Things you will need for a newborn

Each day I learn about another friend of mine expecting a baby this year. Congratulations! It is exciting and overwhelming. I remember myself this time last year starting to think what I will need and wondering what is the difference between a sleepsuit and a vest and whether I would need a breastpump or a feeding chair.

Typically for a London working couple, we live in a small place which got smaller with the baby’s arrival. I like space and I don’t like to acquire a lot of things. I moved to London seven years ago with just two bags. In this spirit I tried to get as little as possible. Still, for the first three months after our son’s birth our flat was a mess. Baby clothes, baby bottles, baby toys, baby mats, baby nappies… Every single surface was consumed by some baby thing. Some were great (like a mobile) some were a waste of space (like a Bumbo seat). So I thought, I would write a guide to help the first-time mums save time, money and space.

A necessary disclaimer: all babies are different and parents are different too. So things that worked for me may not work for you. But here is a list to get you started.

 

Baby Clothes

First, say “yes” to all the secondhand clothes from friends. Newborns grow so quickly that they don’t get a lot of wear out of nice pieces. It is a good way to recycle and save some money.

If you are buying go to Gap, John Lewis and Mothercare – good quality essentials and fair value.

Must haves

  • Cotton sleepsuits with legs like this one. This is a staple item of every baby wardrobe in a cold climate, so get 8-10 of them (Mothercare will have 5 white ones in a pack for about £15). I recommend the ones with buttons all the way from neck to legs, so that you don’t have to pull anything over baby’s head. Front buttons are better (small babies are lying on their back most of the time). Zipped sleepsuits are also OK, especially if you don’t like doing and undoing buttons. It is great to have sleeves with folded cuffs – they fold over the fingers to prevent babies from scratching themselves.
  • Cotton sleepsuit without legs with long or short sleeves. In hot weather the baby can wear just the vest (in lieu of sleepsuits with legs), in cold weather they can go under a sleepsuit as an extra layer.
  • Two warm overalls to take the baby out in. Two because one will be in the wash from time to time.
  • A couple of cotton hats if it is cool inside or outside. In autumn/winter you will need a warmer hat too (fleece or wool).
  • A cotton blanket
  • 2-3 swaddling blankets. I have tried many and the best one was the Miracle blanket.
  • 10 muslin cloths
  • 2 soft baby towels

Nice to have

  • A couple of cute outfits to take pictures in
  • A couple of pairs of hoodie + leggings + socks
  • Lambskin liner for the pram and for the crib (if you’re getting a crib)

Waste of money

  • Anything that goes over newborn head. The head is so wobbly that you will rarely ever put it on in the first two months – realistically until the baby can sit unsupported while you’re dressing them (around 6-7 months)
  • Sleepsuits that button at the back. If you are within the majority of parents that put their babies on the back, then whenever your newborn cries you will think “Are they uncomfortable because of the buttons?” Why does anyone create sleepsuits with buttons on the back? Well, there are babies who hate lying on their back, so if you get one of those you will appreciate non-conventional sleepsuits.
  • Anti-scratch gloves. Trim baby’s fingernails and get the sleepsuits with folded cuffs. Gloves fall off and get lost in the wash
  • Something that is not 100% cotton. Again, every time the baby cry you will think “Is it because they are uncomfortable in this polyester suit?”

Baby furniture

Donations and lendings from friends are great. Also, if you’re considering buying something expensive (like a Stokke cot) check out gumtree and ebay – you may save some considerable amount of money (£200+) getting a second-hand one.

Must have

  • Something for the baby to sleep in. I wish I could say “a cot”, but I have to warn prospective parents that cots don’t often work for newborns. Why? I guess they have too much space for a little person who just came out of the womb. My friends’ newborn babies usually end up sleeping in parents bed, or pram (Bugaboo Donkey type), or small crib. We got a hammock that worked very well for the first four months. We also tried the Moses basket, but our son was waking up in it. Co-sleepers can be a good option. They seem expensive before you have a baby: “Really? £200 and I can only use it for 6 months?” But once you have a crying baby, an extra hour of sleep is gold, and £200 seems like a bargain. Check out ebay and gumtree if you considering getting one.
  • Changing table. Some people will argue that this is a nice to have rather than a must, but if you care about your back, get one. You will be changing 8 nappies a day and you want a comfortable plhace to do this with nappy, wipes and cream supplies all handy.
  • Swing. Get a battery operated one that swings back to front and side to side like this one. If you cannot find the versatile one, get one that swings back to front. Yes, they take up quite a bit of space, but it is a perfect device to put a newborn to sleep. Almost all second-time mums have one.
  • Baby bath (if you only have a shower in the house like we do) or bath support for an adult bath (like this one).

