Congratulations! Your sweet little bundle has arrived, and even better, the doctor has told you that you can all go home now and start living life outside the hospital. Hooray!
What do you do now?
That sudden realization hits you like a ton of bricks, believe me. I was so excited to get out of the hospital, probably more than anyone since I was a foreigner in a hospital in China. I remember being delighted to leave but discovering the newfound panic of being a brand new mom as soon as I walked into our home.
So, to help you adjust, I’m going to talk about lots of things to help you get organized. I might not be able to take that “OMG what have I done” feeling away, but I promise if you plan, it will feel a lot less overwhelming.
Table of Content
Things to Set Up BEFORE Baby Arrives
Ok, ideally before you go into labor (long before), you should have your home set up for the baby. We started months back, carefully putting things in place until we were happy with the setup.
We lived in a 2-bedroom/1-bath apartment in China, setting up that second room as our baby’s. The crib was in with a mattress that fits perfectly in there. The fitted sheet was on there, thank the heavens for that because fitted sheets are almost impossible to find in China (we had to have ours made!), the shelves were lined with precious stuffed animals and little trinkets from my friends and family back home. We were ready.
What weren’t we ready for? Gee, well, as soon as we walked into our home again, I gave our daughter the tour. I’d read they loved hearing your voice and seeing new things. It’s true…they love that so narrate everything for them. But you know what they don’t like? Being left alone.
We thought we’d put her in her crib in her room for a little while so that I could get something I actually wanted to eat and put my things away. She cried. I picked her up. Crying stopped. Put her down. Waaaaa! I repeated this process so many times that it wasn’t even funny. 😐
It soon became completely obvious that this wasn’t going to work, so my husband and his dad set out to move the crib into our room. This was no small feat since the doors of this apartment were absurd and had to be removed from the hinges to move the crib.
Once in our room, she fell right asleep.
She’d go on to sleep in the bed with us, though I must advise you that the AAP, while the recommend you share your room with the baby for a minimum of 6 months, says that you should create a safe sleep space, like an adjoining bassinet for example. Doing this can cut the risk of SIDS in half!
When we moved back to America with our youngest, we needed a crib, but because we’d be moving around, we didn’t want to drag it everywhere. We opted for a pack and play which made life so much easier for all of us. We could even take it on the road, and it was a blessing. This one by Graco is a bit similar to what we chose. It has a diaper-changing area which ours didn’t, but you get the idea.
And speaking of changing diapers, you’re going to need a devoted space for that. If you have the area, get a diaper station. We had one set up in our eldest’s room, which is where we’d cart her when we needed to change her. But we also made a makeshift diaper caddy of sorts that we threw in our room.
Because let’s be honest…at 3:25 am, you’re not going to want to walk the extra distance to change your baby and likely, you have no room for that diaper station in your room. So do what we did. Take the antimicrobial changing mat from your diaper bag (or just stash a secondary one in your room) and put in on your bed or the floor to change your baby. It works great, and you’ll all be able to get back to sleep faster.
Another thing we didn’t have for our eldest that we made sure we had for our youngest was a chair. I soon realized that she didn’t want to be put in the crib all the time. I’d wear her much of the day, but I needed breaks from time to time.
One of our friends sent us a very generous gift of a Baby Bjorn Bouncer similar to this one, and we couldn’t thank her enough. Our daughter loved it. I’d move it into whatever room I’d be in, like the kitchen (though out of harm’s way) and put her in it. When she was fussy at night, I’d bounce the chair, and she’d fall asleep without me having to rock her. 😀
We had to get a new chair when my mother-in-law accidentally broke this thing (to this day, I am stumped at how someone could break that chair, but she had a talent for breaking everything). For the second chair, we had a version of this Fisher Price chair that our little one loved. The only problem was it would go through batteries like crazy. Whatever chair you choose, make sure it’s safe and has no recalls, and you will be one happy Mama, I assure you.
Next up, where are you going to nurse?
We had limited space, so there was no room for a rocker or glider, though I highly recommend if you have the room, you get one. You can use your sofa if you have a small apartment or another chair. The key is being comfortable.
You can also nurse on your bed. This is what I wound up doing almost all of the time, and it was supremely comfortable. You can check out my breastfeeding positions guide here.
No matter where you set all this up, be advised that during the evenings, you should nurse in a place where you can dim the lights. If you’re sitting up for feedings, keep pillows around so you can prop your baby up easier. This is why that couch can be an excellent pinch-hitter for a nursing spot, especially if you have lots of throw pillows.
