First published on The Skinny Confidential, by Serenity Carr
Becoming a parent is a huge decision because it’s one that you can’t back out of. You can’t quit, ghost, or divorce a baby. Once a parent, you will be one forever.
By now, you’ve been through the Oh-Shit-I’m-Pregnant stage and now are rapidly moving towards the day that will radically change your life. You’re probably thinking a lot about how to spend these last weeks, how your delivery will go, and what life will be like afterwards. I had my daughter 16 months ago via unplanned c-section. I did some stuff right and some stuff wrong. I’ll tell you what worked well and what I would change next time (shhh… don’t tell my husband I said anything about having baby #2).
Pampering Your Pre-Mama Self
Give yourself a HUGE break. Hormones can make anyone feel crazy, so I blamed much of my grumpiness on hormones. Thankfully, my husband blamed them too, which helped him deal with my pregnant and postpartum (and let’s be honest -- everyday) moods.
Let yourself be as comfortable as possible. I have always had trouble sleeping, and it got worse with pregnancy. At the beginning of my third trimester, it was summer in south Texas, and my body was on fire. Nearly every day around 3pm at the peak of the heat, I made a tasty, hydrating, sugar-free slushy using raspberry LMNT electrolyte powder, a little water, a lot of ice, and a powerful blender. I splurged on a Chilipad, which is a mattress pad that keeps my bed cool (and now that I’m back to normal keeps my bed warm). From my second trimester on, I only wore marshmallow-soft Oofos sandals, because the relaxin hormone made my feet sore and flat. The shoes received some questionable looks, but I totally rocked normcore!
Hang with your friends as much as possible, especially if they’re childless. And prepare for the possible loss of those friends. Yes, it’s sad. REALLY SAD! But the sucky truth is that most childless people don’t like hanging out with babies. Babies take a ton of attention, and unless your friend is a hardcore baby-crazy, they won’t want to hear about your clogged duct or baby’s poop. If your bestie is one of those rare, baby-loving people, consider yourself truly, truly blessed. If not, maybe your little bundle of joy will inspire your friend to get busy making a playmate! And don’t worry, you’ll make lots of new parent friends who will give you life-saving advice and support.
This is the last time in probably a while that you will have time to yourself, so fill yourself up with adventures, pampering, and creative hobbies. Take lots of baths, get as many massages as you can afford, cook your favorite meals, read lots of books, or write as much as possible. And go on a babymoon! We went to Hawaii and spent some time brainstorming about what sorts of family culture and traditions we wanted to start. It’s thrilling to build an actual family- one million cells at a time!
Your New Job: Feeding the Baby
That said, you probably want to do some nesting and preparing to be a mom. My biggest, #1, MOST IMPORTANT tip is to start learning about breastfeeding before you have the baby. Mother’s milk is the healthiest possible food for your little one, who will hopefully be drinking it exclusively for at least the first 6 months. I took the advice of a friend and attended a couple of free La Leche League meetings before I had Della. Then I went to monthly meetings during the 9 months she nursed. Due to her lip tie and poor latch, my breastfeeding journey was painful, exhausting, mentally challenging, and filled with shame. The meetings I went to kept me going when I wanted to give up, which was embarrassingly often.
I realize this sounds like the most boring way to spend your time, but figure out your breast pump now, while you still have a few brain cells left. Like actually try it on your breasts for a minute. After baby comes, you may not remember exactly how it works, but it will make things a little easier. Set up a nursing / pumping station on a table next to your rocker or glider (more on that later). Make sure there’s room for your pump (I loved my Spectra), water bottle, lip balm, snacks, Kindle, etc. And get an extension cord for your pump so you don’t have to sit so close to the wall. Get a pumping bra so you can pump hands-free. I loved the Simple Wishes pumping bra because it was comfortable, washable, securely held the pump, and had super adjustable sizing.