Nice to have

  • Glider chair with a footstool. If you are breastfeeding, the first few weeks you will spend more time sitting and feeding than doing anything else. Hence it is very important to have a super comfortable seat for this. They are about £200 new or half for a second-hand one.
  • Nappy disposal system like this one.

Waste of money

  • Various sleeping cocoons. They don’t work for most babies.

Baby devices

Must have

  • Pram. People value different things in prams and they tend to be a heated topic of discussion in any antenatal class. We went for the light practical option of Bugaboo bee. They are expensive, so we got a second hand one for a third of the price of new. Having used it for the last 7 months I must say that even the full price is a good value for money.
  • Sling or baby carrier. In early days a great device for putting baby to sleep or doing something when you need to carry your baby around and you want to use your hands. There are some babies that don’t like slings so don’t buy too many of them beforehand. To my surprise the one we use most is the Baby Bjorn carrier. I thought that it will be an option for dad only and I will use a sling. However, Baby Bjorn is so quick to put on (massive plus when the baby is crying) and our boy didn’t like any other sling in the first three months. The other one a lot of people use here are stretchy Moby wraps. And then there are Ergo for older babies – that allows you to carry the baby on your back. I also have a Didymos sling. I was planning to use it mostly because it is better for the baby and for my back that Baby Bjorn. However, it is too fiddly to put on, so Bjorn wins on most days.
  • Breastpump (if planning to breastfeed – read my post on breastfeeding preparation). All lactation consultants I spoke to recommended Medela, so I got a double Medela pump. I used it a lot in the first two weeks (before the baby figured out how to suck on the breast) and now I use it occasionally when I want to go out and need to have some milk supply in the fridge. I will use it a bit more when I go back to work.
  • Bottles for milk. For compatibility get the same brand as your breastpump.
  • Steriliser. We have a microwave one.
  • Baby scissors for nails. Some may argue that you can just bite babies nails off, but I prefer cutting.
  • Dummy. If you are super against dummies, don’t get it. If you are on the fence, just buy one or two and see if it helps. Our baby doesn’t want to take the dummy, he chews it and spits it out. You can always read up on it and “lose” it later.
  • Chair for newborn. A friend of mine had one and I wish we bought one too. It is a high chair where the baby can lie flat and you can roll it around the house with you (to the shower, to the dinner table, to the kitchen, etc). Something like this. We had a Moses basket that we carried around, but it was less convenient.

Nice to have

  • Car seat. Great if it attaches to your pram base (for example, Bugaboo bee goes well with Maxi Cosi). We don’t have a car but we used ours a number of times in rental cars, friends cars, taxis, etc.
  • Scales. In the first couple of months you will weigh your baby a lot (more out of worry “are they eating enough?” than real necessity). It means going to some baby clinic somewhere. Having baby scales at home saves the hassle.
  • Baby bag for the pram. If you plan to be out and about then this bag is a must. You think through all the things you need (change mat, nappies, bottles, snack for yourself, change of baby clothes), and you pack it the night before so that when you want to go out it is all ready.

Waste of money

  • Bumbo seat. They seem really uncomfortable, babies don’t last long in them, you can only put it on the floor anyway so the baby cannot see what you’re doing.
  • Breastfeeding pillow. I found regular pillows much more useful when learning how to breastfeed. And in most cases you don’t have enough hands to stick a pillow where you want it anyway, so you have to learn to breastfeed without it.
  • Travel bag to cover the pram. We bought a bag that we can pack our pram into when you’re flying somewhere. However, our pram is small so they allow us to take it to the gate and we don’t carry the bag for it with us. You only need one if you are checking the pram in together with the bags, but most people have a small light pram for travel to use in the airports.

Toys

I suspect you will get a lot of presents in this category. But babies don’t need that much in the first three months.

Must have

  • A mobile. Get a battery operated one with a remote control. A mobile can buy you a 15 minutes of no-cry time in the early days (and that’s a lot).
  • A rattle. All babies love something noisy and when they learn to hold things in their hands and shake them, a good rattle will entertain them for a while.
  • An activity mat that works both for lying on the back and lying on the tummy.

