Thursday, January 31, 2013

Baby Boot Camp

The calm before the storm...
When your baby is born, the first month is a magical time filled with love, joy, and sweet new baby smells. It's also filled with massive amounts of crying, an absurd lack of sleep, and the overwhelming fear accompanied by the  realization that you are now in charge of another human being's entire life. My husband and I refer to the first month with a newborn as "Baby Boot Camp".  Honestly, it makes the Navy Seals training look like a breeze. Sleep deprivation? Check. Being screamed at for hours? Check. Carrying around a 30 pound load  (baby + diaper bag + car seat) while going through obstacles (grocery store, restroom, doctor's office)? Check. 

After completing your month of Baby Boot Camp, you feel like a pretty seasoned parent. You've changed a million diapers, learned to function on just 2 hours of interrupted sleep, figured out how to both eat and pee while holding a baby, and finally worked out the insanely detailed routine that must be followed for your baby to sleep. You have tried every trick out there, ran to Walmart at midnight to buy the magical product that promises to help your baby sleep or poop or not cry or whatever the crisis of the moment is. You've survived a month of this, and not only is your baby now getting a little easier, you start to feel more confident. Baby Boot Camp is over, and you are a survivor!

Check out all that parent-confidence!
The trouble is, our minds have a habit of repressing the not-so perfect parts of our past. This is especially true in child rearing, so as to ensure that the human race will keep on procreating.  So we forget about the five nights straight of no sleep, or the when the baby pooped all the way up to his ears for the third time in a row.  Soon all we really remember is that babies smell super good, and that they have really cute fingers and toes.

Aww look how tiny!
However, If enough time goes by between having children, you may forget all the tricks you learned during your Baby Boot Camp days.  That's why I am taking the time to write down some of the best things I learned during my days as a new parent. When I have my next child, I can reference this list, and hopefully be able to battle through the baby's first month as a well-prepared warrior, ahem, I mean parent.


Baby Clothing
Before your baby arrived, you probably spent a good chunk of time examining all the adorable outfits that were given to you, imagining how cute your future bundle of joy will look in them.

My daughter wore 5% of this wardrobe.
That's probably as much action as those clothes are going to get.  Cute baby outfits are a pain in the rear.  That pooping machine is going to need to be changed every two hours in the beginning. You need clothes that are a breeze to get on and off quickly, and that means onesies. Onesies are the best, so buy in bulk. Here's a trick that will make you appreciate onesies even more: onesies are really stretchy in the neck area, and have shoulder folds so it can be pulled even wider. This means that you can put the onesies on feet first instead of over the baby's floppy, delicate head. I promise that this method won't stretch out the onesie neck holes. After all, if you think about it, their heads are much wider than the rest of their bodies at this stage. Added bonus: when they have a blow-out, you can take the onesie off downwards (instead of over their head), and not have to worry about getting poop in their hair.  

Another good baby clothing tip is to use Walmart-brand baby socks to cover their sharp baby claws instead of mittens. They stay on better.  Finally, did your newborn arrive in the colder months?  Then stock up on some Baby Legs!

Baby Legs Add Pizzazz! 
They keep your baby's legs covered and warm, but you still have the easy diaper access of your onesie. Plus they are super cute.

Surviving the Nights
The hardest, most draining part of Baby Boot Camp is the severe lack of sleep. It takes about two weeks to get where you don't feel like you are being psychologically tortured every night.

A rare and miraculous occasion: parent and baby sleeping at the same time.
For the first few weeks, you don't have a choice: you have to wake up every two hours or so to feed the baby and change their diaper. But eventually they get to a point where they can go a little longer in between feedings--if only they would just go to sleep. I found what worked best was to follow The Happiest Baby on the Block techniques--I really recommend that you watch the DVD or read the book. Tightly swaddling really can calm a baby right down; it's amazing. We used Aden & Anais muslin swaddles, and the Summer Infant SwaddleMes.

An early swaddling attempt...we eventually learned to swaddle a lot snugger.
White Noise was another Happiest Baby trick, and it works like magic in getting your baby to calm down and sleep longer. Other sleeping tricks I learned was to put a shirt I had worn in with her: the mommy smell helped her stay comforted while she slept. 

Perhaps the most drastic improvement in sleep came when I went out and bought the highly recommended Fisher Price Rock n Play Sleeper.  That thing is God's gift to parents, I swear. As soon as she started sleeping in it, she started sleeping hours longer. So much for that pricey bassinet I bought! I cannot recommend the Rock n Play enough. I've talked to many other parents that used it, and every single one of them had the same glorious experience. 

My final surviving the night tip is to get a red light bulb and use it instead of a regular light (or flashlight) when you get up at night to feed and change the baby. Red light is the only color light that doesn't tell the brain to "wake-up", so it helps both you and your baby go straight back to sleep after.

