If you’re expecting, you know it can seem like everyone has advice for new parents and vital pearls of wisdom that will make you the best mom and dad in the world. Having your first baby is one of the most thrilling and terrifying undertakings you will ever experience so any info is usually welcome. However, every baby is unique and all parents have their own priorities, fears and wishes for their new addition. This is a very good reason to ward off unwanted input about certain, very personal, decisions—like naming and circumcision.
On the other hand, some of the basics can be so mystifying and overwhelming that any help is welcome. In an interview with Good Housekeeping, mom of two Jessica Alba echoed most new moms’ sentiments: “So far [motherhood] is the best thing ever. It is exhausting but way more fulfilling than anything I have done. Everything I do now is so much more meaningful because of her.” To help you prepare for this life changing experience, we’ve got 15 key lessons and basic advice for new parents that may surprise you. You can call it parenting 101, if you like.
1. You’ll know if baby’s not getting enough food. For most new moms, breastfeeding isn’t is simple and straightforward as it looks in the movies. It can take a little while for you and your baby to work out all the kinks. Don’t fret over whether your newborn is getting enough to eat. They’re very good about letting you know if they’re hungry (by crying) or full (by turning away). As long as the little one is filling lots of diapers—six or more a day after the first few days—and hitting all of the growth milestones, there’s nothing to worry about.
2. Swaddling: Yay or Nay? Until recently swaddling was a matter of course until 2011 when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its recommendations for safe sleep practices. Some hospitals have discontinued swaddling in favor of sleep sacks. The AAP recommends you only swaddle babies who are under two months. They cite an increased risk of SIDS if swaddled babies are placed on their stomach or roll over during the night. Hip dysplasia is another risk of swaddling your newborn too tightly. Many experts and parents are still die-hard swaddlers and if you choose to go that route be sure to check out the AAP’s guidelines for proper swaddling.
3. Diapers! This is really the logistical number one item in parenting 101: the number one thing to know about diapers is that you’re going to use a lot of them. Then there’s the cloth versus disposable decision. There are pros and cons for both and you can’t forget hybrid diapers, which consist of a waterproof reusable diaper cover with a disposable soaker pad. Gro-Via, gDiapers and Flip all make hybrids. If you decide to go the cloth route check out Diaper Swappers, an online community and marketplace where you can buy and sell used cloth diapers.
4. Bathing The good news is that babies don’t need as much bathing as you may think. Experts recommend limiting baths to three times a week for the first year to keep their delicate skin from drying out. Stick to sponge baths until the umbilical cord falls out. The AAP has comprehensive baby bath instructions.
5. He may look funny at first. Here’s a bit of advice for parents that you may not hear anywhere else. Your baby may look really odd at first. Going through the birth canal isn’t easy! As a result, newborns often have slightly misshapen heads and puffy faces. Newborns also frequently are covered with fine hair, as well as peeling and mottled skin. All should go away in a few days.
6.It’s okay to make mistakes. t’s a fact of life, you’re going to make a few mistakes—sleep deprivation alone guarantees this. Don’t beat yourself up or drive yourself crazy trying to be the perfect parent. Babies are resilient and all new parents have a learning curve (that usually lasts 18 years).
6. Your hormones have been in overdrive. Pregnancy brings on tons of hormonal changes in you and, like everything else in your system, you pass some of them on to your unborn baby. Don’t be frightened if your bundle of joy is sporting boobs or swollen genitals, both should be temporary.
7. Take time for self-care. With the stress and sleep deprivation of caring for a newborn, it’s extra important that you take care of yourself too. Both parents should take turns giving each other a little Me time to rest up and indulge in a little pampering so you can be at your best.
8. Sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest complaints from new parents and with round the clock feedings, it’s unavoidable. Still, make an effort to minimize it as much as possible by taking turns napping and sleeping in. Lack of sleep negatively affects you physically and mentally.
9. Be prepared for frequent wardrobe changes (yours). You’re probably expecting to have to change your infant on a fairly regular basis. What you may not know is that you will likely need nearly as many clean-ups. Get ready for lots of spit-up and projectile everything (we won’t go into detail, but you get the idea).
10. Babies are time consuming. For tiny creatures that spend an average of 16 hours a day sleeping, babies are incredibly time consuming, especially for breastfeeding moms. For the first month, newborns need to be fed about 12 times a day—that’s every 1½-3 hours and the actual nursing take up to 40 minutes. Beyond feeding, babies don’t travel light and it takes a while to pack up all that gear when you’re heading out of the house.
11. Breastfeeding can be difficult. We all know that breastfeeding has many benefits for your newborn and it’s totally natural so it moms should instinctively know how to do it, right? Wrong. Despite what Gisele Bündchen (who also claims not to own a hairbrush) says it’s very common for breastfeeding to be difficult and a little uncomfortable at first. If you’re having problems, a lactation consultant can be enormously helpful and La Leche League is an organization dedicated to helping women breastfeed successfully.
12. Early Hearing Screening is important. One of the most important pieces of advice for parents is to have your baby’s hearing tested in the first three months. One to three of every 1,000 babies are born with some hearing impairment, making it the most common congenital condition in the U.S. It’s vital to catch hearing loss early in your infant’s development to prevent future learning and language problems.
13. Burping You will have a very unhappy baby if you don’t burp him or her regularly. What to Expect has some surefire burping techniques. Pay attention dads, this is one area they say you tend to excel in!
14. Babywearing There are numerous reasons to embrace babywearing—that’s carrying your infant against your chest in a hands-free sling. Infants thrive on touch and it’s a great way to bond with your child as you go about your daily activities. And since dads miss out on the nine months of prenatal togetherness, a sling gives them an opportunity to catch up.
15. It’s an adventure. Welcoming a baby into your lives is an incredible adventure. Enjoy every minute because it goes by faster than you think!