It's been six weeks since our daughter, Clementine, was born. She's finally sleeping better and going longer between feedings. She's also becoming more alert when she's awake. My husband and I, on the other hand, feel like we've been hit by a truck. I'm amazed that we've muddled through. Here are tips from seasoned parents and baby experts to make your first month easier.
Babies eat and eat and eat. Although nature has done a pretty good job of providing you and your baby with the right equipment, in the beginning it's almost guaranteed to be harder than you expected. From sore nipples to tough latch-ons, nursing can seem overwhelming.
1. Women who seek help have a higher success rate. "Think of ways to ensure success before you even give birth," suggests Stacey Brosnan, a lactation consultant in New York City. Talk with friends who had a good nursing experience, ask Baby's pediatrician for a lactation consultant's number, or attend a La Leche League (nursing support group) meeting (see laleche.org to find one).
2. Use hospital resources. Kira Sexton, a Brooklyn, New York, mom, says, "I learned everything I could about breastfeedingbefore I left the hospital." Ask if there's a nursing class or a lactation consultant on staff. Push the nurse-call button each time you're ready to feed the baby, and ask a nurse to spot you and offer advice.
3. Prepare. At home, you'll want to drop everything to feed the baby the moment she cries for you. But Heather O'Donnell, a mom in New York City, suggests taking care of yourself first. "Get a glass of water and a book or magazine to read." And, because breastfeeding can take a while, she says, "pee first!"
5. Heat helps the milk flow, but if your breasts are sore after nursing, try a cold pack. Amy Hooker, a San Diego mom, says, "A bag of frozen peas worked really well for me."
6. If you want Baby to eventually take a bottle, introduce it after breastfeeding is established but before the 3-month mark. Many experts say 6 to 8 weeks is good, but "we started each of our kids on one bottle a day at 3 weeks," says Jill Sizemore, a mom in Pendleton, Indiana.
If your infant isn't eating, he's probably sleeping. Newborns log as many as 16 hours of sleep a day but only in short bursts. The result: You'll feel on constant alert and more exhausted than you ever thought possible. Even the best of us can come to resent the severe sleep deprivation.
8. Take shifts. One night it's Mom's turn to rock the cranky baby, the next it's Dad's turn. Amy Reichardt and her husband, Richard, parents in Denver, worked out a system for the weekends, when Richard was off from work. "I'd be up with the baby at night but got to sleep in. Richard did all the morning care, then got to nap later."
10. What if your infant has trouble sleeping?Do whatever it takes: Nurse or rock Baby to sleep; let your newborn fall asleep on your chest or in the car seat. "Don't worry about bad habits yet. It's about survival—yours!" says Jean Farnham, a Los Angeles mom.
It's often hard to decipher exactly what Baby wants in the first murky weeks. You'll learn, of course, by trial and error.
11. "The key to soothing fussy infants is to mimic the womb. Swaddling, shushing, and swinging, as well as allowing babies to suck and holding them on their sides, may trigger a calming reflex," says Harvey Karp, MD, creator of The Happiest Baby on the Blockbooks, videos, and DVDs.
13. Warm things up. Alexandra Komisaruk, a mom in Los Angeles, found that diaper changes triggered a meltdown. "I made warm wipes using paper towels and a pumpable thermos of warm water," she says. You can also buy an electric wipe warmer for a sensitive baby.
15. Soak to soothe. If all else fails—and Baby's umbilical cord stub has fallen off—try a warm bath together. "You'll relax, too, and a relaxed mommy can calm a baby," says Emily Franklin, a Boston mom.
If you are bringing up your baby in a two-parent household, it's important to share the mental load and give both partners a chance to learn what needs to be done to help your baby thrive.
16. Let them be. Many first-time dads hesitate to get involved for fear of doing something wrong and incurring the wrath of Mom. "Moms need to allow their husbands to make mistakes without criticizing them," says Armin Brott, author of The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year (Abbeville Press).
18. Divvy up duties. Mark DiStefano, a dad in Los Angeles, took over the cleaning and grocery shopping. "I also took Ben for a bit each afternoon so my wife could have a little time to herself."
No matter how excited you are to be a parent, the constant care an infant demands can drain you. Find ways to take care of yourself by lowering your expectations and stealing short breaks.
21. "Forget about housework for the first couple of months," says Alison Mackonochie, author of 100 Tips for a Happy Baby. "Concentrate on getting to know your baby. If anyone has anything to say about the dust piling up or the unwashed dishes, smile and hand them a duster or the dish detergent!"
23. Got lots of people who want to help but don't know how? "Don't be afraid to tell people exactly what you need," says Abby Moskowitz, a Brooklyn mom. It's one of the few times in your life when you'll be able to order everyone around!
25. Reconnect. To keep yourself from feeling detached from the world, Jacqueline Kelly, a mom in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, suggests: "Get outside on your own, even for five minutes."
26. Enlist backup. Make your first journey to a big, public place with a veteran parent. "Having my sister with me for support kept me from becoming flustered the first time I went shopping with my newborn," says Suzanne Zook, a mom in Denver.
27. If you're on your own, "stick to places likely to welcome a baby, such as story hour at a library or bookstore," suggests Christin Gauss, a mom in Fishers, Indiana.
29. Stash a spare. Holland Brown, a mom in Long Beach, California, always keeps a change of adult clothes in her diaper bag. "You don't want to get stuck walking around with an adorable baby but mustard-colored poop all over you."
If nothing else, remember that everyone makes it through, and so will you. Soon enough you'll be rewarded with your baby's first smile, and that will help make up for all the initial craziness.
Heather Swain is a mother and writer in Brooklyn, New York. Her novel is Luscious Lemon.