Living with a newborn

Okay, I haven’t done the newborn care thing for several years, but I’m gearing up and asked several parents of new creatures (plus looked at my old notes and favorite books) to come up with this list for you, dear reader, and new owner/potential owner of one of these new additions to our planet.

The best tips thus far:

To practice living with a newborn: set your alarm to go off every 15 minutes all day. Every day. Forever. Every time it goes off, completely change what you’re doing. If you’re eating, stop and go do jumping jacks. If you’re showering, jump out (shampoo and all) to make a sandwich. If you’re sleeping, pop up and recite concrete poetry. The inability to do anything for more than 15 minutes (and that’s generous) is your new life.

Set a different alarm for every two days. When it rings, change careers. Not just jobs within an industry. Totally change careers. Because whatever you find to soothe or entertain your baby will change every two days. And then you have to start all over again with your proverbial bag of tricks.

Some days, nothing will work. Just keep trying. You can’t solve every problem but you can prove you care just by being there.

Mark your calendar for 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months. All of them are growth spurts, and they’ll sneak up on you with an exhausting 2-3 day of every-hour-on-the-hour nursing. If you’re expecting your babe to feed nonstop for two days at each of these three milestones, it seems less daunting. Because you know that they’re always crying because they really are hungry.

That 3 month marker is even bigger than the other two because it also means your newborn becomes a totally different baby. Completely different. For some reason, all their pain (digestive, reflux, general distaste at being in a cold, air-based environment) dissolve. Even babies with real colic (you poor, poor parents) are different children after the 3 month mark. Schedule a deep sigh of relief at week 14. Because you’ve just won Survivor.

Every single piece of advice you get is optional. You are the boss. Follow your gut. Because there are hundreds of ways to do this. And your mother and pediatrician and friends may all be wrong. You are right because it’s your child. But if something sounds good, try it. All other advice can get “oh, our pediatrician told us to do it this way.” It’s much more polite than what I told people.

If you go back to work, breastfeed. If you have trouble, get professional help. I have seen lactation consultants solve problems nobody thought would resolve, including a friend who wasn’t making enough milk, a friend with terrible plugged ducts, and my own 4 month painful escapade with thrush and Reynaud’s syndrome (nerve damage) from the treatment of the thrush. Forget all the hype about IQ and bonding and stuff—breastfed babies get sick a lot less. And get better much faster. Since day care is the germiest place on the planet, if you don’t nurse you will miss more work days than you can count for a sick child. So though pumping at work is tough, do it. And the good news/bad news is that you don’t need to pump as much as you’d think (usually 3 pumping sessions for every 2 feeding sessions that you’re replacing) because most babies reverse cycle (choose to nurse all night to be near you when you’re home) and don’t eat as often during the day.

Keep snack and water by your bedside because when a small, helpless person cries to eat at 2am, you’ll find yourself ravenous, too (but unwilling to turn on a light).

Get a sling or a wrap of some sort. Otherwise you will never eat. Sure, you can sit down with a newborn to eat. But you need two hands to prepare most foods. And some newborns don’t want to be put down for the whole first 3 months. Three months is a long time to not eat. Or pee. Get a sling or a wrap. (There are tons of reviews online. I’ll tell you my preference if you ask. But this isn’t an advertisement. Just get one. Ideally not the one that puts all the baby’s weight on its tailbone, because those are kind of spinally misguided.)

Any decision benefits from the light of day. Never, ever make an important decision in the middle of the night.

In the middle of the night, when you think you’re the only one out there, the Internet is your friend. There are lists on things to try and videos of how to fix a poor latch and anything else you can think of. Try or or or your own favorite site so you can find to hear that other people have been through the same thing and made it through.

Now, really—mark 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months from the birth date on your calendar. Seriously.

Anyone have more universal tips on having a newborn?

20 thoughts on “Living with a newborn

  1. Great post. “The inability to do anything for more than 15 minutes (and that’s generous) is your new life…” <– That's the best line ever!

    • “Marking time with breaths,” indeed. [refers to deleted comment] Oh, I remember the worst nights of teething, where he’d fall asleep on me and scream in pain and settle and scream in pain and all I could do was count his peaceful breaths and hope they outnumbered the screams.
      Thanks for the poem.

