It’s not unusual for pregnant women to read everything they can get their hands on about the babies growing inside their bellies. From weekly emails from various parenting sites to a gazillion books available for purchase, to advice, facts and tidbits from doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas, friends, sisters, mothers and mothers-in-law — you can spend your entire pregnancy learning solely about your pregnancy.
I was one of those people during my first pregnancy. Which is why I think having the actual baby was a bit of a shock. Not the delivery part (although there were some surprises there, too), but what happens when you actually go home. With the baby. It’s kind of like planning for a wedding and not thinking much about the marriage. Big. Mistake.
My second (and final!) pregnancy this year was the opposite. I gave little thought to the pregnancy and spent most of my time thinking about what would happen afterward.
Here’s what I wish I had known about my first baby that I was seriously relieved to knew about my last one:
1. The Bleeding
The first time I gave birth (after 16 hours of labor, 2 hours of pushing and then a c-section), I was shocked — shocked! — that I was bleeding vaginally the next day. Like, hemorrhaging blood. While the amount of blood lessened after a few days, it didn’t stop entirely for nearly six weeks. This time after a scheduled c-section the bleeding didn’t stop for 5 weeks. No one told me about the bleeding the first time, but I was sure glad I knew to expect it this time. Anticipating blood is always a good thing (translation: buy whatever maxi pads you like before you go into labor and have them waiting for you at home).
2. The Swaddle
You’ll be impressed with how the nurses in the maternity wing swaddle your baby. Particularly when you try to do it by yourself when you go home. You’ll never do it as well. Ever. And a good swaddle can be the difference between an angel baby and a devil, fussy baby. Don’t go to nursing school just get a swaddle with Velcro. You’ll feel like a pro. Oh, and feel free to swaddle your baby all day if necessary. Babies have witching hours — they just do — and swaddling can really, really help.
3. The Wine
If I had known I could drink while breastfeeding (yes, while actually breastfeeding or before breastfeeding, not just in the same general era of breastfeeding) and not have to “pump and dump,” I might have tried harder to do it (breastfeed) the first time around. The lactation consultant at the hospital where I gave birth, whom I trust implicitly, explained to me this time that there’s no exact time when the alcohol hits the bloodstream, and your baby won’t end up in AA just because you have a glass or two. And that glass or two of wine at night (or at noon or for breakfast — whatever) is a lifesaver.
4. The Breastfeeding Accessories
I can’t say enough about my Bebe Au Lait and My Brest Friend. If you breastfeed in public and don’t want to expose yourself, the Bebe au Lait is genius — you can nurse privately in public but still see what’s happening down below. And the My Brest Friend allows me to nurse and work at the same time (I prop myself up with lots of pillows and then put another pillow on my knees and my computer on that pillow and reach over my daughter to type). It’s a nice idea to think I will gaze at my baby lovingly while she eats, but the reality is that I have to work. Knowing that this time made the thought of working while nursing much less daunting.
5. The Pacifier
Pacifiers are great, so be sure to have lots of them on hand. They get dirty and get lost. Often. And know that itty bitty babies can struggle to keep them in their mouths, so you’ll be doing it for them. Usually when you want to least. But knowing that is a quarter of the battle. Or a fifth. Which is something.
6. The Getting Out of the House
With my first baby I felt really bad about how long it would take me to get out of the house each day. Leaving for anything before the crack of noon was a challenge. Between trying to brush my teeth, make the bed and shower — and feed and dress and diaper the baby seemingly like every hour — it was as if I was taking one step forward and nine back every 30 minutes. I’m better at getting moving now because I know to expect the delays and not feel bad about them, and I’m generally more efficient, even with a toddler at home, too. Knowing it can be an issue and being prepared is key — as is not beating yourself up for struggling to get out the door.
7. The Stains
From the lanolin cream to soothe sore nipples to the leaking milk to the baby’s spit-up, my shirts are stained. I know that now, but it was an unpleasant surprise the first time. Now I know not to wear things that are too nice, or at least I know not to be disappointed when I have to change clothes for the umpteenth time.
8. The Reality Shift
I fretted a lot when I was pregnant the first time about adjusting to life with the baby, and what it would be like. What I learned, and what I knew to expect this time is that the shift is immediate and I hardly ever looked back. As soon as the baby arrives, it’s hard to imagine what life was like before. You adjust because it’s what you have to do. Everything else is just a detail. You’ll figure it out.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were pregnant?
Image: Meredith Carroll