Because I think there ought to be some benefit to having an older sister, I've decided to put down some thoughts tonight. My own sister may or may not appreciate this (though she is expecting!), but I know that if I don't post. . . I'll forget it all myself! So here are some of my thoughts, 3 weeks postpartum.
1) Read! Read while you are pregnant. (You'll forget a lot of it anyway, if your pregnant brain is like mine!) Find good books like The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth and The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. (See my doula friend's website for a more comprehensive list of great reads.) You can reread these books when you're nursing or resting (or jiggling your baby!), but it's better to have some foundational knowledge before you find yourself trying to undo habits you unwittingly formed.
2) Know that natural childbirth is painful, but it is also exhilarating and will be an experience unlike and unequaled by anything else in your life. You can do it! Having a friend or midwife or doula or spouse who can encourage you and remind you of this is so valuable, because you will wonder whether or not you are going to survive.
3) Having a baby isn't very messy, but it can be messy afterward. You will bleed and cramp. Your breasts may leak. You may have stitches. It's kind of like having your period with an abundance of hormones to boot and another whole set of issues going on with your mammary glands. No one told me this and I do wish I would have known.
4) You will still have a belly even after having a baby. After your first baby, it won't be so much of a belly as after subsequent children. Three weeks out, I still look like I'm about 5 or 6 months pregnant. This takes awhile to change. In fact, I'm still wearing maternity clothes because they are most comfortable, or clothes that are generally too big for me.
5) It is NOT a good idea to try on your "regular" clothes, even if people are telling you that you look great. Even though I weigh 17 pounds less than I did before giving birth, my thighs haven't changed enough to allow my pants to make it to my waist. On a day when I'm feeling pretty good, this can be a harsh dose of reality.
6) The mask of pregnancy and the linea nigra will go away, but these, too, take time. (The main advice remains: give it time!) Stretch marks don't really go away (so I hope you've been using good lotion or oils!).
7) Have oil on hand for the baby's bum. This time we used jojoba oil. Put it on with the first diaper and the meconium to come will slide right off. Otherwise, you'll have a hard time removing the "tar" from the bum.
8) Bath-schmath. If the baby has vernix, you can gently rub it into their skin. You can easily clean them with a small cloth, but probably will not need to. Baths dry out babies sensitive skin- and do you really think they need it?
9) Clip their nails; don't use the little mittens. Okay, this is just a preference of mine... I'd rather count those precious fingers and feel them grasp my own than cover them with fabric to prevent scratches. It's easy to clip nails in the beginning because the baby sleeps so much; just clip when they sleep! (I'm practically full service; I file as well.) Plus, why deprive them of the sense of touch?
10) Rest when the baby rests. I know, we hear it all the time. . . but really. Do it when you can. When you only have one baby this is much easier to do than when you have multiple children (requiring one well orchestrated afternoon nap for everyone). Resting while holding the baby doesn't necessarily count. I think it's probably not our best rest when our mommy brain is still on auto, making sure we don't drop our sweetie.
11) Grandma told me that it's okay if the baby cries. SO, if you need to shower or go to the bathroom or get a drink... it's okay. If the baby cries when you have put them down for a rest, it could just be a resettling between light and deep sleep. If you rush in, you may inhibit their learning to put themselves back to sleep. If you can wait for just a few minutes (watch the clock because 1 minute will seem like 10), you may be pleasantly surprised by silence.
12) Put meals in your freezer, if you can. These really are helpful to pull out on hectic nights when the baby cries from 5 p.m. on and you feel too frazzled (or at least your arms are too busy) to make dinner. This is easy to do by doubling a few recipes each week.
13) Maintain your health. I still use my pitcher of water so I can keep track of how much I'm drinking. This is especially important when nursing, yet I often feel too busy to get a drink. (How silly to be too busy to take care of myself!) Keep eating your JuicePlus! Maintain your healthy eating; you're still eating for two and even developing your baby's taste preferences by what you eat.
14) Have thank yous on hand before the baby comes so you can pick them up in quiet moments and work on them.
15) Read up on vaccinations and breastfeeding, especially. Your decisions on these things will affect how often you visit your baby's doctor in the first few months. If you know your pediatrician and their philosophies on wellness before you run into troubles, it will save you time and stress. (We once thought our doctor was pro-breastfeeding and were discouraged when he quickly advised us to use formula to boost L's weight, instead of suggesting ways to increase milk supply.)
16) Use a lactation consultant! If you've read my "re-latch" post, you'll know why I encourage this. If you start right, you'll save yourself lots of pain! I always thought nursing would be natural and easy to figure out. (Insert nipple into baby's mouth- can't be too complicated, right?) Apparently, I was wrong- and I love learning new things.
I know there are more... but it will have to wait for another night when I have 40 rare minutes like I did tonight, without a baby in my arms or children on my lap or a phone to my ear. But the most important advice: love it. Live it fully! Embrace the wildness that is labor and birthing and having a baby. It is so precious, so splendid! So wonderful. I love that we share this now, too.