnitude of that charge can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Try not worry too much about the how’s and what-if’s. Every parent before you has been where you are now, and yet most will say that somehow, you just do it. Of course, there is a learning curve involved, but that’s a part of parenthood for everyone. When it comes to babies, there are really only a few things they really need – to be fed, to sleep, to be kept warm and dry, and to be loved. If you can do those things, everything else is just gravy as they say. That being said, there are certainly some preparations you can make in advance that will ease your transition from an individual or couple to a family with newborn child.
Let go of your standards – at least just for now!
The house won’t be neat and tidy all the time and supper won’t be on the table for 6 p.m. prompt. The laundry basket will overflow and there will be days you are lucky to even get a bath in let alone dry your hair or put makeup on. In the grand scheme of things, none of these things really matter. They’ll get done eventually and what’s more important is that you spend your time recovering from the toll pregnancy and labour have taken on your body, and also getting to know your child. Usually, it’s only a matter of a few weeks before things settle down and you get into some sort of routine. Eventually, you will have worked out a system for getting done what needs to be done, and for putting off until a later date the less pressing necessities. Rest is especially important for mom for a number of reasons. She’ll need it to help her body recover, and even more so if she is breastfeeding her child. So grab a bit of sleep or just lie down and rest whenever you can; which should be frequently enough as newborns do sleep a great deal of time. You just had a baby for goodness sake; this is no time to play Martha Stewart!
Don’t play the martyr – get help whenever and in which ever way you can.
Allow friends and family members to pitch in whenever they can. A lot of women (and men for that matter) don’t specifically want a lot of help with caring for the baby, and to be honest I advise against it anyway. New parents need to build up their confidence and get to know their babies, and interfering mothers (or mother-in-laws), sisters or friends will undermine this. But they can help immeasurably in other ways – maybe by doing some of the tidying, washing or cooking you’ve had to neglect during this adjustment period. Or, by watching the baby so you can get some rest. I remember my in-laws taking my daughter for a walk in her pram for an hour so that my hubby and I could get some time to relax together. It was much needed and appreciated at the time, and helped us to feel a little bit like our ‘old selves’ again. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in advance, and let people know exactly what it is that you would like from them in order to help you.
Remember that help may also include professional help – from nannies, to lactation consultants, to nurses and doctors. If you need professional advice in order to deal with a specific issue of caring for you baby, then get it. After all, babies don’t come with user’s manuals and its always better to err on the side of caution.
Cut corners and simplify your life.
If at all possible in your situation, a good thing to do in advance (before having the baby) is to cook large batches of healthy but substantial meals and freeze them, preferably in individual portions. Also, stock your cupboards with nutritious snacks and easily prepared food. Getting adequate nutrition is vital to healing your body and successful breastfeeding. Making healthy and easy meal options readily available will make it more likely that you take good care of yourself during those busy first weeks. Setting up direct debits for bills, buying large quantities of household items (i.e. toilet tissue, laundry soap, etc.), or hiring help (i.e. dog walkers, students to mow the lawn, etc.) are other examples of ways to simplify your life in the first few weeks or months of parenthood.
Get good advice…
From your mom, a friend who has kids, or even the Internet. There are also tons of very good books written on parenting that can help you deal with the ins and outs of caring for your baby. Take all advice with a grain of salt, however. You’ll find your own way of dealing with things, and no one else is the expert on your baby but you. But, reading up in advance can help you prepare for and deal with the nitty-gritty of what’s in store – the sleepless nights, the seemingly endless feedings and burping sessions, and the never-ending diaper changes; not to mention the teething, weaning, and everything else that comes hand-in-hand with babies. Now that I’ve alarmed you, let me give you one piece of advice. Don’t take it too seriously! Sure, parenting is hard work but it is also the most rewarding ‘work’ you will ever do, and it isn’t always hard. Everyday it gets a bit easier, or at least you’ll get a bit more confident in your abilities. And rest assured it’s also probably the most fun you will ever have in your life!
Dunstan Baby System: a great way to interpret your baby's cries...
Newborn and Beyond
In conclusion, I have discussed just a few things that may help you prepare for the initial stages of parenting your first child. Of course infancy is only a small part of the journey towards adulthood, and there are many other things you will have to deal with as your child grows and matures: from weaning to potty training, to removal of the training wheels, first days at school and report cards, next on to curfews, college funds and (oh no!) marrying them off and becoming a grandparent yourself! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The point is, no matter how prepared or ill-prepared you feel before your little one comes – you’ll deal with it, just like every parent does. Parenting is something you grow into, just like any other role or relationship in your life. Just remember to enjoy every minute that you have with your baby, because (cliché though it is) they do grow up so fast!