Congratulations you’re having a baby!
Having your first baby is one of the most amazing experiences you will ever have. It is also one of the most challenging times as you learn how to care for a newborn baby and the realities that come with that such as sleep deprivation, recovering from the birth and shifts in hormones.
I wrote the book ‘Survive and Enjoy Your Baby’ as guide to help new parents find their own path to parenthood. It provides safe evidence-based information and options around all of the stages and challenges you will face in the first year.
Below are my top tips from the book to help you with some of the most common challenges first time parents face.
Which nursery equipment do I need before the birth?
When you go into the baby department of any store or a dedicated baby store it can be quite overwhelming. There are so many different pieces of furniture as well as accessories. It is difficult to know what you need first. Below are my top 5 pieces of essential equipment you will need before the baby arrives.
- Cot – Many different styles available, all sold in Australia should comply with Australian Safety Standards and therefore be safe for your precious baby. Your newborn baby can go into a cot from birth.
There is no need for a bassinet as they are not covered by mandatory safety standards and in some cases can be unsafe. If you do want a bassinet, look for a simple design with a sturdy frame, good air flow, no padding around the sides, no hood or ribbons and fabric draping around it. As soon as your baby starts to roll, move them into a cot.
- Pram –I feel it is worth spending a little more on a light weight and easily collapsible model so that you can get it in and out of your car with ease. This will give you more freedom in getting out and about.
- Change table or mat – you are going to be changing 1000’s of nappies over the first year of your baby’s life alone. It is worth purchasing a change table to save your back or at least a good change mat to place on the floor or other surface.
- Baby bath- Your baby will outgrow this quicker than you think, but it does make bathing in the early months so much easier than using a full-sized bath.
- Car restraint –By law you must buckle your baby into a car restraint every time they travel in a car. Options include capsule style, portable restraints that clip into a base in the car or more permanent convertible seats that start facing rearward and then are turned forward facing you’re your baby has grown larger.
After your baby is born you can decide what else you will purchase, ask family and friends what has worked for them. Some items can be borrowed as baby’s grow so quickly, items are often in good condition second hand.
There are many other items that you will need or want as your baby gets older such as a highchair, a portable cot for holidays, baby pouch or carrier, play pen or safety gate and many more.
How will I feed my baby?
Choosing how to feed your baby is a very personal choice and one that should be made with all the information. The research shows that breast is best however not all mums choose to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. Talk to your health care providers such as your midwife, doctor, or obstetrician. Attending a breastfeeding education class can be helpful in learning more and setting you up for success.
The research also shows that some breastmilk is better than none. The early colostrum in the first few days is the best way to line your baby’s digestive system with all the beneficial immune factors and good bacteria.
If choosing to bottle feed your baby you will need infant formula, bottles, teats, and a steriliser.
Many parents choose to combine breastfeeding with some bottle feeding of either breastmilk or formula.
Solid foods are not introduced until around 6 months of age with an aim of having your baby eating mostly family meals by 12 months of age.
Caring for a newborn baby
For many new parents, this is the first time they have cared for a young baby. There is so much to learn about nappy changing, bathing, jaundice, caring for the umbilical cord, cradle cap, rashes, colic, reflux, teething, colds and flus and other illnesses. New parents often learn about these gradually over the first few days, weeks, and months as they come across them. There is no expectation that as a new parent you will know everything, ask friends, family and health professionals along the way.
Newborn babies cry a lot more than most new parents think they will. In the early weeks they cry a little more each day until this peaks around 6 weeks of age and then reduces. Just knowing that this is normal and that you are not doing anything wrong is important to know. There are many strategies that can be used to get through these early weeks and running through a list of what could be wrong often helps. Does your baby need a feed, a nappy change, are they too hot or cold, needs a cuddle for comfort, needs to burp or overtired?
How do I sleep my baby safely?
The safest place to sleep your baby is in a full-size cot in your bedroom. This should be made up with only a bottom sheet, top sheet and blanket made from natural fibres that breathe. Please don’t use cot bumpers, pillows or quilts as these have been associated with fatal sleep accidents.
Your baby should always be put to sleep on their back. Most newborn babies benefit from being wrapped or swaddled, this helps them to feel contained and secure, like they were inside their mums tummy. You can use either a swaddle bag or a muslin or other natural fabric wrap.
Babies need a lot of sleep and will generally wake crying and hungry. After feeding it is good to give them a chance for playtime, which for a young baby may just be a chance to kick around on a mat on the floor for a few minutes. Look for tired signs such as jerky movements, grizzling, clenching fists and wrap them up and put them in their cot before they get overtired. Many babies will settle happily if they are given the opportunity but if this is new to them they may need some support such as you patting them, stroking their face, picking them up and rocking until they get drowsy. This will help them to learn how to go to sleep in their cot. Young babies should never be left to ‘cry it out’, they need to know that when they cry you will come and help them.
Getting out and about with your baby:
It’s important for you and your baby to meet other people and make other connections with close friends and family. In the early days, some planning needs to go into this, learning what you need to pack in your nappy bag, feeding before you go often helps, dressing your baby in extra layers if cold.
Humans crave human interaction. Joining parent groups and mothers’ groups is great but difficult during the pandemic. You could join an online group such as my virtual ‘Survive and Enjoy Your Baby Mothers Group’ it’s a chance to meet other new parents and ask all of your questions.
Baby play and development:
Playing with a young baby is as simple as talking to them and smiling, this is early communication and they will try to interact. You are your baby’s favourite toy to begin with. Babies learn through play; tummy time is excellent for your baby’s gross motor development. This helps to strengthen your babies’ neck and shoulders ready for rolling and later crawling.
As your baby gets older more play opportunities will come but floor play is always the most essential for their development and for reaching their milestones.
Parents health and wellbeing:
Looking after yourselves as parents is especially important. It really is like the oxygen mask in the plane analogy, if you don’t look after yourself, you can’t take good care of your baby.
In the early weeks and months women need to recover from the birth. It is important to see your doctor if you have any concerns and the 6-week postnatal check-up should not be missed. This is a chance to see how you are recovering both physically and mentally and to discuss contraception.
Looking after your mental health is also important for both parents. If you don’t feel like yourself, feel anxious or depressed, don’t feel like you’re coping, please talk to your child health nurse or doctor as there is help available.
When will I go back to work:
You probably have a plan of when you will return to work. Just keep in mind that after you have your baby this may change; many parents extend their parental leave as they don’t want to miss this early time with their baby. Having said that some parents really enjoy returning to work and find a balance of work and being home with their baby that works well for them.
Finding suitable high-quality childcare is the key for returning to work and there are many options including friends and family, occasional care, long day care and family day care to name a few.
It’s important to discuss your return to work with your manager. Things to consider include whether you will decrease your days/hours, flexibility around work and childcare hours, breaks to express breastmilk to feed your baby.
My book ‘Survive and Enjoy Your Baby’ has all the information you need for your baby’s first year of life including chapters that go into much greater detail, devoted to all of the areas discussed in this article: nursery equipment, caring for your baby, sleep & settling, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, introducing solid foods, play & development, getting out and about, return to work and parents health and wellbeing. The book is available from all good book stores and my online shop.
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