Many speak of the first three months of a baby as their forth trimester and today, at the end of this year together, I feel like sharing my journal as a mother and what I have discovered along the way.
In general, I am one of those people who like to know everything before diving into something. I simply find that the power of knowledge (combined with free will) makes me stronger and for the majority of things feeling strong is the ultimate thing I need.
For this reason I had read, heard and investigated quite a lot about pregnancy and birth.
This said, there were many things I still didn’t know and only discovered along the way and they all turned extremely useful. That’s why I think it’s valuable to share whatever worked for us.
So long story short, this is a list of un-requested tips and wisdom. The best kind. Enjoy.
Contractions start low, very low
When my due date was approaching I had a set of mixed feelings about the delivery. Surprisingly only a small part was left to fear and it was mainly curiosity that kept me thinking.
It seems like everybody was talking about birth, contractions, positive and traumatic experiences and I was very curious to know how it would turn out to be for me.
I was particularly interested in the contractions, what does a contraction feel like? I found myself searching for videos to know at least how contractions look like, but that didn’t help much If not increased my fascination.
I knew most contractions start at night, in a relaxed and cozy environment so every night of the last week I went to bed wondering.
On the Saturday my daughter was born, I woke up at 2:30 am feeling a little strange. Since I was expecting the pain to start as the typical period pain I didn’t know what to think of this new kind of discomfort. It was indeed regular, at interval of approximately 6 minutes, but it pretty much felt like it was coming from my anus.
In the last period of my pregnancy it had become more difficult to poo and I would get some kind of cramps whenever I had to pass gas, so I really started wondering if it was all connected and I simply had to go to the toilet.
Long story short, it took me one hour to realize that those were the very early stages of labor.
The delivery is only the beginning
I had done my research, read and tested things to prepare myself for labor. I had written a birth plan and thought about what were my favorite options for the delivery. But in my specific case of a very smooth, intense and ideal delivery, what came after was the difficult part that I had not thought as much through.
Beside the two hours of extra work that come after the actual birth, what was really difficult for me was the moment when Lea became public.
If I could go back I would take more time, for us, for me, to start feeling at least a bit more comfortable in my new me. When the first visitors entered I was still naked under a sheet and I have no idea who decided for me that that was a good idea.
I found myself out of my own body not understanding all the new hormones and abilities. As my child, my body became suddenly public and I didn’t like it.
Even with a very easy birth, my body had gone through hell and my mind was trying hard to keep it together and only when people started coming in to see the baby, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t ready for it. And maybe Lea wasn’t either.
Every day is different
There are many books about how to set routines and make your baby run on a clock and, believe me, I am big fan of the scientific method. I like experiments and I like routine, but by my experience, it’s so much better to just expect that every day will be different, special.
I don’t know in case of formula fed babies, but with breastfeeding is just so much more exciting to wake up and see how the day is going to look like.
Beside the days, each week has new developments and it’s fascinating to see how every behavior comes and goes. That’s what all the parents speak about when they keep on saying to enjoy every moment, because every one of them is indeed special and will pass quickly.
Even pacifiers are different
Pacifiers, singlets, cribs, baby carriers; this applies to everything. Everything in the market for babies comes in many different options.
This means that before buying anything it’s best to do some research or, even better, test with your baby directly.
Back to the example of the pacifier, the most inexpensive of all things: I always thought that all pacifiers are the same. Different brands, same thing. Wrong. I had a set of different ones at home (gifts, free samples, irresistible purchases) and as soon as our nurse saw them she said “she is going to like this one the most”, we tried and it was the only one she ever accepted. Of course the most difficult to find, but also the cutest.
Because pacifiers can give such a peace of mind, I would suggest testing a bit. Like with everything else.
The sooner, the better
This one is quite obvious, but still we needed to be told.
For example, I had planned to go back to work 3 months after Lea was born and I had planned to breastfeed for as long as it worked. This meant that I had planned to pump milk, leave it at home and have someone else feed it to my baby with a bottle.