Diaper Duty

Before your bundle of joy arrives, stock up on a ton of diapers and baby wipes. Our sweet little princess went through an average of 20 diapers a day for the first month.  It's also important to have a variety of diapers, so you can find the diaper that fits your baby's tush the best. Pampers Swaddlers was the diaper that worked great for my skinny little girl; Huggies were a freaking nightmare. But the opposite was true for my nephew, so you just never know. Amazon Prime is the way to go to save on diapers. Plus the diapers are delivered to your door, so you don't have to lug a huge box of diapers around the grocery store every week. 

Because newborns are constantly peeing and being wiped, they are very susceptible to diaper rash. We tried all the diaper rash cream brands, and found Triple Paste and Bourdeaux's Butt Paste to be the best at treating an already existing rash. The best prevention, however, was a trick thought up by my husband. After every diaper change, the wet wipes leave their little hineys damp, which is what can cause a diaper rash. So my husband kept a roll of soft toilet paper by the diaper changer so that we could pat her bum dry after wiping. When we started doing that, she never had a diaper rash again. As soon as we started to slack off with the toilet paper though, a diaper rash would appear. 

Another thing that helped with diaper duty is a diaper changing table. I know some people never use their changing table, but I loved mine. It was great having a place where I had everything I needed--creams, diapers, wipes, lotions, etc.--all in one place.  Now that my daughter is much bigger, I appreciate it even more, because it's easier to keep her in one place and still when I change her.

Breastfeeding Survival Kit

For many women, myself included, breastfeeding was not an easy task.  I wouldn't have survived the first month of breastfeeding without lanolin (or even better, nipple butter) and Gel Soothie Pads. It takes a few weeks for your nipples to toughen up, even if your baby has a perfect latch. I also wouldn't have made it long breastfeeding if not for my nursing pillows (My Brest Friend and my Boppy), which made it so much easier. For the first few weeks of their lives, babies need to eat every 2 to 3 hours, 24 hours a day.  In other words, you will pretty much have a baby on your boob constantly the first month.  My advice?  Create a nursing station!
My Nursing Station (aka where I pretty much lived the first month)
My nursing station had a ridiculously comfortable chair (Harmony Kids Glider), a side table with a lamp, book, water bottle, snacks, nipple butter, my boppy, etc. Around three weeks old, my daughter decided she would only sleep after nursing, in my arms, so I found myself stuck at my nursing station for 4 to 6 hours a day--straight. I was so thankful that I splurged on a comfortable chair! I moved a television temporarily into the nursery, and blew through 3 seasons of The Vampire Diaries on Netflix. It totally saved breastfeeding for me, seriously. 

Another great item to have at your Nursing Station is a Itzbeen Baby Care Timer, or a Breastfeeding App for your smartphone. It helps you keep track of how long it's been between feedings, and more importantly, which side boob your baby needs to start nursing on for the next feeding. Trust me, you are not going to remember this stuff when you are living off an hour of sleep. Finally, make sure to have your phone on you 24/7: you never know when you are going to be stuck in a chair for hours on end (google: growth spurt).

We rarely used bottles in the newborn stage, so I don't have too much advice here. I do remember initially preferring the bottles that fit right on my breastpump, for the ease of it.  From speaking to other parents though, I've been told that each baby is particular about which bottle they like. So have a variety on hand in the beginning, and see what they take to the best. We ended up liking  Dr. Brown's Bottles the best.

Make sure to get the right size and flow of nipples--and remember to go up to the next stage when they hit the appropriate age. If you are pumping, I really loved my Medela Pump In Style Breastpump.

Baby Hygiene

Yes, newborns smell super good and are soft and long as you keep up with their hygiene. Otherwise your baby will have a spoiled-milk smell radiating from her fat folds, and will have razor sharp claws that scratch both herself and you.  Until their umbilical cord falls off (usually 2-4 weeks), you can't regularly bathe your baby, you can only do sponge baths. I adored my plastic baby tub that I could put in the kitchen sink for both bathing and sponge bathing purposes.

Our baby's first (sponge) bath. It was terrifying for all involved. 
We used ours until my daughter was 7 months old. Back to newborn bathing:  they only need a bath every 3 days or so; any more will dry their newborn skin out. I personally liked Aveeno Baby Wash for her sensitive skin, and we skipped lotions until she was a little older (their skin has natural oils that will keep it from getting dry).  I used a wet cotton ball to clean her eyes, and then used a soapy cotton ball to clean the rest of face, behind her ears, in her armpits, and any hard-to-reach folds and creases.  I used a soapy washcloth for the rest of her body.  Since the bath is not very deep in the beginning, we would lay a warm, wet washcloth over her like a blanket to keep her from getting cold while we bathed her. 

