Earliest Advice for New Moms from a Mothering Novice

All week I’ve been making a mental list of the mommy advice I’d want to pass along to my friend E., who is having a little girl in just about a month. She and I were together in Paris less than a year ago, when I was 23 weeks pregnant and she was considering the idea of getting pregnant. Now I have a 7 1/2 month old boy, and she’s about to cross through the veil as well. In addition, another one of my dearest old besties, A., is welcoming a baby boy later this year.

So here are the things that I knew absolutely nothing about 7 1/2 months ago, and would want to pass on to any new mom (or dad):

  • Your instincts are the very best guide. Moms and babies evolved together for millions of years. You will know what your baby needs, better than anyone else.
  • There are four things that you will need to care for yourself. They are: water, food, rest, getting outdoors. You should ideally have plenty of ALL FOUR every single day. If you’re feeling low, immediately do your four-finger checklist: have you had water? have you had food? have you napped with your baby? have you been outside? Addressing these will almost certainly fix your problem.
  • Banish the word should. If you hear yourself asking if you “should” be doing something, and especially if you find yourself stuck in the babycenter comment boards researching it, you just need more sleep, or water, or food, or all three. Should is a watchword for needing self care. Refer back to my two points. You know what your baby needs, and you need the four things.
  • Babywearing is the most important parenting thing that I knew nothing about prior to being a mom. Get yourself a Moby or a Boba or some other soft stretchy wrap and use it from day 1. Have a friend show you how to do a solid Front Wrap Cross Carry (FWCC). It will give you free hands, help you go to the bathroom, keep your little one close and kissable. And even more importantly, worn babies cry 50% less, sleep better, and are happier. You will love it.
  • Babywearing has an incredible resource in a YouTube channel made by this amazing rainbow-haired dutch woman. It’s called Wrap You In Love (she also has a website). Check it out. Start with the FWCC video either for a stretchy wrap or a woven wrap. You will watch her videos again and again. She is awesome.
  • Graduate to a woven wrap as soon as you’re ready.
  • Never buy anything new, especially wraps. There are a million buy-sell-trade groups on Facebook for everything you need for a baby. Start with the Babywearing on a Budget group. And the Cloth Diaper Swap. And the Hanna Andersson b/s/t.
  • Hanna Andersson makes the best pajamas.
  • Kellymom.com is the go-to place for any questions having to do with breastfeeding and pumping.
  • If you have ANY TROUBLE breastfeeding, go see the lactation consultant at your local hospital or birth center or wherever. Like, immediately. An ounce of prevention is worth 700 pounds of cure. Like, don’t even wait until it’s “trouble.” Just go if you have any questions at all, period. Just go for fun. Lactation consultants are worth their weight in gold—or in breastmilk, which is waaaaaay more valuable than gold.
  • Feeding yourself will be your greatest early challenge. Put food in the freezer, but also think about the most nutrient-dense food items and keep them on hand. Key ones are coconut oil, avocados, quinoa. Get a Costco size jug of coconut oil and put it in EVERYTHING.
  • Coconut oil is also great for baby’s butt. It has natural antibiotic and antifungal qualities. Keep a little bowl of it on your changing table.
  • Keep bone broth in your fridge and freezer in quart sized jars and drink it like water. It will give you a punch when you need it.
  • Your weight will drop off with breastfeeding, so don’t sweat that. In the meantime, eat super fatty foods that are healthy (see above), in great quantity. You need them and the baby needs them.
  • The first 3 months are the hardest. Around 3 1/2 months you will feel like you come out of water. Remember that it goes incredibly fast and you will survive the hardest parts.
  • Completely ignore people who tell you not to sleep with your baby. We evolved sleeping with our babies. You will not roll over on your baby. You and your baby will sleep better when s/he is in bed with you. It is an incredible joy to sleep with your little one.
