1. If what you’re doing is not working, try something else.
2. Feed –> Wake –> Sleep. For baby novices like John and I, this advice from Babywise was a lifesaver (and three babies in, it’s still working). It goes like this: when the baby wakes up, you feed them. Then you play together. Then they go to sleep. When they wake up again, you feed them again. The length of the sleeping and playing changes as they grow, but the basic rhythm was SUCH a helpful place for us to start in learning how to care for our babies.
3. All the babies I’ve ever known are obsessed with ceiling fans (especially if the blades are high contrast with the ceiling color). If you need a few minutes to get ready in the morning, lay your baby on the bed, turn on the fan for a few seconds, then turn it off and let it spin lazily. Baby magic.
4. Take the paternity leave. In the long arc of your career, you will never look back and wish you had worked those three days or two weeks or four months instead of being with your wife and baby. If you have a paternity leave benefit and it’s not your work’s culture to take it, be the change. (This one’s from John.)
5. Fun story: a few weeks after June was born, my Dad was changing her diaper. He called John and I into the room and said (very kindly), “This is not what her bottom is supposed to look like. Do you have any diaper cream?” Apparently a baby’s bottom is NOT supposed to be bright red? Right, got it. We did have and apply diaper cream, but after that, I also gave her an extra minute or two en plein air after wiping, fanning the diaper at her bottom to help things dry out (bonus: babies think this is funny).
6. Learn together. (THIS! This this this this this.)
7. I have never scrolled anything while nursing, and this is less because I am anti-scrolling and more because I was taught a two-handed hold while at the hospital. This has turned out to be a huge blessing. While nursing over the last six years, I have been present, yes (which has been its own gift), but I have also been very tuned into what was happening with my babies because there was nothing to distract me, and I think that’s made them all efficient, successful eaters. If they need a gentle nudge to keep sucking, I notice right away. If they’re in a good rhythm, I can help them keep that rhythm with a simple thumb stroke on their head (also taught to me at the hospital). And good feeding leads to good sleeping which leads to good feeding – the most wonderful virtuous cycle, especially in the early weeks.
8. Right after your baby goes down for the first evening stretch, get ready for bed – hop in the shower, do your beauty routine, get in your jams, whatever it takes. That way, especially if the baby is sleeping in your room, you’re not sneaking around trying to be super quiet when they’re about to wake up (or worse, showering when they’re already crying to be fed). Even if you’ve previously been a morning shower-er, I’d highly recommend the evening shower in the early days – mornings are just much less predictable, and if you’re home alone on maternity leave, you have less support. And every day is better with a shower.
9. Put olive oil on your nipples. For the first two babies, I used lanolin, but the feeding consultant at the hospital with Annie said they’re no longer recommending that (apparently it’s drying, what the heck?!) and recommending olive oil instead. She handed me a little vial (of the cooking stuff) and instructed me to rub a little on after every feeding. I did, for the first three or so weeks, and had zero bleeding or cracking.
10. Unsure what to do with your baby once they actually stay awake a bit during the day? I was. Turns out there are lots of things you can do together, but here’s one of my favorites: sit on a couch or comfy chair and prop your feet up on a coffee table, making a vee with the tops of your legs and your torso. Rest the baby on your thighs. In this spot, you’re comfortable, and they’re perfectly positioned to look at your face (babies love faces!). From there, you can read books, look at toys, gently sway them back and forth, sing songs… whatever you’d like.
11. Like a secret service agent, get ready to scan every situation you find yourself in to see how you can activate white noise if it becomes necessary. I kid, but only just. Here are some of our favorites: this machine for the bedroom, this one for on the go, and this app in a pinch.
13. Just enjoy it. It passes so quickly, and it can be hard, AND even the hard parts can be enjoyed with the right perspective. Caveat: I’m not sure if this perspective can fully be realized until you’re on your last baby. With Annie, I truly, actually enjoyed getting up in the middle of the night to feed her, because I knew it was fleeting and I just felt lucky to be there with her. The first few weeks don’t have to be the best part of your life or your favorite part of your child’s life, but they are a unique and precious time. In the words of my grandmother, just try to enjoy it.
A few months out of my last fourth trimester, I wanted a spot to capture everything I write out for friends when they ask for advice… I hope you might find a nugget here that blesses you, too. What would you add? What resonates with you most? xo