Miss Georgia Vivien is now two weeks old, and just beautiful. She’s got such a sweet, good-natured temperament, and we fall in love with her about twenty times a day. Expecting, delivering and breastfeeding her has been without a doubt the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life, and we are learning more about how to nurture her every day. I’ve been amazed at how effortlessly some aspects of parenting come to first-timers like us, and equally surprised at how difficult certain “perfectly natural” things have been (nursing comes to mind).
The first few days home were overwhelming: she had her days and nights mixed up, she fed constantly, our cat was totally freaked out and we were zombies from lack of sleep. Thanks to the generosity of family & friends who brought over food, cleaned our house, or held Georgia while we showered, Mark and I survived. I don’t know how anyone does it alone, or with a partner who isn’t also your best friend — you need to divide, conquer, and laugh when things get crazy!
A few of the other key items we couldn’t live without in these first few weeks?
We can’t imagine not having this. Georgia naps in it during the day in our living room, and she seems to prefer the slight incline and self-rocking motion of this to her flat bassinet or her co-sleeper. It keeps them hugged around the sides in a safe way, which newborns seem to prefer to a big crib or play yard. It’s also portable, so you can move it to another room (or another story, if you have an upstairs) or even take it to a friend’s house, and the center comes out for easy cleaning (we’ve already had one diaper blowout in it, and you’d never know). This is great for times when the baby falls asleep in the living room and you need to quickly move them to your bedroom or the nursery to sleep overnight without waking them.
We also use this Summer Infant sleeper on our couch and on the bed, and will likely take this with us when we fly to see relatives in a few weeks. Until she transitions to her crib, Georgia is sleeping nightly (sort of) in the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper, which is attached to the side of our bed (by a strap under our mattress) for easy access for 2 a.m. diaper changes and feedings. Later, it can convert to a four-sided bassinet or a play yard, and it’s portable for travel. We’ll see how well that works out because it seems kind of heavy and not-so-simple to break down so far. This comes with one sheet (though you can buy more on their website) and that sheet Velcros to the thin mattress on its underside, so there’s no SIDS risk.
Georgia was born at 7 lbs 7 oz, which is very average; nevertheless, we still found ourselves without enough newborn-size outfits for daytime, so we made a run to Babies R’ Us after her first pediatrician appointment to pick up some Carter’s onesies on sale. We also grabbed more sleep outfits — in particular the Halo Sleepsack, and some Gerber Sleep n’ Plays which kept her feet warm. I found those little mittens utterly useless, so if you’ve got a face scratcher, just get outfits that have fold-over cuffs on them instead. We also got these fabulous swaddling blankets by Aden and Anais as a shower gift, and I can’t say enough about how indispensable they are. You can swaddle them during the day for comfort, tuck them tightly into their crib or bassinet, cover them up in the car seat and stroller, wipe spit-up, block the sun in the car, use as an emergency diaper-changing pad if you forget yours, and drape over yourself while nursing in public. I used this so much more than my nursing cover, stylish though it is! They are SO soft and get more so with each washing. If you’re ever in need of a shower present, these should be tops on the list. You can never have too many! (Well, you probably need a max of about six).
OK, I am going to level with you — breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Despite my baby having what the doctors and nurses called “a perfect latch,” I still found the first week and a half to be constantly painful. AND WHEN I SAY PAINFUL, I MEAN REALLY PAINFUL. Newborns feed even more frequently than I could have imagined, especially overnight, and often want to nurse for comfort when they get startled, overtired or over-stimulated. I feel like I’m finally turning a corner in terms of the pain now that she’s two weeks old, but I find it very psychologically trying to be the only source of food and soothing for such a tiny being. It makes recovering from labor and delivery that much harder, too, and because you’re not supposed to pump for the first few weeks, nobody else can step in to give you relief unless you decide to supplement with formula. Add to all this the fact that society is super judgmental about the choice to breastfeed or not, and moms can be left feeling guilty, inadequate and exhausted. If I said I hadn’t considered giving up in the first few days, I’d be completely lying. Thanks to the kind words of many moms in my life, I am trying to keep going. Here’s what’s helped.
Screw the Boppy, this is the best breastfeeding pillow around. It straps around your waist and perfectly positions the baby in your lap so you don’t have to hold her up against your tummy to latch. It offers back support and has a little pouch for your water bottle, cell phone, snack, lanolin cream, etc. I use it on the couch, in bed, in the rocking chair, you name it. What you don’t need: extra covers. They sell them, and they’re very pretty, but use your money on something else. Like diapers.
