Having a baby, especially if it is your first, is a life-altering experience. Being a new parent comes with so much joy, love you never knew was possible, and, yes, stress and uncertainty. While you can never be fully prepared for all the ways a new baby will change your life, there are a few key things you can do to set yourself up for success with a newborn.
We've compiled a list of 10 of the most important things you can do to get yourself ready for the bundle of joy you'll soon be bringing home from the hospital.
Make Your Prenatal Health a Priority
To ensure a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby, you need to take steps to maintain good health and nutrition while you're pregnant. One of the most important things you should do as soon as you find out you are pregnant (or even before) is to begin taking a prenatal vitamin.
There are a variety of nutrients that have been shown to be essential for the healthy growth and development of the fetus. These are not found in large enough quantities in the foods we eat, so it is imperative to take a prenatal vitamin. Some of the important nutrients you'll find in a prenatal include folic acid, iron, and calcium.
All prenatal vitamins are not the same. Carefully evaluate and research the different products you are considering. Talk to your OBGYN to ensure that the vitamin you select contains appropriate amounts of each key vitamin or nutrient for your baby.
In addition to taking your prenatal vitamin every day, you should also be sure to eat a well-balanced diet. This is not always easy during pregnancy between the nausea and food aversions of the first trimester and the signature cravings associated with pregnancy. However, doing all you can to ensure that you are eating healthy foods and ingesting enough to fuel yourself and feed your baby is important.
You will want to make sure you get enough protein, calcium, iron, whole grains, and vegetables throughout your pregnancy. While weight gain is normal and expected during pregnancy, the amount you should gain will depend on your body and other health considerations. On average, women should gain between 25 and 35 pounds, but the exact amount recommended for you may vary, so be sure to check with your doctor.
Another key piece of maintaining your health during pregnancy is to establish or continue an exercise routine. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you should be able to exercise while pregnant. Be careful not to overdo it and listen to your body, but staying active is one of the key components of maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Once you find out your pregnant, you should call your OBGYN's office or find an OBGYN. They will likely want to schedule your first visit around eight weeks after the start of your last menstrual period, but may want to see you sooner if there are other health concerns.
Continue with regular visits, scheduled as recommended by your OBGYN, throughout your pregnancy. There are a variety of tests and screenings that need to be conducted at different times during your pregnancy.
Register and Shop for Essential Items for Baby
For how tiny babies are, there are a lot of essential items you'll need to provide them with proper care. Start making your list of everything you'll need relatively early on in your pregnancy. Check with friends and family for recommendations of some of the best products and brands to consider. You can also consult online reviews to ensure you make the best decisions possible.
Once you have started compiling a list, you can begin purchasing items to get ready for baby. You can also set up a baby registry, either online or at a nearby baby store. Many of your friends and family will want to purchase a gift for the new baby, and having a registry set up will help them be able to select a product you actually want.
To help you create your registry and checklist, we've compiled a list of some essential items most new parents purchase. We've grouped them into product categories to help you keep everything organized and make sure you don't forget something.
Travel Essentials and Other Gear
Health and Safety
Get Your Home Ready for Baby
There are a number of things you'll want to do to make sure your home is ready when you bring home your new baby. One of these key tasks is getting the baby's nursery ready for your little one.
Selecting and purchasing the crib, dresser, glider, and any other furniture pieces you want is only one piece of the nursery room prep you'll want to do. If you plan on repainting the room or adding any decorations, those items will be much easier to do when there isn't a newborn in the home.
Keep in mind that the AAP (the American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that babies sleep in their parents' room (in their own safe sleeping spot, not in the parents' bed) until at least six months of age. You will want to make sure you have a bassinet or a crib set up in your room to provide for this safe sleeping arrangement when you bring your baby home from the hospital.
As you get closer to your due date, you will want to wash any newborn or 0-3 month clothing you have purchased or been gifted for your baby. Also, wash any towels, blankets, swaddles, bedding, or anything else you want to use with the baby. Babies typically have more sensitive skin, so be sure to use a detergent designed for babies or one that is free of dyes and scents.
Bottles, nipples, and breast pump supplies (if you plan on breastfeeding) will also need to be washed and sterilized. However, you will want to wait until closer to when you'll be bringing baby home to ensure these items stay clean.