It does take a lot to set up the home, so think about the three things that newborns do and how you can make that easier. They sleep, eat, and poop (pee too). Knowing this, you can find what works for your home’s setup. I’m not going to assume everyone reading this has a 5-bedroom apartment with the latest accessories and immaculate furniture. I can’t stand reading stuff like that..
We shouldn’t judge others for what they have or don’t have. It’s my sincere hope that you find me more relatable so you can make life with your new baby function in your space. There is no one right way that it has to be done. Yes, you should follow the infant sleep guidelines by the AAP. But other than that, if you can’t fit a rocker or glider anywhere into your home, the world will still keep spinning, and you will find another way to make nursing work comfortably for you.
We’re Outta’ Here! What to Do Before Leaving the Hospital
Before you’re told you can check out of the hospital and leave, your doctor will check you and baby out again to make sure you’re cleared to go home. This is the time when you should also ask any questions you have.
I highly advise, as I have in the past, that you get a breastfeeding coach. If you contact your local La Leche League, you can find someone that will help you get the latch right while you’re in the hospital. If not, the nurses can help you. Please, please, please don’t be embarrassed to ask for this help. Just get it. A proper latch means your baby will get the nourishment she needs and will help your milk come in further.
You may want to ask how to use a breast pump. If you’ve bought one already, you should bring it to the hospital when you check in (or have your husband bring it by afterward), so you can get familiar with it. They can help you get adjusted to using it. Even if you plan to breastfeed exclusively, it never hurts to know how to relieve engorged breasts or stash some milk in case you need to get out of the house for a little bit without the baby.
Something else to know…swaddling! I practiced swaddling stuffed animals after reading Dr. Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block. In my opinion, this was the most helpful of all the baby books I read. But stuffed animals are not the same as a live baby, so practice at the hospital. The nurses can help show you how. Swaddling blankets make the whole thing even easier now.
In addition to swaddling and nursing, make sure you’re comfortable with changing diapers, trimming nails, how to care for the umbilical cord bit (which will fall off so don’t be freaked out), and all that other stuff. Nurses in the maternity ward take care of babies every day, and they are happy to help you get comfortable with what you need to do. Breathe!
When you’re good and ready, you can all head to the car. But first…
What You Should Know About Baby Car Seats
Before you can drive away from the hospital with a new baby in America, you must have a proper car seat installed. And that car seat should be installed correctly — more on that in a moment.
If you are traveling, take a look at these top rated travel car seat for the maximum safety.
In China, no one uses car seats, sad to say. While I was there, my husband told me the government passed a law requiring them, but no one followed it. And no one enforced it. From my friends that still live over there, it’s still apparently not being applied. A total shame.
We didn’t have one for our eldest because when she was born, we didn’t have a car. So we took a taxi home, and I held her in the baby carrier. When we bought a car, my husband tracked down a car seat so we could put her in it.
Obviously, what flies in China doesn’t fly here. There are many different car seats, and I urge you before you have that baby that you compare them all and look for recalls. Don’t choose it because it’s pink and you’re having a girl. Take the same care in choosing one for your needs as you’d take when shopping for cars. It’s a big deal. The NHTSA has a very comprehensive and helpful list of guidelines plus videos on how to properly install your car seat.
I will say that the best investments are the ones that grow with your child as they grow. Then you can always keep them safe no matter how big they get.
If you’ve watched the videos and read your car seat manual and you still feel like you have no idea what’s going on, you can ask hospital staff to help you. You can also have your husband run over to the local police station or firehouse and ask for help while you wait with the baby at the hospital. Ideally, though, you should have this thing locked into place a few weeks before your due date to avoid the stress.
OMG…What Should We Wear?!?
I’ve talked about clothes when I wrote about what to wear after your C-section. You should definitely go there to get a more in-depth scoop on clothing selections. Generally, you should choose something appropriate for the weather and comfortable for you that looks good because there will be lots of photos of this day.
Don’t forget your makeup kit! I know once we were ready to leave (after both babies), I wanted makeup on so I would feel more comfortable for photos.
What should be the baby outfits?
Well, much of that really depends on the season and the weather where you live. We had our eldest in a onesie with booties and a hat, wrapped in a blanket when we left. It was spring and not too cold but not hot, either. For our youngest, it was summer and so warm it was insane, so we dressed her in less.
Here are the basics to follow:
- Onesies – they’re easy to put on and take off. They have them in short or long sleeves so you can choose the right kind for your season.
