When our daughter, Juliette, decided to arrive almost three weeks early, we were not at all prepared. I had a gorgeous spreadsheet with my full pre-baby to do list, but at the time I went into labor, almost all the items were still marked in red as “not started.”
Juliette’s early arrival meant that we had to focus on preparing only the most critical things and, as a result, I quickly discovered what were my must haves and am fresh in thinking about what I’ve found most helpful in these first two weeks of being a new mom. I’ll also share the things I wish I had done and prepared in advance.
Before you go into labor
- Pack a hospital bag. All the apps told me to do that weeks ago but I was still waiting to go shopping and get pajamas, a robe, slippers…Needless to say, I didn’t have a hospital bag packed and ready. Justin and I scrambled a bit to throw things together and did lots of Googling of “what to pack in a hospital bag” as my contractions intensified. I guess it was a nice distraction but it would have been nice to be ready.
- Don’t forget toiletries. A hospital is not a hotel. You need to bring your own soap, shampoo, face wash, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste etc. Also bring a hair dryer and make up if that matters to you. I loved feeling clean and put together when the rest of my body still felt totally wrecked.
- Pack clothes to go home in — for you and the baby. Bring a few different sizes for the baby (good thing we had one newborn size outfit for her since she was so small). Bring something for you to wear that is not skin tight but that you’ll also want a picture in. I didn’t think this one through but you should so that you feel great.
- Also, the focus is on you, but don’t forget clothes and anything your partner needs — they’ll be there with you for those days and may be sleeping on a pull out chair so ensure they have pajamas, change of clothes and any toiletries.
- SNACKS. It was so nice to have trail mix and some snacks during labor and also postpartum in the hospital. Pack a few non-perishable snacks.
- Tech. Bring your laptop, chargers and an extension cord for those chargers. It is great to have a long cord for your phone that reaches into your hospital bed.
(For fun, here is what our room looked like a few hours into my contractions…still filled with boxes from our move and a recent load of baby clothes washed — one thing done! See, we were clearly ready!)
- Before your baby comes, focus on yourself. Especially if this is your first baby, this is one of the last times it might be 100% about you. Focus on pampering yourself emotionally, mentally and physically to become a mother.
- Sleep. I had a ton of trouble sleeping at the end of my pregnancy and was getting up every few hours (great practice for what’s to come), but even if you aren’t sleeping well, sleep in in the morning. Have lounging mornings in bed and treat yourself to rest. It will feel great and your body really needs the rest at the end of pregnancy.
- Enjoy alone time. Do things that feel special to you and help you feel pampered. That might be taking a prenatal yoga class, going to read in a coffee shop, walking outside, going to an afternoon movie — whatever feels special.
- Prepare for labor. Labor will happen whether you prepare for it or not, but you may have a more positive experience if you go in prepared. Here’s what that looked like for me.
- Birth preferences (not plan). Forget a “plan” since things rarely go to plan, but think through your preferences so that you can articulate them to your care team. Take some time with your partner to think about your preferences not only for the labor process but also the medications your baby may get once they arrive. I did not have this written out (again, that was on my to do list) but Justin and I had talked through our preferences so we were able to clearly communicate those to our medical care team early on when arriving at the hospital.
- Take care of your mind and body. I took prenatal yoga classes hoping for a workout before I realized is that they were not the “workout” I imagined, but were largely preparing me mentally for labor. I definitely channeled the breathing and mindfulness techniques I practiced in classes while I was in labor and was so thankful for that practice. In addition to yoga, I worked out quite a bit after I got over the nausea of my 1st trimester. This helped me feel strong and relatively pain free throughout my pregnancy and heading into labor.
- If you have a doula…you’ll be in great hands. It means that you don’t have to worry about strategies for getting through your labor, because you’ll have an expert guiding you (and your partner) through the process. We were so grateful to have spent the money to have a doula and we attribute so much of our great labor experience to her. She made a huge difference for me and for Justin.
- Set up your home. There are only a few things you really want to have at home when you get home for the hospital. We didn’t have most of these, so we learned the hard way. We also did a lot of last minute ordering on Amazon (just ask our neighbors).
- Basinet. You need a place for the baby to sleep when you get home. We texted a friend from the hospital to arrange to borrow one and she dropped it off the night we got home from the hospital. We probably could have planned ahead a bit more! Having one that rocks is nice but just get anything.
- Baby changing station. There will be A LOT of diapers. Set up an organized place to change the baby. If you have multiple floors in your house, you will want a changing area on each floor (we created a second one soon after we realized it was a pain to go up and down stairs for every diaper. Our fav diaper changing items:
- Changing pad. Get the Keekaroo changing pad. I have no idea why people get fabric-lined changing pads. The baby will pee and poop all over it constantly and this can easily be wiped down.
