Congratulations! You’re pregnant! Are you excited? Nervous? Now what?
Well, since there obviously isn’t any one way to experience pregnancy and birth, let me just share my own personal advice through my experiences. Take it or leave it, this is my shot at positive pregnancy and natural birth advice for the first-time mama-to-be!
Most important tips:
- Follow your intuition and prepare yourself. Research everything. And be fierce. It is never too early or too late to turn into a protective lioness. (So cheesy, I know, but that’s how I feel sometimes, when I don’t feel like a mobile milk truck. But breastfeeding is also wonderful, don’t let my little joke deter you!)
- Know that birth is beautiful. Be confident. You are strong.
- It is critically important that you find the best support system you can. One that will surround you and your unborn baby with love, calmness, and respect. One that will help you birth naturally.
Some people don’t want to nail down a specific date because it puts some pressure on them at the end, like OBs pressuring them to have an elected induction (generally a big no-no, do your research). But for me, I liked having a good 4-week range in mind at the end.
You can calculate your due date based on your estimated date of conception or last menstrual period. If you’re anything like me, you’ll put it on your calendar, along with the weeks or months because you’re so excited and want to know what week you’re at at all times. Until you’re pregnant with #2 and then the time just flies by and you barely remember what month you’re in, much less the number of the week. You can also sign up for weekly updates.
Learn about how your body is changing and read about your baby’s growth during the
Read this hilarious week-by-week calendar by AlphaMom. Buy Dr. Sear’s Pregnancy Book. And while you’re at it, get the Baby Book and the Breastfeeding Book. And don’t forget that you will have a lot of emotional & hormonal changes going on. It is OK to feel like you’re going bonkers because of your mood swings, crying fits, random bouts of anger, fear, frustration. You might start stressing out about every little thing. That is normal. Just breathe, take things in stride and try to relax.
Most importantly, don’t stress about your due date. You could give birth any time two weeks before or after the date (or even later!) and still be 100% normal. I know that we tend to focus on the date and the weeks ticking by but try not to think of yourself as an egg timer. Only the baby knows when he or she is ready!
Inductions are a slippery slope to having an intervention heavy birth. Some are for medical reasons but many are because the provider or mother are worried about the baby being “past due.” Don’t let anyone tell you that your baby is late. 43+ week pregnancies happen!!! But if you need to have one, check out this good read on inductions by Mama Birth: Induction Without Pain Medications- Can It Be Done?
Prepare yourself for the birth itself. What kind of birth are you looking to have? What do you want to remember for the rest of your life?
- The Birth Book – Dr. Sears
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth & Spiritual Midwifery
- Adventures in Natural Childbirth – Janet Schwegel & Pam England
- Birthing From Within – Pam England & Rob Horowitz (Philosophies & Guiding Principles)
Read empowering birth stories online, too. Another good website for birth stories – Birth Without Fear. This is my personal birth story, a lovely vbac, or hbac to be specific. Unassisted birth stories will help you embrace your inner strength, even if you’re not planning to have one yourself. This is my freebirth story. Ignore any and all books that treat birth like a medical condition to be monitored, like What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
- Watch real, beautiful natural births.
- Watch home waterbirths.
- Watch The Business of Being Born – Ricki Lake & Abby Epstein
- Listen to Ina May – 1 – 2 – 3 & 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
And read about and watch what your less-than-ideal birth might look like. For me, that was a hospital birth, with interventions like IV fluids, epidural, episiotomy, forceps or vacuum, and possibly a c-section. The sight of a woman in a hospital bed, tied down (by her IV and fetal monitoring) and drugged makes me shudder. Watching a cesarean makes me tremble with anger and want to puke at the same time. How can this be what is normal in our country? That being said, you might feel more comfortable with a hospital birth or a planned c-section and that’s okay. I am not here to shame women into following my version of birth. We must follow our own journeys to have the birth we are called to have.
Study labor and birth positions. Watch videos of positions. More. I found hands & knees rocking to be helpful for me. Stay off your back, unless that feels best for you. Research how to “open” yourself through letting go, kissing, dancing, etc.
