One thing I would recommend in particular for the little one is a bassinet right by the side of your bed, particularly if mom is breastfeeding. The baby is going to be wanting to feed about every two hours for a period of about two months, and during this period, it is really good to be able to roll over, pluck the baby out, feed the baby and be half-asleep at the time. There really is something a little more refreshing about not having to fully wake up for things.
Alternately, if you are set up for it, get a chair comfy enough to sleep in with wide, soft arms on it for the nursery. This is great for later, but may also be necessary if one parent is not taking any or much parental leave and needs sleep to be able to function at work.
As for parental leave, take it if you can! Here in Canada, there are two parts to the leave: there is the maternity leave part and the parental leave part. The maternity leave part is 17 weeks, the parental is 35 weeks, which can be split between the parents any which way. There is a two-week waiting period for benefits which has to be served by either parent.
That means you could really be off work for quite a long time if you wanted or needed to be. I took six weeks, which was pretty good for adjusting to new parenthood.
The benefits are pretty good - it's a reasonable percentage of your salary; just be sure to sign up for things properly and be sure to record it on your taxes the next year.
You may want to use organizers or some sort of equivalent. Your memory will fail you somewhat from the lack of sleep and new things to remember.
Now one thing I would have to recommend: men, learn how to change a diaper! After seeing all the reactions to the thought of that from apparently manly men in the prenatal class, including some gagging (seriously?!), I wondered how many of them would actually shirk the duty when it came time.
It's not simply a matter of being fair, though that is a very large part of it. It means that your wife can't go anywhere without the baby - or at least, not for very long - and conversely, you can't take your baby anywhere on your own.
(Personally, I also think it's a bit pathetic to hold your stinky child out in front of you whining for your wife to come take care of it, but that's just me)
One thing you should have is a "change station", if you can manage it. A change pad is helpful, but it does not need to be fabric, not unless you like doing laundry. This station should have all the things you will need for changing diapers and such within easy reach:
Zinc oxide cream is a good staple to have. You can usually skip the Vaseline, though if your favourite zinc oxide cream is expensive, you might want to "cut" it with petroleum jelly to make it last longer or use it full strength when rashes flare. Babies have some acidic poops sometimes, and if you don't catch it right away, it can rash up something fierce, and the zinc oxide helps both calm that down and prevent it in the first place.
Almost all the zinc oxide creams we have encountered have some sort of base smell to them, and they are usually different from one another. You will get used to any of them, but be aware that you'll have to get used to the smell all over again if you switch.
One thing we also keep on the ready is Bag Balm. We have only been able to track it down as either direct delivery from their web site or at stores that deal with horse supplies. It's essentially an augmented petroleum jelly and it is absolutely fantastic at dealing with super-nasty rashes.
The Vitamin D requirement was a bit surprising. If you are breast-feeding your kid, the consensus is that it's a requirement, since formula provides it. It sounds like our modern-day habits don't lend themselves to babies getting enough vitamin D from the sun... and that even at that, it would be a little tough to do safely.
We used disposable diapers, ourselves. Cloth just requires a laundry regimen, pails, etc. that we simply could not hack. Your mileage may vary. If you have help from family, cloth might be more manageable. You will likely have less energy than you had estimated pre-baby, so adjust accordingly. If you do go with disposables, yes, it has a significant garbage impact; it may rival the rest of your household garbage.
For disposable diaper disposal, there are a few options. We have seen people just put the diapers into an open garbage can. This can stink, but it's cheap and the smell ameliorates somewhat as things dry out, though never fully.
There are also things like the Diaper Genie. We have the first generation - I do not know if the second generation behaves differently, but it is essentially a long tube of garbage bag that you tie at one end and as you put diapers in it, it twists to isolate the diaper into a garbage "sausage link". When you are ready to dispose of it - it seems to have about a weeks' capacity - you twist it all up one more time and use the rather finicky cutter on the top to chop it off the rest of the garbage bag tube. You take the pile of garbage out the bottom, tie the tube up top and start over, at least until the tube runs out.
