If you are like most women, you have probably spent your entire pregnancy leave making sure you have every item needed for your new baby. You have your nursery ready to go and every last onesie in place. So much of your pregnancy is spent preparing for the labor and delivery and while that totally makes sense, it is only one event. Being ready for and knowing what to expect in the first week is just as important, if not even more, for your sanity! Something that I did not plan enough for and wish I did was preparing for bringing baby home from the hospital, having everything ready to go in place for my newborn, and learning more about the key aspects of breastfeeding in this first week as well.
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Let me help you make sure that you are completely prepared to bring baby home, transition them into life at home and survive those first few days by having everything in place. We’ll cover everything from sleep spaces, nursing stations and baby wearing to introducing them to your pets, self-care, diapers and more in these eight essential categories:
- What to Set Up Before Baby Comes
- What to Learn and Practice Before Baby Comes
- What to Have Arrangements for While in the Hospital
- What to do During Early Labor
- What to Have Prepared to Leave the Hospital
- How to Introduce Pets to Your New Baby
- Planning for Social Media and Visitors after Birth
- What to Expect in the First Week at Home
1. What to Set Up Before Baby Comes
Safe Sleep Space in your Room
Many expecting moms, myself included, set up beautiful and well-coordinated nurseries, but put little thought into the space where baby will sleep in their parent’s rooms. The AAP recommends co-rooming, for at least 6 months with up to 12 months being ideal. Room sharing can reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS by up to 50%! Room sharing means, that baby is sharing a room with their parents, but in their own sleeping space. According to the AAP safe sleep guidelines, this sleep space should have a flat, firm surface, and a tight fitting sheet.
Think about what you want baby to sleep in that still adheres to these guidelines. A pack and play is a great option because it fits the bill in terms of safe sleep guidelines, and is something that will grow with your child. Most pack and plays have a weight and height limit up to 35 inches and 28+ lbs. This means that your baby will be using this from when they are born potentially through some of toddlerhood. Pack and plays are a great portable sleep space for travel which is why it is a great versatile option.
Alternatively, you could go with a bassinet or Moses basket as long as they have a firm flat surface and a tight fitting sheet. The disadvantage to using this is that the weight limits can be as low as 15 lbs (but some go up to about 20 lbs) so your baby may outgrow it quickly and more sleep space transitions tend to be tricky for new babies. However, the benefits are that bassinets are elevated making for easy transfers in and out of the sleep space and their smaller and mobile sizes makes it possible to put them right at your bedside for easy glances and checks during the night.
I personally used a bassinet, I chose one with a weight limit of 20 lbs which allowed us to use it for a bit longer than other options. N actually became too mobile (rolling around in her sleep) for continued use up until the weight limit and at that point we used a pack and play in our room until the 6 month mark when we transitioned her to her own room and crib. I was happy to have the bassinet because of the height, ease of access and ability to keep it right next to my side of the bed while I was sleeping for easy night nursing, and ability to place her right back into her own safe sleep space without too much effort or disturbance.
Swings and Seats
Definitely don’t wait to set these types of things up when baby is home! While they aren’t especially difficult to assemble, it was definitely one of those tasks that is just frustrating enough while dealing with a new baby and sleep deprivation. You will also want to have safe options and places to put baby down so having a rock and plays, baby bouncer or a swing strategically placed around the house is going to make your transition back home go much smoother.
If you live in a house or apartment with more than one story, aim to have one bouncy chair on each level of your home. Lugging it between floors is a huge pain when you also have a baby to consider. We kept one in our kitchen/living room area, and one up in our bedroom that I would also move into the bathroom for N to chill in while I took a quick shower. We had one that vibrated and had a bar across with some interesting dangling objects. The bouncy seat is a really convenient and safe option for your new baby when you can’t hold her or she isn’t sleeping. Baby wearing was totally my go to for the first few months but is not safe or possible at all times, like while cooking or showering, so these seats are great to have assembled and ready to go.
A swing is also a great thing to have because some babies will only nap on you or in motion in the early weeks. This might be especially true if your baby has colic. Read Trina’s Guide to the Colic Baby to learn more. Swings generally require a power source, so choose a spot that is in a good central location (living room) but can safely be plugged in and has space to rock in its full range of motion.