Start following Legendairy Milk’s Instagram, which is hilarious and helpful. You may not get all the jokes now, but you will remember them when the time is just right and you need to laugh about your child screaming all night while cutting canine teeth, which is what happened to me last week. They also regularly have tips on optimal pump settings, supplements that increase milk supply (which they sell and I loved), and help with nursing and pumping. I recommend bottles with a gradual widening between the nipple length and base such as Dr Brown’s, Lansinoh Momma, and Evenflo Balance +. These nipple shapes promote a wider latch, which is less painful for moms and helps baby switch between breast and bottle more smoothly.
Oddly, one of my biggest stressors postpartum was getting dressed. All of a sudden, I had only one robe that fit. And nothing else except my socks! Here’s the thing you don’t find out until you have the baby: every item of clothing must allow for full boob accessibility. Your girls can either flop over the top of a low-cut / stretchy neckline or peek out from underneath a t-shirt. If you want to wear dresses (believe me you won’t want much waistband around your sensitive belly), you’ll probably want to pull your breasts out over the top to avoid blanketing your child with billowy skirt fabric. I LIVED in my Latched Mama Drawstring Midi Dress and Kindred Bravely’s Angelina Nursing and Maternity Nightgown because they had soft stretchy fabric and easy boob access.
Babies don’t start eating solid foods until around 6 months, so don’t worry about getting a highchair, plates, sippy cups, or food just yet. Once you do, plan to start baby on a nutrient-dense diet of clean meats, healthy fats, bone broth, and organic veggies. When the time comes, check out my baby food company, Serenity Kids. Our pouched purees are the most nutritious baby foods on the market because we mimic the nutrients of mother’s milk with pasture-raised and wild meats, organic vegetables, and healthy fats. You will soon learn the value of squeezing as much nutrition into each bite that your baby manages to actually swallow.
Building Your Nest
My biggest house tip is to get a super-supportive rocking chair or glider. By super-supportive, I mean one with a firm seat and back, AND has armrests close to your elbows. That way you don’t have to lean or scrunch to reach them. That 8-pound baby will feel like a kettlebell after 45 minutes, so having armrests right underneath your elbows is helpful. Also, make sure you can get out of the chair smoothly, without jostling your little one. Once they’re asleep, you don’t want ANYTHING waking them back up. I used a wooden glider for the first few months, but my back was killing me. We splurged on this Joya rocker and it’s now the most comfortable chair in the house.
Set up a way for baby to sleep in your room for the first few months. Della slept in the Snuggle Me on our dresser for the first 4 months, or whenever she started rolling over. The Snuggle Me company doesn’t officially recommend your baby sleeping there all night, but we did it and it worked great. Also, set up diaper changing stations at least upstairs and downstairs. You will want a surface at waist-level so you don’t have to bend way over. Initially, I was 100% opposed to setting up ugly diaper changing tables and then ended up buying two used ones after a month or two. They’re the right size and hold all of your diapers, creams, wipes, and extra changing pad covers. We love these lockable diaper pails to keep the stink away. They work for cloth diapers or paper.
Have The Talk With Your Partner
This one is near and dear to my heart, because I had such a great relationship with my husband pre-pregnancy, and I still do today. Granted, we got pregnant on our honeymoon, so we were in the lovey-dovey phase, but I wanted to prioritize my relationship with him during this crazy journey towards parenthood. Once the baby arrives, you will be consumed by all the things on your to do list, your new identity as a mother, and grieving the loss of your former self. Less attention will go towards your partner than ever before, so make sure he or she is prepared. I highly recommend reading The First Forty Days by Heng Ou, which gives you a sort of script to follow and also outlines a plan for supporting you in what is known as “the fourth trimester”. You can also send them my husband’s blog Tips for Pregnant Fathers, where he lays out how a man can fully participate in pregnancy (and boy did he!).
Make a plan for how the two of you are going to connect and spend time together once you’re parents. I didn’t feel like having sex for a couple of months after giving birth, but we made sure to cuddle a lot and get out for fun couple-only time. Our first date was at 2 weeks postpartum while my sister was babysitting. We went to the dairy-free ice cream shop and the grocery store. It may sound lame, but it felt nourishing to be away from Della for a couple of hours and just focusing on each other.
