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Two things I wish I’d known more about before my first baby was born

I have a 2 month old baby girl on my lap and an almost 7 year old boy sitting on the floor reading comics. I’ve learned a lot since my son was an infant and I now have a lot more friends with kids than I did 7 years ago when I was pregnant the first time.

When I was pregnant with my son, I did everything possible to be completely prepared for labor and childbirth. And it definitely contributed to my positive birth experience with him. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for what I think are often the two biggest challenges after the baby is actually born: breastfeeding and infant sleep.

If you’re pregnant or know someone who is pregnant, I encourage you to share this post with them so they can get more familiar with these two topics and hopefully be less overwhelmed about these subjects when they are oscillating between newborn bliss and the misery of sleep deprivation.


Whether you are planning on breastfeeding for just a few weeks until you go back to work or as many years as the kid is inclined, it’s important to be prepared. The first 7-10 days can be the most confusing and exhausting days you have ever experienced in your life, but if you do the things below it will make a huge difference.

1. Read about it.

Step one is fairly obvious, but to be honest I didn’t really do it. I foolishly thought it would be pretty easy, as most of the women I’d seen do it made it look simple. I didn’t realize how challenging it can be at the beginning, or that just because your baby is getting enough calories doesn’t mean he actually has a correct latch.

2. Take a class.

If there’s a class available in your community or from your health care provider, take it. Seriously.

3. Find a breastfeeding support group before baby is born.

You’ve got to do this ahead of time. It may seem like an easy thing you could do if you happen to need it once the baby is born, but trust me, your nipples will thank you. Print out or save the information somewhere handy so that you don’t have to use much brain power to get yourself there if you need the help after you’re home from the hospital. I really wish I had gotten help sooner with my son instead of suffering through a few months with a painful latch.

Breastfeeding is beautiful and special but it can also be very painful, especially at the beginning – or even later, when your latch isn’t right. With my first child, I went a few months with a bad latch and had all the misery and discomfort that came along with it. With my recent babe, I took all the help I could get at the hospital. When I got home and things still seemed too painful, I went to a support group ASAP, and didn’t wait to get help from a lactation consultant. The first seven to ten days can be painful even while you’re adjusting, but it’s important to get things right for everyone’s sake.

6029878715_2853ee39d0_zPhoto by Maja

4. Get some nursing bras or tank tops ahead of time.

To me, the only reason worth leaving the house in the first week is for help with breastfeeding. And although your partner will probably happily run to Target and get whatever you request, having someone else pick out a nursing bra for you isn’t generally ideal. Get some ahead of time, buy a size bigger than you think you’ll need and save the receipt in case you didn’t buy big enough, or find you don’t like a certain style.

5. Get some washable and some disposable nursing pads.

Everyone’s body and preferences are different, but I find that having both on hand right away is very helpful. You may also want to get the soothing gel things you can refrigerate and put right on your nipple for comfort during that first painful week. I only used these at the beginning and then didn’t need them anymore.

6. Ask other mothers about their experience breastfeeding.

If at all possible, have these conversations face to face. Certainly a call for help on Facebook can be incredibly useful, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to connect with other mothers in person about the challenging issues of parenting. Talk to other moms you know (or consider asking all those strangers who come up to give you their parenting advice while you’re pregnant). Ask what their experience was like when they started breastfeeding. Be sure to talk to more than one person because everyone will have a different experience – some positive, some negative.

7. Have a pump on hand, even if it’s just an inexpensive hand pump.

Your healthcare provider may have an electric one you can rent for free when you leave the hospital, or you may have a friend who is getting rid of one. When your milk comes in, it can be very painful until you get the supply, demand, and latching all figured out. It can be a lifesaver to simply release a little pressure so the baby can latch, or if you’re feeling engorged.

MOMANDBABYPhoto by Bridget Coila

Infant Sleep

I’m not here to be the baby police and shame anyone into one system for getting your baby to sleep. Exactly the opposite. Infant sleep can be just as controversial as vaccines. From co-sleeping to cry-it-out, there’s a wide array of theories on what is best for your baby and when they should be “sleeping through the night”. I’m not here to tell you what method to use, but simply that you should do your own research ahead of time to know what’s out there and how different the landscape of opinions is.

For example, I didn’t know anything about swaddling until my first child was a few months old and he was definitely one whose sleep would have benefitted from it from day one. Basically, I didn’t read about sleep until a few months in, when it was suddenly confusing. My tiny baby who used to fall asleep anywhere no matter the location or noise level suddenly struggled to fall asleep and then wouldn’t stay asleep when I put him down. I wished I’d been aware from the start that there’s little things you can do right away to help them get into positive and peaceful sleep rhythms.