Don’t wait to get your diapering supplies set up. This is an important step in the preparation for bringing baby home, and I recommend having a station set up on each floor if you live in a two (or more) story house. You will probably have their main changing station in the nursery. Some friends of mine set up pack and plays in their downstairs to use as a changing area, but my home did not have the space for this. Instead, I set up a diaper caddy basket that lived in our downstairs closet, it was easy to pull it out for diaper changes without having to go upstairs. I had a rolled up mat, diapers, wet wipes and cream all ready to go. My main diaper area in her bedroom was set up on top of a dresser. We used this changing table topper to make a regular dresser into a safe changing space.
This is such an important thing to set up before you arrive home with baby because not only will setting up a nursing station make your transition to nursing at home easier, but also because it is an excellent way to harness your nesting instincts, learn about what you need for breastfeeding success, and most importantly, get excited about breastfeeding! The first key elements to your main nursing station will be a nursing chair, a low lighting option, a side table, and in my opinion, a nursing pillow like a boppy. In my house I had my main nursing station in N’s nursery, but like with the diapering, I had a nursing “caddy” with all of my supplies in a basket that I could bring downstairs with me. I only had one boppy but for my next baby I think it will be totally worth it to spring for a second one. Having a boppy on each floor would have made my life so much easier.
Now, in addition to those key elements above, you’ll want to outfit your mobile nursing station (the basket) with nipple cream, breast pads, chap stick, burp cloths, a water bottle and snacks. I loved this nipple cream in addition to the more well-known lanolin cream, so I recommend having both to help combat sore cracked nipples. N’s first feeding was done with a bad latch so I wound up with a minor abrasion right from the start. Having nipple cream at the ready was essential to healing and my comfort to keep breastfeeding. I wish I’d known more about the latch because unfortunately the nurses on staff didn’t notice that only N’s bottom lip was splayed out properly and her top lip was curled in which caused the abrasion. Don’t make the mistake I did of not learning the basics of breastfeeding. You can read more about this in Trina’s article, breastfeeding in the first week.
Snacks and water are a must in your nursing station! You need extra hydration to promote good supply, in fact a nutritionist once told me that aside from medical reasons, dehydration is the number one cause of low supply in mothers who are nursing frequently enough and still experience supply issues. Don’t make this mistake. I also found that I needed calories around the clock while my body was building a supply and adjusting to breastfeeding. I kept high-calorie, healthy-fat trail mix stored all around the house for when breastfeeding hunger struck, but especially in my nursing basket and station.
For breast pads, I liked the reusable ones like these. They did a good job of absorbing milk on the opposite breast during a letdown and between feedings. I had an experienced mom friend give these to me at my shower, otherwise I might not have even known they existed! Definitely get a few to use right when your milk comes in. As a bonus, they work to wipe up spit up in a pinch as well.
While you are setting up your nursing station and caddy before baby arrives, I really want to emphasize the advantage you will have to successful breastfeeding by learning as much as you can ahead of time. I made this mistake and want to help as many expecting mothers as possible avoid waiting to learn about breastfeeding in real time. Of course, some of it needs to be learned in action, but knowing the principles and having a foundation to build on will give you such a good head start. That’s why we created a free e-mail course to help you get started. If you are more of a visual learner, then I recommend checking out the video course, Simply Breastfeeding, which is full of great information.
Complete List of What to Set Up:
- Safe Sleep Space in Your Room
- Bouncer Seats/Rock and Plays
- Diaper Station
- Diaper Caddy
- Nursing Station
- Nursing Caddy
2. What to Learn and Practice
I honestly don’t know what I would have done as a new mother without baby wearing. Baby wearing almost always guaranteed that N would be content or sleeping (as long as she was well-fed of course!) and it let me get out and about on walks, in the grocery store, and even in our house to have two hands free. While it’s true that you can’t exactly practice this without an actual baby, and while your belly is housing a tiny human, you can at least check it out, watch some instructional videos on YouTube and try putting on your carrier or wrap or putting it on your partner. I also don’t think I would have ever had success with my Baby K’Tan or Moby Wrap had I not watched YouTube videos. The written instructions were hard to me to follow but as soon as I watched a video it was so much easier. Also make sure that you understand all safety requirements and what holds are appropriate for different ages.
If you are using a more structured carrier still take it out of the box, read through the weight and height requirements and become familiar with what you have. This is an important safety step that you don’t want to skip or be trying to understand while you have a screaming baby.