- Wipes. Water Wipes have no chemicals so they are gentler on baby’s bottom. Eventually when her bum gets stronger, we can transition to almost any other wipes. A squirt bottle of water is also nice to reduce the wiping needed. TLC for for those bums.
- Diapers. Go with whatever you like, but we’ve been so happy with Pampers Swaddlers because they have a line that turns blue when the diaper is wet. No need to peek and smell, just look for blue.
- Diaper Rash. Get some Desitin to have on hand for diaper rash. And we were told to spread it on like “frosting a cupcake”…whatever that means.
- Feeding the baby. I hadn’t ordered my breast pump but have yours picked out and know how to get it — bonus if you can get it and have it ready when you get home — you might need it immediately. I did. I also love my Brest Friend nursing pillow. It is hugely helpful for breastfeeding.
Here’s our diaper changing area in the nursery
- Line up your postpartum resources
- Postpartum depression/anxiety. The first few days/weeks postpartum are super emotional because of the massive life change but also massive hormonal changes. A certain amount of sporadic crying/elation/crying is normal but if these feelings get overwhelming, know how to access resources and how to get support. I also recommend the book, Awake at 3am which I started reading during pregnancy and made me more aware of potential feelings I could have postpartum.
- Lactation support. This was huge for me, especially because Juliette arrived so early and we got very little support in the hospital. Fortunately, I had lined up a great lactation consultant who I met with while pregnant, texted with from the hospital and she came to see us the night we got home. There are LCs who will come to your home as well as free resources, LCs and groups at most hospitals you can drop into.
- Mom’s groups/meet ups. I intended to make a list of all the classes, workouts and meet ups that would give me an outlet for getting out of the house (and meeting other mamas). I didn’t have time to make the list pre-baby, but am compiling resources now. It can feel isolating to be at home all day and it is such a change of lifestyle (for many of us). Know that you have lots of outlets to connect with other people and get out with your little one. Put yourself out there even when you’re not in the mood (note to self).
Taking care of momma once home
- Tend to your recovering body. You will need to REST — and not just sleep but to take it easy physically. This was a hard one for me because I wanted to snap back into my normal life, feel strong and also capable. And, because we had so much to catch up on due to Juliette’s early arrival, there was a ton of life admin to take care of (insurance, supplies, orders etc.). I wish I had taken it a bit easier in the beginning and focused on just me and baby. I was fortunate to physically recover pretty well. Here are some items that were must-haves, specifically after a vaginal delivery:
- Dermaplast. A numbing spray I got from the hospital. Clutch.
- Witch hazel pads. Mostly for hemorrhoids but are also great in “padsicles” (which I didn’t get around to making but hear are awesome).
- Sitz bath. I didn’t like this but many people love them. I did get a Sitz Bath Spray. People swear by this so try it out.
- Pads/adult diapers. This was the best advice. When you get home from the hospital, forget the mesh underwear and massive pads you wore while you were there. When you get home, you want to feel more human. And nothing says “feeling back to yourself” like adult diapers. But seriously. Trust me, it is a whole lot better than mesh underwear and cheap hospital pads. In addition to adult diapers (for the first few days/week, I got various pads in different sizes (and intensities). You’ll (hopefully) move from thick to thin pads relatively quickly but it is nice to have a mix on hand.
- Rest. Everyone will tell you this, or tell you the old, “rest when the baby rests” BS. Sure, try that. That is also when I caught up on life or a snack or brushed my teeth, but I did find a few things especially helpful:
- Unlike pre-baby, there is now no amount of sleep that is too short for a nap. Even if you’re only lying down for 30 minutes or you do it at random times during the day, it all helps. Try to rest either when the baby is resting (I know…I’m now that person) or when you have some help to watch the baby so you can sleep.
- Work out a schedule with your partner. The collaboration and patience needed with your partner in the weeks post-birth is like what The Amazing Race champs need, but on steroids…and with massively racing hormones (at least for one of you). Talk through how you can be patient with each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt when you’re both sleep deprived and emotional. Also work out a plan that consists of:
- Each of you getting some kind of alone time most days of the week. My midwife suggested even sitting in my car for an hour. I prefer walking down the street to Starbucks and sitting, even for 30 min. But in a pinch, the car works too. I also have never appreciated going grocery shopping alone more than I do now.
- Tag teaming when it comes to baby care (feeding, diaper changing, burping etc.) so that you can maximize sleep and share responsibility where possible.
- Agreeing on house/life tasks that need to happen and deciding: who does them, who they are outsourced to or what won’t happen. This is everything from baby care, laundry, cleaning, cooking, shopping or any other life admin. It’s okay for things not to get done (so hard for me) but agree with your partner on your priorities.