When you're thinking about the layout of your home, you may want to consider setting up different baby zones in your house. For example, if your nursery is on an upper level, you likely won't want to bring baby up and down the stairs every time he or she needs a diaper change. Consider setting up a diaper changing station downstairs and fill up a diaper caddy with diapers, wipes, diaper cream, and a few changes of clothing.
If there are any home repairs you want to perform, getting them done without a newborn in the house is a good idea. When your baby first comes home from the hospital, you'll want to limit their exposure to new people and won't want to worry about any dust or unsafe chemicals that may be used in home repairs. If there are any 'must-dos' on your list, tackle them now.
Our last reminder here relates more to the car than your home, but it is a very important item to address. You will want to make sure you have the car seat safely and correctly installed in your vehicle before you head to the hospital. Many states and counties offer car seat safety checks, so you can look into what is offered in your area and schedule and appointment. Over 50% of car seats are not installed correctly, so this is an important step you'll want to take to ensure the safety of your little one.
Make any Necessary Medical Preparations
There are a number of medically-related preparations that you will want to make before baby arrives. First, you should confirm your health insurance coverage. Talk with your insurance company about what is covered and what isn't, so you can be prepared and make any arrangements that are necessary.
Make sure your OBGYN and the hospital you plan to deliver at accept your insurance. Otherwise, you'll want to make some changes while you still have plenty of time.
If you and your partner have separate health insurance, you will also want to decide which insurance you will be adding the new baby too. Compare your plans and select the one that will offer you the greatest health benefits for the most reasonable prices. You may find that it will make the most sense to all switch to one insurance company to receive family plan discounts.
When talking with your insurance company, order a breast pump if you plan on nursing your new baby. Many insurance companies will cover a free breast pump, so you will want to take advantage of this benefit. Before placing your order, contact the company to see which models are available for you to choose from and conduct some research before making a purchase.
If you're undecided about which area hospital you'd like to deliver at, schedule a hospital tour. You can learn a lot about each hospital's policies, view the delivery and recovery rooms, and get an overall feel for which one looks to be the best fit for you through a hospital tour.
Even if you've already decided which hospital you'd like to use, a hospital tour can still be beneficial. You can learn where you need to go when you go into labor and other important information that could impact your time there.
Setting up medical care for your baby once they are home is also important. Look for a pediatrician in your area. You can consult with friends or family members who have young children to receive a few recommendations.
Every pediatrician is a little different and has different philosophies of care. You will want to select a practitioner that will be a good fit for you and your baby. Most pediatricians offer appointments where the parents-to-be can meet with the doctor or doctors in the practice to talk about policies, procedures, philosophies or care, and any other questions you may have. These 'interviews' can have a big impact on the decision you make, so be sure to schedule a few with the pediatricians in your area.
Register for a Childbirth and Education Class
Taking a childbirth and education class can prepare you for what to expect during delivery and when you bring your newborn home. The class will help you identify signs of labor and when you should call your doctor and head to the hospital.
You'll learn a variety of breathing and positioning techniques to help keep you as comfortable as possible during labor. The class will also cover the different pain management options, so you can start to decide which options you'd prefer.
Most childbirth classes are designed for both partners to attend together. Your partner will learn how they can best support you and communicate with you as you progress through the stages of labor.
Your instructor will also go through different labor scenarios (including c-sections) to prepare you for what to expect if your labor doesn't progress as expected. Having this information before you go to the hospital will help prevent any surprises you may not have been expecting.
Childbirth classes often also include information on caring for a newborn. You'll learn some important tips on breastfeeding, diaper changes, swaddling, calming your baby, and more.
You should look to take a childbirth class when you're around seven months pregnant. Many classes may fill up quickly, so look to register for your class earlier on in your pregnancy. You will likely be able to find courses that are offered on weeknights or weekends, so you should be able to find an option that best fits your schedule.
In addition to signing up for a childbirth class, you should also look into learning infant CPR. These classes may be offered through your local hospital, pediatrician's office, the Red Cross, or other organizations. A CPR class can help ensure you're prepared should the unthinkable happen with your new baby.
