Things I Wish I Knew: Holiday Edition

I have beef with all the veteran moms in my life. No one warned me in advance about these two holiday takeaways that I feel obliged to pass on to all the pregnant Natalies who’ve yet to be responsible for a whole other human life on Christmas (or Hanukkah, but my extremely WASP-y brain feels like an idiot not knowing if one travels for Hanukkah. Surely I would go insane being around family for eight days??)

Technically this was my son’s second Christmas, but it felt like his first since last year was just a lowkey immediate family celebration due to COVID, plus he was still in the blobby, not-at-all sleeping newborn phase so everything’s a little cloudy in the ol’ brain bank.

  1. Pack early, and do it while baby is sleeping. HAHAHA to me who thought I could just throw my clothes in a duffel like normal, leave some extra space for the baby’s, and make packing a daytime activity to also keep him busy. The child was pulling things out of the bag faster than I could put them in & putting in extraneous items of his own (a pink hippo bath toy managed to stowaway on our travels.) This was all, of course, in addition to his current favorite games, “Ooh, are these cords?” and “I hope she forgot to close the bathroom door so I can go play with the bad end of a plunger.” While packing a place for him to sleep, a stroller for the forecasted nice weather, and an armload of diapers because his molars are breaking through and his butt is a faucet, I neglected to think of where he would eat. Big thanks to my grandma’s neighbors who lent us a high chair from their attic; the few meals we attempted with him on my lap were messy mini-disasters.
  2. It is exhausting. I realize the media has been trying to tell me this for years, but I wrongly assumed stress around the holidays is what you make it. I figured as long as I managed expectations, committed to only one Secret Santa exchange, and never started any super creepy Elf on the Shelf traditions (yes, I am judging you), Christmas would be enjoyable. Reader? I am tired. And I kept the bar really, really low. Having family Christmas in my grandma’s least-child-friendly-house-ever was not an assist. Constantly redirecting him, making sure he wasn’t going to grab any handblown glass or insulin pens (why bother to childproof when he has a mother who can follow him everywhere?!), keeping him out of presents, feeding him, cleaning up, doing that again, putting him to sleep in a weird place, wielding boundaries around family members, attempting to help out and participate in established holiday traditions– I could go on, but my privilege is whining. On paper, there are more people around to help out, but if your baby/toddler is like mine, that will only make them cling to Mom even more. Next year, I will absolutely be taking a day or two off after Christmas to sleep.

First Birthday List

My darling boy turns one this week! He needs and wants for absolutely nothing, but it turns out that generous family members don’t like “If you buy him anything, I’ll cut you” as a response when they inquire about what they can gift him for his birthday.

Since I wasn’t at all thinking about toddlerhood when I made my baby registry, I’m sharing a few things I put on his one-year-old nice-to-haves list in case they might help the real Natalie or any of you pregnant ones. There are no toys or books or clothes because those always seem to be gifted no matter what & he doesn’t need any (do you hear me, family!?! STOP BUYING HIM TOYS. HE LOVES EMPTY TOILET PAPER ROLLS!! I WANT MY HOUSE BACK FROM THE INSANITY!!!)

