Preparing the hospital bag

With each pregnancy I’ve streamlined the task of packing my hospital bag. For the last two pregnancies I created a list of items I’d need to pack into my hospital bag at the last minute. There were a number of things I wanted to pack that I was still using regularly and needed to have available. To make sure they weren’t forgotten in the last-minute packing, I found it helpful to have a descriptive list of these items so they could be packed easily once labour started. While I managed my labour, my husband was able to go around ticking off the items on the list while putting them in my hospital bag.

My checklist for our fifth baby is shown in table 1 (overleaf).

Small gifts for the kids

We have a tradition that the second time the kids come to visit their new sibling in hospital we give them a small gift on behalf of the new baby. We leave it until the second visit as we want the first one to be solely about introducing them to the special addition to the family.

When the baby is born, it’s an exciting time for a family. There are many presents and much attention for the new baby. The small gift is a way of diffusing some of the envy that may result when the other children, mainly the toddler or preschooler, see this. We’ve always chosen gifts that can entertain the kids while they visit the baby and me in hospital — for example, a book, a story CD, playing cards or an activity or puzzle book.

Table 1: hospital bag packing checklist

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When baby comes home

We’re considerably blessed to have five healthy and beautiful children. I’ve learned an enormous amount with each child and gained more confidence in myself as a mother along the way. Some of the things I know now I wish I’d known when I had my first and second babies. Each baby has their own personality and I found there’s always a period of adjustment for the whole family, but particularly for Mum. It can take some time to get back into the swing of things and work out new ways of managing family life with a larger brood. Preparing for this and discussing it with the kids before the baby comes along can help set up the right expectations of what life will be like with a newborn.

However, even when I’m prepared I find I still need specific strategies during this wonderful but exhausting time.

Tip: Coping with a new baby

Enjoying baby

‘Coping with a new baby’ can sound like babies are only hard work, but this is definitely not the case. They’re hard work, but work that reaps amazing results. I’ve learned babies are small for such a short time that I need to make sure I enjoy that time. This wasn’t always easy, and I’ve had to remind myself that the house would eventually become tidy, the baby would eventually sleep and eventually I wouldn’t constantly be in a sleep-deprived fog. The baby, however, would grow up quickly, and that precious time can’t be made up.

Trusting your instincts

It’s important to trust your knowledge and be confident that you know your baby. I’d try what I thought might work for my baby, and used only the strategies I was comfortable with.

Filtering advice from others

Everybody has advice for new parents. I’ve always listened to the advice of other parents as they could have useful insights for me. I did, however, filter advice that didn’t fit our parenting style. Naturally, we didn’t have a parenting style when we started out, but if I tried something and it didn’t feel right or made me anxious or worried, I wouldn’t keep doing it. It’s important to feel comfortable and confident about how you parent your baby.

What sleeping problem?

Someone once gave me this piece of advice on babies and sleeping: ‘It’s only a sleeping problem if you’re unhappy with the sleeping situation’.

When you’re deprived of sleep, it’s very easy to become slightly obsessed about how much your baby is sleeping (I can speak

from personal experience). Lots of people have views on where baby should sleep, how long baby should sleep and when baby should start sleeping through the night. In reality, I don’t believe there’s any one ‘right’ way to approach baby’s sleep pattern. Don’t worry what other people think: if you’re happy with how you and baby are sleeping, don’t feel pressured to change.

Communicating with your partner

Don’t assume your partner knows what you’re feeling or what your day was like. Don’t keep your feelings to yourself. I’ve found if I did, the result was a rather big eruption of feelings because there are too many to hold in!

Preparing in advance

Doing things in advance when I had the time meant if everything started to fall apart later in the day, I wouldn’t feel so stressed. Cooking the evening meal in the morning is a great example. Late afternoon and early evening can be a challenging time with a new baby, so if you don’t have to worry about cooking, you can spend more time tending to baby’s needs.

Taking nana naps

I love an afternoon nap. Lying down for an afternoon nap when my baby and toddler were having their afternoon sleeps was critical for keeping my sanity. It meant that by the time the rush hit at 5 pm I wasn’t completely exhausted and I had more patience for the kids.

Readjusting your standards

Depending on how much your baby sleeps and how you’ve recovered from the birth, you may need to adjust your standards on things such as ironing, cleaning and fancy meals. I would stick to a ‘keep it simple’ approach for the first few months, including easy meals that the kids love (even if that meant having spaghetti bolognaise once a week).

Getting out of the house

Exercise and fresh air are great for you and the baby. I found going for a walk each day did wonders for my mood. As it can be quite isolating being home with a baby, having a playgroup or a regular social outlet with adult stimulation through the week can be a refreshing change too.

Acknowledging your work

When you have a newborn, it’s important to acknowledge all the things you’ve managed to achieve every day. It can be easy to focus on what didn’t get done (like the pile of washing to be folded or the floors that need a mop). If I managed to get the children to school on time, cooked an evening meal and played with the baby and preschooler, it was a great day. Life with a new baby is a time when just completing the essential tasks is a great achievement.

Entertaining the toddler while breastfeeding

The age gap between each of our children and the next one is roughly the same (about two and a half years). This has meant we’ve always had a newborn and a toddler at the one time. In the early weeks, when the newborn is breastfeeding frequently, I’ve found it helpful to be prepared in terms of entertainment for the toddler. While you’re sitting and feeding the baby the house can be a potential danger zone if a toddler is unoccupied for too long.

