There have been many occasions in the last year that I’ve wished I could go back and have a do-over of my early days as a mom. I was too tired to be present and too concerned about doing a good job to enjoy it. It was difficult. But I look back on that time with such fondness, I’d relive those bleary-eyed days in a heartbeat.
Part of what I look forward to about having another baby one day is the chance to let my new mom skills shine in a way they didn’t the first time. To appreciate the newborn days more with baby #2 knowing that no, I won’t break the baby and yes, I got this.
10 THINGS ALL NEW MOMS NEED TO KNOW
My sister-in-law (and just about everyone else I know–story of my life) is pregnant and due in just a few weeks. It got me thinking about all the things I wish someone thought to tell me when I became a mom, and when I put the list together in my head I immediately knew I also needed to put it together in a blog post.
So without further ado, here are 10 things all new moms need to know…and things I learned the hard way:
HOW TO REMOVE POOP STAINS
Let’s just get this one out of the way. Poop is an unfortunate reality of parenthood, and while at first you might be thoroughly disgusted with the idea of handling it, soon doing so will become second nature.
I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I’ve gotten really good at cleaning baby poop out of stuff. We use cloth diapers, so getting our diapers really clean is important to avoid rashes and stinky fabric. I’m pleased to say that my daughter’s cloth diapers smell fantastic and are 100% stain-free! Those bright yellow newborn poo stains don’t have to haunt you. Here’s how you take care of them:
1) Immediately rinse off as much of the stool as you can in cool or cold water. 2) Apply dish soap (this one works great) to the stain and gently work it out with your fingers. You may need to do a little light scrubbing, but much of it should come out. 3) Rinse off the soap and squeeze out as much water as you can. 4) Run the affected item through a regular cycle of laundry. 5) If stains are still present (especially in white clothes), get the stain damp and lay it out in the sun to dry.
Now if you’re washing cloth diapers, the proper method to clean them is a bit more detailed than this, but the basic principles of post-wash stain removal are the same: get the diaper damp, lay it in the sun to dry. It’s magic.
THIS TRICK TO ONESIES
Ever wonder why baby onesies are sewn with these weird shoulders? It’s so you can pull the onesie down baby’s body! Doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it blew my mind when I first realized this.
Why would you want to pull the onesie down that way, you ask? Because when your baby’s diaper explodes (which–truth bomb time–it’s bound to do at some point), you won’t have to pull the poo-covered onesie over your baby’s face and head. Genius, I say!
YOUR BABY’S GAS PROBLEM MIGHT NOT BE “NORMAL”
A baby’s digestive system is a little immature for the first few months of his or her life, and it’s not unusual for a baby to have difficulty passing gas. However, sometimes the amount of gas your baby is dealing with isn’t normal. If your baby has a tongue tie, this oral abnormality will keep baby from forming a proper seal around the breast or bottle and they are likely to swallow air when they eat (if you hear a “tch tch tch” clicking noise when they suck, that is the sound of the seal created by their latch breaking). Tongue ties are frequently overlooked, misdiagnosed, and improperly treated and you should familiarize yourself with the symptoms (it may save your breastfeeding relationship!).
Another common cause of extreme gas in an infant is a food intolerance, usually to dairy. And if mom is breastfeeding, oversupply or a fast letdown can cause gas as baby swallows air while gulping quickly. Formula-fed babies tend to have more gas and digestive discomfort generally, as formula must be consumed from a bottle (which makes baby more likely to swallow air while drinking) and is made from proteins (usually cow’s milk) not specific to the human baby.
Fortunately, if you have a gassy baby, there are things you can do to help, including bicycle legs (where you lie baby on his back and move their legs as though they were pedaling a bicycle, kneads toward their chest), and remedies like gripe water and gas drops (which personally I’m not a huge fan of, but many moms swear by). Products like the Windi (the beloved NoseFrida’s lesser known companion) are also very popular.