Think about pain management techniques. Research breathing techniques. Natural oxytocin. More breathing. Visualization. Warm water. Herbs. Laughter. Pleasure bonding with your significant other (Ina May video). Kissing. Massage. Touch. Hypnosis or HypnoBirth. Practice them. Use your partner. Man-made drugs are not necessary but highly touted and over used. If you have not considered an unmedicated birth because you think it’s only for women who want to suffer, you might want to think again. Our bodies are made to handle childbirth and the contractions and crowning are certainly manageable or else our species would have stopped procreating a long time ago! An unmedicated, physiological birth is the absolute best thing for you and your baby. You will not be able to feel what you need to feel to guide your baby into this world if you are numbed and strapped to a bed. Childbirth is nothing you can run and hide from, even though I know I felt like I wanted to during my second birth. The pain that you might be afraid of is something to learn from, not to be afraid of. It passes with the birth. Own your birth. Face your fears. You can do it! Birth is beautiful!
How can you achieve an unmedicated birth? Listen to Michelle Collins, CNM, talk about drug-free birth tips. Find friends and family members who have had empowering natural births and talk to them. Join support groups online during pregnancy. Prepare yourself mentally, take classes, and practice your pain management techniques.
Think about writing a few different versions of your birth plan to help you research what is out there, your options, everything that might happen, and mentally prepare yourself. Some people think birth plans are bunk. I think my plans were important part of researching my options, the latest studies on what is available, and helped me gather all my thoughts on paper in one place.
Research complications during pregnancy and childbirth. A big worry is pre-eclampsia. Read how to control it with Brewer Diet. Have gestational diabetes? What do you do if you’re Rh Negative? GBS positive? Read these commonly held myths or lies in obstetrics for more thoughts on pregnancy as a disease, unnecessary vaginal exams, having low fluids, being high-risk, water breaking for more than 24 hours and the “failure to progress” label that gets ladies a c-section.
- Epidural: Pros & Cons – Read Mama Birth on why they are bad)
- Pitocin: Pros & Cons
- Systemic painkillers in your IV
Make sure your care provider can tackle all of the potential labor & birth complications without making the situation worse than it could already be. They need to be aware of a complication at the first signs of it, able to explain to you exactly what the pros and cons of a particular situation are and what your options are, and be trained to do what is in your best interest and in the best interest of the unborn child. What would they do if the baby has shoulder dystocia? Is in breech presentation? You are past your due date? You are showing signs of low amniotic fluid? Cord prolapse during birth?
If you’re really looking for a natural birth, a c-section is usually your last option. But they happen to over thirty percent of mothers. The risk of having one increases significantly in the hospital so if you want the lowest possibility of having one, plan a home birth or at least hire a doula for your hospital or birth center birth. Just to be prepared, read up on what giving birth by cesarean section could be like. Having a c-section is no walk in the park, can be mentally and emotionally traumatizing, and the recovery was worse for me over my vaginal birth, that’s for sure. Others say they found their c/s recovery to be better than they were expecting.
Attend a birth class or two. Or a whole series of them, like Bradley. No matter how much you prepare, your labor and birth may be different that you are expecting. Each birth is different. And that is OK. But you can never over prepare yourself. At some glorious point during your birth, your mind will shut off and your body will take over. It knows what to do.
Think about what you want done to your baby after the birth.
There will be a whole slew of things that you will want to research and protect your child from as soon as their born, depending on your attendant or birth location’s standard practices. Here is the short list of things to research.
- Cord Clamping
- Hep B
- Vitamin K
- Circumcision (My post on it here.)
- Erythromycin Eye Ointment
- Full list here
My opinion? Assuming everything is OK at birth, opt for minimal, if any interventions. Interventions can interfere with bonding and anything you’re not sure about can just wait. Nothing needs to be done to the baby immediately after birth.
For my last birth, my wishes were that the cord clamping should be delayed (no medical reason to rush this!), my husband was to cut it, my baby was to be examined GENTLY while on my chest, not whisked away to a cold table and scale, with no eye ointment or needles. If I had a boy, I would want him to have genital integrity and would not have requested circumcision.