Knowing more about sleep doesn’t guarantee your baby will be “sleeping through the night” at age X. It can simply help you avoid the confusion I experienced when I waited too late to learn about how it works because I foolishly thought it would be easier. It can also help you take other parent’s advice or stories with a grain of salt and put it in context.

Remember that how often and how much your baby sleeps is NOT a sign of whether you are a good parent or not. Seriously. Infant sleep has so much more to do with the baby’s temperament than it does your parenting. This whole newborn thing is hard. Be kind to yourself as you figure it out.

Knowing more about infant sleep and breastfeeding before your baby is born doesn’t guarantee that everything will be smooth or easy. It just means you’ll have a little bit better handle on the resources available to you when you feel overwhelmed and confused.

Oh, and one more tip. Invest in a good insulated coffee pot or mug and only pour a small portion into your cup at a time. Don’t expect to finish a whole cup in one sitting. This is the key to being able to drink your coffee while it’s hot when you have a newborn. You’re welcome.

What would you add to this list? What do you wish you’d known before your baby was born?

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  1. jaclyn

    As the mother of a 5-month-old, I say AMEN to all of this–especially the coffee mug advice. 🙂

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      I know, right? I think I just drank lukewarm coffee for the first 2 years of my son’s life without thinking I should just pour smaller portions from an insulated pot. 🙂

    • Mara

      As long as your breastfeeding baby can handle caffeine! My 12 month old STILL gets diarrhea every time I try to have just a little caffeine. So far I’ve gone over a year now with almost zero caffeine, and my baby was colicky, too!

      • Jaclyn

        That’s depressing. I usually have one cup a day of something–coffee or tea. I love coffee and tea, even apart from the caffeine effect.

  2. donna miller

    My midwife told my husband, “The best thing that you can do for your wife is buy a head of cabbage on the way home”. Am I ever glad we did!! I put cabbage leaves in my bra and it takes the hardness and heat out of your breasts the first couple of days. Without it I would have given up I think. It sounds gross, but it feels so good! Just replace the leaves with new ones when they have absorbs the heat and have dried up. I would put them in when my breasts were hard as a rock it seemed and in an hour or so they would be soft and ready to breastfeed. I have size DD so it would have been impossible for my babies to latch on when my breasts were to firm. Anyway just a thought! Worked for me. Hope it helps someone else. I have also heard of putting cabbage on your forehead when you have a fever. I got a few breast infections and I would put cabbage on the hot spot. Helps that too. Interested to hear if anyone else has ever done this.

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      I have heard of that, but didn’t have cabbage on hand and then forgot later. Fascinating to hear it worked for you!

    • Jaimie

      Cabbage can dry up your milk supply so be careful! (certified lactation counselor) It is mainly used by women who are not going to nurse to help their supply dry up quickly.

    • Claire

      I used cabage but only when I felt a blockage coming on.

  3. Dara

    Our son has high functioning autism and the common theme I hear from other parents, including my husband and myself, is that the pediatricians dismissed our concerns for, in some cases, years. It seems that with the higher functioning kids, the symptoms can be subtle. This was definitely the case with our son. My husband and I have said time and time again that we wish the classes we took at the hospital for newborn care would have included information on “at-risk” behaviors that might indicate developmental delay. The only thing I knew about autism came from watching the movie Rain Man years ago!!

    Oh, and… the cabbage trick worked for me, too! 🙂

    • Rebecca

      Actually, these two issues were among the first signs that our sons had autism. Both boys were very difficult to breastfeed, and even to bottle feed. They would seem to forget how to suck between feeds so each feed was like the first time. The eldest never ever latched on. It was very challenging and being shamed by other mothers really didn’t help.

      We are still waiting for the elusive full night’s sleep; the eldest is 6 years old. It seems to be a combination of sensory sensitivities mean they are more easily disturbed at night, and they just need less sleep than us.

      However, these minor issues are more than outweighed by their great personalities with really fun senses of humour and sensitive empathy (don’t believe all the stereotypes about people with autism!).

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      Dara, that is such a great idea. Or at least at those first doctor’s appointments, there could be resources to know what to look for, or something. Thanks for sharing, too, Rebecca.

  4. Caroline Starr Rose

    Such good advice. I wish I had known to trust myself more and worry about parenting books, timelines, and people’s well-meaning comments less.

    • Maryalene

      That’s what I was going to say. I feel like I made everything so complicated with my first. With my subsequent kids I learned parenting didn’t have to be this complicated thing you learned from a book and that it was ok to go with my natural instincts.

