This is a collection of things I am glad that I did, or wish I’d thought about, or would have liked for someone to tell me before I had my little one.  Please feel free to add your own suggestions for moms-to-be in the comments… I have several friends who are about to take their own birth journeys in the next couple of months!

  1. DEFINITELY get a Power of Attorney and a Living Will drawn up and ready before you head to the hospital for labor.  When they were ready to give me the epidural, the anesthesiologist was trying to tell me all the risks, benefits, side effects, and whatever else he was obliged to tell me before I signed some consent paperwork.  I was so out of it and loopy from a pain pill I took to get me through until the epidural was put in that I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying, and everyone there was trying desperately to keep me awake.  I think I’m quoted as saying, “I don’t have to listen to this, B has POA- let him sign it,” and off I went to LaLa Land until they were ready to prep and insert the epidural.  In addition, there were several times that I couldn’t fill out paperwork easily and comfortably anymore because the carpal tunnel in my hands caused one wrist to be excruciatingly painful and the fingers in the other hand to be completely numb.  Again, having my spouse sign for me was a Godsend.
  2. If I had to do it all over again, I would have arranged for puppy care for the dogs for the first several weeks.  It’s unbelievably difficult to get out and give them the exercise they need when tied to a 2-3 hour sleep and feed cycle.  The poor dears have had walks at 10:30 at night up and down the street and been excited to have had that.  Getting a tired daddy or mama to take the dogs to the dog park is equally difficult.  It has to be coordinated on so many levels… so my recommendation is that if you have pets, get a pet sitter to come visit and take them out for a break every day, just like you’d find someone to babysit older kids for a little while each day.  DO NOT push them out of the way (outside, locked in another room, etc), however, or you will have a dog who feels replaced and a whole slew of bad behaviors will follow.
  3. Involve the dogs as much as you can in the new baby’s care.  Our dogs are very, very gentle, affectionate, and mindful of the baby, with NO jealousy, and I attribute it to the fact that we involved them instead of pushing them away, as well as the fact that they already had quite stable temperaments.  Piper had no experience with babies, and she did a fair amount of inching close to sniff, then backing away barking for the first couple of days.  He’s 2 weeks old now, and she is much more comfortable with him because we allowed her to take her time to figure him out while rewarding her with treats for coming close and sniffing him gently over the first several days.  All of our dogs have been and are allowed to sniff Pud closely and even to lick him gently.  They will know before we do if he get sick, because they will KNOW his healthy, normal scent patterns.  By allowing them to sniff and lick (the same they do for us when they “check” us), we have established a way for them to indicate if something is wrong with him down the road, like an ear infection.  This is still handled with care… they are still dogs and he’s still a squirmy baby.  I would NOT recommend allowing your dog around baby’s face if your dog doesn’t know how to be gentle with your face and is not trained, or if your dog has a high prey drive. 
  4. Prepare your dogs for baby’s arrival!  Talk about baby by name while he/she is in utero.  Take time to talk about the new furniture and gifts that are pouring in and allow the dogs to sniff through and check out everything (you know you’re going to wash them anyway).  Make sure any rules that you will be changing change BEFORE baby arrives (for example, if your dogs have been allowed to sleep on the bed and now you’re thinking better of it, teach them BEFORE baby arrives to get off the bed).  If your dog has unpredictable manners, go to a POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT training class (no choke chains, prong collars, or electric collars and no alpha rollovers- these can teach or reinforce aggressive tendencies- not good for baby) BEFORE baby arrives.
  5. Breastfeeding is HARD (at first).  I took the classes.  I read the books.  I had supporters on Facebook and my sister and my doula to hold my hand and help us figure it out along the way, but folks: it’s HARD.  Take advantage of the hospital’s lactation consultants while in the hospital and after you leave.  I know there’s also the La Leche League groups to consult with, as well, but I felt far more comfortable returning to the hospital (the “safe place” for us), as well as getting support from our pediatrician and a nurse-midwife at my OB’s practice. 
  6. Rent the pump for the first month.  Sometimes, it seemed like the only way to get any food down my Pud in those early days was to pump and give him a bottle.  Since he was jaundiced and eating is the only way to get him to poop and pooping is the only way to get rid of the jaundice, this was a big deal for us at first.  You have no idea how hard it is to pump manually until you have to do so several times a day- it took me AND B working together to make this happen, because I would get so tired from trying to pump and hold the contraption in place while dealing with carpal tunnel in both hands/wrists.  Newborns are not always cooperative little birdies… the occasional bottle is not going to hurt the little cherub.  Now, note: in order to keep up supply, you MUST pump if baby takes a bottle and not the breast.  Supply requires demand.  No demand means no supply, ergo… pump if you skip a nursing and store it for the inevitable day that you require babysitting services of a grandparent or aunt/uncle.  This also came in handy when I needed to work out a clogged milk duct and Pud wasn’t always a cooperative little nursling (the antidote is to nurse more frequently on the side that is clogged and put heat on it between nursings… and clogged ducts hurt, but if left alone, they can flare up into mastitis… not good).
  7. 100% pure lanolin is your best breast friend early on.  When you and baby are first learning, inevitably, there will be some mistakes made, leading to sore, cracked, and sometimes bleeding nipples.  Lanolin helps.  So do tea bags (hot or cold, depends on who you ask).
  8. If you get an episiotomy, ask the hospital for a second “personal cleansing” a.k.a. squirt bottle.  I wish I had 2.  Sometimes, I want more warm water than the first bottle full provides; other times, I just wish I had one in one bathroom and one in the other, so I wouldn’t have to “plan” every trip to the bathroom.
  9. Sleep when the baby sleeps.  You won’t be able to do this for at least a couple of weeks, but once you finally relax and learn to let yourself sleep when baby sleeps, life is much rosier and the endless crying jags are ever so much easier to deal with.
  10. About those crying spells… it’s okay to put baby in the crib while he’s screaming at the top of his lungs and walk away for a a few minutes.  One of the following things will happen: he will cry himself into sleep, he will cry so hard he spits up, and/or he will cry so hard that you feel guilty for walking away.  Holding him while he’s crying without ceasing will sometimes grate your nerves so badly, you will understand for a brief moment how violence can happen to a young innocent babe.  Walk away.  It’s the safest and sanest thing you can do when you can’t pass him to a trusted family member or friend for a break.  After a minute on the porch breathing fresh air, or a trip to the bathroom without a baby in your arms, or whatever brief break you give yourself, you will be much better able to go back and calmly help your little one to calm down. 
  11. I have, on occasion, called someone- sometimes understanding and suggestions from another adult helps tenfold.  Don’t wait for them to call you… call them.  Pud and I were so lucky that my parents called at just the right time when I was at wits’ end and by myself for HOURS with an inconsolable newborn.  I was in tears, exhausted, and on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown.  They arrived, stayed the night, and allowed me to sleep.  I woke up in regular intervals anyway, and pumped, but I did not have the responsibility for caring for my child until the next morning, when I awoke refreshed after my first real night of sleep since before he was born.