  • No slip socks. This kid’s got almost three months of walking experience, yet he still prefers to do it without shoes. As it’s getting colder, I want those adorable piggy toes covered up in the house, but he’s more prone to slipping and falling if wearing socks. Enter: socks with grips on the bottom!
  • Foldable learning tower. Hats off to the marketing genius who named this spiffed up step ladder a “learning tower” and made them a Pinterest Mom must-have. Basically it’s a stool with a cage around it that will hopefully help him feel more included in the kitchen/ outdoors/ wherever we’re doing stuff so can’t hold him but would be too dangerous to let him roam free. I used to sit him in his high chair in the middle of the kitchen while making dinner, but he’s recently decided the high chair is lava so hopefully he can grow with this while learning beside me. There are approximately 1,000 learning tower options depending on what features you want and your budget, so I’ll report back on if the brand I linked is great or garbage.
  • A baby sled. This kid would be outdoors 24/7 if we allowed him to be, so I’m kind of terrified for when the temperature drops and there’s snow on the ground for months. 1- I assume a baby (toddler?! gah) in a sled will be adorable and 2- schlepping him around in it will help keep me warm.
  • Diapers. Just because baby is born doesn’t mean people can’t still gift you whatever sized diapers they’re wearing. My son thinks pulling tissue paper out of a bag is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to him, so he won’t mind if it’s boring ol’ diapers underneath.
  • Suction plate & baby forks. My friends with toddlers have had a wide variety of experiences with suction plates and bowls, but serving him food on regular ones would be an absolute fool’s errand at this age. I currently serve all his food on the high chair tray, but does that seem lazy? At some point, should he realize place settings are a thing? He’s currently in the developmental stage of using his fat lil’ arm as a windshield wiper and knocking all available options to the ground when he’s done or feeling cantankerous, so maybe this will help. Oh, and he needs forks because I got a bunch of hand-me-down baby spoons from my cousin and only just realized he should probably be exposed to other utensils.

Next year, we’ll probably ask for experiences like a science center membership, but based on two recent apathetic trips to the zoo, he’s still a little young for those. Because of his obsession with the real lawn mower and watching his dad and any neighbors mow, we’ll probably add a toy lawn mower in the spring when the Easter Bunny comes around. And dude loves to knock over the broom and try to eat the dustpan, so I need to capitalize on this ASAP and get him his own mini version to start helping around the house. Congrats! You’re one! Get to sweeping.

Grandma Gear

We are hashtag blessed/ prayer hands emoji to have family nearby who can help out with our son. There are a few items that we’ve found helpful to have as duplicates at my parents’ house- the only place he’s done overnights so far- instead of always packing up our whole house when we go for a visit. Your needs will vary depending on the length of time you’re away from your prime baby set up, but here’s what we’ve found helpful to have at my parents’ place.

Car Seat Base: if there’s someone other than you and your partner who will be regularly driving with the baby, you don’t have to purchase them a separate car seat. For infant car seats, you can purchase an additional base and install it for them. Convertible car seats used to be an absolute nightmare to move from one vehicle to another, but we have no complaints with ours. If we’re leaving our son overnight at my parents, we unbuckle the car seat from my backseat and put it in my moms, just in case they need to transport him anywhere. A good rule is: where the baby is, the car seat should be also.

Pack & Play: my mom found a great deal on a secondhand pack & play so has one, while we never bothered*. It’s been a lifesaver to throw him in that for naps when we’re there, especially now that he’s mobile and would pitch himself off any bed we try to lay him on. *I’ve had to borrow a friend’s for an overnight trip & now realize we totally should have gotten one, so will also be shopping secondhand for one we can take on out of town trips!

High Chair: definitely not a must have– our son would still eat just fine if sitting on my lap– but it’s super convenient that my parents have a high chair for mealtime so we don’t have to pack ours or keep a booster seat in the car. 

Nose Frida: this is highly specific to our situation, but our kid had terrible reflux which causes congestion. We used the Nose Frida multiple times a day in his first 4-5 months, so it made sense to keep a back up at my parents so we didn’t have to always remember to throw it in the diaper bag. If you have specific medical items that it would throw a wrench in your stay if forgotten, it doesn’t hurt to have back ups you can leave there (i.e. baby Tylenol!)

Formula: if you’re formula feeding, keep a tub of your brand at Grandma’s house. If you use a formula pitcher, transport it empty and then mix it upon arrival. I once tried to transport our full formula pitcher on a 45 minute drive. It spilled, and my car smelled like disgusting wet socks for a few days before I lifted the seats and really scrubbed it all out. 

Diapers & Wipes: we always travel with diapers and wipes in the diaper bag, but it’s nice knowing that my mom has a little changing area set up ready to go when we’re there visiting family. She’s also got plenty of extra bibs and burps rags.

