I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how preparing for my second baby differs from my first. It’s really nice knowing what to expect (or so I presume) as it relates to how contractions will feel, a semi worst-case-scenario with starting to breastfeed, and the postpartum recovery and getting-to-know-you dance with a new baby. I am thanking my lucky stars I don’t have a bunch of mysterious gear and equipment to wrangle this time around–just about everything that I’ll use to care for, hold and carry my baby are old friends I’m pulling back into commission.
For first-time moms approaching their due dates, do yourself a favor and spend some time getting acquainted with your gear before baby gets here. Yes, you may gasping for breath be leaning over a writhing watermelon to get your carseat installed now, but let me assure you it’s still easier to do now than when that watermelon is transformed into a squalling newborn and you haven’t slept more than 6 hours in the past three days.
First things first: This is a team activity
If there’s a partner in the picture, make him or her participate in this orientation with you. They’ll feel boxed out enough in the early days, especially if you’re on maternity leave and they’re back at work, and especially especially if you’re breastfeeding. You’re going to arrive at a knowledge gap that may make you feel overburdened and them feel out of the loop. (“He doesn’t like to be burped over your shoulder, you have to hold him on his belly,” or “No, I moved the wipes to the shelf over there because it’s too hard to get to them in the drawer.” Or, “How do you not know where we keep his socks?” etc. etc. etc.) Having a shared proficiency with your gear is a nice big step toward equally sharing in the experience of early parenthood.
The first day it was warm enough to take The Baby out for a neighborhood stroll, I had to watch three Youtube videos to figure out how to unfold my stroller. I had gotten it into the folded position precisely once before, but never took notice of a little clip that kept it folded and nearly dissolved into sleep deprived tears when I couldn’t find the strength to open it back up.
So, make sure you know how to do the following:
- Collapse the stroller
- Open the stroller back up
- If you’re using a “system” with your bucket-style infant carseat, how to attach and detach the carseat without flipping it upside down (the baby would not appreciate that method)
- If you’re not using a system and your stroller accommodates newborns, figure out how to recline and incline the seat back and adjust the straps. Do yourself a favor and adjust the straps to the lowest/smallest setting. Make sure you know how to clip and unclip the harness.
- Apply and release the parking brake
- Flip up and down the canopy
- Check and make sure you know your particular model’s rules/capacity for holding a diaper bag on the handle. Now that my kid far outweighs the diaper bag, I don’t have a problem slinging the diaper bag over the handle even though the stroller says not to. But if I had done that with a newborn in the seat, it would have become a baby catapult.
This is obviously a big one, as you won’t be allowed to leave the hospital or birth center without a properly installed infant seat. I won’t be breaking any ground with the advice to follow both your car seat’s manual and your car’s manual (especially for proper use of the LATCH system — some cars, mine included, have LATCH anchors only on the outer two seats and not in the middle. You could probably reach one on each side from the middle seat, but it’s not advisable.) So make sure you reference both before you do the install.
Before you get everything stuck down safe and snug in your car, though, I’d also advise you to do this rundown:
- Figure out how to adjust the straps in your carseat and set them to the lowest shoulder strap setting so you have less adjustment to do once the baby arrives. **If you discover your infant seat doesn’t allow you to easily adjust the straps from the front, like mine doesn’t, and you can afford to exchange for a seat that does, I say it’s money well spent.** I have a Graco SnugRide that, while cute and affordable, forces me to flip the dang thing over and unthread then rethread the shoulder straps to adjust it, and I wanted to drop kick it off a tall building every time I realized on my way out the door that it was time to size up. A few friends of mine went with a Britax model that I coveted deeply.
- While I wouldn’t recommend disassembling the whole thing, figure out, via the manual or a basic inspection, how you’d have to remove the cover if, hypothetically, your sweet sweet baby had a physics-defying shit all over it. Review what, if anything, is machine washable, and how you would handle cleaning the straps and clips.
- Figure out what, if any, of your accessories are safe to use while the carseat is in the car. I used to be a Safe Kids child seat inspector, and while I’m not sure if this is still the rule, we advised parents to never drive around with the handle of an infant seat over the baby’s head because in a crash the seat is designed to raise up a bit and the baby’s head could hit it. This is in direct conflict with all the cute dangly toys designed to hang from those handles. Similarly, there are 1,001 bunting-type products that are supposed to help keep babies warm in their seats, but if they go between the baby and the back of the carseat, they can cause the straps to be too loose. When I was an inspector we even advised against headrest mirrors and retractable sun shades because they could detach and become dangerous missiles in the event of a crash. It’s your call how meticulous you want to be, but it’s good to do a safety review of all your stuff before you commit to using it. If you’re concerned, find a Safe Kids event near you to get some guidance or check with your local fire station.
