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From a caretaker of newborns who’s had years of hands-on experience with celebrity clients, comes this practical and reassuring guide to the first three months with your new baby.
Are you a new or soon-to-be new mother? Are you caught between self-doubt and conflicting parenting advice coming at you from every direction? Are you unsure who to trust—your mother, sister, friends, or “the experts”? Luiza DeSouza is here to help you help yourself. Her best advice? Take your time, trust your maternal instincts, and choose a course that fits your needs—and your baby’s personality.
For thirty years, Luiza has been helping new mothers navigate the skills, practices, and support it takes to start a family. For her, mothering is not about programs or techniques. Rather, it is about the connection between you and your new child. And for that reason, she believes that attitude is more important than approach. All mothers are different, but the three most important qualities remain the same for everyone: patience, openness, and attentiveness.
Can being patient, open, and attentive guarantee that your baby will be a good sleeper or easy to feed? Of course not! But no matter what challenges your newborn brings, these three key qualities will help you rise to meet them. Like having your very own baby nurse right at your side, Eat, Play, Sleep is an indispensable guide to a good start and a happy, healthy first three months.
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About the Author
Luiza DeSouza began her career as a baby nurse in 1963 in her home country of Brazil. Her unique blend of confidence-building techniques, common sense advice, and emphasis on balance has made her beloved by her clients, many of whom are Hollywood celebrities. She lives and works in Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
Eat, Play, Sleep
Once a family decides to hire me—which usually happens early in the woman’s pregnancy—I pay a visit a few weeks before the due date. I help her think about what she needs to pack before she goes to the hospital (see sidebar). I also want to help her arrange the nursery and go over a checklist of items she’ll need to have when she comes home from the hospital. Some families are superstitious, feeling that something might go wrong if they buy clothing and equipment before the baby is actually here. I can respect that, but I also know that if the necessities are there—organized and ready for you to use—you’ll have a much easier transition from hospital to home.
Some parents have an abundance of “baby things”—equipment, toys, clothing—that they’ve received from excited relatives and friends. Others become anxious about not having enough or having the “right” things, so they buy too much. First-timers often think they have to get everything—and get it right away. You don’t. You’re thinking too far ahead. At this point, all you have to do is purchase what you need for the next three months—and it’s probably less than you think.
WHAT TO PACK WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING
The first step of good preparation for motherhood is your hospital bag. However long you stay—usually two days if there are no complications—and if the hospital supplies clothing for your baby (call the maternity ward to check), you don’t need much.
Lip balm (lips get dry during labor)
Hair band (if you have long hair, you’ll probably want it tied up during labor)
Underwear, 3 pairs
Sanitary pads (hospitals supply these, but if you have a favorite brand, bring a box)
Pajamas, 2 pairs
Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste)
Notebook and pen
Phone, tablet, other gadgets (optional)
For the baby
In most hospitals, babies are dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt and swaddled in a thin flannel blanket. If you prefer to bring your own clothes and hospital policy permits, take two or three extra outfits for the stay. For the trip home, pack a warm blanket, a hat, and another simple outfit. If it’s winter, pack extra layers to protect him from the cold.
Some things you can borrow, and some things you can buy used or at great discounts. If your budget is tight, read on, and make a list of what you really need. Start early, so you can take your time finding good stores or websites. Everything you buy, though, should meet current government safety standards. Most of your questions can be answered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, toll-free at (800) 638-2772 or online at: https://www.cpsc.gov. Another useful resource is Consumer Reports, which tests, rates, and compares products, at http://www.consumerreports.org.
Used or new, you certainly don’t need a lot of equipment, supplies, or clothing when you come home from the hospital. But you will need to make six preliminary decisions that will affect what you need. The questions below will help you gauge what you need for your baby and yourself when the baby is born and during the next three months. The earlier you answer them, the better prepared you’ll feel. You’ll be able to focus on your baby and your experiences as a new mother, without having to scramble at the last minute. At least in the practical sense, you’ll be prepared.