- Hats – you should pack several of them separately that go with your newborn outfits. Newborn hats may even be too big for some babies (they were for mine!).
- Socks – you will lose all your baby socks so don’t spend a fortune on these. Bring a few pairs of them just in case.
- Blankets – those receiving blankets come in handy now to keep your baby comfortable whatever the weather.
Of course, you want something that’s extra cute for your baby because you’ll be taking tons of photos. I love all these coming home outfits for girls. Take your pick depending on the weather at the time of your delivery. And if you have a boy, these coming home outfits for boys are darling. If you decided to wait until the birth to see what wonderful bundle of joy you’re getting, you could get unisex coming home outfits for babies too.
Welcoming Baby Home
When you first come home with your baby, hopefully, you’ve got everything ready and in place. You’ll definitely want to show her around and give her a little narration about the rooms in the house. Yes, even the bathroom and kitchen! You’re going to become quite the narrator, I assure you.
Here is my guide on newborn bathing (a helpful read for new parents).
After that, it’s time to introduce baby to everyone and everything else. If you have pets, it’s essential to plan ahead, ideally when you’re setting up your baby’s nursery. Dogs and cats are very perceptive creatures. They’re the baby right now, and when you bring this baby in, you’re going to need to do a few things to help the process into a smooth adjustment.
PETA advises that you still treat your pet as you always have, nurturing their needs even after the baby comes home. Allow your pet to explore the nursery and sniff the room. Some dogs may be afraid of the stroller at first, too. Make sure they get to sniff it and see first. You should also keep your pet on the same feeding and walking (if applicable) schedule and supervise all interactions around your new baby. For a full list of tips on this, check here.
The first year of baby’s life with a pet is crucial for allergies too. While it’s more familiar with cats than dogs, always check for indoor allergy symptoms (watery eyes, running nose, etc.). If you notice anything with the way your child reacts around the family pet, make sure you address this with your pediatrician at your next checkup.
Obviously pet fish are easy. Your baby will enjoy watching them!
And friends and family?
I suggest you keep your visitors limited. Even the most well-meaning relatives and friends can expose your baby to germs. Make sure anyone that comes over isn’t coughing, sniffling, or sneezing and have everyone clean their hands before holding the baby. There will be plenty of time to show the baby off soon enough. For now, leave it to just immediate family or even your best friend, as long as all of these people have not recently been ill.
The First Few Days Home with Your New Baby
It’s going to be a whirlwind where everything is familiar because it’s home but foreign because there’s this tiny human that needs your attention. My ultimate advice on this is to just breathe. When it feels crazy, sit, breathe, focus. It will all feel normal again soon, but not like before. It will be your new normal.
The first few days and nights are going to be weird for sure, especially the first one. I remember being in pain from my c-section, so my husband was very helpful in getting up to grab our daughter from her crib for me. He also helped with almost every diaper change at the time.
Things you won’t expect – liquid poop.
Babies can make some nasty poops. It’s a good sign though since having a poo or pee-filled diapers means they’re getting enough food. They should have around three bowel movements per day, and you should be changing the diaper between 4 and 12 times per day depending (both for pee and poop).
For breastfeeding, I nursed on demand. Look for the cues of a hungry baby, and if you formula feed, it will be every 2 to 3 hours. Again, watch for the signals!
As for sleep,
Most newborns will spend more time sleeping than being awake though it won’t feel like it. They can sleep in short bursts to about 45 minutes or for 3 to 4 hours at a time. Tempting as it is just to let them rest, you should never let the baby go longer than 4 to 5 hours without nursing. Wake them up and feed them.
For me, I had no problems getting my kids to eat. They’d wake up seemingly as soon as I shut my eyes for a nap. Many times, I’d fall asleep while nursing them. This is why I spent a lot of time in the side-lying position.
When it comes to bringing your baby home, everything is about to change but in the most delightful way. I know it feels so bizarre, but in a couple of weeks, it should all settle down. I remember feeling like I’d never get the hang of changing diapers and two weeks later, feeling like I’d done it my whole life.
Watch out for the baby blues, which I’ve written about, and if you find your feelings overwhelm you, don’t hesitate to speak up and get help. Your hormones and your whole life are changing. The hormones should settle down, but if you still feel depressed after two weeks, call your doctor immediately.
Call your best friend, call your mom. Just call. Someone will listen, it is nothing to be ashamed of, and there is adequate help that can get you feeling like you again. Lots of love and luck on this new journey, Mama! 😎
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.