Good nursing tanks and bras will make you the most comfortable while breastfeeding. A friend sent me these from Motherhood Maternity, and I really like the snap-down front. I also bought this bra for day and this one for night at Target, and wear both with regular shirts (although having a v-neck or button-down neckline helps when baby’s frantic and you’re in a hurry to nurse). I’m only wearing leggings, yoga pants and cotton skirts on bottom, since I still have sutures that need to heal and comfort is paramount. Nursing tanks are great because you can layer them with a pretty cardigan if you have to leave the house or have visitors over and want to look human. Other great options for colder weather include hoodies, soft cotton button-downs, henleys that can be undone, and scoop-neck shirts that can be pulled down in front.
What else do you need for nursing? Snacks are key, as is lots of water. Breastfeeding is dehydrating and also requires between 300 and 500 extra calories per day, so I even leave granola bars, dried fruit and oatmeal raisin cookies on the nightstand for middle-of-the-night feedings. Most babies vary between 10 and 40 minutes per feeding, and those long sessions can really leave you starving and shaky if you don’t stay ahead of your appetite. I also like to keep my Nook, some fluff reading (think People magazine) and my iPad handy. Sometimes I play music to relax us both, or I catch up on Netflix if I need to keep my hands free to help her latch.
Our baby doesn’t seem to respond to pacifiers yet, but the pediatrician told us it’s fine to give them one if they’ve been fed and are demanding the breast for comfort soon after. It’s more important to preserve your tender skin for the next session and not let them use you as a pacifier, as long as you know they’re full. We got lots of brands as gifts, but have been told Soothies are the best for breastfed babies to minimize nipple confusion. I’ll update this post in the future when I know what we ended up using. Along those same lines, we bought Phillips Avent bottles designed to have a slower flow that mimics the way milk “lets down” from the breast, so you can offer pumped milk to your newborn and not cause them to reject your nipple. So far we are using the newborn nipples but they have a wide range of “flows” so that you can keep increasing as the baby gets older. We based our bottle decision off the top-rated brand in the Bible (by which I mean the Baby Bargains book, a.k.a the only book you need when you’re pregnant). The top-rated bottles in there were Phillips Avent and Dr. Brown’s, and it comes down to personal preference on which to choose between those two. I know of folks who swear by Dr. Brown’s for fussy babies, but honestly, they have about fifty bazillion pieces to dissemble and wash, and with a 100-year-old house, we have no dishwasher (plus a dad who’s often gone 12 hours a day and not able to help wash bottles). Maybe if you’re a stay-at-home parent or have a dishwasher (mechanical or human), but otherwise, ain’t nobody got time for that. I also have friends who have loved Tommee Tippee and Playtex bottles, so those come highly recommended as well. If you’re interested, here is the Medela hands-free pump I bought. It’s the fastest and most hands-free/portable option short of a hospital grade pump. Sadly insurance does not pay for this one (at least not public employee insurance like we have), so you’ll have to pony up for this one if it’s important to you to be able to do other things while pumping, and to do it as quickly and quietly as possible.
Last but not least, if you find yourself with bleeding, cracked or burning nipples, it can’t hurt to keep a ready-to-feed bottle of newborn formula on the nightstand. If it can buy you 4 or 5 hours to heal, it might make all the difference in you continuing to breastfeed your baby long term, even exclusively. Two things I found useful for soothing wrecked nipples: reusable cooling gel pads, and Lansinoh lanolin cream. The cream is particularly nice because you don’t have to wash it off before feedings.
I also found it helpful to have a reference book on breastfeeding handy, and the bible on this seems to be The Nursing Mother’s Companion. I read it before having Georgia, and found it twice as useful after she came home when I was having a lot of trouble.
Talk about scary — bathing a newborn?! Luckily they don’t get that dirty so you only have to give them a “bath” 1 or 2 times a week. And until their umbilical stump falls off, it can only be a sponge bath. All you really need here are some soft washcloths (I find homemade has been best), a couple hooded bath towels, and baby hair & body cleanser. The hospital gave us Johnson’s Baby Wash but we are not wild about its ingredients, so we have purchased natural products from The Honest Company, BabyGanics and California Baby. In my opinion, the softest, best-sized hooded towels come from Pottery Barn Kids. We registered for a set of Winnie the Pooh towels and washcloths from Babies R’ Us, but they fell apart after just a couple washes, and were scratchier than we’d hoped they would be. Save your money — spending more up front really does make a difference!