Being Extra: our son is the first grandchild, so things can get a bit extra when it comes to making sure he’s surrounded by infant opulence. Once they saw how much he loves his baby swimming pool and canvas tree swing, his grandparents purchased duplicates to have at their house. His favorite toys include empty boxes and a toothbrush, so I’m confident he would survive without a pool at every residence, but it is nice for them to have many activity options when we leave him there for a needed night off.

Thank Your Nurses

I’ve expanded my hours at the local hospital and now get to be on the maternity floor a few times a week (ask me how second baby fever is going.) I’m surrounded by the nursing team thus feel qualified to tell you their favorite ways to be thanked.

If you’ve already been through labor, you know that nurses are the real MVPs of the process. Sure, a doctor may have caught your baby and sewn you up, but the nurses are the ones with you day and night. They see more parts of you than anyone else ever has, they don’t bat an eye at the myriad fluids and smells and sounds emanating from your bloated meat suit, they put up with all sorts of dumb questions and emergencies and chart documenting all while they likely juggle more than one patient. If you had a great hospital experience- or even (especially?) if you didn’t, but you’ll always remember that one nurse who made things better for you- please pass along your thanks.

1- Nurses love food. They’re working long hours, often hustling around on their feet all day lifting and supporting and rolling birthing people who might be dead weight from an epidural. They need to eat, but don’t get much (any) time to do it. When patients send food, they cheer. “What room is this from?” “What kind of cupcakes are those?” “Are there any more granola bars in that gift basket?!” Both sugar treats and healthier foods are appreciated. We had one couple order in pizzas to the break room during dinner time! Some parents get real creative and drop off baskets with Diet Coke cans, trail mix, fresh fruit & string cheese; others have the local bakery deliver a box of donuts or cupcakes. All is appreciated. Including a card with your names and/or room number & date of stay will help jog their memories.

2- A thank you note. Yes, they really do read them and yes, sometimes they cry. If you’re a words person and just need to emote, don’t feel silly writing a card or letter to your nursing staff or those one or two individuals who really made the experience for your family. So many inpatient units around the country are understaffed and these people are being stretched to their limits– a little personal reminder about why they do this work in the first place can go a long way.

3. Nominate them for a DAISY Award. The DAISY Award can be given across the country to recognize excellence in nursing. Even if your nurse isn’t chosen as a winner, they’ll get recognized for being nominated by their employer. The nomination form is super simple, and it’s an easy way to let someone know they really made a difference for you and your family during labor, delivery or postpartum.

4. Sorry- no cash. Not that I think you’re out here entrusting Benjamins in the hands of the postal service in the year of our lord 2021, but also be leery of giving gift cards. Your hospital likely has a policy in place capping the amount of a gift that one individual employee can receive, so if you’re trying to think outside the box, this isn’t the time. Stick to food & praise. We had one dear patient try to give a nurse a large gift card to buy a specific pair of shoes because they heard her mention needing new ones. So, so appreciated! But also against the rules. (Don’t worry- the gift card was moved along to the hospital foundation to purchase items for patients in need.)

Feeding Solids

Baby will be eight months old next week which means he’ll have been eating solid foods for half his life. Below is some advice I feel I can give based on our experience. Per the recommendation of his pediatrician, we started introducing purees when he was four months old. This will differ for every child, so please trust the advice of your doctor instead of a random person on the Internet.

We made the decision to start him at four months because baby was getting very interested in what we were eating, was able to sit up with assistance, and just generally thought he was a way older baby so wanted to eat solids NOW, dammit! He’s been a champion eater since he came out of the womb, and his journey with solid foods has been no different. If it were up to him, he’d be bellying up to the table with us at every meal and have kissed bottles good-bye already. We have yet to find a food that he won’t eat (seriously) including fish, mushrooms, beets, corn on the cob, tikka masala… he’s a goat. A really cute, messy goat.

