Preparing self and home for baby- what do you really need?

You are having a baby! How wonderful for you! Congratulations! I have three! They’re a delight, you are just going to love it!

We all love a new baby, they’re so tiny and soft and cuddly. Parents with older children will swoon, people who don’t yet have babies will coo and everyone will be brimming with excitement for you, and we will all talk at length at you about what a joy your baby is going to be. There’s a lot that we don’t tell you before you bring that little one home. We don’t think for a second to go there. We’ve blanked it from our mind, erased it from our conscious memories and we would really need to dig into it to tell you anyway and, well it’s better that we’ve forgotten.

Babies are hard. They are hard because they are new and entirely dependent on you for everything they need to survive until they can hold their own spoon to feed themselves with food you still need to prepare. You’re going to invest a lot of time and energy into this new life until they move out of home, so conservatively speaking, about 20 years. Babies and children are a joy and raising them is an enormous undertaking full of challenges and love. What we hope to share here is some loving honesty to help your expectations of what life will be like when you bring baby home, so you can better prepare yourself and your space for their arrival.

About bit about baby

Babies come into the world with some basic needs and good tools for communicating them. When they are hungry, frightened, tired, have pain, they cry. It has been said that babies have three states- asleep, awake and content or awake and crying. They can cry a lot. It’s the only tool they have to communicate their needs until they start to develop language around the age of two years.

When they are born, they have the tiniest tummy’s and need to be fed often and around the clock, which in the first year of life and beyond for many, has baby waking through the night for feeds. This is really normal, but it is also very tiring for new parents. Babies cry when they are frightened and they have a biological alarm system built in the time of our ancestors to alert to the threat of a predator attack, so they feel safest when they are in our arms or are near to us.

Babies also learn early on to smile and laugh, and they are little sponges thirsty to learn about the world around them, and they do that by watching and interacting with you. The job of parenting a new baby is all-consuming and sometimes their needs are relentless, and we can feel stretched and like the job is too big. This is normal too. Research suggests that when new parents know that the job of new parenthood is complex and meeting needs of little humans who don’t know the language yet is also complex, they manage the challenges they meet better.

So, with these ideas in mind, we will talk through some helpful ways you can prepare yourself and what you really need for baby in your home.

Things to prepare

Yourself: Practice a breathing technique. Taking slow, deep breaths tells our nervous system that we are safe and keeps us out of our “fight or flight” response. Our fight or flight response is designed to keep us safe from Lions and other predators from a time when humans were hunter-gatherers. Now we these dangers are not a common concern for most of us, but our “fight or flight” response is easily triggered by our modern day stressors, worry we aren’t doing a good job or being unable to figure out what our baby needs in the moment, especially when we have had very little sleep. When you are starting to feel frustrated, overwhelmed or even angry, it is a good time to take a pause and remind your body that you are safe, find calm and try again with a buffer of having slowed down.  There are a lot of simple breathing techniques that can help you in a pressured moment, find one that works for you. My favourite is to plant my feet on the floor and really notice the weight of my whole foot connected with the ground and breath deeply and slowly, counting to three or four on inhale and exhale to be certain of breathing slowly because this tells my body and brain that I am safe and helps to regain calm when I’m feeling pressured. Practicing in pregnancy will mean you have this tool handy when you need it the first time you feel frustrated with your little baby because they just won’t settle, and you’ve been walking the floor with them for hours.

Meal planning and batch cooking. If you are hoping to breastfeed, and honestly just as a handy life skill for a family with young children, having meals prepared ahead will be a huge help. When you are in hospital you will be fed three meals and snacks each day and this will help with establishing breastfeeding. The essentials for a good breastmilk supply are that you are eating regularly, drinking plenty of water and getting as much rest as you can. When you come home, meals are rarely delivered around the clock when we need them and sometimes you are so tired and caught up in your new baby that it is easy to forget to eat well. A meal plan with easy to prepare meals and meals in the freezer that are ready to go will be such a help. If you have the headspace, you and your partner or support people can draft a plan of easy to prepare meals you like to eat it will save you the mental energy later. We map ours out in themes like “meat free Monday, pasta night, rice dish night, meat and veg” and swap the actual dish around. Some folks keep it super simple and go for alternating a protein option with the same or similar carbohydrate, healthy fats and veg. Having your partner an support people involved in this takes the pressure off you and give and really important task to people who want to be able to help. It is also a great idea to ask visitors if they can pick up groceries or ready-made meals from the shops when they visit to help take the pressure off fuelling yourself in these early days.