You will want to research extensively about immunizations / vaccines. Do the research. Spend hours and hours on this topic if you have not before. Here is a decent pro-con list. There is no right or wrong answer, only what you think is best for yourself and your family based on your family history, health, etc. Staggering is another acceptable option option if you’re pro-vaccinations but don’t want your baby to get quite so many quite so early. Dr. Sears has a good book on that. What you decide is your business.
Pick Your Birth Place & Provider
Once you’ve read a few birth stories and thought long and hard about what type of birth you’re looking for, decide where and who you want to help you with your journey.
For my first birth, I didn’t think about “alternative” options. I just went the hospital route because that was what my insurance covered and that is what I thought people did, had babies in the hospital, lined up on beds with other ladies. I picked a provider that didn’t fit my personality or my needs, was unhappy with her care, but I didn’t bother to stand up for myself or my baby and change my plans. She pushed a scheduled c-section on me from the minute my baby showed up breech on an early ultrasound. I refused but still ended up with a medically unnecessary c-section for breech presentation at 39 weeks, when I was told in labor during a second version attempt and they told me a c-section was my only option. They lied to me and because I believed them, I didn’t fight them. But I should have. A breech baby can be born vaginally! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! For my second birth, I knew the high-medicalized route was not my thing. I wanted a vbac, even if the baby was breech. I wanted the bring my baby into the world naturally, surrounded by love, in the safety and comfort of my own home. Breech or not, she was going to be born at home. My second baby was breech for a while but turned head down after 36 weeks. I had a wonderfully healing, medication-free, beautiful hbac in my own bed with my husband, midwife, and midwife assist.
- Planned Homebirth with or without care providers
- Unplanned homebirth, car birth, etc.
- Hospital birth – vaginal or c-section
- Birthcenter (More info & how to locate one: American Association of Birth Centers)
- Unassisted birth – just you. Or just you and your partner, but no “trained professional” is present. Read my post on planning an unassisted birth.
Whatever you decide, it is entirely up to you and your partner. If you’re planning a homebirth, find the right midwife for you. There are a few different kinds of midwives too – CNM, LM, DEM, CM. (Full list here.) Read up on the best questions to ask. Make sure you are confident in your choice and your midwife’s experience. Remember that they usually follow all the protocols the state requires and if you want to deviate from that, you need to be very clear on your desires. Personally, I never once regretted my choice of midwife, her holistic care throughout my prenatal, postpartum and baby’s care, and our one or two hour long appointments that took place in the comfort of my own home. I appreciated having the comfort of a “medical professional” in my home after a hospital birth but just know that birth is actually not a medical event.
If you’re opting for a hospital birth, you can also have a CNM, or certified nurse midwife, as your primary. He or she can deliver your baby. Many hospitals offer internal midwives. Many hospitals also allow out of hospital midwives to help with delivery your baby. If you decide to go the OB route, just know that your chosen OB often is not the doctor that will deliver your child. If this is the case, you will want to find a midwife or doula or both that can be with you during your entire prenatal care and assist you during your hospital stay to help you navigate the system and birth as naturally as possible. They are worth their weight in gold. Your insurance company should pay for them. Call and ask. If they don’t, they really are not that much out of pocket.
Videos to watch:
- Your birth experience matters. You do not have to pick between “safety” and experience. Watch: Debunking the Myth: Birth vs. Experience
- What are your initial thoughts on midwives? Did you know that they are highly-trained professionals? Watch: Debunking the Myth: Midwives are Uneducated
- Midwives are the experts on natural birth. OBs are only needed for special cases. Watch: Debunking the Myth: Birth should only be handled by experts
- Numerous studies across the world affirm the safety of homebirth. Watch: Debunking the Myth: Home births are dangerous
Research Pregnancy Routines
How do you feel about all of the routine testing during pregnancy? Bloodwork? Amniocentesis? Chorionic villus sampling (CVS)? Ultrasounds? Electric fetal monitoring (EFM)? Vaginal exams? Being weighed at every prenatal visit? Peeing in a cup at every visit as well? Glucose screening and glucose tolerance tests? Group B streptococcus screening? (Full list here.) What about vaccines during pregnancy? Flu shot? What is safe for you and your unborn child? There are many vaccines that are not safe during pregnancy, any with a live-virus, and some that they claim are safe. Do your research.