Misc

Must have

  • Nappies. I like Pampers newborn ones because they have a wee indicator on them – it goes green when the baby wees (the main question of the first day is “Has he weed and pood?” and then “How many wet nappies a day does he have?”)
  • Nipple cream like Lansinoh
  • Zinc cream for baby bum like sudocrem
  • E45 or Epiderm ointment to massage them after a bath. Everyone recommends oil, but apparently it is very drying for the skin, so a lots of babies start having eczema after a couple of months because of it.
  • Wipes for the bottom. Dry cotton wipes to start with and then regular wet wipes.
  • Maternity pads. It doesn’t matter what delivery you had, you are going to bleed a lot in the first few days, so you need some good absorbent pads designed for this situation – and then you can switch to regular ones.
  • Breast pads for milk leaks
  • Breastfeeding bras (at least 2). I went to John Lewis and used their free bra fitting service to get a couple of pairs. And then I bought the same brand on Amazon.
  • A couple of good quality pijamas with easy feeding access (this is going to be your main clothes for the next 3 months)
  • Baby thermometer. We use in the ear one, it also works for adults.

Nice to have

  • Shampoo for the cradle cap. Get it once your baby has it.
  • Warming pads for the breasts like this one they help to extract more milk.

Waste of money

  • Baby shower gel or shampoo. Newborns don’t need them, they just dry the skin. Just water is absolutely fine for them.

And I would say this is it. You can get away with less. In fact, the only thing your baby really needs is you. The rest is designed to make your life easier.

You will need more things as the baby grows (bibs to catch the dribble when they start teething, weaning equipment, toys, books, etc), but you can get it all afterwards.

Advertisements

NCT course – do or don’t?

Embed from Getty Images

When we were preparing to become parents, my husband and I were thinking whether we should do a NCT parent education course or not (NCT is National Childbirth Trust in the UK).  We didn’t really need the course because we had read a few books and planned to go to parent education course that was offered by St. Mary’s hospital for free. And NCT course would take longer (two weekends instead of one day) and would cost £287 – definitely something to stop and think about!
I asked a few friends who did it whether it was worth doing, but their reasons didn’t convince me. Some did it because it was the timing of their hospital course didn’t work for them, some did it because they preferred to get the extra knowledge by talking to people rather than reading books. Everyone said that the reason you do it is to meet other new parents in your area and become lifetime friends with them (no pressure). However, London is such a transient place that it is hard to form lifetime friendships. Most people will have their first child and then move. In fact, this is what happened to most of my friends.
In the end, we cracked Mr Piggy and did the course.
Was it worth it? For me, definitely yes.
The best thing was meeting the people who lived in the same area with a due date within a month of our own. Same area is important because after birth 40 minutes on the tube will be an insurmountable obstacle. And due dates are important because even if your kids are two months apart the mums’ relationship becomes quite one-sided (one mum already solved all the problems and is teaching the other one) which soon becomes awkward for both parties.
We are still in touch with our NCT group and meet regularly. Mothers email each other frequently, asking for advice and sharing tips and frustrations. It was not unusual to type an email at 1am in the early days – and get a response straight back (yes, the “1am feed”). You have someone else in the same boat. This support network is really valuable. I only realised it once I had the baby.
The second best thing is that we got on NCT mailing lists and Facebook groups. So now I get invitations to a lot of local baby-related events, like coffees and courses. And there I make connections and meet more people from the same area with babies of the same age.
Finally, I got the list of lactation consultants from our NCT instructor and later found out about breastfeeding drop-in clinic. This turned out to be extremely valuable (and saved us money on expensive lactation consultants).
Can you get all this without doing the course? Yes, you can. You may already have support network in your area (your mum and sisters or friends). You can join NCT lists without attending the course. If you meet local mums at one event (say, yoga class or local library) your connections will start growing like a rolling snowball. It is simply easier if you do the course because this kind of happens for you (and in the early days if there is anything that is easier, I will vote for it).
What about the knowledge? I think it really depends on the instructor you get. Our instructor at St. Mary’s was brilliant (and a mum of four). Our NCT instructor was super helpful and gave us lots of resources to explore in addition to the course (which I only finished recently, six months after the course). Though the ultimate thing with the baby is learning by doing.