  • Thirsties Natural All In Ones (NAIOs) are excellent no-fuss cloth diapers. Buy them used. There’s a b/s/t for that.
  • If you have to buy diaper stuff new, use nickisdiapers.com. They’re great.
  • Burts Bees and Weleda make good butt pastes. Butt paste will discolor a cloth diaper but if it doesn’t have petroleum in it, it shouldn’t mess up the absorbency.
  • Blue Dawn is best for stripping your cloth diapers when you need to. (Google it. You’ll need to, eventually.)
  • Low water (high efficiency) washing machines do NOT work well for cloth diapers. The old fashioned deep tub, top-loading, lotsa water types are best. If you have an HE washer, do a lot of reading before investing in cloth diapers. Because it’s a huge, lame hassle and you may not be able to make it work.
  • Steer clear of anything with fragrances. There’s just too much scary stuff that’s unknown. Use the EWG app to scan barcodes if you need a quick rating. But really, who needs anything other than Dr. Bronners Baby?
  • Disana wool diaper covers, if you properly lanolize them, are the most amazing waterproof (pee-proof) diaper covers in the world. Combo’ed with a bamboo fleece flat, they’re also the best overnight diapers. Yeah, there’s a b/s/t for that, too. Lanolizing is easy if you know how to do it. YouTube can teach you.
  • Get The Baby Book by Dr. SearsYou’ll consult it 10 times a day for the first 10 days, 10 times a week for the next nine weeks, and weekly from there on out. It’s gold. (Their The Baby Sleep Book is pretty good too.)
  • Baby massage is an awesome way to help your little one wind down. And it has proven health benefits for mom, too. You don’t need anything fancy, just some almond or jojoba oil, and away you go. Start by asking baby’s permission, even she s/he is very tiny. S/he’ll let you know if she doesn’t want to do it. The Baby Book has the basics. You’ll find yourself doing it every day.
  • Get a copy of one or both of the following: The Continuum Concept and Our Babies, Ourselves. Go back to point the very first point, above. We evolved with our babies. When you are wondering what you or your baby needs, ask yourself how you would have answered this question living in the forest 200,000 years ago. Go with that answer.
  • Ignore people who tell you to let your baby cry it out. (See the two books immediately above for more on this.) Check out this book: The No Cry Sleep Solution.
  • Wool socks for babies are impossible to come by. If you break down and buy the Smartwool ones, buy the toddler size and try to remember not to dry them. They shrink.
  • Etsy is rad.
  • There are a million zillion kinds of carriers for your baby. You’ll probably want a soft structured carrier as an early go-to, in addition to your stretchy wrap. Common brands are Ergo, Lillebaby, Tula, Onyababy, many others. Try them on, fit is more important than brand. Further down the line look in the Babywearing on a Budget swap and pick up a mei tai (or mei dai) and an onbuhimo.
  • Find a weekly babies-and-moms group, either through your local hospital or birth center or somewhere else, and make a point of going. The people you meet there will become your friends, and their children will become your child’s friends. And it will help you feel normal and supported.
  • Watch out for fire-retardant on pajamas. It’s a real thing. They poison baby sleepwear. This is a worthwhile thing to do a little reading on, and a reasonable place to spend a few extra bucks for the organic cotton pajamas from the expensive brands that don’t have fire retardants on them. (Except, there’s a buy-sell-trade for that. Oh, and get on the Hanna Andersson email list because there are always sales.)
  • Also, fire retardants are absolutely everywhere. Crib mattresses, etc. Watch out for it.
  • This Alaska Public Media archived podcast from the show Outdoor Explorer has good info about getting out in the elements with a baby.
  • Hape is a great brand for wooden, developmentally appropriate toys.
  • Lamaze makes great nursing bras. But basically you can get nursing bras from Walmart or Target online and they’ll meet all of your needs.

I love you, ladies. Your babies will be the best things ever to happen in your lives.