Babies should generally be placed to sleep on their backs, but sometimes gassy babies can’t tolerate back sleeping, which is recommended to reduce the risk of SIDS. Often sleeping at a safe incline is the key to helping gas discomfort while baby sleeps.
YOUR BABY’S REFLUX MIGHT BE NORMAL
A baby with reflux isn’t uncommon. The muscles that hold food down aren’t fully developed when a baby is young, so spitting up isn’t unusual. If your baby is a “happy spitter,” meaning he or she doesn’t make a sour face or appear to be uncomfortable spitting up, chances are your baby has a normal amount of reflux.
Of course, watching your baby spit up repeatedly can be alarming, so naturally many parents run to the pediatrician and are given medication to help minimize reflux. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this unless I was sure my baby was suffering from true GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), which many believe afflicts far fewer babies than are medicated for it.
So what are some other causes of spitting up that aren’t normal and aren’t GERD? Tongue ties and food intolerance! Also oversupply. If your baby has symptoms of any of these, you may want to treat these issues before turning to reflux medication, especially since medication wouldn’t be treating the root cause of your baby’s spit up problem.
Oh, and sleeping on an incline, paced feeding (if you’re bottle feeding), and letting down into a towel (if you’re breastfeeding) also helps reflux.
THERE IS A FOURTH TRIMESTER
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your new baby’s neediness, try to see where she’s coming from: In your womb she was never hungry, thirsty, cold, hot or overstimulated. There were no bright lights, particularly loud sounds, strange smells, scratchy clothes or wet diapers.
So no, your infant isn’t being manipulative when she insists on you holding her. She is simply trying to cope with being bombarded by a world she has never experienced before!
Human babies are born especially helpless because our brains have to be small at birth if we want to make it through the birth canal. Some scientists speculate that pregnancy would have to last 18-21 months in order for the human baby to be as cognitively developed (relatively speaking, of course) as other species at birth! Yeah I think I’ll take a 9 month pregnancy, thanks.
This especially vulnerable and needy period in an infant’s life is sometimes called the fourth trimester and lasts for a few months after birth. It will pass. But in the meantime, you can help your baby and yourself by looking into baby wearing! Studies have shown that babies carried by their mothers cry 43% less overall and 51% less at night in the first three months of life.
SKIN-TO-SKIN IS BENEFICIAL EVEN AFTER BIRTH
You may have heard that skin to skin is recommended after baby is born, but its benefits don’t stop there! After birth, skin to skin is one of the best ways to support and encourage breastfeeding. If you’re struggling with supply, a day or two of nursing on demand and skin-to-skin time is recommended.
Skin-to-skin also increases production of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which is especially helpful in the early days of motherhood. Even formula-fed babies benefit from skin-to-skin, since it helps baby regulate his body temperature, blood sugar, and is incredibly comforting to the infant.
THIS IS WHY YOU SWADDLE
Babies usually love being swaddled for the same reason they love to be held: the feeling of being wrapped up tight mimics the way they were bundled in the womb, which is comforting. But swaddling can also be helpful for decreasing night waking!
Babies are born with several different reflexes, like rooting and sucking. One such reflex is the moro—or “startle”—reflex. Have you ever seen a baby flail her arms at a loud sound? That’s the moro reflex at work. Sometimes babies will startle at night and the automatic movement of their arms (which they can’t control) will cause them to wake up. Swaddling helps with this.
These are the BEST swaddle blankets, in my opinion, but if you’re like my husband and would rather not learn the origami secrets of swaddling, you will love the SwaddleMe sleeper or the Halo Sleepsack, which makes swaddling a breeze. The Halo Sleepsack even works well with babies who don’t like their arms swaddled and is great to use in lieu of a blanket for safe sleeping. I will confess that even as an adult, I’ve been jealous of how comfy my daughter looks in her sleepsack.
