In the weeks leading up to the arrival of my son, I followed the ever popular advice to relax and put my feet up. The last touches had been added to the nursery, complete with 5 foot tall giraffe carefully placed to watch over the little one while he slept. All his little onesies and outfits were carefully laundered, little hats organized, his blankets carefully smoothed over the rocker and awaiting his arrival. My go-bag had been packed since 30 weeks, which was the same time we had installed the car seat in my minivan. I had the coming home outfit packed and my delivery mix ready to go on my iPhone. I had followed all the lists for preparation, so felt confident that we were ready to bring baby home.
Then he came and I wished I had known to practice, in advance, the following items, as learning to do them with a tiny human who depends on you and doesn’t necessarily understand you don’t know what you are doing, is nerve wracking
1. Putting the baby in the car seat
Before William, I just thought that you plopped a baby in a car seat and then snapped a few items together and voila, they were safely on their way to their destination. When I watched anyone on TV or even my friends move their children into and out of their car seat, it seemed like an effortless dance. Therefore, I didn’t realize that that dance really came from months of completing the task regularly. So, when we went to take William home for the first time with the car seat, it took us much longer that it should have (upwards of 10 minutes) to figure out how to get our wiggling, squirming, squalling newborn into the straps, how to tighten the straps (oops, too tight now loosen the straps), how to place the chest clip and properly situate the five-point harness. It was stress that we had not needed to add to our day had we simply practiced this task.
Now, the practicing won’t be perfect unless you borrow someone’s baby (this is not the recommendation), but you can at least get the main concepts. Most new parents have at least one infant sized stuffed animal, think back to the baby shower and the largish teddy bear that someone gave you for the nursery or perhaps one that you have picked out yourself. Practice strapping the teddy bear into the car seat, adjusting the straps by tightening them, loosening then and then taking the teddy bear out of the car seat. Practice more than once, so that you know how the car seat you picked works, as each car seat has a different way to tighten straps, loosen them and method for getting the straps placed appropriately. Now that you have practiced, hopefully the first time you put your squirming bundle of joy into the car seat it won’t be a stressful experience on the happy day of homecoming.
2. Changing the bed
I can see the eye rolls now. What do you mean that you should practice changing a bed? I’ve been changing beds for years, I know how its done. I was in the same camp as you before my first late night bed changing session. My son had spit-up impressively over his sheets and I thought “oh, I’ll just whip that off and put on a new one”. That was a correct thought but 10 minutes later, I ended up abandoning the project, putting him in clean pajamas and put to sleep in the pack and play. What I simply couldn’t figure out at 3AM in my sleep deprived state was that the bumper I had carefully woven in my sons crib to help avoid injury and the strings I had lovingly tied to the crib slats to hold the bumper in place, prevented me from lifting up the mattress to make the change quick and easy. At 3AM I just figured the mattress was permanently stuck and the bed would never be changed. I was wrong, but if I had practiced changing the bed before he came just once I would have saved myself from this 3AM debacle.
Often, when parents prepare the nursery or crib for the first time, there are additions or adjustments made afterwards. This might be weaving bumpers between the slats, adding a mobile or a sleep wedge, but whatever the change is, they do not think to unmake and then remake the bed. Why should they? The sheets are clean and now it is all ready for baby, its perfect. Instead, the first time they are changing the sheets with the final configuration is when there is a necessity and often a crying baby. 3AM or 3PM, it doesn’t matter, its stressful to find out the you now need to untie every bumper string to then pull-up the bumpers to then be able to raise your mattress and change the sheet, while trying to calm your baby (and yourself). Practicing first will allow you to know the potential hidden quirks of changing your baby’s bed.
3. Opening and closing the stroller
Many of the new stroller models tote themselves as being “easy open” or “one handed close”, which I have found to be actually mostly truth in adverting. The trick, though, is to know how to use the specific model you purchased. Rand and I ended up with a travel system (Graco Modes) that was easy open, easy close and had approximately 15 different stroller configurations. I carefully watched the salesperson flip open, reconfigure, reconfigure again, flip closed and done. It looked so easy. So, after getting the stroller home and putting it together, I went to demonstrate how easy it was for my husband, except it was closed and I couldn’t remember how to get it open. About 5 minutes later we found the latch and flipped it open. Then, I couldn’t remember how to make it so seamlessly reconfigure and then close up with just one hand. We had a few laughs at my attempting to showcase the ease of the stroller and then struggling mightily, but it showed us the importance of practice.
Every stroller opens and closes differently. The latches and releases are in different places and may need a twist, pull or push to get them to work properly. Therefore, before trying to get the stroller to work for the first time with baby, practice opening and closing it, putting the infant seat in and taking it out (if it is a travel system) and knowing how to load it in your car. The more comfortable you are with your stroller before baby, the more fun and less anxious those first outings will be for everyone.
4. Baby Wearing
The first time I ever tried any type of baby wearing I was in the hospital with my 30 hour old and we had heard from the new parents class that we had taken just that morning (baby’s first class!) that the Moby was the best carrier for new moms and babies, especially since it promoted skin to skin. Rand and I thought that sounded like a wonderful idea, and he ran down to the gift shop to purchase our very own Moby wrap. To me, we had just purchased a $50 origami scarf that would magically cocoon our child to our chest and rock him to sleep. The trouble was that we didn’t understand how to wrap the Moby around ourselves, obtain the appropriate tightness and how to place our child into it so that he would not be harmed by falling out if incorrectly wrapped. Luckily, a nurse saw our struggles and helped us figure it out. If not, I likely would have never been confident in using the Moby as I wasn’t sure how to wrap it.
Once home from the hospital, I found that there were many online tutorial videos for how to use the Moby (front carry, outward carry, hip carry, back carry) and watched them and practiced while the baby was sleeping. I also found and watched videos on the other carrier we had, the Ergo Classic, so that I would become comfortable with that one, as well. Although, I still would have needed to practice with the Moby once home as that was a last minute after baby purchase, I mightily wished I had taken the Ergo out of its box and looked at it, tried it on, attempted to fasten it with a teddy bear or anything in front and do it again and again until it was comfortable and easy.
It is not a natural motion to put a baby in a front carrier, and then try to hold the baby in place while fasting clips to ensure the baby doesn’t fall out. It is hard to figure out how to properly adjust the carrier when you have someone wiggling in it trying to adjust themselves so they are comfortable and you are doing the “please don’t fall out, you aren’t secure” dance. When you are putting your baby if for the first time, it more than likely will be awkward and a little nerve-wracking (can they breathe? Are they too hot? Too cold? Secure?) but those anxieties are normal and do not need to be compounded with the stress of “how do I do this?”
There are many times as a parent that life just throws you a curve ball for which you cannot prepare. Therefore, prepare and practice for the routine events of parenthood such as putting the baby in the carrier, changing the bed, working the stroller and using a baby carrier, so that they aren’t curve balls but instead, just life.