You can pick and choose what you feel comfortable with and what you don’t feel is necessary. Do not let the blanket approach apply to you. Pregnancy is not a sickness that needs this much monitoring.
I personally allowed minimal testing, some extra blood work due to being Rh negative, only peed in a cup a few times, had one ultrasound at 14 weeks to determine the sex and another at 36 weeks to check to make sure the baby was head down and everything looked great for a homebirth. I did the GBS swab myself but would skip it if I had to do it again. There was no electronic fetal monitoring. Ever. I refused the gestational diabetes testing. I only allowed one vaginal exam before I went into labor to check to see if my cervix was ripening and I was dilating yet, but this was after my due date, and twice during labor, only by my request. I wanted to know how far along I was after 15 hours of labor and then again when I felt the urge to push, I wanted to know if I was 100% ready down there. Next time though, I will not asked to be checked. I trust my body. I did not have any vaccinations. I wanted to feel confident that I knew exactly what was going inside of my body and my baby and I couldn’t be sure with vaccines and in my mind, a little skepticism is healthy. Next birth, I will cut down on interventions even more, assuming I am still in a very low risk group, healthy, and my baby is healthy too.
You decide. Period.
Gather Birth Supplies
If you’re having a homebirth, your chosen midwife will provide you with a supply list. It is mainly just pads, towels, sheets, ice, trash bags, bowl for the placenta, rubbing alcohol, birth pool and hose if you want a water birth, etc. The midwife brings her own bag of birth stuff, like oxygen, birth stool, etc.
If you’re having a birthcenter or hospital birth, you’ll need to pack a bag because they generally keep you over night for a vaginal birth or two days for a c/s. Keep in mind that they’re working for you and if you’d like to go home, you can always discharge early if you really don’t want to be there. Don’t forget your birth plan and be sure your partner is in 100% agreement and can inform anyone of your wishes if you are not able.
This is also a good time to start setting up boundaries with your friends, family, or in-laws if you need to. Just remember that while you might appreciate advice, it is up to you to listen to what you want to or not. Same goes for help during your pregnancy, birth, and after the baby is born. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself. Do not be afraid to tell anyone that your body, birth, and baby is none of their business. That includes any random belly patting, especially by strangers.
After the baby is born, keep in mind that most visitors are often more hassle than help. It’s not that they’re meaning to, it’s just that the immediate postpartum period can be a very sensitive time for you and it’s hard for people to know how to help exactly or when they’re over stepped their welcome if you don’t vocalize it. If anyone stresses you out or doesn’t clean up after themselves, have your sweet partner show them the door. The baby is the perfect excuse.
Speaking of boundaries, how do you feel about breastfeeding? Is it normal for your family or no? If you are feeling a little hesitant about breastfeeding because of how seemingly embarrassing and possibly painful it might be, think about all the benefits there are for your baby. And you will see soon enough that breastfeeding is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide, and shouldn’t be painful. Be proud of yourself and nurse with your head high. You are doing everyone, including yourself and your baby, a favor by breastfeeding casually. You can try a cover or a blanket if you wish, but really, they are hot and suffocating for the child. (All of this is mainly a personal pep-talk. I only just recently stopped feeling quite so embarrassed and stopped using a blanket to cover.)
How do you start breastfeeding? Well, your baby will let you know soon after he or she is born. Your little one will start rooting and doing the most adorable little thing with their tongue that you ever thought possible. Your breasts are about to be used for their main purpose! Be excited! You may have to help your baby with their latch. It shouldn’t hurt. They will have colostrum for a couple of days until your milk comes in. Engorgement does hurt but it passes within a day or two and then you’re off to a beautiful nursing relationship! Read about the Learning Curve and Get Your Best Game on Girlfriend. And Before You Breastfeed: 10 Tips for New Breastfeeding Moms.
Things sometimes get off to a rough start. Avoid the pitfalls, or Booby Traps. Do not accept free formula samples from hospitals. Do not supplement with formula. If any ped tells you this, fire them immediately and find a breastfeeding friendly one. Best sites for breastfeeding advice: Kellymom & Best for Babes. Facebook also has many support groups. Books to read if you feel like devouring breastfeeding info before the baby is born: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger & the one I mentioned before, The Breastfeeding Book by William Sears M.D.