I had a special box for my toddler when the baby was born. It only came out when I fed the baby, and went back in the cupboard after feeding finished. I rotated small toys and art activities — bouncy ball, write-and-wipe boards, stickers, puzzles and so on.

I found a few low-key ways to keep my toddler entertained while I fed the baby:

Prepare a children’s playlist on the iPod. All my children have loved listening to story CDs (audio books). The iPod made organising this even easier. I’d import a number of my toddler’s favourite stories and make a playlist. We have a connection from our stereo into which I plugged the iPod. If the stories had an associated book, I could have it ready for them to look at while they listened.

Read a story. As I’d have to sit still for more than 10 seconds, it was the perfect opportunity to enjoy a story together.

Tell a story. As we were not always at home when I needed to feed the baby, I found making up my own story to tell the toddler was a simple way of amusing them that required no preparation. I liked to make the central character of the story the toddler themselves! I even turned the story into a learning opportunity by adding a moral to it — for example, two toddlers having difficulty sharing a toy, but finally working out a solution.

Pack a snack box. I prepared a snack box and water bottle for my toddler and preschooler as part of my daily school lunchbox routine. We walked to school each morning and when we returned the baby generally needed to be fed. My toddler could access their snack box and independently have their morning tea at the same time as the baby.

Play verbal games. There were a number of verbal games I’d play with the toddler. The bonus of these games was they could be played anywhere and didn’t require any preparation.

‘I Spy’. We played a modified version — for example, ‘I spy something red in this room’.

Singing nursery rhymes. We would sing nursery rhymes requiring participation — for example, saying the animals in ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’.

Word-association game. I’d say one word and ask the toddler to say what they thought of — for example, if I said ‘big’ they might say ‘small’; I’d say ‘yellow’ and they might say ‘blue’.

Your support network

Don’t be too proud to take help. Too many people make their new parenting experience so much more stressful than it need be by trying to be superwomen and cope alone. It’s not natural — humans have always raised infants in groups — and it’s so difficult if you have no network of support, community and communication.

Helping out with the school kids

Transferring babies from car to cot or cot to car often, and the constant running around with a newborn, is not ideal for baby and is also pretty tiring for Mum. With my last two babies I was lucky enough to have great friends who brought my kids home from school on particular nights of the week. This made such a difference to my days and to how frazzled I’d feel at the end of them.

If someone offers to drop your kids home for you, take them up on it! If you have other school families close by, try organising mutually beneficial arrangements with them. For example, you could help them out in some way before baby comes (build up credits) and they can help you out after baby is born. Or, you can arrange to alternate the days that each parent does the pick-up from school. I find people are incredibly generous. Most people won’t even expect you to do anything for them and are more than happy to help out. They just may not think or know about offering assistance.

Writing a public ‘to-do’ list

I love lists and can have many different ones going at any time — for example, one for the blog, one for daily life and one for jobs I want my husband to do. I wouldn’t necessarily want everyone to see these lists; they just might reveal too many of my idiosyncrasies! However, whenever I had a newborn I did find it invaluable to have a separate list of tasks I wanted to complete around the house that I was happy for others to see. This list was filled with very simple things such as:

• clean the windows

• mop the floors

• mend the boys’ jeans

• hand wash the woollens

• fold the washing.

I had a spot near our kitchen where I kept this list, and it served two purposes: it reminded me of what I needed to do, and it let others know how they could help.

‘Things to do’ lists — I love them! We all know that we get baby brain and easily forget things, so for me everything goes on a list, even the simple things like returning phone calls. The best part is crossing things off the list, which is a big achievement when you have a newborn.

Sheena Hickman, mum of two

This didn’t mean I waved the list in front of every visitor I had in the house. I could never do that! It was meant for those wonderful family members and close friends who popped in to visit us and see the baby, but wanted to help us out too. If I was breastfeeding the baby and they asked me what they could do to help, I could tell them where my ‘to do’ list was and they could decide for themselves whether they were up for any of those tasks. The list also had the added bonus of letting my husband know which tasks were important to me.

Having your partner at home

It took me until baby number three to work out the ‘right’ time for my husband to take time off work to help with the new baby. My mum lives in the country so she came and stayed with us for a couple of weeks each time one of our children was born. After baby number two I realised there’s no point having two extra adults in the house. For subsequent babies, my husband took a couple of days off around the birth time, then went back to work and took a longer leave period later in the year.

Learn to say ‘no’ to some visitors in the first couple of weeks (this may be something your husband has to enforce or a sign on the door asking people to come back another time). This is a really special time for both Mum and Dad as usually Dad has taken some precious time off work to spend with you both and it’s important to connect as a new family first.

Simone Anderson, mum of one

My experience has been that the toughest part of the first year with a baby is the period from four to six months. By the four-month mark, the effect of continuous broken and limited sleep starts to take its toll on me. The natural adrenalin that you have after the birth of the baby has also worn off. Combine this with the baby’s day catnapping starting to kick in and I found this was when I really needed extra support.

For the last three babies, my husband had two weeks off somewhere between the four- to six-month mark and it was fantastic. I could take time to rest more and recharge myself, and the baby didn’t have to get dragged around so much either!

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