  5. Donaca

    I had 4 babies that slept really well once I established a sleep routine. I’ve done co-sleeping and sleep on their own. Just depending on what was working for that season. Then with our 5th child, he seemed to take less naps and always wake up grumpy. In hinds sight I realized I had never drank coffee with the other 4 While breastfeeding. I finally figured it out that the cafeine I was consuming to keep me awake was keeping him awake too. So a word of caution, cafeine does travel through breastmilk and can hinder your baby from falling asleep.

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      It definitely seems like different babies react differently to caffeine. I stick with decaf mostly for that reason, but drinking coffee while journaling is such a comforting part of my routine.

  6. Laura

    I read this post while being super sleep-deprived this morning, which I found to be kind of ironic. I have a one month old. I have definitely been feeling like motherhood/parenthood has got to be the hardest job in the world. I’ve been carrying around the mindset that this too shall pass and keeping that in mind during the difficult early months. It is helpful to laugh and let things go right now (like our yard and house work). We almost have to laugh at the weeds in the yard, because we can’t exert the energy to do anything about them right now. This too shall pass. And I will try to enjoy any moments with the new baby that I can right now (giggling at his loud farts, observing his face as he takes in the world around him). Letting go of all my expectations and just letting things be. Thanks for the article!

    • Crystal Ellefsen

      “This too shall pass” + enjoying the moment is so important and so hard! I think with my second babe, it’s been so much easier to have that perspective and know that the hard stuff doesn’t last forever. Eventually you sleep again, eventually there’s no more spit up or poop on your clothes. Knowing that the challenges of the first 4-6 weeks shift was huge for me this time in helping me be present and savor.

  7. Linda Sand

    You can weigh your baby before and after nursing if you aren’t sure she is getting enough. Some babies don’t cry when hungry so you might not realize he is. Apparently there is a condition called “content to starve”. I hope this doesn’t start anyone worrying but if you notice your baby doesn’t seem to be growing as expected you might try weighing.

    • Suzy

      An easier way to tell if baby is getting a good amount of milk is to look at their nappies – what goes in must come out. A breastfeeding class would cover this information about what to look for in nappies, how many wet/pooey nappies is normal etc. Definitely agree that this is a worthwhile investment for expectant parents.

  8. Mariesha Braley

    Do you have any books/articles that you recommend? The options are…overwhelming! : )

  9. Mara

    I definitely agree (and actually did) all of this advice: went to the local La Leche League while pregnant, read the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and read Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child (more for the science of infant sleep rather than techniques. I’m a physicist so I liked the research heaviness of that particular book, but I don’t advocate CIO). However, I do want to put out there, though, that even if you DO read and prepare, realize that if you end up with a colicky baby, SLEEP WILL BE HARD regardless of what you do. However, I can say that POST-colic, my daughter does sleep a lot better than other post-colicky babies I hear about. However, she’s still not as good of a sleeper as her non-colicky peers. (oh, and my baby was previously sleeping 6-8 hours through the night from 6-8 weeks before colic suddenly hit at 2 months, so no, colic is not just temperament). ; )

  10. Daphne Kohavy

    La Leche League was my best support during BF. There is always a leader on hand, on the phone, to answer questions. I met one of the most knowledgeable people I ever could through LLL – her insight going far beyond BF. Please share with all BF families!

  11. Priya

    True that initial 5-6 days of breastfeeding can be very confusing and distressing. My baby just couldn’t latch and it was distressing. Consulting a lactation expert helped me a lot and from there it was a smooth journey.

  12. Rheagan

    Am I the only one who avoided LLL after going to one meeting while pregnant? I just felt like it was too much pressure, and that in their efforts to encourage breastfeeding, they were inadvertently setting women up to fail. I had the “I will never measure up to their ideal, so why return to the group” type feeling.

    For the record, I loved breastfeeding, and nursed all 3 of my children well past a year. So obviously the interaction with the group didn’t dissuade me from giving nursing a try. But I find their intensity so overwhelming that it left me this with feeling that I would surely fail by their standards, so I never really joined. I just didn’t want to stress and pressure to conform to something that I wasn’t 100% convinced would work for me. I think mothers can be great regardless of how or why they feed their children.

    Just a different perspective, I guess!

  13. Farber@NeckPillows

    My 11 week old sleeps wonderfully at night. Falls asleep about same time every night 8-9, wakes up at 5to eat then back asleep until 8 or 9. However, he sleeps with me and doesn’t want to nap during the day.

  14. saif

    super post

  15. Lowell@Pillow


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