Walks in nature. Getting out in the fresh air is brilliant for your health in pregnancy and will likely be your first foray out into the world again once bub is here. At any stage of your life, even two hours a week in nature can lower blood pressure, stress, feelings of anxiety, improve your immune system, self-esteem and mood¹. Heading out into the sunshine and fresh air will help you sleep and refresh you after the toughest nights. Building a habit now will make it easier for you to get out with bub in the pram when you are ready.

Changing roles. The change in your life pre-baby to when baby is here is huge. One minute you are able to just decide to leave the house, put on shoes, grab your keys and wallet and off you go. You are most likely working or contributing to the world around you in a way you find really meaningful and satisfies your sense of identity. You know who you are in this world, you know what you are doing, and you know where you are headed. The activities you do in your everyday make sense to you, you choose them of your own volition, and they help you move through what you need to do from day to day. Then baby comes along, and they need to sleep, you need to sleep, you are a constant source of food, comfort, safety and care for a little person whose needs are unending because they are so. so. very new. You decide to go out and you have to pack a bottle, nappies, changes of clothes, water and snacks as they get bigger, do you have a hat? A burp cloth and wipes, okay that’s everything, we’re getting in the car… oh you’ve done a poo and it’s leaked through. Deep breath, I feel like I’m moving through treacle… let’s clean you up and then we’re in the car. If you have other children too you know this comes with a round about of two or three children and it can feel like moving through tar. But you get out! You have a cuppa with a friend or just go for a refreshing walk around the local park and you feel a little more you.

This time when your primary tasks include feeding and comforting baby can have you start to feel like you have lost something. Your way of measuring success is challenged because you aren’t being productive in the ways you are used to, you aren’t being validated in your work, having your ideas affirmed or having the same level of social engagement and interaction. No adults are calling on you to ask anything of note from you. This sense of loss, or like you aren’t being productive is entirely normal, especially for women who work in high pressure environments. It can take a lot to shift your values and the way you measure success, but what you are doing is the most monumental thing you have ever done. You are raising a whole new life. You are keeping a little human being, who you grew in your body, alive with your body and with your time and careful nurturing. It is the biggest project you’ve ever taken on and it is hard, and it can feel like you’re isolated at times, but it has immense value and you’re going to be doing a really good job of it. Knowing ahead of time, before baby comes can help you recognise those feelings when they arise and help you to know where they come from and that they are normal. They signify a really great time to connect with other adults you know who have gone through or are going through the same things.

 A practical note:

Pack your hospital bag. Do it. We all put it off and some of us get caught out without it! You don’t want for a loved one to have to leave you at hospital to go home and collect it, or pack it on your behalf. Pack it and keep it in the car.

Your home:

There are a million products marketed to new parents with excellent messaging designed to separate us from our dollars. The things you really need for baby are:

  • A safe place to sleep – bassinet and cot
  • A safe space to play – a playmat or a playpen if you have large pets or older siblings you want to keep out of baby’s immediate space.
  • A safe way to get around in the community – car seat and pram.
  • That’s it. The rest is cream and convenience.

Pictures of baby nurseries on Pinterest are beautiful, and if you have the time, energy, and budget for that it can be a lovely thing for you to prepare yourself for baby’s arrival, baby won’t know any different if you don’t want to or can’t do the same. It can be fun, and it can be overwhelming walking in those large baby superstores and seeing everything imaginable on the shelves to help you while you provide care to your baby. It can be confusing and really add up.