Someone told us to go on tons of dates before the baby comes, so we did and we quickly learned why. We had a great time trying out new restaurants and were ever at the theater the night before I went into labor. But leaving the house with a newborn is difficult -- putting clean clothes on you and the baby, changing diapers, packing the bag, and calculating the window between nap and feeding times, etcetera. Spoiler alert: babies go to bed around 7:00, so you will soon have a curfew. Crank up the Netflix and wine delivery!
Write your birth plan together -- or at least talk through it. It’s very VERY important your birth partner understands the plan since you won’t be able to talk or think much during labor. I wrote two birth plans: one for a home birth and one just in case I had a c-section at a hospital. See mine here.
Yes, yes, I left the birth stuff for the end. I know it’s at the top of your mind, but it’s honestly the smallest part of this journey. It’s just so short! Definitely a magical few days, but I think more of the prep should be on the stuff that lasts many months. That said, I did learn a lot about birth by listening to real women’s birth stories on podcasts like Birthfit, Birth Kweens, and The Birth Hour. I also got the Labor Signs contraction timer app and practiced using it.
Now that my birth experience was over a year ago, I really wish I had more pictures and videos. While it was happening, I was irritated that my husband was taking videos rather than helping me, but now I’m super glad I do have a few. Sadly, (or perhaps happily for the future of the human race), my memory of that day is fading. If you’re considering a doula but your partner isn’t on board yet, find a way to convince them. My doula was the only person focused only on me during labor, and I’m beyond grateful she was there. My husband really wanted to be our doula, but I doubted his capabilities -- mostly because he had never even been at a birth. Turns out, he was busy parking the car, grabbing stuff from our hospital bag (like the birth plan, portable speaker, and my favorite pillow), answering questions from doctors, and handling our maternity and paternity leave from our business. He was also deep in his own process of getting ready to become a dad and wasn’t able to focus 100% on me, which is exactly as it should be.
Cesarean Section Prep
Most women don’t plan for a c-section. I certainly didn’t. The truth is that a lot of us end up having surgical births. My baby was breech, and they no longer teach doctors how to deliver breech babies in the US, and most midwives won’t either. I’m going to share two lessons I learned by doing it wrong:
First, make sure the nurses put the breast pump on you at the hospital to encourage supply. Soon and often! WARNING: You will NOT feel like pumping because you will be very tired. Just remember that the long-term benefit will be healthy milk supply for your baby. The painkilling drugs they give you during and after surgery are known to cause your milk to come in late. I lied to the nurses and told them the baby was nursing a lot, because I hated being in the hospital and just wanted them to leave me alone. I don’t recommend lying to the nurses about that. My baby was super sleepy and uninterested in nursing, so she didn’t nurse much, which further shrank my milk supply.
My other tip is specifically for TSC readers: postpartum fashion. After my c-section, I was super stressed out about all the clothes I couldn’t wear. I couldn’t wear any pants or my own underwear because the waistbands hit right at my surgery site. And yes, even if you have a c-section, you will have lochia draining from your vagina for weeks, so underwear are a must. None of my maternity dresses would allow a boob to get free for nursing, so I could really only wear a robe. Believe me, I flashed a lot of unsuspecting people those first few weeks. I finally ditched the hideous and uncomfortable mesh hospital panties after getting some lacy high-waisted c-section recovery panties from Kindred Bravely. Pay close attention to your size. Yes, it sucks to formally acknowledge that your booty is twice the size it used to be, but that booty will be way more comfortable. I naively thought that because my pre-baby size was small, I maybe now wore a medium…? Thank God for my sister who gently shook her head and helped me buy XL panties that fit nicely.
You can find a full listing of the products I recommended here and many more on our Natural Amazon Baby Registry.
Whew! That was a lot. And probably TMI, but I wanted to tell you the truth, even if it was down and dirty. My hope for you is that you can be gentle with yourself as you navigate the sometimes chaotic journey of motherhood. One of my favorite mantras that kept me going during the darkest times was “women WAY dumber than me have done this”. You’ve totally got this mama!