Changing diapers: probably the least difficult newborn skill to master. Mark did the first few in the hospital and now he does the lion’s share of changes at home, too, since I’m on 24/7 boobie duty. My top suggestion here is to buy plenty of diapers and wipes before you go into labor, because you’ll go through them faster than you can imagine when baby is home. Dozens a day at least. We explored the option of cloth diapers, both the kind you wash yourself and the kind you send out with a service, but for a variety of reasons we decided it wasn’t right for us. If you want to know more about my reasons, I’m happy to share, but I know people feel passionately about this issue (as with all things baby-related). If you are committed to cloth, MamaNatural has a great guide to selecting the right option, plus tutorials for cleaning them. If you’re in the Boston area, Diaper Lab is the best in-person resource. So, we are trying all the eco-friendly, non-petroleum-based brands available, and at this stage are sticking with the ones that fit her best physically to prevent messy blowouts. I’ve already had to put all three bassinet pads and her changing pad in the wash due to bad blowouts with ill-fitting diapers, so fit is critical — brand be damned! As for wipes, we are also buying the “sensitive” and eco-friendly versions of each brand, and so far we like The Honest Company and Seventh Generation Free & Clear, available at Target or online, as well as Costco’s Kirkland brand wipes. We bought a changing pad that we mounted to her dresser, but to be honest we only end up using the portable changing pad that came with my diaper bag because you can slap it down on the couch, the guest bed, the back seat of the car, wherever.
To leave the house, all you need is the pad, a couple diapers, a spare outfit and a pack of travel wipes. If you want to use diaper cream with each change to prevent a rash and make cleanup easier, we recommend Butt Paste and California Baby. While I started out not wanting to use any product with oil refinery by-products, such as Aquaphor, a couple of multi-week bleeding diaper rashes forced me to adopt vaseline as a healing ointment, and it truly was the only thing that worked. So I’ve changed my tune. Last but not least, get a diaper pail such as Diaper Genie (what we have and like so far) or Ubbi. Ubbi is more stylish looking and doesn’t require special refill bags, but the Diaper Genie was taller — important to Mark — and had a foot pedal for hands-free operation.
FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
There are so many other little things. Such as: hand sanitizer for you and your guests to use before touching the baby and after diaper changes; newborn hats, even in summer; fragrance-free laundry detergent for baby’s clothing (we use Honest Company); and a nightlight for your hallway to make middle-of-the-night diaper changes and feedings easier (even if the little one is in your room, you’ll appreciate having this ambient light from the hallway instead of turning on your bedside lamp and waking everyone up completely). We haven’t used our baby carriers yet, but we got an Ergo Baby and a Moby wrap, and I’ve heard great things about the Baby K’Tan. If you’re interested in what we use for our car seat and carriage(s), we have the Chicco KeyFit (awesome) and caddy (BEYOND ESSENTIAL), and the City Mini GT (which has a height-adjustable handle to accommodate 5-foot-tall Mom and 6’4″ Dad!) We also considered the UppaBaby Vista or Cruz and the Bumbleride Indie, which are much pricier and (if I’m being honest) a little bit snobby and status-y, but ruled out both because they were significantly heavier and also — critically — too wide to fit on the MBTA (Boston’s 100-year-old subway system), so we stuck to the one everyone in the city seems to have. (Read a funny rant on this from another Boston mom blogger here). Friends seem to also love the Britax B-Agile and the Bob Revolution, so those might be worth checking out. We keep the fold-able caddy in the car, pop the car seat in for errands, and we’ll use the City Mini just around the neighborhood until she outgrows her infant seat. The City Mini also has an optional, affordable car seat bracket mounter.
Last but not least, remember to take care of yourself, Mama. Minimize visitors (we learned this the hard way) so you don’t over-tire baby or miss out on naps yourself, and accept any and all requests for help in cleaning your house, doing your laundry, or bringing you food. The hospital will tell you to take home a supply of the maternity pads, mesh underwear and witch hazel wipes they provided during your stay, and you should take them up on this offer. In fact, ask for extras. If you are really uncomfortable healing from a tear, I can’t recommend Dermoplast spray highly enough for the pain and itching. It’ll help you sit and sleep while the stitches are dissolving and making your life impossible. And, call your doc to see if you’re allowed to take sitz baths, which can help tremendously (provided you can find someone to hold the baby for long enough to go take one). Healing takes time and every little bit helps. Take care of yourself. XOXO