  2. “Marking time with breaths” was my favorite line, too. Ink, you are such a great person.

    Miss D. had colic. We had to feed her this gross smelling formula that cost 20 bucks for a 4 day supply because she barfed everything else.

    My poem from that time:

    Little refugee,
    Life hi-jacker–
    Enjoy your cardboard box.
    Selling you tomorrow.

    I jest. Babies are beautiful. I think they come out 3 months too soon though, because you can’t really love them until they smile…or am I just Lady MacBeth?

  3. That was great post and many would find it informative on how to handle their new born, i gave a link of your blog to my sister am sure she would love to hear more so do i.

  4. Poor William has been trying to get his debt relief on this blog for almost a year.
    Kitch, I don’t think you’re Lady Macbeth. The blood on her hands was spousal not infantile.
    I jest, too.
    Seriously, I love your poem, too. I long for that kind of honesty and the willingness to say things that are hard…remember my one and only attempt at poetry? Cardboard box was exactly the sentiment.
    I still call Peanut a hijacker. A terrorist. Because the demands when they are tiny seem so reasonable because they can’t do anything. But the demands that linger until they’re 30 or so still feel like adrenaline-producing emergencies. I have a huge blood pressure spike during tantrums for cookies because I’m hardwired to fix his world and to hear only him when he’s in distress. Even pretend distress. Damned newborns are the ones that solidify those neural connections.
    And you’re right. They are born too early. Three months, yes, but isn’t the science that they’re born a year too early? But their heads would tear us asunder if they were born more fully baked?
    Mmmm. Baked. Cookies. All this talk of terrorists is making me hungry.

  5. Tips? Here’s one: enjoy your stay at the hospital. Seriously. Lavish in the help and attention and quiet. (It was one of the loveliest times I spent with my second daughter. She was born the day before Thanksgiving and the nurses tried to get me out a day early so I could spend the holiday with my family. I might have told them to kiss off, but I like to think I refused their thoughtful suggestion in a more demure fashion.)

  6. My twins had colic (shudders). Hopefully you don’t go down that road!!

    Advice? Don’t get caught up in it. Live in the moment and don’t agonize about all that stuff. You’ve done it before so you know the big stuff. Wing the rest of it and spend the time you would have wasted agonizing over stupid stuff immersed in the moment!

  7. As a pediatrician, let me just chime in that a large amount of the advice I give has been gleaned from what parents have told me worked for them on countless visits, and made enough sense for me to pass it on. (Also, as a new parent myself, I have already learned how completely worthless most advice is if it doesn’t seem right for your own baby.) And, if I ever give (non-medical) parenting advice, I always couch it in terms that give parents lots of leeway to do it the way that makes most sense for them.

  8. every minute with twins. every freaking minute. i think i went insane those first three, actually four or five months. may still be insane. god bless you.

  9. @ck you’re funny. I remember sleeping less in the hospital than anywhere else (and you know my kid woke multiple times on normal nights for three years and at least 50 times a night on teething nights) because the damned nurses kept coming in to “check on” me. F—ers. We roomed in and now I’m thinking i would have gone to the nursery with P to get away from the medical staff.
    @KathyB! Horrors indeed. Can’t imagine twins with colic. Had friends who called their babies colicky until they met the one friend whose daughter really had it. 20 hours a day screaming kind of colic. Holy crap. They’re never having another.
    @Dan a good pedi is absolute heaven. Our MD in SoCal and our new one up here (plus my childhood pedi) all sound like you—medical knowledge, advice couched in “hey you can try this,” and mostly a good brain to bounce ideas off. Of course, I could never come to your office…we’d talk lit instead of children.
    @J you are insane but I wouldn’t have much time for ya if you weren’t. So the ten minute timer is every minute, eh? Um, I’m gonna go for another exam to make sure, quadruple sure it’s not twins. Those girls are gonna pay you back, though, I swear. Or you can go all incontinent and ask to move in with them and their twins. ;-)

  10. A couple more things occurred to me at 4 this morning, when the Critter decided to let us know that his recent sleeping through the night was a trial run, and not to be taken as a sign of an actual new behavioral pattern.