1. How will I take my baby home and, later, on outings?
2. How will I feed my baby?
3. How and where will I dress and bathe my baby?
4. Will I use cloth or disposable diapers?
5. Where will my baby sleep?
6. How will I soothe, amuse, and protect my baby?
I’ll help you think about these questions in the sections below. To make it easier to scan this chapter, for each section, you’ll find a list of the items you need to buy or borrow depending on your answer. If you already have everything on hand, it doesn’t hurt to skim this chapter and double-check.
1. How Will I Take My Baby Home and, Later, on Outings?
If you have to drive home from the hospital—as most parents do—you’ll need a car seat. Most seats snap out and double as a baby carrier, a little seat in which your baby can recline. Be sure that the car seat is installed properly. If necessary, ask another parent or go to your local police or fire department for help.
Carriage or stroller
For outings, you’ll also want a carriage or stroller. Many models double as both. Most are collapsible and have seats that can be adjusted as your baby grows. Assuming your baby is eight pounds or more, sometime during the first month, you can also take walks with your baby using a kangaroo-type carrier that’s worn on the front of your chest. (Back carriers shouldn’t be used with newborns.) But first, check with your pediatrician, and read the instructions before your first outing. Kangaroo carriers are also handy for comforting your new baby.
2. How Will I Feed My Baby?
Breast milk or formula? That’s one of the first questions I ask a prospective client, because the answer tells me what kind of equipment she’ll need. Today almost everyone recommends breast-feeding—it’s “in fashion.” Most women at least consider it. Babies who are born full-term and weigh six to eight pounds at birth normally have no problem nursing. Even though breast-feeding can feel like a challenge during the first few days, it’s the easiest way to feed a baby. It’s also the more economical choice. The most popular formulas are not too costly, but if your baby’s digestive system doesn’t tolerate them, you might have to buy a more expensive alternative.
Convenience and cost aside, however, babies who are breast-fed exclusively—no water, juice, or solids—for the first six months are better protected against many diseases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. By starting out with breast milk, your newborn will benefit from colostrum, the vitamin-rich, immune-boosting substance that your breasts initially produce. Colostrum is almost like a medication, because it prepares your child’s digestive system. There is no substitute for it.
That said, not every woman can, or wants to, breast-feed. Formula—enhanced cow’s milk—is a good second choice. Formula is similar to breast milk in terms of nutritional value. Formula-feeding is also a more flexible option, because you can let others care for your baby. Newborns on formula last longer between feedings than newborns on breast milk, but once breast-feeding is well established, that difference disappears. So if you haven’t yet decided between the two and you are reading this while pregnant or shortly after your delivery, at least try to breast-feed for three or four days (I’ll guide you in chapter 7).
A few cloth diapers
Disposable maternity pads
Bags/containers for stored breast milk
Boppy or firm pillow
Baby bottles, 4- and 8-ounce size
Plastic protector caps
No matter what you decide, babies spit up during and after they eat. To keep your baby’s chest dry and protect your own clothing, buy soft bibs and burp cloths (a cloth diaper can also serve this purpose). Below, I look at what else you’ll need for each feeding regimen. You might actually need both kinds of supplies even if you decide to breast-feed. Bottles are not just for formula. Once your milk flow is established, Dad and other family members and caretakers can feed the baby breast milk in a bottle. Also, breast-feeding doesn’t always go as planned. Some women change their minds. Others need to supplement with formula.
Buy a special nursing bra. A well-made, proper-fitting bra will provide the best support and help prevent or minimize back pain. Maternity bras come in many styles, so choose one that is comfortable for your body and easy to open and close. However, only buy one bra until you know for sure that the size and style are good for your postbaby body. You might also want to buy disposable maternity pads, which are placed inside the bra to help keep your outer garments dry and unstained. This is a personal and practical decision. Some women use pads all the time, others only when wearing good clothes.
Buy or rent a breast pump. It’s a necessity if you want to express milk into a bottle, which enables your partner or a baby nurse to feed the baby. A manual pump is less expensive but also more time-consuming than an electric breast pump. I usually advise mothers to rent the more powerful electric pumps. Some moms also invest in a Boppy, also called a newborn lounger. It’s a big pillow designed to support the baby while nursing. Standard firm sleeping pillows work just as well. Use as many as you need to feel fully supported and comfortable.
