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A friend of mine was going over my baby registry to help me remove superfluous items (no need for that Baby Bullet, just use your own food processor!) and I suddenly became so overwhelmed with everything I didn't know that I burst into tears. Look, it's not like I haven't seen babies. I know what they can do: eat, poop, cry, smile, steal your heart and poke out your eyes with tiny dagger-like fingers. But I've never actually cared for a newborn baby. I was the baby in my family so I didn't change anyone's diapers. Whenever a friend of mine has a new baby, I avoid them in the early stages of life. I specifically say, "I don't want to see your wobbly-necked, soft-headed baby until it's solid, and I can blow on its belly and put its feet in my mouth.
So there I was, crying onto my laptop when I had the brilliant realization in my pregnancy-addled brain that I could take a class! So I called up a local baby boutique that offers an array of classes and signed up for their newborn care class. I stopped crying and felt like I didn't need to worry anymore, they would teach me everything I needed to know about caring for Hairy Bellyfonte (yes, we call him that, because my belly is um, rather hairy). If you are expecting for the first time, I highly recommend taking a class like this, if only for the amazing handouts. But if you're reading this between contractions and forgot to take a class, let me sum up my experience and tell you what I learned so you can be ready, too!
Give your partner a beer. That's what our instructor did. All the men immediately relaxed—even the ones that didn't drink the beer. All of the women looked longingly at the beers and rubbed their bellies. Then it was like a synchronized event; each of the men lovingly touched the mother of their child on the neck, thigh, back or shoulder.
Google images of baby poop. Put them together in a full color handout starting with baby's first sticky tar black alien excretion and its progression from green to mustard seed yellow. Be assured: It doesn't stink, unless something is wrong. Smells like milk, they say. (It's fine to gag a little at this point. Poop is nasty but apparently when it's your baby's poop, you feel fine about it.)
Get your birth plan ready. Know that it might not go as planned.
Get a car seat. Make sure you have it safety inspected.
Pack a bag for the hospital. Include comfortable clothes for mom, socks, nursing tank top, robe or gown, toiletries, baby's homecoming outfit, a change of clothes for your partner and your phone charger.
Deliver baby vaginally or via C-section. After your baby is out of your belly is obviously when the fun begins. The instructor told us that—barring any health complications—no one should be taking your baby away from you right away, you should be skin to skin and they should be crawling up you and looking for your boob. Then you should feed them like 12 times in the next 24 hours. Then you go home and keep feeding them all day and night. Breastfeeding will make you thirsty and starved. Have snacks and drinks in every room.
Baby spit-up. To help prevent baby spit-up, hold him upright for at least 30 minutes after a feed. Breastfeeding supposedly causes less gas and you may not need to burp the baby after but I guess you just figure this out as it's happening.
Taking care of a newborn sounds really exhausting but after this class I now at least have some idea of what to expect when my little pooper arrives.
Newborn appearance. Do not be alarmed if your baby has any of the following, it's all totally normal: cone-shaped head, puffy eyes, bent-looking legs and arms, baby acne, folded-over ear, misshapen nose. These things go away. Your baby will come out covered in white cheese that they call vernix caseosa. It doesn't need to be washed away and will absorb into the skin; it has immune properties and is moisturizing. And it's totally normal for their hair to fall out very early in life. It grows back.
Crusty belly button. After they cut the umbilical cord, there will be a stump and it's like this gross scab thing. Don't pick at it. Just let it be out in the air, don't get it wet and it should fall off in 7–10 days. Ugh, why is that making me so nauseated? Oh probably because, if it stinks or starts bleeding or has some horrid discharge you need to contact your health care provider.
Baby penis care. For intact babies, just warm water. For circumcised babes, wipe stool and urine away with warm water and protect with petroleum jelly. Again, if something stinks or bleeds or discharges, call your provider.
Clogged baby nose. Get a Nose Frida to suck out your baby's boogers. It looks disgusting but you don't actually suck up the boogers into your mouth. Read the instructions on the box.
Essential items. Make sure you have diapers and wipes, a baby sling or carrier, blankets for spit-up and a thermometer. That's basically all a newborn needs.
Diaper changing & swaddling. Practice changing a diaper on a doll if you've never done that before. Then make your husband practice on the dog, for your own personal pleasure. Same for swaddling.
Bathing. Practice giving a sponge bath to the doll. You want to keep the parts you're not washing warm by wrapping them in a towel. You shouldn't submerge them in water until their umbilical cord falls off but babies aren't really dirty so spot cleaning is fine. And bathing once or twice a week is fine. Frequent bathing dries out tender baby skin.
Bonding. To bond with your baby, hold him skin-to-skin, carry him around on you in a carrier or sling, give him infant massage, talk to him and change his diapers. Oh and don't forget to support his head and neck—if the head falls off, you're in trouble.
Crying. If your baby is crying, he's probably hungry or uncomfortable. No need to worry about spoiling your newborn baby (it's impossible)! If he's crying, soothe him by holding him, feeding him, changing his diaper or sitting on a yoga ball and bouncing. If you don't have a yoga ball, like me, I assume you just sort of jiggle him gently or sit in a rocking chair.
Breast milk. Your breast milk is as magical as Windex in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Our instructor told us you can use it like eye drops if baby's eyes are gunky, clean out blocked nasal passages, and apply it to diaper rash. I would check with your doctor on this one, but I found it entertaining to hear her extol its virtues.
Sleep. Newborn sleep cycles are 30 minutes to 1 hour for a total of 18–20 hours a day. Now I know why everyone says you don't get any sleep. That sounds crazy to me. Plus, all the feedings … oh well. I've been waking up every hour to pee anyway, so I guess it'll be fine. Anyway, apparently you should have your baby in the room with you whether you are bedsharing or co-sleeping. This will make it easier to stuff your boob in his mouth. Now is a good time to watch adorable YouTube videos of babies sleeping. Go ahead, I'll wait.
When to call your pediatrician. If baby is under 1 month and looks or acts abnormal in any way. If he has fever over 100.4 (do not give any meds). If your breast is swollen and red or tender to touch. If circumcision is bleeding more than a few drops. If circumcision looks infected. If soft spot on top of the head looks swollen. Or if you think your child needs to be seen, trust your instincts.
Taking care of a newborn sounds really exhausting but after this class I now at least have some idea of what to expect when my little pooper arrives. After reading this, you should also have a general idea of what to expect at a newborn care class and if it is something in which you might be interested in. Beer not guaranteed, but don't mention that to your partner!