  • The Internet can be a scary place when it comes to information about introducing solids. Some people get absolutely militant about baby led weaning (BLW), some people are terrified of their kids choking and only feed purees for the first year, some people read about all the metals found recently in baby foods and put off introducing solids as long as possible. Protect your mental health when sourcing info! Make sure it’s coming from a reputable source, make sure you’re truthful with your doctor and aren’t afraid to ask questions, and be prepared to unfollow the trendy baby food Instagram accounts, if needed.
  • I wish we had registered for those silicone bibs with the built in food-catching trough. I figured “meh, a bib’s a bib” but WRONG-O, new mom self. The journey from spoon or hand to actual digestion is a chasm greater than the Grand Canyon. The more comfortable baby gets with non-purees, the more food will end up in their lap, on the floor, and under the cushions of their high chair. The more you can catch in their bib, the less you’ll be scraping off the floor after baby has gone to bed. Still pregnant Natalies, add these to your registries!
  • Incorporate baby’s food into how you already eat. If you loathe cooking, don’t put the pressure on yourself to make all of your kid’s food homemade. If Friday night is sacred pizza delivery time for you and your partner, start letting baby suck on the crusts or pick off a few olives and squish them up for baby to try. If it’s daunting to think of new foods to puree, or you don’t have a food processor, think of already soft foods you don’t have to transform after you get home. Items like avocado, ricotta cheese (lower in sodium than other cheeses!) canned pumpkin, yogurt, etc. are baby friendly right out of the package & you can eat them, too.
  • I won’t be giving any advice on introducing allergens because that’s medical grade info I’m unqualified to preach to you about!
  • Start with a little, then add more if they eat it. If you scramble a whole egg for baby, only put a bite or two on their high chair tray. If they eat it, give them some more. Until you know they’ll eat the whole thing, you end up wasting a bunch of food because it’s not that appetizing to eat the remainder after a baby has glommed all over it. Similarly, I’ll plan my breakfast and baby’s together. If I know he’s good for half an egg, I’ll set aside the other half- not covered in baby drool- to eat with my toast. If your baby is like mine, they’ll be more interested in eating if they see you eating along with them.
  • Pack snacks in your diaper bag when you’re going on outings. Even if you read Bringing Up Bebe and don’t believe in giving kids snacks between meals, as they get more active, they’re harder to keep entertained at a restaurant booth or in the car. Have some rice teethers, one of those puree pouches, or even pickles (our kid loves sucking on pickles on road trips) packed with you to give them something to work on. They’ll develop hand-to-mouth skills and keep quiet for longer!
  • Your dining area will get messy. Your kid will get messy. There will be food waste as your child learns to not open their hand over open air and let food fall. You’re gonna need to breathe and try to accept these things. You can look at this as a fun opportunity to teach baby the lifelong skill and enjoyment of eating! You’re both learning together. There will be times when baby grabs the spoon and really wants to feed themselves, but ends up with peanut butter yogurt in their hair, or rubs their sleepy eyes with a hand covered in applesauce. Accept that there are a lot more baths in your future, and keep some baby washcloths near the sink so you can do a post-meal wipe down.

Product Recs for Not Baby

I don’t have any insightful recommendations for an almost-mobile baby except a wing and a prayer. However, I have recently discovered a few things I’ve been loving for myself that I’ll pass along to you!

