Parenting 101: A Guide for Soon-to-Be Moms
So you’re pregnant? Congratulations! Your life is about to change in ways you might find unthinkable (and we’re not even talking about the surrender of your once slim waistline to proportions most comparable to that of a Dr. Seuss character).
Pregnancy is the beginning of a new life for a baby, but also a new life for you as a parent. If this is your first baby, your head may be filled with an endless list of questions and concerns. If you’re a veteran of the labor and delivery room, you’ve got a better idea of what to expect, yet every pregnancy—like every mother and child—is different.
While pregnancy and birth have physiologically been the same since the beginning of time, your options as a pregnant woman today are greater than at any previous time in history. After confirming your pregnancy, your first (and arguably most important) decision to be made is the choice of a healthcare provider. While maternal care in the United States is frequently provided through obstetrical physicians and hospital births, we’ve also experienced a growing return to low-intervention, midwife-assisted births.
How do you know which is right for you? Consider what is most important to your birth experience, always remembering that birth is anything but predictable and flexibility is vital. Are you interested in birthing naturally, without the aid of drugs or invasive procedures? Would you rather give birth at home or in a birthing center as opposed to a hospital? A midwife may be the right choice for you. Conversely, if you know up front you’ll want an epidural at the first sign of labor pain, you’ll probably find the anesthesiologist at your local hospital to be your best friend.
Keep in mind that each birthing choice has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you to weigh which option is the best fit for your needs. If you give birth at home and have complications, you’ll need to be transported to the hospital. Epidurals may provide excellent pain relief but have potential, although rare, side effects. Some birthing centers will not accept a mother attempting vaginal birth after Cesarean section (VBAC). Being an educated consumer in your pregnancy will allow the best possible birth experience and beginning for your new baby.
Planning for Baby
Somewhere around middle to late pregnancy—usually about the time you can no longer see your toes because of your protruding middle—you’ll need to start making accommodations at home for your baby’s expected arrival. If this is your first child, trust yourself to the care of an experienced mommy friend who can prevent “New Mother Shopping Syndrome,” i.e., going to the baby-stuff superstore and spending an exorbitant amount of money on baby paraphernalia that, not only do you not need, but you will never use. This is the time to cultivate self control (which will come in handy later when your precious baby transforms into an adventurous teen who has just wrecked the family car).
Babies actually need very little in the way of gear for the first few months of life. If you’re planning to have your infant sleep in a “side car” or bassinet in your room, you won’t need a crib immediately. And remember, your baby isn’t going to be upset if her room isn’t artfully painted, decorated, and stocked with toys the minute you bring her home; her most important concern is your attention to her needs.
Some good choices for useful items include a five-point harness infant car seat (a necessity required by law), a quality hospital-grade breast pump if you’re planning to breastfeed, and plenty of onesies and one-piece sleepers. A baby sling or front carrier is also useful for helping you get things done around the house while still meeting your baby’s need to be held (and you’ll appreciate the sling for discreet public breastfeeding, too).
Delivering the Goods
Prepare for labor and delivery by compiling a plan for your healthcare provider. This is a good way to share your wishes for birth. Discuss your feelings on all types of medical intervention including the use of epidural, IVs, artificial rupture of the membranes, fetal monitors, episiotomy, and so on.
Remember that a birth plan is simply that—a plan. Since no one knows exactly how any given birth will proceed, having a birth plan is not a guarantee. Also keep in mind that while the mother’s experience with birth is important, the ultimate goal is a healthy baby. A birth plan is simply helpful in communicating the type of birth experience you would like to have, and if you have made a wise selection in choosing your caregiver, you will have someone who will work with you to honor these wishes to the extent they are possible.
You may also want to hire a doula to assist during labor. A doula’s purpose is to support and be an advocate for the mother, and she can be helpful in achieving the mother’s goals towards birth. Some doulas also help with early infant care, such a breastfeeding, cooking, doing laundry, or helping with older children.
Surviving the First Weeks
After nine months of waiting and planning, your baby is finally in your arms. What next? Despite feeling like you’ve gotten away with something when the hospital staff actually allows you to leave with your baby (whom you may think you have no idea how to care for!), remembering a few simple tips can help things go more smoothly.
- Feed your baby on demand. Don’t try to schedule feeding sessions, which can be detrimental to establishing a proper milk supply if you are breastfeeding (and simply aren’t good for baby).
- Keep a record of wet and soiled diapers for the first few weeks. This information can help you determine if your baby is taking in enough breast milk or formula.
- Hold your little one as often as possible; your newborn can’t be spoiled.
- Always remember to place your baby on his back to sleep and on his tummy to play as he gets older. This will help lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Call your pediatrician if your baby develops a fever or if you have any questions or concerns.
- Don’t neglect to take care of yourself as much as you can. Accept offers of help from family and friends, eat nutritious meals and snacks, be sure to drink plenty of water, and yes—sleep when the baby sleeps!
Most importantly, remember that motherhood is a work in progress—and cut yourself some slack when you feel you haven’t been the perfect parent. You will make mistakes, learn, grow, and change. Both babies and parents are born, and neither reaches his or her full potential overnight.
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