This post is part of the 2010 API Principles of Parenting blog carnival, a series of monthly parenting blog carnivals, hosted by API Speaks. Learn more about attachment parenting by visiting the API website.
The Attachment Parenting International carnival this month is on AP Principle #1: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting. I've already written a couple times about this topic in my Attachment parenting primer and Move and groove during labor and birth, but I want to address something specific today: the new parents getting ready for the newborn.
I think in these days of online forums and Dr. Google, MD, PhD, it's more common for people to go into childbearing having given forethought to their parenting. But it still shocks me when I occasionally meet someone who has done no research beyond the pregnancy stage, or sometimes the birth. She might know (for it is often the mother-to-be I'm talking with, though I wouldn't be surprised to find this is just as common if not more so with the non-gestating partner) precisely how to time intercourse in her cycle for the best chance at conception; she might have a handy pocket chart of foods to avoid during pregnancy; she might have toured a half-dozen birth suites and booked the coziest; but when the conversation turns to what to do with the child who will soon come forth, there's a blank look.
I get it, I do. Pregnancy is fun (depending on circumstances). Getting pregnant can be (also depending on circumstances). Whereas raising a child?
Well, it's all a little murky when you're getting into it for the first time.
So I'm going to just put together a little checklist of suggestions for parents-to-be, a few things to think about and make decisions on as you sail into the uncharted waters of having your first baby. I'll leave registry recommendations and nursery décor to someone else; these are more the sort of thing you need to hash out in terms of how you'll care for your newborn.
- First of all, you might or might not have chosen or been able to avoid interventions during birth. Either way, there are a bunch of interventions following birth that will be offered to you and your new little one. Some of them depend on whether you give birth in a hospital or alternative setting, but common ones given to your newborn include eye drops, Vitamin K supplementation, a vaccination for hepatitis B, and blood glucose monitoring if your child was over or under a certain weight or you had suspected or confirmed gestational diabetes. If you had a fever during birth, the mother or both the mother and child might also receive IV antibiotics. If you have postpartum hemorrhaging, the attendants will want to give you medicine (such as Pitocin) or perform steps (such as uterine "massage," which is not as comfy as it sounds) to stop the bleeding. Some of these interventions you might be fine with (halting a bad bleed, for instance, or suctioning and giving oxygen to a baby with respiratory distress), and others you might want to do without (how many babies are promiscuous drug dealers at high risk for Hep B, for instance?). Either way, it pays to do the research beforehand so you know what you're getting into. That way, when these items are offered to you in the euphoria or chaos following the birth of your baby, you will know your answers. It helps to tell a trusted someone (partner, other family member, doula, or midwife) your answer as well so they can advocate for your choices and ensure your wishes are followed if you and the baby are separated or you're distracted by afterbirth care.
- Another big intervention that deserves its own bullet point is routine male circumcision. Please think about this topic beyond checking to see whether the other males in your life are intact. While you and your partner might feel more comfortable continuing whatever pattern was established in your families, matching the father is not a good enough reason to remove a functioning part of a baby's sexual organs. Read about what role the foreskin plays (here is a link that includes drawings of the male anatomy), and consider what your child's wishes will be once he's old enough to have a voice. Here is a good starting point for reconsidering routine circumcision.
- Within a short time after birth, you'll want to start breastfeeding if you're going to. This is one of those old-timey things that should be completely natural but unfortunately has become less common, to the point that women have to research it ahead of time instead of having just seen it done everywhere and knowing about it as a matter of course. Don't let this intimidate you. Read up on the benefits of breastfeeding, and if you decide to give it a go (you might as well try, if you can, because the colostrum that comes in early on is chock-full of antibodies for your vulnerable new babe), have some support in place in advance. Line up a lactation consultant who can meet with you on the first day or two or in the first weeks thereafter, attend some La Leche League meetings, read some books (such as The Nursing Mother's Companion, by Kathleen Huggins; The Breastfeeding Book, by Martha & William Sears; The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers, by Dr. Jack Newman; and you can even win Andi Silverman's big-sisterly beginner's guide to breastfeeding Mama Knows Breast from me), check out helpful and supportive websites (Kellymom, Dr. Jack Newman, Ask Dr. Sears), and view some of the videos online showing what breastfeeding babies look like. Depending on your comfort level and your relationship with them, you might also be able to ask other nursing mothers for permission to stare or for their tips. Once you've done all your prep work, trust yourself to provide your baby's nourishment, or to know to seek help if you need it.