    Abandon expectations. They are toxic, toxic things. (This doesn’t apply to general expectations, like “my child will develop along normal lines” or “I will eventually find the time to shower.” Those are OK.) Having unrealistic expectations about how your kid is going to adapt or behave will only frustrate you if your child decides that he/she really isn’t interested in your agenda. Go with the flow, yo.

    On that note, it’s hilarious to me how many of my Grand Ideas have gone completely to hell since I got a child of my own. I had some weird anti-pacifier antipathy, which I blame on residency. (Any unhelpful attitudes I now have I blame on residency.) My “no pacifier” bias bit the dust two days after we got the Critter home. Ditto my aversion to co-sleeping, though we’ve managed to transition him back to the bassinet. (Thanks be to God.) Our “no TV evereverever” diktat died when he needed a bottle and Project Runway was on, and we neglected to shield his impressionable little eyes. (I think he’s rooting for Shirin.)

    OK, that’s way too much. Sorry. I do go on so.

    • Dan, you’re hilarious. I agree about abandoning expectations, but that usually also means tossing friends along with the dreams. Parents who tell you it’s your fault that your kid doesn’t sleep are just as toxic as the expectation that your particular child will be in the top 25th rather than the bottom 25th. Parents who tell you that holding a baby is spoiling them are just bad juju and you’ll drop them from the iPhone, too. You develop close friendships with the other anti-pacifier parents (we’re still in that camp, though we don’t judge paci-parents. Unless they complain about low milk supply. Then we roll our eyes. We’re bad people. We’ve embraced that.)
      lol at Critter watching Project Runway. As I say quite often, there are way worse things. Like letting Critter watch MadMen. Or
      I’m sure we’ll ditch some of our hard-core bias with the next one, including our ban on co-sleeping (since Peanut didn’t sleep through until two and not regularly until three), my ban on reading while nursing, our ban on sugar until age two, our ban on pacifiers, our ban on computer or TV being on while baby is in the room, our ban on locking children in the closet…you know. The stuff that’s just debilitating to hang onto.
      Seriously, great point. Hanging onto any biases will mean your circle of friends might narrow. (It’s a good excuse for those, like me, who are anti-social, anyway.) I will not hang out with people who let their child under age one cry. Simply can’t be with them. ‘Cuz if that’s okay, even though it goes against everything that makes sense and feels right, then my gut is totally off and I spent a LOT of effort being wrong and I don’t need to deal with that.

  11. there are no rules. everything changes. ALL.THE.TIME. and you have to learn to allow yourself to change your mind about things that you were FOR SURE ADAMANT about. if you don’t allow yourself the space to shift your thinking you will be in trouble. if you get angry or sad because you shift your thinking, you shouldn’t.

    #2 will be different from #1 in every way that you can imagine. and i’m sure that you can imagine.

    and you, as a parent of 2 will be completely different than you were as a parent of 1. this is much harder to imagine.

    it’s a whole new game, mom. you’ll do great. and your kids will do even better.

  12. Love this post. I’ve had a challenging first few months both in my own recovery from birth and a difficult newborn, but my advice is to talk to other parents. You’ll realize you aren’t the only one out there questioning all major life decisions! Having a newborn led me to starting my own blog to share my experiences because it was so overwhelming and I thought I was well-prepared (HA!).

    • Ah, yes. Well prepared. We all were. And then we met those little…things.
      Good luck! Blogging definitely brought me closer to voices that told me I wasn’t crazy. Even if they were wrong, they felt like lifelines.

  13. Haha loved this post. Being a first time mother and my little one has two more weeks before he turns 3 months, this was a fantastic read! looking forward to seeing the new changes with my lil man.

  14. Thank you for this post! Your first second paragraph literally made me laugh out loud. Having a newborn is one of the most trying times and it is easy to feel like a failure! If only they could tell us what they are wanting.. “okay baby, blink one time if you want to eat, two times for sleep”. The worst is when everybody says “oh my you have such a perfect baby he is so quiet and well behaved!” Meanwhile when you are alone all hell breaks loose. My first was a perfect sleeper and I thought I was an expert. Now with my second who is 8 months and still up every 2 hours at times I know better! Lol. Sometimes no amount of advice will help, it’s just the journey you’re meant to be on. Thanks again!

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