Also, don’t bother buying nursing bras before the baby comes. In fact, I’m not really a fan of nursing bras at all. Check out my post on the topic. You may want to pick up some nursing pads. Because your boobs will leak. Not a joke. But it’s OK. It’s just a little milk. They make disposable and reusable ones. Best trick for reducing leaking? Compress your nipple and breast firmly with one hand while you nurse the baby on the other side.
If there was ever a time to have a diet overhaul, this is it. Think healthy, well-balanced meals. Lots of iron rich foods, organic fruits, vegetables, proteins. You are baking your baby from scratch. Use the best ingredients.
How do you know you’re eating right and drinking enough water? Your bowel movements will be dark and smooth and your pee will be clear. And you will feel good! Easy enough! Eat whole, real foods, as much homemade as possible, and toss the processed foods. I recommend having daily whole fruit and veggie smoothies and/or fresh juice with your juicer. My favorite juice was kale, apple, carrot. Some people love cucumbers, celery and spinach in theirs. I prefer mostly fruit in my smoothies, like bananas, strawberries, apples, blueberries, kiwis, grapes, with some carrot, kale, and spinach in there as well. Pumpkin based smoothies are good for the holiday season.
Expect to gain a healthy amount for your body type and BMI. For me, that was 40 pounds for each baby. That may be too much for some people. Your perfect weight gain may only be 15-25 pounds or it might be more than 40 pounds. Ask your care provider if you feel anxious about it. If you are concerned about your weight gain, don’t weigh yourself if you don’t want to. Tell your provider you prefer not to be weighed. Expect to gain some inches outside of the belly area though. Pregnancy curves are beautiful!
Take a good, plant based prenatal vitamin, unless you’re totally against those and you just want to adjust your diet. Watch this video by Mama Natural on other vitamins and supplements she takes during her pregnancy, like cod liver oil and probiotics.
Cut back on the vices. That means quit going through the drive-thru, snacking on Cheetos, and chowing down Ben & Jerry’s at midnight (I am talking about myself here.) Studies on alcohol vary, some say beer or wine is OK in moderation, and the same with caffeine. But better safe than sorry, I suppose. And, a no brainer, no smoking or being around smoke. Here is good list of the do’s & don’t.
Along with nutrition, you should also think about how to limit your exposure to unnecessary chemicals and toxins in your every day life. A big step is just leaving your shoes at the door because your shoes actually do track in many toxins. You’re probably going to want to cut out any use of bleach and the like, going more natural with soaps and cleansers, make-up, etc. Look up your city’s water rating and opt for filtered water if it’s not great, buy BPA-free, glass, or metal containers, fluoride-free toothpaste, and check all labels. If there are too many ingredients in your products, things you cannot identify, either look them up or just don’t buy them anymore. I use Dr. Bronners for my hand and dish soap in the kitchen. I found plain coconut oil was my best hand, body, and face moisturizer and even saving cream. I wore less make-up and found a sulfate and paraben free shampoo.
Get some sunshine. Do whatever it is you love doing. Drink plenty of water. I was out in the garden pulling weeds, mowing, and shoveling most of my pregnancy. I wasn’t a big fan of walking or running but I did some walking, biking, and hiking anyway. Pregnancy yoga is also wonderful. You can nurture your body and mind while you exercise, bond with your baby during this quiet time, and bond with other pregnant ladies. Swimming is also wonderful for easing weight pains and stretching. With baby #2, I was just generally more active since I was on my feet more, running after the toddler, going to parks, picking her up and toys in the house, and still gardening. Keeping healthy, limber and fit is one of the best things you can for yourself to prepare for birth. It also makes postpartum recovery easier. Tips from the American Pregnancy Association & Mayo Clinic.