XOXO Erin

The World Seems Big

Sitting here at 40 weeks + 2 days, I’m amazed at how big the world seems. You’d think that my view might be narrowing, that I might be getting more and more focused on this imminent moment and utter transformation. But that’s not what I’m experiencing. As I sit here with my computer propped on a big pillow tucked under my even bigger belly, I’m barely even thinking of the baby, the pregnancy, the journey ahead. It’s a Saturday morning and my mind is skipping off down all its regular rabbit trails. Political reporting, musings on the nature of life and love, and a general sense of the enormous expansiveness of the future and all the possibilities it holds. Before we decided to have this kid, and in the first phases of my pregnancy, I was very worried at the idea that I might lose *me* in all of this. But I no longer fear that will be the case. I’m just as much me, just as quirky and neurotic and full of a rich and beautiful inner life as I’ve always been. Sure, that will shift like the world tilting on its axis. But this is not the end. Nothing will prevent me from being me, no matter how small and darling and needy and frustrating and loved that thing may be.

Two Days, Two Weeks, a Lifetime

I sit here, two days before the baby’s due date, feeling stupidly inarticulate. You can insert every truism and cliché here. We are experiencing them all. And they feel so damn profound. I wish I had a greater mind, a more extensive literary canon under my belt, something to fuel some unique insight, some earth-tilting observation.

Instead, we’re waiting. Could be two days. Could be two weeks. After that, a lifetime. After 8 1/2 months of feeling superb, walking miles a day, and generally loving pregnancy, I have developed a kinked up sacrum that keeps me from walking very well, and have reached that “done” phase that everyone tells you about. It seemed unimaginable a week ago but—truism!—you reach a point when you want it to all be over. I guess I’m there.

Other not-so-unique experiences: Chris has finally to the guest room so we can both get much-needed sleep. My food intake has accelerated. Rubbing pressure points and applying essential oils does not result in instant labor.

Things that I am relishing: I don’t want to do much other than knit, and that’s okay. I haven’t lost “me”—I still feel feisty and politically and intellectually curious (I spent yesterday morning listening to Sally Yates testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and totally enjoyed myself). Smoothies are a wonderful way to ingest leafy greens and chia and flax seeds and homemade kombucha. Chris gives very good back rubs in just the right places. I can say “no” and feel no guilt about it.

Moochie is miserable. She doesn’t understand why we’ve abandoned our regular walk cycle. She spends the better part of the day between 10:30am and 4:30pm looking miserably at me, letting out huge sighs, and trying to tempt me to throw her grotesque Garfield toy for the 1,001st time. (“No, trust me! It’s really fun! Just throw it!! THROW IT DAMMIT!!!”)

I managed to plant the veggie bed, and the flower planters. And the potatoes. I have about a dozen house plants that need to be repotted, but that is definitely in the “not going to happen” category. (I have that on my list for Brendan Greenthumb when he comes.) I have some work projects that I’d still like to finish, but I don’t feel particularly committed to them and they’re non-essential. Chris keeps reminding me that I don’t have to do a single thing right now, and I’m appreciative of that. Brendan does the same. “Take it easy, sister. And I mean it.” Very hard when you’re the offspring of our mother, but I’m making an attempt.

I tried to send thank you notes to everyone who sent us anything, and pray I didn’t miss anything. Our nursery is full of lovely, thoughtful gifts.

Basically, we’re ready!

Friendships

Last night I got to spend a couple of hours at the brewery with my lady-friends. I love this ritual of meeting up when I’m home. Of course there’s the part of me that wishes I were home more and could simply see everyone all the time. But there’s something special about a date and coming out to huddle. When someone comes around who has been away you make time.

Again and again I’m amazed by the way that good friendships between women enhance my life; our lives. I don’t know how mens’ friendships work, but I love how good women friends jump right in to the grit and detail and exploration. There’s no banter. It’s “how are you doing? How are you feeling?” And off to the races.

I always feel whole and refreshed after time with my ladies. And I also love that each fills a slightly different niche. There are the friends with whom I’ll take the deep dive about love and commitment; friends with whom I’ll discuss sex; friends to whom I turn with questions about the body, wellness. Friends who I go to for politics.

All in all, this is a blessed life.