Second-hand furniture in excellent condition is easy to come by because they are used lightly and for a fairly short period of time. Some things we want new. I desperately wanted a new pram for my first born and got it. I had to sell it during my second pregnancy because we were having twins and I was firmly set on getting a second-hand twin pram! All our children have had second-hand cots, sheets, clothes and playpen but their car seats were bought new to make sure they were up to current safety standards. You will know where you want to invest and choose specifically and where you want to take advantage of a pre-loved, good condition item.

Safe sleep guidelines state that it is safest for babies to sleep in the same room as their parents for the first 6 to 12 months, a bassinet is often used due to its size. Then they can go into a cot in their own room, or a cot in your room but they will need a larger sleeping space because they will start to move around a bit in their sleep. A sleep bag is a great safe sleep option for bedding for babies right up until they are ready for a bed. If you are using sheets and blankets it is best to follow safe sleep guidelines and place baby at the lower (feet at the end) end of the cot and tuck sheets in securely so they can’t cover baby’s head and don’t put anything else in the cot with baby. For up to date advice, check the SIDS guidelines at the Rednose website: Safe Sleeping Practices for Newborns | Red Nose Australia

Car seats. You will not be able to take your baby home unless you have a suitable car seat, so it is a good idea to organise them in advance of your expected due date (babies can arrive early and you don’t want to be caught out!). Your choices at the start are car seat or capsule. Some people choose to go straight to car seat and save the additional cost of a capsule and they learn to buckle their tiny bub into the harness. Some people like capsules because you buckle baby in outside of the car, they are easy to secure in the car, and they can be attached to a compatible pram. You will need to get a car seat when bub has outgrown the capsule (or they are too heavy for you to manage in it). If you are not decided it can help to know that babies sleep quite soundly in these early days, so if they are asleep in the car, you will likely not disturb the much more by unbuckling them from a harness and carrying them in than swinging them out in their capsule. If you do have a capsule don’t leave your baby in it to sleep once you are home, an make sure baby is the first thing to come in from the car, pop them in a safe place (playmat, bassinet, cot, while you unload the rest of your things from the car. For help choosing and installing a car seat in WA Kidsafe is one place that is here to help: Child Car Restraint Guidelines | Kidsafe WA

Clothes. Babies will grow out of each size from 00000 to 0 very, very quickly and it will seem that they have hardly worn their clothes. Second-hand clothes are a great option for this reason, but it is nice to shop new for your baby too. Just know they grow out of them fast and they may not get the chance to wear all the lovely clothes you get them.

Toys. Baby doesn’t need a lot of them. In the first year of life gazing at you, cooing and chatting to you and copying you will be your baby’s jam. Toys can be fun, but bub needs you to play with them to help them learn what to do. Some hanging toys that are brightly coloured can encourage baby’s reaching and grasp so they are useful and a couple of items they can mouth, chew, and explore are good but all you need to do in terms of play is talk to and smile with your baby. When they are moving, they will zero in on the “not toy” items in your house and bang on pots or pull books off shelves and if you have loads of toys, they likely won’t see any love from your baby because they will be off exploring the world that you interact with. They will especially love your pegs and the boxes their gifts come in.

Seats that hold your baby in sitting before they can sit independently and walkers. From a developmental perspective your baby doesn’t need these. They can slow your baby’s learning by taking away their need to work to achieve the postures and develop the muscle strength to carry themselves efficiently. They will sit when they are ready and strong enough to sit on their own and they will cruise around your furniture to get the strength to walk without the use of extra equipment. If you do want something to sit baby in so they can watch you in the kitchen, a bouncer is a nice safe place with a dangly toy or two that could fit the bill nicely. When baby is moving around on their own it is time to consider safety and getting some plastic plugs for your electrical sockets and a baby gate to keep them out of your kitchen. Anything that says “keep out of reach of children” and anything that can be wholly put in the mouth- keep all of these out of reach. But you aren’t there yet. First things first.

  1. Robbins J. Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale School of the Environment; 2020

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