I am not a fan of “real” maternity clothing because it is over priced and sometimes pretty yucky feeling and looking. But things are improving and some brands don’t look too bad. You will need a pair of jeans or two and work slacks if you’re still working. My fav maternity jeans were Loved by Heidi Klum because they didn’t that boob-high belly elastic stuff. As for the rest, I just used what I already had in my closet and found a few classy, larger sized items for the deep-end, aka the last month. Best for the belly fashions: Empire waist dresses and tops, skirts with stretchy waists that can sit under your belly, and longer stretch tops from the non-maternity section. Leggings and tights are wonderful. BCBG makes marvelous dresses that double as maternity wear due the great stretchy material they use. Maxi-dresses are also fabulous at hiding expanding thighs. Sheknows Pregnancy Fashion. More spring maternity fashion at LilSugar on Pintrest. And read Cup of Jo’s Pregnancy Survival Guide for more fashion tips.
Do not buy maternity bras.
Naming your child
Picking out the perfect name is tough. Don’t worry if you can’t find the right fit before the birth though. You have a couple weeks AFTER the birth to pick one! There are hundreds of online search options – I liked clicking through Babyname Genie, top names in the US for whatever year, and international top names on Nameberry. Don’t forget to look up the meaning of your chosen name!
Getting a birth certificate & social security card for your new baby doesn’t require any pre-birth prep. You will have to take care of this yourself if you have a homebirth. It is not a big deal. Your midwife can help you. Hospital staff help take care of it for you during your stay if you have a hospital birth. I’m not sure about birthcenter births.
Don’t forget to talk to your baby, record his or her movements, hold your belly, and send all the love you have inward. Involve your husband. Feel how the baby moves with his voice. You should start feeling movement around 16 – 20 weeks, I believe, and it will be wonderful! Until they start playing soccer in there.
People want to get your baby presents. They will be beside themselves if you do not register. So, do them and yourself a favor, and just register. What should you put on there? Think about the items that are important for a newborn up through the first 6 months. Babies R Us & Amazon are where I’ve registered before – both are easy to use. Amazon is nice because you can register for all sorts of things that Babies R Us doesn’t have. People have also registered at Target, Pottery Barn Kids, Macy’s, etc.
There is also such a thing as meal registry for new parents too. Any help with meals after the baby comes is a life-saver. Check out Meal-Baby or just ask for food when people offer their help when want to come over and see your new bundle.
Top Baby Items:
- Diapers & wipes – Disposable vs. cloth debate explained here. Good video too. Disposable brands I recommend: Nature Babycare for the most biodegradable, compostable option (Earth Baby in the SF Bay Area provides composting service), or Seventh Generation. Get 1 pack of NB, 4 of 1, 4 of 2. A few boxes of wipes or commit to washable wipes. Cloth that I’ve tried: Gdiapers. Get a few small covers and a lot of inserts. Watch a video about how to use them. Also offer a disposable insert.
- Onesies – plain short or long sleeve, depending on the time of year. A full body outfit for cold weather babies. Hats & socks, if you like those too. Pants are generally good to have too.
- Co-sleeper – mini or full sized. You have many months until the baby outgrows a co-sleeper to decide if you want to buy a crib or continue to bedshare, so I would not recommend registering for a crib before the baby is born. You can also just put a little mattress next to your bed if you’re anti-container. Get a few fitted sheets for whatever you pick.
- Waterproof pads for the bed. There will be milk, pee, and poop on a daily basis. But you’ll love the kiddo so you won’t care. Get pads so you don’t have to strip and wash your sheets every single day.
- Changing pad & covers. At least 3 covers. You will also want something, a dresser or something, at waist height to put a changing pad on so you don’t have to bed your back to change diapers. (Though lots of people don’t even use a changing pad. You can change a baby on anything and everything, a car seat, your lap, the floor, the bed, bathroom rug, etc etc. so a pad isn’t really 100% necessary either.)
- Carseat - Think about if you want a bucket / infant seat or a convertible. Read reviews. Compare seats. Don’t buy a second hand car seat.
- Everything else is just extra. See my list below for “extras.”
My thoughts on baby “extras”:
- Carriers: Baby wearing is beyond wonderful. I recommend the Ergo (pricing, review). Slings are OK but hurt my back. Baby Bjorn…meh. Go with Ergo.