And what to do about your darling's needle-sharp fingernails?  Well you may try to use baby nail clippers, and maybe you'll be successful...but it's unlikely.  Those nails are super tiny in the newborn stage. Some moms I know chew them off with their teeth (it's surprisingly common).  Me?  I simply used a baby nail file to sand them right down. Their nails are really soft at this age, so it only took a second to file them. It can be tricky finding baby sized nail files though; I could only find them at Babies R Us.

Keeping Baby Happy

When you're not feeding the baby, changing the baby's diaper, or trying to make the baby sleep, you are trying to keep the baby happy.  This is where every single baby is different...and very particular. Some babies love the car seat; mine thought of the car seat as a torture device.

Car seats are just awful, apparently.
Many babies want to be held 24/7, and therefore respond beautifully to being "worn"--aka being put in a Moby Wrap, or a Sling, Ergo, etc. (Mine hated the Moby, loved the Ergo).

She hated stroller rides, but really dug Ergo-walks.
My point? Have everything on hand and be prepared to try it all. I recommend borrowing as much stuff as possible before purchasing. Lord knows how much money I wasted on expensive items that my daughter hated. You might be wondering what my daughter actually did like?  When she was a newborn, she did really well in her vibrating Bouncer Chair.  I loved it too, because I could carry her around in it really easily,without waking her up. 

She also loved the cradle swing that swings sideways--but she hated the swing I got her that only went the traditional front to back.  Many babies have this preference, so it's worth it to splurge on the swing that goes side-to-side, in my opinion.  It was the only place she would nap for months

Have you noticed that almost all the happy baby places I've mentioned has the baby laying on their back with their head pressed against something?  This can create flat-head if you don't do enough tummy time.  Start tummy time early so they get used to the sensation. I started off doing it with my baby on my chest. When she got a little older, I got a tummy time mat for her with a mirror, which was a big hit.  Even if you do plenty of tummy time, you might still notice a flattening of the back of the head, so you may want to consider getting a Boppy Noggin Nest Support. It fixed our flat-head problem in just a few short weeks. Another good product, is the Snuzzler, which helps your tiny newborn fit more comfortably in those huge car seats, bouncer chairs, swings, etc.
Our daughter was preemie sized when she was born, so it took her a little bit to grow into the Snuzzler. It worked great when she finally did!
Finally, the thing that kept my baby the happiest and helped her sleep the most was a pacifier. I know some parents don't want to introduce them, but for us, they were a life and sanity saver.

The paci is literally plugging a scream.
The Soothies brand paci is the most like a mom's nipple, and therefore seems to be a favorite among newborns. Just make sure to go up to the next size once they reach 3 months old. The 0-3 month size is flexible and small enough to fit all the way into a 4 month old's mouth completely, for them to choke on (I speak from experience).

Your Greatest Arsenal
Above all us, the thing that will help you survive the first month (mostly) unscathed is a good support system. Your partner, your family, your friends are your greatest asset during this time.  Accept all offered help, and don't feel guilty about it.  Just make sure to return the favor when it's their turn for Baby Boot Camp duty.

The first month of your baby's life will be the hardest but most rewarding time in your life...and maybe you'll actually remember it if you use some of these techniques. Good luck and God Speed.


  1. Great tips! I especially concur with what you said about baby outfits. Cute ones are nice, but they're not very practical. Even at 4 months I often just dress my son in a sleeper during the day - easy to get on & off!
    I would also point out that if you do have a few cute outfits, don't wait too long to use them. Babies grow quickly (even though it doesn't feel that way during the first month), and if you try to save everything for a special occasion, they may not get to wear them at all!

  2. Haha,kristi and i are getting ready...thanks for the great tips

  3. Thanks Jessica! :)

    Jake, that's right--it's almost d-day! haha! Feel free to email/text/call if you have any questions, ever! I reached out to every parent I knew that first month.

    Rohanite (love the username, by the way), I dressed my daughter in onesies and sleepers pretty much every day until she started walking...and then a little longer! I totally agree about not "saving" cute outfits. There were so many outfits that I was saving, that she never got to wore. :(

  4. Love this post. I forgot how tiny Juliet was. It's incredible how fast time has gone. You're giving me baby fever!!

  5. Steph, I was sorting through Juliet's baby clothes to pick out stuff to donate to Goodwill, and holding those teeny tiny little outfits gave me a horrible case of baby fever! That's why I wrote this blog post, so I'll be prepared when the baby fever gets the best of me!

  6. I recognize some of those outfits!! It's funny how different children are...we never had a problem using baby clippers and Britty sat perfectly still...and put her in the ergo over the moby and you heard about it! She also wouldn't touch the nuk pacis, only liked mam. So funny!

  7. Juliet hated the Nuk pacis too. She started off only liking the Soothies, and then she only liked Mams, and now she favors the Gerber First Essentials. I wanted her to love the Moby so much; I was so disappointed when she hated it. I remember how great Britton did it in though! Jealous! And even more jealous that Britton stayed still during her "manicures". :)