When choosing baby bottles, look for those that are completely smooth inside, because they are easier to clean. Start with eight to ten four-ounce bottles that come with nipples and plastic protector caps, and get a bottle brush. After the first month, as your baby increases her intake, you’ll probably need eight-ounce bottles, too. How many you buy depends on how far in advance you want to prepare them. If you plan to mix enough formula for a twenty-four-hour cycle, you’ll need at least eight. But if you prepare bottles as needed, then two or three will be enough.
3. How and Where Will I Dress and Bathe My Baby?
I recommend a combination dresser and changing table with drawers for clothes and diapers underneath and, on top, a padded cover and a little space for your baby’s toiletries. But if your budget is tight, you don’t need one. Any hard, flat surface covered with foam or a few thick towels will do. A dresser-height surface will be easier on your back, so the kitchen counter is better than your bed. When I travel with clients, I usually set up a changing table on a countertop in the bathroom.
For dressing and after-bath care, have these items within easy reach: a soft-bristled hairbrush, baby nail scissors, a soft nail file, alcohol (to clean the umbilical cord), and cotton swabs.
Your baby doesn’t need much clothing; just have a few basic items on hand (see box). I like to stick with white cotton fabric, because it breathes and is less likely to irritate your baby’s sensitive skin.
Keep clothing simple. Your baby can live in “onesies,” one-piece T-shirts that snap on the bottom to keep the shirt from riding up. They’re especially good during the hot months of summer. If you buy pants or one-piece outfits, look for the kind that open from the bottom with snaps along the inseam for easier access to diapers. Avoid garments with buttons. As your precious little one becomes better coordinated, broken buttons can be picked up and swallowed. Buy a range of sizes—say, 0–3 months and 3–6 months. Save the receipts and don’t remove the tags; return anything that’s too small. Wash baby clothes separately with a mild, nonchemical detergent.
Baby nail scissors
Soft nail file
Mild, nonchemical laundry detergent
Portable infant tub
Hooded towels, 3 or 4
Baby washcloths, 6
Nonscented soap or body wash
White onesies, 6, sizes 0–3 months and 3–6 months
One-piece outfits with snaps from neck to toe, 6
Kimonos for sleeping
Snowsuit for cold weather
Socks and mittens for the cold
“Special occasion” outfits, 1 or 2 (you probably were given these as gifts)
For bathing your baby, I recommend buying a portable baby tub that can be placed on a counter or in your bathroom tub (although this is often harder on your back). Many of the newer infant tubs feature special inserts that hold the baby in a comfortable position. Buy a tub that makes you comfortable, too; you want to be as relaxed as possible. Some moms bathe their babies in the kitchen sink. That’s fine, as long as it’s big enough for you to hold on to your baby securely. Bathroom sinks are usually too small, and the low faucets get in the way. You’ll also need baby washcloths, nonscented soap or body wash such as Cetaphil, “tearless” baby shampoo, and hooded towels to keep your little one dry and cozy afterward.
4. Will I Use Cloth or Disposable Diapers?
Modern mothers often don’t even bother to ask my opinion on this. Some don’t want the hassle of washing diapers or using a diaper service, so they buy disposables. Others worry about the environment. Cloth diapers can cost less than a month of disposables, but they don’t necessarily have less of an impact on the environment. I’m no scientist, but I imagine that the washers and dryers used to clean cloth diapers—your own or those used by a service—leave a carbon footprint, too.
Wipes or cotton squares
Triple antibiotic cream
Wipe warmer (optional)
If you use cloth
100% cotton diapers, 3–6 dozen
Container for soiled diapers
If you use disposable
Newborn-size diapers, 1–2 packages
Diaper Genie or other type of diaper disposal
Whatever your decision, you’ll have to clean your baby’s bottom at every diaper change. I use premoistened hypoallergenic cotton wipes or cotton squares dipped in a small bowl of plain tap water, which you keep on the changing table. As long as you dip only clean squares into the bowl, you don’t have to change the water after each diaper change. I also use two kinds of diaper cream: one for diaper rash prevention (I use Aquaphor at every diaper change) and, if necessary, a triple antibiotic ointment such as Triple Paste Diaper Rash Ointment for healing raw, delicate skin.