  • Vital Proteins Collagen. I’d heard of people taking collagen, but never much thought about it for myself until I saw it at Aldi (the holy grail of grocery stores; if you haven’t been- GET THEE TO ALDI.) I asked in my Instagram stories if people had good experiences to share & a ton of people said, “yes, girl– collagen is the sh*t.” I can now report, after getting through my first container and buying more, that I am also fully in the collagen cult. My postpartum hair loss seems to have subsided, and I can tell when shaving my legs that all hairs are now growing at quite a quick rate! My nails are growing faster and stronger. Some people say collagen helps with their joints, but I permanently feel like I’ve been hit by a truck from lifting my child all day, so I don’t have any anecdotal evidence to pass along there. The unflavored kind isn’t completely hidden in just water, but many respondents said they mix it in coffee & can’t taste it. My second flavor has been strawberry lemonade since all the other flavors sound like barf, and it’s decent enough to sip on a whole glass without issue.
  • Australian Gold BB Cream Sunscreen. I used to be pretty good at putting sunscreen on my face in the mornings, but something about pandemic weariness + pregnancy laziness got me out of the habit. I’m spending more time outdoors than ever before now that baby likes to constantly be in motion, but have very sensitive skin so can’t go throwing on any old sunblock that’s been in the back of a drawer since 2018. This product was recommended to me on a skincare forum and I LOVE it, mostly because it’s an SPF + BB Cream in one. I got the lightest shade- “Fair to Light”- and it matches my Casper-like skin tone well enough that I could wear only this for the day if I’m not doing a full beat. It’s not greasy- you definitely need to moisturize beforehand since it’s pretty matte- but I don’t think twice about “ugh, sticky sunscreen” because it’s more like fun makeup than a skincare obligation.
  • Poke Cake. Ok, this isn’t really a product, but my birthday is in two days, and I’m making myself a poke cake. If you have any backyard gatherings planned this summer, or just want a stupidly easy, cooling dessert to have on hand around the house (and you do want that because you deserve that) Jello-O Poke Cake is! the! answer! You can make it with any flavor of Jell-O! And technically any flavor of cake! I’m doing white cake + cherry, but my old favorite is white cake + strawberry. My step-grandma makes it with yellow cake + orange Jell-O, and I give that combo all the thumbs up as well. Probably don’t make it with chocolate cake because that flavor would overpower your choice of Jell-O? You could do lemon cake + lime Jell-O if you’re a fake citrus-loving weirdo, but that’s more tang than I prefer in my treats.

PPA Advice

Congrats on making it through this tome about my experience with postpartum anxiety. Below is the promised list of things that have helped me manage my anxiety- some days are better than others! While you won’t see therapy on this list (due to the pandemic & not making time for it in my schedule) I love therapy and certainly see how it would be beneficial during this time. I’ve had both in-person therapists and done chat therapy through Better Help, which I highly recommend if you’re open to online options!

  • Sleep. As previously discussed, when sleep goes, so does everything else. I’m more short with those around me when I haven’t slept, and little things become WAY bigger deals in my mind. It’s certainly a catch-22 because with you have anxiety and racing thoughts, you can’t sleep; when you’ve haven’t slept, it makes the anxiety worse. I’ve had to implement no phone before bed and try to read every night before lights out. I also go to bed stupidly early. I’ve been listening to ASMR videos to fall asleep on and off for 10 years (it’s only recently that you can tell someone that without them getting totally creeped out. It’s not weird!!) My current favorites are WhispersRed, ASMRvelous & ElaineSMR.
  • Exercise. Getting back to my barre studio of choice has been vitally important to making me feel more mentally well. 85% of the reason I show up for class is the boost to my brain. The other 15% is for the physical aspects of wanting to get toned and chase my pre-baby weight, but even that helps because when I’m more confident in how I look, I feel better.
  • Tossing the scale. I recognized around three months postpartum that I was letting the scale dictate how I felt about myself, and that felt like an unhealthy mind prison I’d put myself in. Now I truly have no idea what I weigh, thus there’s not a number for me to get anxious about.
  • Medication. I don’t know if I would have been slapped so hard in the face by PPA around the four month mark had I kept taking Zoloft as first prescribed at my six week appointment. I’ve tried post-baby life both ways, and right now, medication is a tool that helps me live a better life. I enjoy the experience of being a mother, a wife, an employee & myself more. I don’t feel unlike myself; I feel like a more calm version of myself.
  • Talking about it. White knuckling what I was going through helped no one. Giving voice to my feelings without letting them rule my day helps me recalibrate, whether it’s writing them down or saying them aloud. Huge love to my husband for never diminishing what I’m going through. I even let my mom know I was on medication- a big deal for me!- because I wanted to be transparent with our support systems about what’s going on.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. I know, right? Me! Telling you this! I love coffee and greatly abused it when running my business and in those first sleepless months, but there’s no doubt it heightens my anxiety. I’m down to one spoonful of caffeinated grounds in my pour over in the mornings; the rest is decaf, then no more for the rest of the day. As much as I hate that it’s true, alcohol is a depressant, and I’ve had to get honest with myself about how it’s no longer serving me. This isn’t a big announcement of lifelong sobriety, but it’s my next self-improvement hurdle to be more conscious about when I’m drinking, why I’m drinking, and if it’s just out of habit (it is.) I don’t like parenting when I’ve had alcohol, and it certainly isn’t beneficial to my brain- especially on meds!
  • Gabby Bernstein. Gabby’s been my guru of choice as of late. I’ve read her book Super Attractor multiple times, and she just launched a podcast that helps me remember to take deep breaths and let go of allllll the ways I try to control everything in my life. I’ll put on a YouTube video of hers in the morning when getting ready if I’m feeling especially anxious. I mentally make a gratitude list when I wake up before grabbing my phone, I try to lean in to what feels fun vs. what I think I “should” be doing, I incorporate things I love into each day because that’s the point of life, right? (Avocado toast! Trixie Mattel videos! Long stroller walks!)