This all sounds very simple, but it hides an easy to overlook element: that the baby should like, by the third month, to drink both from my breast and from a bottle. The only way to make sure that that happens is to introduce both as soon as possible and make them normal elements of their lives.
In this specific matter I nursed Lea from the beginning and, along the way, at the end of the second week, we started offering small amounts of milk with the bottle. At the same time we introduced the pacifier as well.
As for this case, if you think you would like your baby to do, like, appreciate something, start as soon as it is advised.
Just some other examples that we are working on: travelling by plane, liking to go out in a stroller as well as a baby carrier, swimming and food, all of it.
Breastfeeding is hard, even when it’s not
For the lucky ones, breastfeeding comes natural. I was one of those and still I was extremely overwhelmed by the amount of work that goes into it.
Besides the starting up of the production that obviously takes some tuning, breastfeeding is a very precise balance of factors and the milk produced is somehow always different.
Mothers who breastfeed are able to detect elements in the environment and custom make the best milk for the situation; for example if someone around, say the father of the baby, is sick, the breasts will produce a special batch of milk with extra antibodies. If the baby needs extra fat, it will be produced. If the density doesn’t work with the baby’s latch, it will be adjusted.
The perfection of this machine is beyond my understanding. Even more because, when everything goes smoothly, a mother doesn’t have to do much to make it perfect, it just happens.
Even though no actual thought or active action is involved in the process it still takes an incredible amount of energy. Beside the physical one that is calculated in the range of 300 to 500 kcal per day, it’s the emotional and mental energy that goes into it that completely overwhelmed me.
From the moment the baby latches for the first time, not only is the baby dependent on you, but also the reverse. Running on the tight schedule of frequent and somehow irregular feedings during the day, makes it almost impossible to plan anything in advance or to make a run for a bit of free time without having the constant feeling of a clock ticking.
It can be very tiring and overall stressful to have this thought constantly in the back of your mind.
Even when you manage to lift your brain from thinking about it, your boobs will remind you that feeding time is approaching becoming tense and starting to leak a little bit of milk.
On top of all this there is the very big dilemma: shall I breastfeed? For how long?
Modern society pushes mothers back to their previous self quite quickly and if those mothers are breastfeeding it can only go three ways: not going back to society, stopping with breastfeeding or pumping milk and feeding it to the baby in a bottle by someone else when mom is not around.
Either way, society is going to have opinions about it, so I felt perfectly good in taking my own decision, but it still is a confronting question to answer and with the hormonal storm happening it requires quite some emotional strength.
Life as a parent truly is a roller-coaster of emotions. Happiness reaches its highest when your baby simply smiles at you, but despair can as easily appear on bad days, during sleepless nights or around even the smallest accidents.
My way to cope with all this was to celebrate. The only important thing is that your baby grows happily and that’s the reason why I invented bottom line silly celebrations that where so meaningful to me: the day Lea regained her birth weight, the first night of 6+ hours of uninterrupted sleep, the end of our forth trimester and other similar ones.
Because being a parent for me started in the moment I discovered there was a baby to start with, that’s the moment I started celebrating and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.
Drinking coffee will become a new experience
That you are enjoying a cup of coffee at home, out with a friend or on a private date with your little one, drinking a coffee for the first time after giving birth will feel completely different.
Beside the fact that you have to wait for it to cool down before handling it close to a baby, the simple act of drinking a coffee will suddenly make you realize that every experience will be different from that moment on. Better or worse or both.
You will suddenly resize that seeing common things through your baby’s eyes will make them new again and that there are going to be a lot of new “first times”.
Organization, organization, organization
I spent quite a good amount of time thinking about what changing station to buy and how to arrange things in it.
All I needed to know that bigger is better when you speak of closet space and that to start with only the basics, washed and arranged by category, are necessary.
As soon as the baby will be home, you will immediately figure out what you miss and how to put things in a convenient place.