Will you get peed on or pooped on when you change the child? Our own personal experience is that the kids actually peed fairly rarely during a change, and it almost seems like the kids would have to be feeling sick to poop during a change. Maybe some of that's in the timing: if you change them right after you smell them, they're usually good to go. You can also help protect yourself just by having a new diaper ready to go and put it in place before you completely put away the dirty one. Someone has also come out with "peepee teepees" - cones to prevent pee attacks from baby boys - but we did not find that necessary.
You should have a kit ready for going out, too, with changes of clothes. Make sure that either it's not frilly, or that both mom and dad have one. We went with the non-frilly option. DadGear is where we got our diaper bag. It's got room for cups, diapers and such. You may also want some sort of foldable change mat - to protect whatever surface you're on, since you will not always have the good fortune of having a change table nearby, especially when visiting friends without really young children!
You will also want a "burp pad", even though that can be as simple as a good, absorbent tea towel. Babies 'spit up'. Yes, it's pretty much just puking, but it happens closer to feeding rather than a lot later, so you get out mostly what you put in. It can be a matter of how greedy your baby is (Axel, our first, was particularly greedy, and spit up accordingly more) and how often you stop to burp them. Babies are not particularly good with gas bubbles, but they will not necessarily stop themselves to be burped. Over your shoulder or, surprisingly, laying on their stomach, is a good way to burp them - gently, no big back smacks - but have that pad at the ready.
Strollers are another one of those interesting purchases that runs the gamut from cheap to reasonable to super-expensive. It has to fold up and fit in your vehicle, it has to be foldable and unfoldable by someone other than an Ikea assembly expert - unfoldable with one hand if at all possible, and ideally should be able to hold an infant car seat. Yes, you can take your child out of the car seat and put it in the stroller, but in particular when it's cold out, being able to just transfer the infant car seat to the stroller and secure it - even lightly - in place is ideal. We found this to be especially handy with the fleecy car seat zip-up cocoon.
Our stroller of choice was the Joovy Caboose since it has those features and has a spot for a toddler to ride on - which Axel does now that he's older - but there are plenty other good models.
Now, just a note on breast-feeding versus formula feeding: there are so many opinions floating around, and I will chime in with what seems reasonable to me.
Basically, breast feed if you can. It's low-cost, it can help the uterus shrink back to normal size faster, it does not have to be heated and it will never be too hot. Genetically, if you have at least one C at rs174575 or more than one A at rs1535, breast feeding will result in a higher IQ, 6.5 or 4.5 points higher, respectively, on average (I don't think they're cumulative).
On the other hand, there are any number of reasons not to breastfeed. Not everyone produces, not everyone can stand the touch and not everyone has a cooperative baby. Even with breastfeeding, there are still times when formula comes in handy. Our firstborn was screaming in hunger the first few days - he needed supplementation. I also found formula extremely handy a number of times when I wanted to let my wife sleep.
I should also admit: I was not breast-fed. I was given up for adoption quite early, and there was no breast-feeding to be had. I turned out fine. (Hey, yes I did, Peanut Gallery!)
My experience with my children is that when they were really young, the vast majority of their crying and screaming was due to being hungry, even if that seemed incredible at the time. Or, at the very least, feeding them seemed to help whatever it was, after determining that absolutely no amount of dandling, burping, attempting to entertain them, asking divine favours of the Norse gods or getting mad was going to help.
Just a final note of encouragement: when you are in the midst of annoying or tiring stages that children have, it can seem interminable. It will get better. That two-hour sleep will expand - sometimes all of a sudden. They will stop spitting up. They will stop getting mad at everything you do. So keep up the good work!
Next time, I will talk a little bit about traveling to the UK with our infant and what happens when your baby starts to get a little bit mobile.
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