Not sure any of these are groundbreaking, but again, it’s what works for one person! Always happy to chat if you’re struggling or have suggestions of things that helped you or you have great decaf coffee suggestions.

Half a Year

My son turns six months this week! I’m feeling…

  • Sore. Kid is huge! The physicality of bending over changing tables, carrying him everywhere, getting down to play with him– it’s a lot. I’ve put him on my shoulders a few times, and while he loves it, my traps are sore for days.
  • Refreshed. He is sleeping. Praise Jesus, hallelujah, I will never take another full night of sleep for granted as long as I live. I’ll do a whole post on sleeping and what has worked for us in the future. If you’re reading this in a zombie state, I feel for you deep in my bones and soul.
  • Excited. Watching him learn new things every day is likely mundane to anyone who didn’t birth him, but I’m fascinated watching him figure out the world.
  • Hopeful. As the weather gets nicer, more people are getting vaccinated, and the world is opening up to us. We lived the first three months of his life in a literal and metaphorical cave– hunkered down, just trying to make it through the fourth trimester; hunkered down, just trying to keep warm during the winter; hunkered down, trying to balance our pandemic bubble and local restrictions with the need for our brains to see other people. I have zero plans for the summer other than to introduce him to so much more than our backyard.
  • Nostalgic. I wouldn’t say full on sad that we’ve lived his first six months of life already, but when he’s in bed at night, my husband and I watch videos of him on our phone and think “OBVIOUSLY he’s the cutest kid in the ENTIRE world and we can’t WAIT to hang out with him tomorrow!!” We’ve fully drunk up all the parenting cult Kool-Aid. It happens. He’s cute. We do not apologize. I don’t (yet?) feel grief over, “Where did the first six months go?! It went so fast! How can this be?!” I know where the last six months went. I lived them! With the baby! Oftentimes in the middle of the night! Yes, time is an illusion and we’re all hurdling closer and closer toward death, but if anything, being a mom has helped me live more in the present. I’m not too concerned with where we were six months ago or where we’ll be half a year from now.
  • Anxious. Some of the parents in my Reddit group are starting to try for their next kid or posting about the pros and cons of having another and when. Wut. I’m constantly having to remind myself that we do not need to make that decision any time soon. I’ve always envisioned myself with two kids because that’s what seems normal? But if I had to choose absolutely right now (which I don’t! So why do I play these mental games?!) life is perfect with just him, and I’m content being one and done. Calm yourself, Brittney.
  • Celebratory. It seems like one of those made up occasions when you should get a cupcake, right? Maybe I’ll get cupcakes. He will want to eat them because he wants to eat everything his dad and I have, but he’s a baby. No cupcakes for babies.

Current Faves

My son is in the babbling, active, “this is so fun!” phase at 5.5 months right before he learns to crawl and upends our lives. Here’s some things that he’s recently been loving and/or have been super helpful as his parent. Again, not affiliate links because I just don’t care.

  • Dr. Brown’s Formula Mixing Pitcher– How you feed your baby is you + their doctor’s business. If it involves formula, I can’t recommend enough this pitcher. It saves so much time to make a bulk batch of food instead of mixing individual bottles, plus you can pour out just a bit at a time for a top off or refill instead of making a whole bottle. At first I was like, “Uhhh can I use a regular pitcher?” Which, you could, but this one has the ounces printed on the side for easy measuring + a special mixer handle that really gets the formula incorporated vs. a giant spoon or whatever you’d have to use if you just pull out the ol’ lemonade pitcher from the cupboard.
  • Jumperoo– Fairly certain I birthed a toddler instead of a cuddly, lazy infant. This kid has been trying to move since day one, so my parents gifted him this apparatus for Christmas, and it’s increasingly been a lifesaver since. The music buttons aren’t overly annoying (and have an off switch if you don’t agree with me!), and there’s 360 degrees of stuff he can put in his mouth, stare at, and spin. What I especially like about the one I linked over other exersaucers is that it’s suspended in the air so he can also fling himself back and forth horizontally instead of only vertically jumping up and down. For an already rough and tumble kid, he’s getting the feeling of being Crash Bandicoot while still safe and snug so I don’t have to be right there engaging with him.
  • Wonder Weeks app- New parents! Your baby develops in mental and sensory leaps, and The Wonder Weeks has all the info about them. I’m notoriously cheap and rarely pay for phone apps, but this is one I reference often and was definitely worth the one time price of $4.99. It’s uncannily spot on with whatever baby is going through at the time. Our sweet, cooing baby turned into a non-stop fuss machine last week, so I pulled out the app and sure enough, he’s smack in the middle of the “Fussy Phase” of his fifth leap. The Wonder Weeks info not only makes me feel like I’m not going insane (other babies around the world go through this phase, too! Put down the wine!) but it also helps my husband and I better relate to what’s changing in baby’s world. The app has suggestions for how you can help engage them in play to develop whatever it is they’re currently learning about the world.

Your Hospital Stay

I might be a big birth nerd in that what happens inside a hospital, most especially in the maternity unit, fascinates me. I chose the medical route of doctors & a hospital birth for my first baby, and while I would definitely give birth in a hospital again, I will likely seek out midwifery care if there’s a baby 2.0 sometime in the future. But that’s a post for another time! This is all about the hospital stay, and I’m coming at it from my recent stint in labor + my PRN status as a hospital employee who gives maternity center tours on two area medical campuses. Obviously all hospitals are different, and I highly encourage you to seek out a virtual tour from your hospital or birth center if in-person tours aren’t currently an option.

BRING SNACKS. You’ll need to keep your energy up during labor, you’ll need to replenish your energy stores after giving birth, and your birthing partner will need to eat during their stay, too. Yes, hospitals have cafeterias and food delivery options and some have nourishment rooms with basic food supplies for birthing patients, but you will not regret bringing some of your own favorites. We also packed Powerade Zero because many doctors won’t let you consume anything besides clear liquids once you’re admitted. Ask if your hospital has a mini fridge in the room or a communal fridge so you can bring cold stuff, too!