For me diapers are the closest to the changing mat. Then singlets, pajamas and bibs. Then all the other clothes of the right size. Always at hand next to the changing mat a lamp with soft light, wet wipes, a toy or something to distract Lea, vitamins and spoons, nose spray, rush cream, nail cutter/scissors/file and hand sanitizer (plus vaseline and thermometer for the first days).
We ended up buying the most standard Ikea drawers and a changing mat with a hard base. Best decision ever.
For the first days, when it felt like the baby was the most fragile thing and she was not moving much, we kept the changing mat parallel to the wall. Those are the days when poo is very liquid and can spray far, so best not be on the way.
As soon as we felt a bit more confident about our techniques, the baby started turning her head and her poo became more manageable, we turned the mat perpendicular to the wall. This made it easier to check that everything is clean and it is one of the best ways to train the baby not to have a favorite side.
If you think about it, clothes are a very weird concept for a new born. Changing clothes in combination with being handed by inexpert hands even more.
That’s pretty much the reason why at the beginning changing diapers and clothes were not the happiest times of the day.
But there are things that help.
To start with, use easy clothes. We banned from the house singlets without buttons, pullovers with opening on the back and any weird closing pajama.
Secondly, while handling the baby, explain what you are doing. Use always the same words (“now we are opening the buttons”, “I lift your leg”, “I put your right arm in the sleeve” and so on) and soon the baby will realize that it’s a safe ritual and that everything is under control. Plus she will eventually learn those words as well.
A safe crib
A lot can be said about the way a baby should sleep to make it the safest for them. A lot can be found online to make you panic about your baby suddenly dying in the middle of the night.
The bottom line is: put them to sleep on their back, make sure that their feet touch the bottom of the crib, use natural fibers sheets and blankets, tuck them tight at their shoulders and have nothing else in the crib that could (for whatever reason) fall on their face. If the baby is wearing a hat to keep warm, choose a hat that fits, not to big that can move or shift around their face.
That said, sometimes they breath so lightly that you will start checking in panic if you baby is still alive. Some other times your baby will make wild noises in the middle of the night that will scare you as much.
There are experts ready to share their knowledge about the best way to carry a baby and the best carrier.
There are many studies that (seem to) prove that carrying your baby won’t spoil her.
For what’s worth, I learnt one extra thing that I thought important to share: carrying your baby will feel great for you as a new mom and will make dad feel a little bit what this is all about.
One extra thing that belongs to the safety category, but that always falls in the background of all the talks about necks and hips: when carrying a baby in a baby carrier it’s important that she is not wearing a pajama where the socks are attached to the whole. Unless the pajama is at least one size too big. There is otherwise the risk of cutting the circulation to the feet.
Your baby is probably not too cold
To officially check the temperature of your baby, there are rectal thermometers, but that’s not the quick way. It’s the most accurate and also the most invasive.
If you want to just check, start by feeling if she is sweating or have red cheeks, if that’s the case high chances are that she is overheated.
Don’t be misled by cold feet or hands, the side of the neck is the place to check to know if she is at a good temperature.
Note on the side: the easiest way for a baby to thermo-regulate is through her head, that’s where she loses most of her heat, so a hat is the first thing to use to warm her up or cool her off. Use accordingly.
Second note on the side: your baby is your baby. If you are the kind of person that likes cold, your baby will most probably like cold too. When you go out, dress her with the same amount of clothes you would were and add just a blanket cause she won’t be moving while you do.
There are swaddle babies and free as a bee babies
Ours is a bee.
Since the beginning it was obvious that she preferred open spaces, free movement. That’s probably one of the reasons why at the beginning one of the ways to calm her down was to hold her (ass and head) and just lift her up in the sky. The freest she could be and suddenly, flying, she would calm down.
I heard that exactly the opposite worked for other babies.