- Strollers: These can be a back saver. To start off, I recommend one that a bucket carseat clicks into or one that does all three – clicks in a car seat, has a bassinet feature, and fits an older baby. Right now I have a Peg Perego Switch for just that. But it is not great for pushing around on uneven surfaces. When the baby outgrows it, I am selling it on Craigslist, stat. I also love my lightweight, slim, umbrella stroller – my wonderful Maclaren – but that is for the older baby only since a car seat or floppy baby cannot go in there. We also have a BOB because that is best for running, trails, or sidewalks, and it holds a car seat (after you buy an accessory) and the baby can sit in the seat once the carseat is no longer necessary.
- Fancy soaps: Reduce your baby’s exposure to harmful chemicals. Get some organic baby soap (California Baby is my fav due to the nice handpump on the large size) and additive free laundry soap. Oh and diaper rash cream. It is not really needed but you can get some just in case. Same for Calendula Cream, which I used for cradle cap but also doubles as diaper cream.
- First Aid Kit – If you don’t already have a quick thermometer, you might want one. And Safety First also has the best baby nail clippers. Don’t bother with “grooming kits” – they are worthless.
- Baby blankets – Don’t go crazy! 10 or less is fiiine. There are swaddling blankets (Aden + Anais are the best), receiving blankets, quilts or sturdier ones for tummy time on the floor.
- Cute little outfits for photos
- Baby book
- Hand or footprint kit
- Diaper genie or the like: They are a waste of money, don’t really keep the smell in, and you have to buy special bags for them. You can put a little trash can that you empty daily into the kitchen trash or a composting bag for diaper pick up. If you cloth, you can just dump them in the washer.
- Toys, playmats, bouncers, vibrating chairs, swings - Never buy these new. Complete waste of money. The kid doesn’t need any of it anyway and your friends and relatives will supply more than enough toys without you registering for them. Though some people swear by a swing or vibrating chair to calm their newborn. You can borrow one from a friend for a couple of months or find one on Craigslist.
- After the first 6 months, you’ll start looking into high chairs and all that solid food stuff. You’ll probably want something different than what you registered for a year before so don’t bother registering for this stuff now.
A Mother Blessing or Blessingway
But what is more important that the STUFF your baby gets after it is born? YOU and nurturing yourself (and thus your baby) during your pregnancy.
So rather than have the traditional baby shower where there are silly games and a mound of presents for the baby-to-be, I recommend a Mother Blessing, also known as a Blessingway. It is a mother-centric ritual honoring, well, the mother. Your hostess can plan it around your desires. It can be all hippified or just like a regular party but with some special moments. I wanted food. Homey food. So we threw a potluck. And I wanted to invite women who would tell me positive stories about labor, birth, breastfeeding. You are about to enter motherhood and you can never turn back. You need to feel supported, loved, and relaxed.
Speaking of support, you should start thinking about postpartum support. Do you have dependable family around that you would trust your child with? Or at least to help with meals, laundry, and picking up groceries for a couple weeks? Do you have friends with kids? Who can you talk to if you need emotional support? Breastfeeding support? Helping you decide if you’re going back to work or not? If you are like me and have little family to speak of in your surrounding area, there are many online support groups to think about joining, La Leche League groups, homebirth groups, postpartum depression, and breastfeeding advice pages – like Kellymom. And if you have a traumatic birth experience, there are groups out there to help you too. Or have body issues after the birth and need support, check out The Shape of a Mother.
Photography & Capturing Moments
I cannot say this enough: Take photos of your belly!!
Recording this precious time is priceless. Write your unborn child letters or notes in their baby book.
During labor & Birth: You will never regret having photos and videos of this special, once-in-a-lifetime event. Set up a camera on a tripod or on a dresser or table and let it roll so your support people can be there to help you, not hold a camera. You can put the video and photos in a private place and never watch them or want to see everything one week after the birth, like I did.
And finally….THE BIRTH!
How do you know that you’re really in labor and you’re not just having Braxton Hicks?
Review this list for the other signs, like losing your mucous plug, water breaking, etc.
Best thing to do? After you KNOW you’re in labor and you’re over that super excited phase, just calm down and relax. Things are about to get real.