- Babies love being carried. We had one who wouldn't let us put him down for about four months. And we had to be standing up and bouncing the whole time. Invest now in one or more good baby slings or soft carriers to save your arms! It will calm your baby with that snuggled-back-in-the-womb feeling, it will keep your hands free to grab a bite to eat or read a book, it will help you establish your breastfeeding relationship by keeping your newborn and your breasts in proximity — and it just feels nice to have your baby so cuddly warm against you! The best baby carriers are soft and versatile. An easy and cheap option is to make your own no-sew fleece mei tai using this pattern adapted from WearYourBaby.com. Just get it cut out before the baby comes, because it's unlikely you'll have time after!
- You'll want to map out your diapering situation, because you'll need to have a stash on-hand. If you've never considered cloth diapering or are imagining sharp pins and nylon covers, cloth diapers have come a long way and are decidedly easy to use, frugal, and cuuuute — not to mention eco-friendly. For true ease, see if your town has a cloth diaper service, at least in the first month or two when laundry is the furthest thing down your to-do list, and make sure you set it to drop off your first delivery a couple weeks before your due date. If you're buying and washing your own, a simple and cost-effective solution is prefolds with wool covers. If you want disposable-like, foolproof convenience, try all-in-ones or pocket diapers. This site describes how simple it is to do diaper laundry. If you're feeling even more adventurous, give elimination communication, or infant pottying, a gander.
- The topic that inspires the most conversation where newborns are concerned is sleep. Sleep, blessed sleep. It helps to prepare for life with a newborn by learning, first of all, a little bit about why they sleep the way they do, and what you can do to make them feel more at ease in this strange new world. A book that works superbly well for zero- to three-month-olds is The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp. I say this because I finally got it into my hands when my baby was four months old. It still helped us out immensely, but I heartily recommend reading it before you have a baby so you can get your soothing tactics ready. Think also about where you want your baby to sleep. One of the things you'll learn about newborns is they eat multiple times a night. If you're breastfeeding, consider setting up a safe cosleeping environment before your baby arrives in your bed. You'll get more sleep, and your baby will receive the benefits of close contact with you.
- Just as important as learning why infants sleep the way they do (or don't) is learning in general what to expect of a newborn. A book I found fascinating and perspective-altering was Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, by Meredith Small. Small challenges the cultural assumptions that determine the way we parent and looks instead to our biological and anthropological roots. If you know what's developmentally appropriate, you won't get as frustrated when your baby's acting like a baby — and you'll realize it's all short-lived.
- Another important task is to learn what to expect of yourself in the postpartum period. Don't expect too much, in other words. You'll still be bleeding, sometimes heavily; no matter what your childbirth experience, you'll need to recover physically. Try to give yourself a lying-in period to rest and bond with your newborn. Plan to have visitors only if they will help. If you have a co-parenting partner, be aware that this postpartum time is a sensitive one for both of you; try to hold off on any major decisions, and cut each other a lot of slack as you get used to the newest presence in your family. Don't worry (if you can swing it) about the emotional highs and lows of those first months (or beyond). By "don't worry," I mean don't worry that you have them, and don't feel guilty about the lows. But if the lows are really low, seek help, and don't feel guilty about that, either.
How much preparation did you put into the task of caring for a newborn? If you're a been-there-done-that mama, what other aspects of new parenting would you add to the list of things to consider beforehand?