I don’t have any scientific evidence of what works for what baby, but I can tell that in our case, Lea has always been very active, also in the womb, and, in there, she had a lot of amniotic fluid surrounding her. Maybe that explains something or maybe not.
There is one magical way to have a baby burp in seconds, if they let you
This would be much easier to explain with a video, but let’s try with words.
Imagine sitting, placing your baby sitting on your lap in a way that she faces neither front, nor you, but the side.
If that makes any sense than imagine holding the baby’s head from the back of the neck with one hand spread between her shoulders and with the other hand holding her chest. Then just slowly rock your baby back and forth, her ass comfortably sitting on your lap, her chest moving backward and forward within the support of your hands.
A burp will come.
The end-of-the-day cry
In the afternoon Lea would become increasingly fuzzy and by the end of the day, she would just cry in our comforting arms. No amount of kisses, hugs or loving words would calm her down, till she would eventually fall asleep.
If it sounds exhausting, it’s because it is.
Then we heard of a magical trick.
A professional made us sit and listen, she explained it to us in very simple words: by the end of the day Lea had collected an impressive amount of information and, not knowing how to communicate it, the only thing she could do was to cry herself to sleep and finally process them in piece.
If you think about it, the amount of inputs that babies absorb daily is insane. For someone with no knowledge, even a soft warm colorful shape has an immense amount of information to database. For this reason, by the end of the day their brains are stuffed with stimuli and the only way to release the overload is to cry it out.
Then the trick. Because Lea could not express all the inputs she wanted to process, we could help and do it for her. The nurse suggested that whenever Lea would start crying we could simply start telling her the events of the day. Slowly, calmly, lovingly. At the sound of this soft story she would start listening and unwind.
As crazy as it sounds, this actually worked.
We will never know if it’s because we went to its concert, because of the voice, the melody or even the lyrics, but Lea loves “Soldi” a song from Alessandro Mahmood.
Whenever we play it she stops crying, she listens, she calms down.
That’s the reason why we are building a budget to invite Mahmood for her 18th birthday.
If you manage to find that one thing that always works to sooth your baby, you will find the key to a gold mine.
Other examples of things that could work beside a song: an object, something of a specific texture, color or shape, a voice, a light, a movement, anything really.
On top of all the new things, time is surely a difficult one to understand for babies. That’s why it’s helpful to create routines to pace the time and create clear cycles.
The one we stuck to religiously was the night routine and we will never know if it’s the reason why Lea sleeps perfectly, but it surely didn’t hurt.
Every night, 15 minutes before she would get hungry for the last feeding of the day, we perform a short relaxing routine. We read that it could be made of anything as long as it’s the same every night so we collected all the things that relax her the most and went for it.
Of course we tuned it along the way, but conceptually it has been the same every night for months: relaxing classical music in the background, 10 minutes of no diaper time, soft body massage, face massage and brushing of the hair, change into a pajama, milk, burp and only then bedtime with lullaby. All of this with soft dimmed lights and calming tone of voice.
Even writing about it feels relaxing.
Every baby is different
Ultimately, every baby is different. Whatever worked for us, might not work for you. But again, if you have heard enough stories from enough different people, chances are quite high you will find something that works for you.
In all this, the most fascinating thing is anyway the constant growth and the refreshing feeling of discovering and wonder.
When Lea was more or less 2 months we started noticing that her shoulders would crack or her ankles, her chest.
We brought the question to the doctor once we were there for a checkup and she explained it quite easily to us (most clear in Dutch).
At birth babies are not really made of bones, but of something closer to cartilage (kraakbeen) and that cartilage can easily crack when in motion. Nothing scary or dangerous about that.
Don’t risk it
Around babies you should be extra careful. That sounds quite obvious. What instead needs to be emphasized is that even when we feel confident nothing would happen it’s still better to avoid possible dangers.
Everybody knows that you can possibly drink a hot cup of coffee without pouring it on the head of your sleeping child, but please don’t.
The risk it too high, for the baby to get burned and for you to get a heart attack.