Expect to forget everything you learned during labor at this point. Make sure you’ve clearly portrayed your wishes for labor and birth to your significant other, just in case.
Keep hydrated. Eat if you want to. Eating actually helps you get through it with energy. Pee when you feel like it. Holding your pee is never a good idea in labor. Keep moving if that feels right or relax and surround yourself in pillows or dip in a birthing pool. Stay positive, even though it may feel like you’re in more pain than you can handle. You can handle it. Have a positive mantra, like telling yourself that your baby will be here soon, you WILL make it through. You are strong. You CAN do it. You ARE doing it.
You may want to be 100% naked, swear, yell, cry, poop, get hemorrhoids, whatever. Shit happens during birth. Do not worry about it.
My notes on the urge to push: Some people feel the urge, others do not. I felt it for my second and for my third, I felt the “fetal ejection reflex,” basically my baby birth on his own without any pushing or help from me. I just caught him when he came out. It was wonderful.
Pushing: If you’re going to feel it, you will probably feel the urge to push after a nice little break right after transition. My second baby seemed to move down by herself for a contraction or two without pain, for once, and then I felt the urge to push. For me, it just hit me that pushing felt better than not pushing. Push gently, aiming your pushing towards guiding your baby out, not towards a bowel movement. Breathe and stay calm. This was hard for me. When you feel the head coming, you may feel a “ring of fire” as it crowns. It only hurt for a half second for me. You must PAUSE! Pause to let yourself stretch without tearing. My midwife put a warm compression on that area to help. Then, you can continue to push, if you feel like it. I’ve also heard that some babies are born without pushing.
And finally, after many hours of build up or perhaps just a few, your baby is finally born! CONGRATULATIONS! You have climbed that mountain of labor and come out on the other side as a fierce mother. You can lay down, hold your baby, put your baby directly on your skin (because skin to skin contact is very important), and look him or her in the eyes for the very first time. It will be magical. You will cry.
Or maybe you’ll need a few minutes to recover because you’re exhausted or you’re in shock. That is OK too. Your husband will be more than happy to hold the baby and bond for a few minutes. Then, after you’ve caught your breath, you can fully appreciate this special moment. This would be a good time to start your breastfeeding relationship, if your baby is already rooting for milk.
Look into your significant other’s eyes, hold their hand, feel the love in the room.
Almost done. Seriously.
Don’t forget about the birth of the placenta! It may take some time and a few more contractions but it will birth by itself with another couple of soft pushes. No one is to pull on it, ever. Watch Michelle Collins, CNM, talk about the placenta.
And what are you going to do with it after it checks out ok? Placent prints? Freeze it? Bury it? Eat it? Encapsulate it? We froze my last one after it had been too long to make fresh prints. Then we threw it away. But I wish we would have buried it in a potted plant so we could bring it with us when we moved. It really isn’t crazy. Don’t hate!
And you will probably have afterpains. Yes. And bleed (lochia) for a week or two or more after the birth. It is just a part of birth! I took Arnica for pain and for perineal healing, I was a huge fan of lots of warm sitz baths, alternating between herbal & sea salt. And get yourself a Peri Bottle. Do it. More good afterbirth tips.
Don’t forget to write your birth story and share it. Sharing the joy of real, natural birth is very important. I’m not saying it is all sunshine and rainbows but it can be transformative, empowering, and amazing. You can come out of your birth feeling like a warrior mother, strong and fierce, capable of anything, brimming with pride and love.
OK, enough for now. I’m sure I’ve missed a ton but hey, this is a decent starting point.
May you have a wonderful pregnancy, followed by a beautiful birth!
Important Videos to Watch:
- Debunking the Myth: The US has the Best Birth Outcomes and the Best Medical Care in the World
- Eugene Declercq: The Truth about C-Sections
- Preparing for birth: Eleanor Copp Midwife & Clinical Hypnotherapist Top Tips
- More videos here, embedded, on my birth videos post.
More resources for your pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and baby questions:
- Preparing for Birth
- Birth in America Survey: 1,000 women tell it like it is
- Create a Birth Announcement
- Create Your Own Birth Plan
- Pain medication for labor
- Travel During Pregnancy
- Work & Maternity Leave
- Newborns 101