Get vocal! I’m not talking about labor sounds– though some truly… interesting? primal sounds will escape your throat before that kid comes out– I’m saying use your voice to advocate for yourself and your baby about your hospital stay. ASK QUESTIONS! If you don’t get admitted knowing every single pain management option available to you like I did because I’m a nightmare know-it-all, ask. If you know there’s certain things you definitely want– delayed cord clamping, a certain person to cut the umbilical cord, no one in the room to speak because you want your voice to be the first thing baby hears– you gotta speak up. The hospital staff won’t judge you, they should let you know what’s allowed and what’s not (and why! Not just because they don’t feel like it.) They see hundreds of birthing patients a year; it’s their job to make this experience as safe and positive for you as possible.

Don’t be a hero. You’ll have the option of having baby sleep in the nursery at night (or have them hang out in the nursery any time you need a break.) A lot of first time moms think they’re a monster person if they take the nurses up on this offer, but don’t be a hero, Natalie. Maternity center nurses have chosen their profession because they really like babies– caring for babies in the nursery is kind of their thing. You’ll be leaving baby with the most highly qualified people available, so take them up on it, especially at night when you need sleep. They’ll still bring baby in when it’s time to eat, they should ask you in advance if it’s ok to give baby a pacifier in the nursery, they’ll bring your baby back the second you want them with you. You will be laying in bed, not sleeping, on your first night home with baby thinking, “Where are my angel nurses with their magical nursery and how can I get them to move in with me??”

Visitors? Ha. This is one area in which COVID has a silver lining. Many of our patients were upset at the beginning of the pandemic that no outside visitors were allowed, but have since said, “Best thing ever!” Grieving the moment your parents get to come meet their new grandchild in the hospital is completely valid, and a doctor I talked to said the only thing he misses is seeing a very proud big brother or sister holding their new baby sibling for the first time. But! Once that passes, not having visitors is something I would choose for any subsequent births, even after hospital visitor restrictions are lifted. Physically, so many things are still gushing out of your body even after the baby has exited. You might be trying to get the hang of breastfeeding, and the easiest option is to just kind of have your boobs out 24/7. You likely haven’t gotten a lot of sleep so your face looks like it got ran over with a truck. Hormonally, so much is happening– am I on Cloud 9? Am I not bonding with my baby yet like everyone said I would? How is my partner doing? Add in the amount of interruptions– nurses taking your vitals, pediatricians coming in to check on baby, hospital techs coming in to give them their first bath, lactation consultants popping in, food service employees dropping off and picking up trays– it’s a lot. As sad as my mother was that she had to wait until we were home to come meet her grandson, I can’t imagine when she would have ever dropped by the hospital that wouldn’t have added on a ton more stress to an already completely foreign situation.

Practice the car seat in advance. Legally, you can’t leave our hospital without a car seat, and the nurses aren’t allowed to make adjustments to it or baby. Not only does the base need to be properly installed in your vehicle, I highly recommend taking the time to figure out how the car seat operates before you have a very alive newborn to put in it. We did not do this, and watching my husband and I try to figure out how to get the poor kid strapped in had to be like watching a sad clown car on fire. We were stressed, baby got stressed, we couldn’t figure out the damn straps, and the nurse had to just stand nearby like a cheerleader and lightly suggest, “I think if you push that button, you can get more slack on the straps…” Practice with a teddy bear, borrow a neighbor kid, whatever you need to do to figure out what buckle goes where and which buttons make which handles move.

Take everything not nailed down. Giant pads? Peri bottle? Diapers? Wipes? Formula samples? Water bottles? TAKE ‘EM HOME. They’re yours now.

To bring: phone charger with an extra long cord, Chapstick because it’s dry AF in a hospital, whatever will make you feel slightly more human (fave shampoo? mascara? floss?) baby book if you want a set of baby’s footprints put right on the page, hair ties, a going home outfit that will make you feel a little bit less garbage-y before you go home and spend many weeks or months barely getting dressed, something for baby to wear home. There’s only about a thousand lists + YouTube videos on what to pack, but err on the side of keeping it light. Hopefully you and baby will be healthy, and you’ll only be spending 2-3 nights there.