If you plan to wash them yourself, purchase three dozen to six dozen 100-percent-cotton cloth diapers, and if you don’t pay a diaper service to do it for you, wash soiled diapers in the same mild, nonchemical detergent you use for your baby’s clothing. You’ll also need a closed container for soiled diapers.
If you use a diaper service, order eighty to one hundred diapers a week at first. Some companies supply both the diapers and the container. If you go this route, look into it at least two months before your due date, so that you’re not scrambling around at the last minute.
To start, buy the newborn size. There’s no way to guess how many diapers your baby will need at first; it depends on her birth weight and how much she eats and grows. Buy one or two packages initially and keep the receipts. Most stores will allow customers to return unopen packages. You’ll also need a diaper disposal nearby, a special covered container that traps diaper odor.
5. Where Will My Baby Sleep?
Your baby can sleep in his own bed or join you in what is now thought of as the “family bed.” I believe babies should have their own beds, but you have to answer this question for yourself. Co-sleeping, as it’s sometimes called, requires no equipment. But even if you decide to bring your newborn into your bed, consider having another place where he can take naps or sleep at night if you or your partner are sick. Also, some parents embrace the idea of co-sleeping and then change their minds once the baby comes and they actually start doing it. Whether this happens in the first week or months later, you’ll need a plan B.
Moses basket or bassinet
Cradle-size waterproof mattress cover
Cradle-size fitted sheets, 2
Crib-size waterproof mattress cover
Fitted crib sheets, 2
Swaddling blankets, 4–6
For the baby’s own bed, you can start with a “Moses basket,” which can be carried from room to room, or a bassinet, which is bigger and sits on a stand. Both can be pushed around and are easier to lean over than a crib. These smaller alternatives to a crib are cozier for a newborn—more like being in utero—and more portable, allowing you to have the baby in whatever room you like. I generally use a bassinet for three months; once the baby starts to move, I feel that a crib is more appropriate. If you are more comfortable with your baby in a bassinet, you can extend her time there, but move her to a crib when she starts to roll over from her tummy to her back, which could happen anytime from the fourth month on.
You may not have to buy a Moses basket or a bassinet if a relative or friend has recently had a baby. Most people use them for only a short time and are happy to share. You also might find one for resale. Make sure it is clean and sturdy. Buy a firm, snug-fitting cradle mattress, and cover it with a waterproof mattress protector and sheet of the same size.
When you buy a crib for your newborn, make sure that it is adjustable, allowing the mattress to be higher in the first four months. It will be a lot easier on your back. The lower the mattress, the more difficult it is to put the baby in, especially for short people.
Many department stores order cribs directly from the manufacturers, which means it can take up to twelve weeks for delivery. So it’s smart to buy your crib at least four months before your baby is due. This gives you plenty of time to receive your crib and set it up. If your baby surprises you and comes early, use a bassinet or a Moses basket in the meantime.
Invest in a good, tight-fitting crib mattress, a waterproof mattress protector, and at least two crib sheets that fit your particular mattress. Your baby, and perhaps others in the future, will be in this crib for at least two years. Make sure the mattress itself fits snugly into the crib frame, so that there’s no space around the edges. You’ll also need a set of bumpers—padding that goes around the inside of the crib. When choosing bumpers, make sure they are thin and firm. Babies quickly begin to move around, and cushioned bumpers can be a breathing hazard.
Don’t worry about buying blankets or a quilt for the crib. Instead, buy four to six swaddling blankets. There are many types on the market. I like the Miracle blanket or the Bamboo Swaddle by Aden & Anais, but you can also swaddle your baby in any light cotton “receiving” blanket. Once you no longer swaddle your baby, when it’s cold at night, it’s better to put her in a “sleep sack,” a wearable blanket that zips up the front.
