Preparing for Parenthood
There is a reason why pregnancy lasts nine months in humans.
Yes, it gives your baby a chance to develop, but it also gives you time to prepare yourself and your life for one of the biggest changes and upheavals you will ever experience.
This page provides some ideas for what you might need to do to prepare yourself, and where to look for additional help. It focuses mainly on practical issues like what furniture and equipment you need.
Nursery Furniture and Equipment
Looking at catalogues and websites, you may conclude that having a baby is an extremely expensive business with a huge list of essential equipment.
Actually, you can get by with very little additional ‘stuff’ if you need to do so.
What you really need is:
Somewhere For The Baby To Sleep
Co-sleeping, or having the baby in your bed, is not really recommended by most midwives and health visitors because of the risks to the baby of being squashed or over-heating, but it is a perfectly feasible option.
Other options for newborn babies include a Moses basket next to your bed, a crib that slots onto the side of your bed, or a separate cot. There are many places you can buy these items or you can probably find perfectly good second-hand ones quite cheaply.
You will also need bedclothes, including sheets and some kind of covering. Baby sleeping bags are recommended as impossible for the baby to slide down inside, but you may find that you need to supplement with a light blanket during colder winter months.
AVOID COT BUMPERS OR ANYTHING AROUND THE COT, AS THIS CAN BE DANGEROUS!
You may need more sheets and blankets than you think, especially if your baby is a bit ‘sicky’. Yes, of course you can buy more, but maybe not at 2am, so have at least four sheets to hand.
There is no need to go overboard buying clothes for the baby, for several reasons.
First the baby will grow incredibly quickly. Second, people will buy things for you, and many of them will buy clothes. Third, you have no idea what size to buy.
Astonishingly enough, ‘normal birth weight’ newborn babies may be in three different sizes of clothes: ‘tiny baby’, ‘new baby’ or ‘0–3 months’.
It is, therefore, a good idea to buy minimally, probably in ‘new baby’ size, and plan to go shopping (or send someone else) quite quickly when you know what size you need and what else you have been given.
As a minimum, you will need:
- Three vests (in a neutral colour);
- Three sleepsuits (in a neutral colour);
- One cardigan or jacket;
- One woolly hat.
You will also need nappies or diapers. You have several options, with various environmental implications (see box). Whatever you choose, they come in several sizes so don’t buy too many at once, especially when the baby is small.
Don’t forget to buy baby wipes and nappy sacks too.
Nappies: Your Options
Disposable nappies are the easiest option, but the least environmentally friendly. They are easy to come by, and easy to drop into a bin, but they will also be clogging up landfill for many years.
Biodegradable nappies are the ‘middle way’. No washing required, but less environmentally disastrous than disposables. Unfortunately, however, some parents report that they are not quite as robust as disposables.
Cloth nappies are a far cry from the towelling squares our mothers and grandmothers used. They are now shaped, and in very pretty colours and patterns, as well as a variety of materials including fleece, hemp and cotton. They do, however, require washing.
If you like the idea of cloth nappies, some local councils (in the UK) give free trial packs.
If you plan to breastfeed, the equipment that you will need is limited (a good quality nursing bra, and some lanolin ointment or moisturising cream like Kamillosan).
Be aware that some babies are just not very good at breastfeeding, and find it very difficult to get the hang of it. You, too, may find it very uncomfortable and decide to try bottle-feeding.
This is not a failure!
It is a practical response to events, and you should not beat yourself up.
In case you struggle to breastfeed, or if you want to bottle feed your baby, you will need to have a stock of bottles, formula, and a sterilising system.
There are several different sorts of bottles that you can buy. Some babies like one sort and others like another, so best to buy or borrow at least one of each.
A Word on Sterilisers
You can buy steam sterilisers that will sterilise up to six bottles and lids at once, but you may not want to do this if you’re not sure you’re going to bottle feed.
There are alternatives such as microwave steriliser bags, where you put a bottle into a bag with a small amount of water, and heat it in the microwave to sterilise it. This may also be a more practical option for holidays.
Car Seats and Transport Systems
If you have a car, then perhaps the most essential piece of equipment you will buy for your baby is a car seat.
Required by law in many other countries, these are a safe way of transporting your baby in the car. Some hospitals will not let you and your baby leave by car without checking that you have one.
Car seats are of course available second-hand BUT buying them new is highly recommended because you have no idea of the history when you buy one second-hand.
A car seat that has been in an accident should be discarded immediately in case of structural damage.
You can get car seats that slot onto pushchairs, often described as transport systems. This can be convenient, but bear in mind that you will be using the pushchair for a lot longer than the baby car seat, so make sure that your pushchair works for you more generally as well. Some people opt for a sling while the baby is small, and only move to a pushchair later when they have worked out what they want to buy.
Of course, there are many more things that you could buy, but this list outlines the essentials.
One of the most useful things that you can do to prepare yourself for parenthood is to attend an antenatal class.
In the UK, these are available through the NHS — ask your midwife for details — and via the National Childbirth Trust, or NCT, if you are prepared to pay.
NHS classes are generally for women only, and NCT classes are for couples. Other options are available in other countries.
Antenatal classes serve two main purposes:
- You will find out about giving birth, and your options, as well as practical issues like what to pack in your hospital bag; and
- You will meet other prospective parents who live locally and who are expecting babies at the same time. Some of these will become and remain an essential support network for many years. Do not underestimate the importance of this social aspect.
Finding Out More
There are many, many books and websites out there offering information about preparing for parenthood.
Some of the most popular are:
- What to Expect When You're Expecting provides a month-by-month guide to pregnancy, including changes to expect from your body, and how your baby will be developing at each stage. There are also two follow-up books, What to Expect the First Year , and What to Expect: The Toddler Years .
- NHS Choices has pages on all kinds of issues that may arise during pregnancy and when your baby arrives. An essential source of health-related information especially for the UK.
- Penelope Leach’s Your Baby and Child provides a very readable guide to child development over the first five years.
- Gina Ford’s The New Contented Little Baby Book is a guide to establishing routines for babies. Some people view Ford’s approach as too rigid, but if you’re the kind of person who likes routine and order, it’s worth a look.
Our page on Pregnancy and Wellness provides information on common ailments during pregnancy, and also covers issues about exercise and eating during pregnancy.
In amongst all the fun of stocking up a nursery and finding antenatal classes, it is as well as choose a name for your baby. After nine months to prepare, it can be a bit embarrassing to admit that you have not yet managed to agree on a name!
Even if you think you know the gender of your baby, it may be sensible to have an alternative name just in case the scan was wrong…