BREASTFEEDING ISN’T EASY, BUT IT CAN BE SO WORTH IT
As a mom with a chronic illness, breastfeeding was important to me because it offered my daughter a measure of protection against developing the same illness herself. We fought through painful latches, a tongue and lip tie, a dairy intolerance and the craziness that is trying to manage type 1 diabetes while breastfeeding. It was a lot of work, but I learned a great deal about myself and what I’m capable of, and I’m glad I fought for my breastfeeding relationship! You can learn more about what I wish I knew about breastfeeding here.
If you plan to breastfeed, don’t hesitate to stock up on items that will help you on your journey, including a good nursing pillow, prenatals (I like these ones because they contain bioavailable folate instead of synthetic folic acid–and yes, taking prenatals while breastfeeding is recommended), a solid breast pump (which you can usually get through your insurance for free or reduced cost), hand pump (<–I didn’t have this one until my daughter was older and I wish I had it sooner) and nursing pads.
“You’ll stop leaking after a few weeks,” they said. “It doesn’t make sense to buy reusable ones,” they said. 18 months later, I still leak with every letdown!
Oh, and if you’ll need to bottle-feed your breastfed baby at some point, be sure to look into paced feeding to avoid overfeeding and nipple preference (<– sometimes called “nipple confusion”).
THERE ARE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP MAXIMIZE YOUR ODDS OF MEETING YOUR BREASTFEEDING GOALS – BEFORE YOU EVEN GIVE BIRTH
So many new moms I talk to are afraid that breastfeeding won’t work out. Maybe their mom or sister couldn’t breastfeed and they’re afraid that will be their fate, too.
Let me tell you this: it doesn’t have to be!
There are a lot of cultural and institutional “booby traps” that keep a mom from meeting her breastfeeding goals. In fact, I’d go so far as to say most issues that interfere with breastfeeding aren’t even mom’s fault!
As a mom with a chronic illness, I was terrified breastfeeding wouldn’t work out. Since then, I’ve learned the best way (in my opinion) to handle that fear: you can read more about it here. In the meantime, be sure to educate yourself about breastfeeding. It’s the #1 way to preempt issues!
Worried your milk supply is dropping?
Learn exactly what to do (and what NOT to do) if your supply is decreasing when you grab a free copy of my Low Supply Cheat Sheet.
YOUR BABY IS NOT CONFUSED
Your baby doesn’t think night time is day or day is night. He just spent 9 months sleeping on his own schedule and has no notion of which times are or are not appropriate to sleep! His biological clock has never been set before, and the hormones that make us sleepy at night don’t quite work the same way for him yet. That’s no ones fault, especially not yours and definitely not baby’s.
YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS ABOUT SLEEP
Furthermore, it is completely biologically normal for a baby to require food and attention at night—especially if they are breastfed. Breast milk digests quickly (it is tailor made for baby so there isn’t much for the body to break down), the infant’s stomach is tiny, and different mothers’ breasts hold differing quantities of milk. A mother with a small milk storage capacity may need to nurse more frequently, and that nursing may happen at night.
All that said, there is no set age by which a child should be “sleeping through the night” (which, by the way, is only a period of 5-6 hours for an infant). Night waking is a cruel but normal part of babyhood and can continue through toddlerhood or stop early. Every child is different, and expecting baby to sleep on your or an “expert’s” pre-planned schedule may prove to be an unrealistic expectation, developmentally inappropriate, and a battle not worth fighting.
Am I missing some things new moms need to know? What are some things you wish you knew as a first-time mom? Let me know in the comments!
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SOURCES / FURTHER READING:
- Spitting Up and Reflux in the Breastfed Baby
- The Fourth Trimester – AKA Why Your Newborn Baby is Only Happy in Your Arms
- The Fourth Trimester – 8 Ways to Create a Great One For Your Baby
- Why Humans Give Birth to Helpless Babies
- Epidemic of gastro-oesophageal reflux in young infants