6. How Will I Soothe, Amuse, and Protect My Baby?
You will use your voice to calm her, your eyes to connect, and your hands to caress. You will be your baby’s whole world at first. Gradually, and with great care, you’ll start to coax her to spend little bits of time on her own. Here are a few items that can help.
Of course, you can sit in any kind of chair with your infant, but I recommend a rocker or a plushly padded chair. If you already have such a chair in your house, move it into the baby’s room. When you soothe or feed him, it will make you more comfortable, too. A small lamp is a nice touch, because the lighting is less harsh than an overhead fixture.
It’s important to stimulate your baby, but you don’t have to entertain her all the time. She can amuse herself by looking out a window or around the room. In her crib, she can gaze up at her mobile or look at colorful (store-bought or handmade) drawings you place around her crib, a hand’s distance from her face. I also like to give the baby a change of scene by laying her down on a Gymini, a lightly padded floor mat that has toys dangling overhead.
To calm your baby when you’re not holding him, consider buying a baby swing that you can move around the house or an infant chair that you can put on top of a table. Ask your friends and search the internet to find models you like. Both are convenient for keeping your baby close while you’re in the kitchen, having a shower, or working around the house. If you have a CD or MP3 player or can buy one, it’s a great way to introduce your baby to the joy of soft music and the soothing tones of nature. Some parents also use a white-noise machine to block sounds from the household when the baby is asleep.
SOOTHING, AMUSING, PROTECTING
iPod or white-noise machine
Bulb-type nasal aspirator
It’s important to leave your baby on his own for periods of time, certainly when he’s sleeping but also when he’s awake and happily amusing himself. A baby monitor will give you peace of mind. One warning, though: babies make all sorts of noises while they’re sleeping, and not every one of them means “Mommy, come here now!” I promise you, though, if you take your time, you’ll learn what all those cries and whimpers mean.
Most newborns don’t get fevers or colds in the first three months, but some do. It’s not necessary to keep medicines on hand until your pediatrician prescribes them. But it’s important to have a thermometer and a bulb-type nasal aspirator stored away, just in case.
A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place
Of course, you could buy more, but why? These first few months are going to fly by, and most of what you buy or borrow today will be useless in three months. The next step is to organize all your baby stuff.
Whether your baby has his own room or shares one with a sibling, knowing where things are and having them within easy reach make everyone’s life easier. Start with the changing table. The diapers, the wipes, the ointment—everything you use daily—should be at arm’s length. You’ll be diapering ten or twelve times a day at first. For the same reason, it’s also handy to position the chair you use for feeding next to a side table with a drawer or next to a set of open shelves. That way, you can have a glass of water handy, or if you suddenly need something, such as a burp cloth in case of a spit-up, it’s right there for you.
Your diaper container and a hamper or laundry basket for soiled clothes should be within tossing distance of the changing table, so that you can keep your baby’s clothing separate from your own.
If you live in a two-story house, set up a changing area on each floor—say, one upstairs in the baby’s room or near the area where she sleeps and another on the ground floor. That way, you don’t have to climb a flight of stairs each time your baby needs a new diaper. Minimize your need to keep track by having dedicated areas for baby stuff wherever possible. In the kitchen, pick a shelf to store your baby’s bottles, nipples, containers, and formula. In one bathroom, set aside her medicines, have a place for her tub, and hang her robe on the back of the door. The trick is to know where everything is without even having to think about it.
Finally, your baby will start accumulating toys long before he can actually reach for them, so you might want to invest in a plastic bin. Even if you don’t go overboard yourself, visitors will come bearing plush animals and shaky toys. Eventually, your baby will discover them, too.
If you start with these essentials, you’ll be prepared but not overstocked. Put them on your baby shower wish list. Get only what you need. And now the adventure begins. You’re about to discover your individual baby’s needs.
What I/We Did to Prepare for the Baby
What Was Happening in the World
My Baby Shower
Other Memories of “Before”
Looking at your extended family helps you see where your baby comes from and how many people love and support her. If your family is bigger (or more complicated) than this simple diagram allows, add more boxes and lines.