If you don’t have a baby carrier of some sort (stretchy Moby-type, ring sling, Baby K’Tan, mei-tei, soft structured carrier, etc.) do yourself a gigantic favor and go get one. If you aren’t sure what kind you want, try to find your way (together, before baby arrives) to a Babywearing International meeting, where you can, for free, get assistance from certified “educators” in trying on, testing out and safely wearing all sorts of carriers. They also usually have a lending library, and for a nominal annual membership you can “rent” a carrier for a month to try it out. If you’re not into that scene, Youtube has lots and lots of instructional videos.
My personal favorite for wearing my newborn was a stretchy wrap. It seemed really intimidating to figure out how to wear it right, but ended up being easy and way more comfortable than the Baby K’Tan. But everyone is different, so do a little research! Again, do this with your partner, because dads and babies can benefit from babywearing, too (and sharing this tool might just get you a nice extra-long shower every once in awhile.)
Please trust me: Babywearing is not the exclusive domain of diehard attachment parents. IMO, baby carriers are essential for easing a new baby into the world and keeping new parents sane. Think of it this way: When your baby is born, the only thing he or she knows is the warmth and familiarity of constant contact with you. A lot of times, newborns aren’t down with being solitary for very long–they like to snuggle up close to their favorite people. You can worry about encouraging their independence after they’re out of the newborn phase. And if you can make yourself a sandwich and maybe take the dog outside to pee while your baby sleeps soundly on your chest, things feel a little less bleak four weeks in. Baby carriers also making shopping easier in those early days before baby can sit in a shopping cart, and discourage creepy strangers from sticking their grubby hands in your baby’s face.
Near the top of my dropkick-this-shit-off-a-tall-building list was the hand-me-down Pack ‘N Play we used for living room naps in The Baby’s earliest days. I was grateful to have something free, but holy hell was it hard to set up and take down. It was exactly too wide to fit through any doors unless fully collapsed, and with every move to a new room, I also almost fully collapsed.
Maybe they’ve gotten easier to use in the proceeding years since the model I had. Either way, if you have a portable crib setup for your bedroom/living room/etc., make sure you know how to use it.
As I alluded to in a recent post, I’ve been coveting a certain portable crib to replace the nightmare Pack ‘N Play, and recently purchased it for an overnight trip we’re taking this week. It rhymes with Schuava Schmotus and I freaking love it.
Get your baby monitor set up.
- If you have a wi-fi version that allows you to see baby from anywhere, make sure you’ve got the security under wraps (change the password, etc. I don’t have this kind so I don’t know the full ins and outs, but I have heard stories of monitors getting hacked and Internet creeps talking to people’s babies over the microphone, so please, please, review the security features.)
- If you have a regular audio or video monitor, test the range and see how far you can go in your before you lose a signal.
- If your monitor has extra features (a nightlight or why, God, scary nursery-rhyme music you can accidentally activate from the receiver with the slightest nudge of the wrong button in the dark), familiarize yourself with those.
Other baby paraphernalia
Obviously, your mileage will vary depending on where you land on the minimalist to maximalist spectrum, but it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with how to wash, assemble, dissemble, and otherwise use any implements you plan to try out with baby. You’ll already be spending almost every “free” second you have Googling “Why is my baby grunting so much?” You don’t need to also be Googling, “How to put Dr. Bronner’s bottle back together.” Here’s a quick rundown of some stuff I could think of that maybe, possibly, gave me pause when I was really tired and overwhelmed:
- Breast pump parts: Cleaning, assembling, and operating (Hint: Youtube! Take a breastfeeding class! Ask a mom friend to show you the ropes! If you can meet with a lactation consultant before baby arrives, bring your pump!)
- Bottle parts (See Dr. Bronner’s note above. Grrr…why so many pieces?!?)
- Baby clothes: I know this sounds crazy, but I definitely cried at least once trying and failing to line the leg snaps up on baby pajamas. Maybe you’ll come up with a system where you use fabric markers to match up corresponding snaps. Maybe you’ll just be more easygoing than I was. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to take a quick look at what you’ll be facing at 3 a.m.
- Any other baby holders: This includes swings, bouncers, Rock ‘N Plays, etc. Know how to adjust the straps (again, unless you’re expecting a honker, go ahead and put them on the smallest/lowest settings), and how to remove and wash the covers in the almost certain event of a spit up/blowout situation.
- Swaddling and sleep accessories: I have a photo from about three days in of The Baby swaddled up to his nose. We got a gentle but urgent text from a concerned relative who saw the photo and wondered whether we might be smothering our kid. Sleep safety is a big deal, and there are a hundred million products out there that promise to safely and effectively give you infinity hours of sleep a night. Your success widely depends on the temperament and preferences of your baby, but make sure you at least have a general sense of how to properly use what you have so you don’t do anything risky/stupid.
- Your diaper situation: For cloth diaperers, this means figuring out your setup — how do any snaps work to appropriately size your diapers? How do you wash them? For disposable users, did you get one of those odor-locking diaper pails? How the hell does it work? For everybody: Can you easily and safely reach everything you’ll need from your diaper station?
Readers, let me know if I missed any key pieces of gear you should figure out before baby arrives, and be sure to share your gear-fueled new parent nightmares!