Get Ready for the Hospital
Before you get too close to labor, you'll want to make sure everything is packed and ready to go when you go into labor. You will want to pack a hospital bag for yourself, your partner (if they'll be staying), and your new baby.
When packing your hospital bag, remember that the hospital will likely provide many of the things you'll need during your stay. You can always contact your local hospital to see if something specific will be provided, or if you'll want to pack it.
Some items to consider adding to your bag include a robe, loose-fitting pajamas and clothing, underwear, socks/slippers, personal care products, and things to keep you busy during labor (books, music, magazines, tablet, etc.). Be sure to have a camera (or your smartphone), chargers for your electronic devices, a pen and paper to take notes and write down any questions you have, your insurance card, and any hospital paperwork you've completed. You will also want to pack snacks for you to eat during labor and for your partner.
Your baby's bag should include their going home outfit, socks, a hat, and receiving blanks. The hospital should provide diapers and wipes, but you'll probably want to have a few extras with you just in case.
Another key item you'll want to bring to the hospital with you is your birth plan. You may have developed this during your childbirth class, or you and your partner may have completed it together at a different time. Your birth plan should include information about who you want in the room with you during delivery, whether you'd prefer to be in bed or able to walk around, if you'd like to have access to a bath tub during labor, and any equipment you'd like to have in the room to use.
Keep in mind that your birth plan is just that-a plan. Labor can throw unexpected changes at us, so be prepared to make modifications as needed.
Plan for Your Leave of Absence from Work
If you're currently working, you will also want to start planning for your time away from work. Let your boss know your due date and determine how much (if any) paid leave you'll receive. You will want to decide if you're going to stick with the standard leave you're allowed, or extend your leave.
As you get closer to your due date, prepare any necessary materials for your replacement or coworkers. Depending on your position, you may need to let clients know that you'll be out of the office and direct them to someone else in your organization that can offer them support while you're away.
Line-Up Your Support System
Having a support system in place when you bring home your new baby is also important. The more support you have, the better. You can turn to the members of your support system to give you a little break from baby, to help you prepare meals or perform chores around the house, or just as someone to talk to when you need a release.
Depending on how large your support system is, you may want to create some sort of a schedule, so too many people aren't all around at the same time, leaving you with large gaps of time without any support. Consider assigning different tasks to different people or assigning different dates for different people to provide assistance.
As helpful as it is to have other people around when you have a new baby at home, be sure to also leave some alone time for just yourself and your partner with the baby. You'll be a new family and need to bond and learn to adjust to your new life together.
Plan for Quick and Easy Meals
Once your new baby arrives, your schedule will revolve around them for a quite some time. Their feeding and sleep schedule, especially during those first few weeks and months, will definitely receive top priority. You'll find it more challenging to do some of the tasks you normally do, such as cooking a meal.
Pre-planning some quick and easy meals and prepping so freezer meals will be extremely helpful. You can find freezer meals for just about any type of recipe and cuisine, so you should be able to find a variety of recipes to match your taste.
Freezer meals are designed to be tossed in your slow cooker or heated up quickly on the stovetop or oven. Removing the prep time from cooking will make things much easier with a new baby.
Set Some Time Aside for Yourself
Finally, taking some time for yourself is also important when you're awaiting the arrival of your new baby. It may seem impossible with all the things going through your mind and on your to-do list as you prepare, but carve out some time for self-care. Once the baby comes, your time for self-care and relaxation will basically be non-existent for a while, so do what you can now.
Self-care will look different for everyone, but choose a few things you enjoy doing. If you like getting a massage or getting your nails done, call up a local spa and schedule a prenatal massage and pedicure. You can also take time to do some relaxation exercises or prenatal yoga, as both of these can be an excellent way to get your body to relax and take your mind off of everything you need to accomplish.
Shortly before they are due, many people also schedule a babymoon with their partner or a weekend getaway with a few friends. Both of these can give you the opportunity to get away (literally) from everything on your list. You can enjoy a last taste of freedom before your parenting duties start up full-time.
Other things you can do to take some time for yourself include reading (non-baby related books), watching a movie or theater performance with friends or your partner, exercising, writing in a journal, gardening, taking a bubble bath, doing a craft you enjoy, baking, and visiting a museum.