Before the baby comes, part three: Baby sleep

After you have fed (see part 1) and soothed (see part 2) your baby comes sleeping. Or not sleeping. This remains a topic of parents concerns and conversations for months. In that sense, you will probably read a lot about babies and toddlers sleep over the years, but there are two books I would recommend to start with before the baby arrives: The No-cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley and Sleeping with your baby by James McKenna

The No-cry Sleep Solution

no-cry-coverI think that some of parents’ stress about baby sleep comes from wrong expectations. As soon as you become a parent, everyone starts asking: “How’s the sleep going?”, “Is he sleeping through the night yet?”. As if the goal of parenting is to get the baby to this milestone asap. But what is more natural for the baby: to sleep 8 hours straight from 6 weeks of age or to wake up 6 times a night for a little suck at 8 months of age? In reality the latter is more natural and likely (even if not desirable!), but most parents expect their babies to be in the first group. And if the babies are not, then there must be something wrong with the baby and parents need to “fix it”.

Elizabeth Pantley’s book is good at managing the expectations. For instance, “sleeping through the night” means a 5 hour sleep stretch and not a 12 hour one. And that not every single cry and stir at night requires parents’ attention. And why babies wake up – in fact we all do, adults are just better at falling asleep while most babies will need some help.

Then, the author asks you if you and your partner consider your baby sleep to be a problem. It doesn’t matter what others think, it matters what works for your family. For instance, I enjoy bed sharing and manage to get a good sleep even if our son wants to breastfeed 6 times a night (I hardly wake up for these feedings). But it will be different when I go back to work. So by then I will need to teach him to fall back asleep without my help.

And finally, Elizabeth Pantley shows you how to work on your specific goal. The book is full of mums’ stories to show you that there is hope. You create a plan, try it for 10 days, adjust, try the new plan for 10 more days. As a mother of 4 and a parent educator the author suggests plenty of ideas to try.

This book is a great alternative to Cry It Out method. A lot of parents start with “we won’t do Cry It Out training”, but after 5 (6, 7, ..) months of sleep deprivation they are happy to try anything. Well, this book offers an approach that is good to everyone in the family. Skim through before the baby comes and keep in your library for later. I bet you will read it.

Sleeping with your baby

sleeping-with-your-baby-coverThere is a lot of controversy surrounding bed sharing, mostly due to the fear of SIDS. Before their child is born most people say that they will not put their baby in bed with them. Some of them even look down at the parents who admit that they do it and think “oh these poor people, they are raising a psychologically dependent child. I will never do that!”

However, a few months after their child is born almost 90% of parents in the UK have slept together with their baby at least once, by choice or accidentally. Whether bed sharing is for you and your family or whether you prefer a different sleeping arrangement, this is a good book to read before the baby comes.

James McKenna is an anthropologist who spent his entire career researching co-sleeping. In the first part of the book he talks about risks and benefits. In short, it is good for babies because it makes them feel safe and allows them to breastfeed easily. They don’t fully awaken and don’t need to be settled. Therefore mothers (and fathers) actually get more sleep. It is also safe (if the guidelines are followed) because breastfeeding mums have an instinct and won’t roll onto their babies. The risks exist and they are mostly due to babies being trapped in bedding, headboards, or sleeping with other adults (not mum) or siblings, so safe bed sharing guidelines should always be followed. The second part of the book provides these guidelines.

There is a lot of misinformation about bed sharing and co-sleeping so it is a good book to read to make an informed decision about it. It may also convince you to persevere with breastfeeding in the difficult early days.

And it is only 128 pages long which makes it a quick read!

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series:

Before the baby comes, part two: baby cues and cries

When I was in my final weeks of pregnancy, one of my colleagues said: “Don’t prepare so much for the birth, prepare for what comes after. In the hospital you will have professionals looking after you, so you will get a lot of help. However, when you come home there will be noone to help you and no time to learn”. Good advice, but where to start?

I went on a bit of a binge reading exercise, gulping books about brain development and discipline, caring for a newborn and raising a bilingual child. However, initially, the thing that will be most helpful is to know why my baby cries (and how I calm him down). Deciphering the cues and cries is what my last 3 months were about.

First of all, this video about baby language has been immensely helpful. It is only 17 minutes long and it will save you a lot of guessing. It talks about five distinctive sounds all babies make in their first months of life (indicating that they are hungry, uncomfortable, sleepy, need a burp, or need to fart). Apparently, all babies make these sounds, it is based on reflexes.