In addition to setting up your diaper station, let me help you learn about diapering in general. I will say right away that I cannot speak to cloth diapering, because I didn’t do it, so this will be specifically contain information regarding disposable diapers.
For sizing, keep in mind that the weight ranges that are published on the box should be used as a guideline only, and you will find that sizes do have some weight range overlap. These ranges do not take into account the unique size and shape of your baby. You may even need to try a few different brands before finding the one that is right for your baby’s body and remember that the most expensive is not necessarily the best. For sizing and stocking up ahead of time, don’t go crazy with the newborn diapers. The exception to this would be if you are having twins or have a premature baby. Otherwise, your baby will grow out of them very quickly and in many cases can use size 1 even if they aren’t yet at the 10 lb mark that most size one diapers recommend. The hospital where I delivered only stocked size one diapers and they worked just fine. I did prefer to use a pack of newborn diapers in the first week or two but then switched to size one.
How do you know when to switch sizes?
As soon as your baby has a wet diaper leak or an explosion, it is probably an indication that it is time to switch diaper sizes. If you just sized up or the diaper was not on straight, then it is possible that it was a rogue explosion (especially if it was a poop) but generally these along with weight are the way to know it is time to size up.
Diapers during the night
Something I would have never thought about before my baby arrived was if and when to change diapers at night, it just doesn’t occur to you, but had I learned this ahead of time instead of in the first month, I would have saved myself some trouble. As long as your baby doesn’t have a rash and you are using absorbent disposable diapers you only need to do nighttime diaper changes for poops. Don’t cause unnecessary stimulation during the night over a wet diaper. Simply apply some diaper cream or Vaseline to their bottom before bed and they will be just fine until morning as long they don’t poop. If you do need to change a dirty diaper in the night, keep the lights as low as possible and try to avoid eye contact with your baby and do not speak. I know how tempting it is to coo and engage, but you want to help baby learn night from day and this is an essential step in the process.
Just like setting up the nursing station, I put this separate to emphasize learning about breastfeeding before baby arrives. Our breastfeeding section is a great place to start, we cover a variety of topics to get you started, understand milk supply and more. For a condensed and complete reference guide, we wrote the breastfeeding handbook because the amount of information to sort through on the internet and the huge books available on breastfeeding can be overwhelming to a new or expecting mom. Our handbook will tell you everything you need to start your journey out right without all of the extra fluff. It is a resource you can use while expecting to learn as much as you can, and then you will have it as a reference whenever a question arises in your first months of breastfeeding.
The Car Seat and Stroller
These things can be tricky to figure out! Make sure you have practiced opening and closing your stroller, putting it into the car and learning how the buckles and safety features work. If your stroller can face different directions or has other features take the time to learn them before baby comes so that you will already be a pro!
If you chose a car seat and stroller travel system, practice clicking the car seat in and out of the stroller and car. Learn about how your car seat safety straps work. We’ll discuss car seats more in depth in the section about leaving the hospital
Complete List of What to Learn and Practice
- Baby Wearing
- Car Seat
3. What to Have Plans For
Pets and Childcare
Typically, you are not going to have much notice before you need to head to the hospital and you don’t want to be scrambling to get pet and childcare arranged. Depending on the time of day that your labor begins, it could be the middle of the night so you want to have someone on call that you know and trust who can take your other kids or come check in on your pets until other help arrives or a pet boarding facility opens. While N was my first, we have two dogs at home and it was going to be about 24 hours until my mom would be at our house. We arranged to have her stay at our house while we were in the hospital to care for our dogs. In the meantime, we had a local friend stopping in to check on them for feedings and walks until my mom arrived. Alternatively, we could have had that friend bring them to a boarding facility in the morning because I went to the hospital at 3am.
While not completely necessary, it may be nice to arrange for a house cleaning service to come while you are in the hospital. This is something that I wish I had done because when we arrived home I was nursing N on the couch while Patrick was scrambling to get clean sheets on our bed, de-clutter our bedroom because he knows it causes me extra stress to stare at clutter, and sweep and dust the room (I’m lucky he knows me so well). Had we had a cleaning service come or done this ourselves during early labor he wouldn’t have been scrambling like he was.
Alternatively, this could be a great task for those relatives who just had to get right into town to meet the baby and want to help. It will get them out of your hair while also giving them a useful task that will let them feel helpful because they really do have good intentions, I’m sure.
If you have read other articles I have written, then you know that I absolutely swear by meal prep in my everyday life and if you don’t do this already, meal prepping before baby arrives couldn’t be a better time to start! It saves money, reduces stress, and ensures you have healthy and delicious meals ready to go. The first months with a new baby are intense and time will be your most valuable resource. To learn more, read all about stocking your freezer before baby which also includes information about pantry staples, snack ideas and more.
Birth Eat Love is a blog that I love reading and it has a great list of must-have foods for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Complete List of What to Have Plans For:
- Pet Care
- House Cleaning
4. During Early Labor
More than anything, I want you to rest during your early labor, this is the phase before contractions become close together and more painful. If it is your first birth, this phase can last for quite some time, mine was almost an entire day before real labor began, which you can read more about in my Birth Story. So, if you find yourself with a long early labor and are not able to rest or sleep, use this time to clean up your house and organize. Like I mentioned earlier, we left for the hospital and came home to a really cluttered house which totally stresses me out even when I have a good night sleep and no crying newborn. Consider putting clean sheets on your bed, getting laundry folded and put away, and running the vacuum. Or don’t do all of this and just make a point of calling a friend or family member and delegating the task or scheduling for a cleaning service to come like I suggested above while you kick your feet up, watch movies and get hydrated before the big event!
5. Leaving the Hospital and Bringing Baby Home
The most important thing is to make sure you have a safely installed car seat to leave the hospital with. You should install your car seat a few weeks ahead of time, around the time that you pack your hospital bag is perfect. You can get the car seat installation checked for proper installation in your town, usually at the fire station. Call your local town hall to find out if there are special days to have this done.
Patrick said that he has never been more stressed or scared when driving than during the drive transporting brand new baby N from the hospital home. Of course, everything went fine, and I rode in the back with her where luckily she slept the whole way, but it was a long and nerve wracking drive.
6. Introducing Pets
I can personally only speak to the process of introducing your new baby to dogs, because we have two dogs in our family. A big part of this is going to be knowing your dogs, their personalities and tendencies. We weren’t too worried about how our transition would go, but we wanted to go about it the right way, particularly with our Husky, Eyva, who does have a more dominant personality and gets jealous fairly easily. Our lab, Banjo, we knew wouldn’t care one way or the other, but again we wanted to be official about it.
The first step is really just allowing your dogs to be in and around all the baby stuff as you acquire and set it up. I think seeing that the humans really care about all of these new things and that a lot of time and care is being spent on the changes in the house is something that they really pick up on. Eyva started regularly snoozing on the nursery rug, sniffing around folded baby laundry and definitely seemed to know something was up.
Think about when you are packing to go on a trip. I don’t know about you, but my dogs instantly become concerned that they are going to be left behind, Eyva even posts up directly behind or in the car if the opportunity presents itself. I really do think seeing all the baby stuff coming in and letting them get comfortable with it goes a long way.
The next important thing that was advised to us by our vet (who has kids) was to have someone bring something from the hospital to where the dogs are before baby comes home. We used the first cap that was on N after she was born, and Pat actually went the day after N was born to go and see the dogs and take them on a hike. For us, and especially Eyva, I think this was really good for the transition because they got special attention from Pat after we abruptly left them home alone with only a friend checking in (before my mom arrived). He left her cap on the dog bed and allowed them to sniff and have it there until we returned. According to my mom, the dogs didn’t really pay much attention to the cap or her smell, but I’m glad we gave them the opportunity.
The final step that we decided on was to have Eyva meet N outside in the yard (luckily the weather allowed this). We didn’t want to have any sense that we were replacing Eyva or for her to feel protective of the home. We put the car seat down in the yard and allowed her to sniff (under our supervision) and everything went great. We did not have any concerns about aggression and felt totally comfortable going about it this way. You know your dog and should talk proper precautions if you have any doubts.
We always made sure to give lots of positive attention to both dogs while N was around so that they didn’t feel replaced but also to enforce that their calm and pleasant behavior around the new baby was being rewarded with our affection.
If you are more concerned, some friends of ours actually found a trainer who specializes in dogs and babies. She gave them some strategies to work on in the weeks before baby arrived to help curb protective behavior and jealousy that their dog was exhibiting towards other people in protection of my friend while she was pregnant. If your dog tends to lean more this way, seek out professional help, even one training session to learn officially what you should do and how to act with your dog and new baby will go a long way.
While this is not something I can personally speak about, I have heard from friends that some of it is fairly similar. Let your cats spend time in the baby’s nursery and checking out all of the new baby “things” that are being set up and acquired. You should also be aware that cats, especially ones that are more shy or skittish, may be overwhelmed by the sensory overload that babies bring with their lack of schedule and routine and loud crying. Let your cat investigate on their own terms, it may take time.
7. Visitors and Social Media
It’s definitely worth thinking through when and how often you want visitors to come both in the hospital and in your first few weeks to months at home. We decided to have no extended visitors for the first two weeks because Patrick had paternity leave and we knew we needed this time to find out our new normal. My parents and brother did come and visit us for about an hour in the hospital and welcomed us home but left within 30 minutes of our arrival home. They basically just helped me settle while Patrick frantically made the bedroom into a clean and clutter free space for me and N. We were really clear about these wishes and found people to be super respectful. We had a few other close friends stop by during this 2 week period for no more than 30 minutes and all of them brought food or other household things we needed. Think through your personality and what is going to be best for you.
Remember that the first few weeks are crucial for breastfeeding success and supply so if you do plan to have visitors make sure you are frequently checking in with your baby and feeding them at least every 2 hours even if they are snoozing on someone else. For more information about breastfeeding in the beginning, read everything you need to know to succeed in your first week of breastfeeding.
If you do decide to have visitors, be sure to have tasks and ideas ready for them. In general, people really are good natured and want to be helpful but don’t know how to do it or feel uncomfortable diving into your dishes or laundry without being prompted. Don’t be shy, say you could use a meal, or need your dishwasher emptied, they really do want to help.
I gave this literally zero thought and paid the price. Even with such limited visitors in the hospital it was a family member who posted N’s first photo to Facebook and announced her birth. This was extremely irritating and really soured the mood a bit during the first few days after N’s birth. Hopefully your family members have more tact than mine, but best to err on the side of caution. While Patrick and I do like to share good news on Facebook, we weren’t quite ready for the flood of attention this got, and hadn’t gotten to tell everyone we wanted to first before it was announced so publicly. The picture wasn’t even just of N or with us.
Learn from my mistake. Be blunt and upfront about not wanting others to share photos publicly. This person really didn’t mean any harm and was very regretful once we confronted them. They are now very respectful and careful about asking before posting any photos of N, but it still doesn’t change what happened.
Complete List of What to Be Ready for to Leave the Hospital:
- Car seat installed
- Introducing Pets
- Personal Visitor Policy
- Personal Photo and Social Media Policy
8. What to Expect in the First Week
Survival mode! Especially if this is your first baby. It will be whirlwind of emotion. Just take it one hour at a time, give breastfeeding your all, ask for help, and soak up those newborn snuggles and naps on your chest. You’ll never believe that it was possible to fall so instantly in love.
Breastfeeding in the First Week
This topic includes so much information that Trina wrote an entire article that is your Critical Guide to the First Week of Nursing. But the bottom line is that you should be nursing on demand, not worrying about any kind of routine or sleep habits. Nurse, nurse, nurse! It is a learning curve for both you and your baby. Reach out for help if you have any doubts by contacting the lactation consultants where you delivered, your providers or your pediatrician. Check out our breastfeeding handbook, which is a complete reference guide to all things breastfeeding and will really support you during this transition.
In order to be the best mother possible, you MUST take care of yourself. Other than nursing the baby, you should be resting and healing. Labor and delivery are exhausting and take a toll on the body. Be sure that you are paying attention to what your body needs, drinking enough water, eating healthy and high calorie meals and doing minimal movement. Listening to your body and taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for your baby.
Looking for More?
Now that you know exactly what you can do, set-up and learn before bringing baby home from the hospital, check out what else we have to offer:
If you still haven’t packed your hospital bag, head over to my article that details everything you need for yourself, dad and baby. As a bonus, the article also includes great ways to prepare the home before baby arrives to make the first few weeks at home easier by being stocked up on essentials and a few fun things as well.
Don’t rely on the birth plan worksheet that the hospital provides alone, Trina has thoughtfully designed the Ultimate Birth Plan which will ensure you thought of everything, you can access it along with all of other expecting-related printables by subscribing!
It’s not too late to prepare for labor and delivery as well, learn all about childbirth classes available online. Don’t forget to prepare emotionally! Read about strategies to prepare to process the birth you have read the article, How to Process Your Birth and New Identity.
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