- Accept help. This is a super tough one for me because I like to be self-sufficient and don’t want to impose on others. Asking for and accepting help is not only a necessity but also a gift to those who are offering. Accept the offer from a friend to bring by a meal, walk the dog, run an errand for you or watch the baby while you rest. We’ve been so grateful for the meals and snacks friends have brought, as well as an amazing offer recently to take our dog to the beach for the day and then bathe her — those are great friends!
- Be easy on yourself. The schedule with a baby is intense. Even the feeding schedule alone, and that is without any complications or intricacies of the baby’s health or your recovery. It is A LOT, so don’t forget to be kind to yourself. There are days where I have not done anything all day except feed and change the baby. Justin gets home from work and I can’t point to anything I “did” — but it is actually quite a feat, and amazing work, to keep a baby alive (and thriving) and soak in the moments with this little peanut that will never be this small again. Try to enjoy the moments but be easy on yourself with how much you get done (or don’t) and how things are progressing. Also be kind to yourself as you surge through the inevitable range of emotions you’ll feel — largely triggered by insane hormones. You’re doing great just as you are. As someone said to me, “The days are long but weeks are short.” You’ll get through it and every hard moment passes.
- Capture the moments. Don’t forget to take pictures and videos all the time. At three weeks old we look back on pictures of Juliette from her first few days/weeks and can’t believe she was so much smaller. We set up a “Dear Juliette” email address where we will send notes, stories and pictures that we hope to share with her someday. And don’t forget to document the funny and frustrating moments like the explosive shotgun poop she had that covered the wall almost two feet away. Actually quite impressive force.
Onto the “things” — if you’re really tight on time, here are the must-have items I recommend:
- Tier 1
- Carseat to take the baby home in. You just have to have one. Also, install it in your car (we definitely did this in the hospital parking lot).
- Basinet for the baby to sleep in (in your room). It can be anything, but have something ready. Hand-me-downs are great for this.
- Diaper changing area, with diapers and wipes. See recommendations above, but have a station set up. Also, take home diapers from the hospital in the correct size that will tie you over for a few days. Then you can order the size you need. It would be a shame to stock up on too many diapers that are too small.
- Tier 2
- Tier 1 plus…
- Place to park the baby when you’re at home. We love the Boppy lounger that a friend gave us. Juliette lies and sleeps next to us when we’re in the living room. It isn’t a secure place that you can walk away from but she loves it when we’re close.
- Breast pump and parts, some kind of bottles/nipples to feed the baby and/or formula if you’re going to feed with formula. It is nice to have these on hand. I recommend getting some slow-flow nipples. My lactation consultant recommended having some formula on-hand just in case we needed it, even if our goal was not to use it.
- Nursing bra, nursing tanks and hands-free pumping bra. I have loved Bravado nursing and Bravado hands-free pumping bra (hands-free is critical). I also got these nursing tanks which are quite comfortable.
- Burp cloths and muslin swaddle blankets. These are great for pretty much everything. We found cloth diapers to make great, absorbent burp cloths (better than the cute ones) but also got a bunch of these good burp cloths.
- Stroller (we didn’t get around to ordering ours until we were almost ready to leave the hospital). But you’ll have doctor’s appointments and want to get out of the house early on, so get a stroller.
- Baby shampoo, washcloths and bathtub. We were behind on this too and borrowed a tub from a friend. This tub is awesome and we loved the sling for a newborn, but didn’t fit in our sink so we borrowed a bigger one from a friend. Also, get plenty of washcloths on hand. Tip: cover the baby’s belly in a washcloth while in the tub and keep it wet so she stays warm and covered during bath time. Works wonders for Juliette.
- Way to track baby activity. We started with an app, then a notebook but have settled in the middle with this awesome book. We mark every feed and diaper and would never remember a thing without it. If you like pen and paper, this is your new bible.
- Tier 3
- Tier 2 plus…
- Diaper changing area on all floors of your house. There’s a reason I mention this a million times. In addition to the Keekaroo changing pad (easily wipeable which is a must have vs the fabric ones) we also love the Ubbi diaper pail and wipe dispenser (may not seem necessary until you find you’re constantly fighting with two hands to get wipes out — which is one hand too many). Our setup on the main floor is smaller so we also live this on the go diaper changing caddy.
If you’re in the Bay Area…here are my favorite resources
- Doula: Felicia Roche and Gillian Gillette
- Lactation Consultant: Katie Howser
- Pre/post-natal yoga: Jane Austin and Kari Marble
- Pre/post-natal workout: Lotus Method
- Acupuncture: Karinn Gallagher at Retreat Acupuncture
For all the mothers, what do you wish you did before your baby arrived? What are your must-have items postpartum? Comment or add questions below.