THB-coverThen, if I were to recommend one and only one book for the first-time parent, it would be The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. This book tells you what is happening with your baby for their first three months, so called “the fourth trimester”. The author argues that all babies are born 3 months prematurely because our heads are too big and we won’t be able to squeeze through the pelvis any later. So the baby is often overwhelmed by the outside world and cannot handle all the sounds, movement and interaction just yet. The best way to calm her down is to emulated the womb environment in the following five steps: swaddle her tightly to reduce movement, turn her on her side or stomach (lying on their back makes babies feel as if they are falling down and activates the Moro reflex), shush her as this resembles the sound of blood moving through the vessels, swing her as she was swung all the time in the womb, and finally, give her something to suck on.

This book is great in many ways. First, it gives you an idea of what may be happening with your baby. The advice is actionable and lets you move through a routine which will be great for the stressed and sleep-deprived state you will be in. Finally and most importantly, it gives dad something to do and be useful.

If you don’t have time to read the book, it is also available as a DVD.

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series:

Before the baby comes, part one: prepare for breasfeeding

Embed from Getty Images

You would think that breastfeeding is something that should happen easily and naturally. After all, if it didn’t, humanity would not have survived, right? However, out of all things that I had to master with my newborn it was the hardest one. I knew it would be from my girlfriends, so I prepared for it. I attended a breastfeeding course with NCT, I printed a couple of articles showing the right latch and breastfeeding positions, I watched a few videos, I learnt “nose to nipple, tummy to mummy” mantra. This was all very helpful, but still I did not prepare enough.

What else could I have done?

First of all, I should have gotten an email and a phone number of a breastfeeding consultant (or a few) that I could call straight away if I needed them. I hoped that my sister-in-law (who works as a lactation consultant in Australia) would be sufficient. She was very helpful to call in the middle of the night, but you need someone locally, in your home, the same very day because your baby is not getting any food! Ask friends for a recommendation beforehand, ask a birthing center, ask your parent education instructor. I got a consultant from NCT and not only she was good, but she also charged reasonable amount (£80 per session). If you just search on the internet you will end up paying £250 or more in an emergency.

Secondly, I should have taken notice of the “breastfeeding clinics” in my area. Luckily, my husband found one through NCT – at that point I wasn’t capable of searching the internet. These are usually weekly drop-in sessions where one can ask questions and get advice on correct latch, etc. You will probably end up going there a number of times at different stages (i.e. in the beginning to correct the painful latch, check for tongue-tie, when your baby loses that latch every other minute, when you need advice on how to introduce a bottle, etc). They are much cheaper (or free) than getting a breastfeeding consultant, but we couldn’t get to ours in week one, as we could barely leave the house – that’s why we needed the consultant to come to us.

Thirdly, I should have gotten a good breast pump in advance and tested it. I got one from a friend, but the suction on it wasn’t strong enough. I found this out from the midwife who came to visit, so I ended up buying a breastpump in a hurry. You can also rent one from NCT (they have industrial strength ones). I bought one for the both breasts because I realised after sitting awkwardly crouched for half an hour 8 times a day that it is worth paying more.

Finally, I should have gotten some formula, bottles, nipples and steriliser all set up and ready to go – just in case. And also found out how much formula to give to the newborn – see an example here. You know, I didn’t want any formula at home because I wanted to make every possible effort to breastfeed. I thought that by not having formula I would remove the “temptation” to just give the bottle and persevere in breastfeeding. I was afraid that once the baby gets the bottle he will never want to breastfeed (rubbish! I had to bottle feed in the first week until we both figured out how to latch – and now my baby is happily sucking from the breast). What I didn’t realise is that you cannot teach the baby to take the breast, they need to learn. And they cannot learn when they are screaming their lungs out. Luckily, I had some formula at home after one couple in our mums & babies group almost had to go to A&E on Sunday night. We had to rapidly sterilise the bottles and teach ourselves how much extracted milk and formula to give to the baby.

Looking back at our first week with a newborn, we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress. Our baby screamed a lot and we didn’t know why. I suspect it was hunger. Once we sorted out breastfeeding (in week 2) the loud screaming stopped. So next time instead of shushing and rocking I would try feeding first.

Resources about breastfeeding:

  • Kelly Mom – terrific resource on breastfeeding covering all sorts of topics like increasing milk supply, pumping, reflux, baby allergies (myths and truths), cluster feeding, etc

  • Australian Breastfeeding Association – has a lot of useful information, including videos

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series: