The 6 smartest things I did before I had my first child
- There's no way to prepare for every surprise and challenge a first child brings, but by planning as much as possible, new parents can mitigate the madness.
- Making the most of the free time you have before the child is born to prepare for life with a new baby can make those days (and nights) of early infancy much more tolerable.
- Accepting that life will never be the same is critical part of the process of planning for a first child (and accepting that that's as it should be).
Life with a newborn baby is filled with joy, but it's also disorienting, challenging, and, arguably above all, tiring. Before our son was born, I'd had plenty of nights of bad sleep, but I had never had them for many weeks in a row.
The sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn is unlike anything my wife or I had experienced, though it did set me up to appreciate a peaceful night like never before. (That started at about the year mark for us the first time around. And now we have baby number two.)
Of course, there was also the wonder of looking at my child in the eyes, of holding him as he slept, of seeing his first smile, hearing his first laugh, and all the other many moments unlike anything I'd experienced.
Thorough planning and preparing for life with a baby can reduce the surprises associated with parenting a first baby, though nothing can help with the fatigue. If you're expecting a first child, don't worry; you'll be fine. Especially if you take heed of the six points included here.
1. We read our baby books and went to class
President Dwight Eisenhower (General Eisenhower, at the time) once said: "In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." This insight holds true for first time parents, who will have a wild ride no matter what, but can at least know more or less what to expect after that natal day.
By reading several baby books and multiple articles, by consulting websites, by attending Lamaze classes, and by generally digesting as much literature about pregnancy and infant care as we could, my wife and I prepared ourselves mentally and learned how to prepare our home physically for the arrival of our first child. In fact, I read, watched videos, took notes in class, and listened to podcasts so thoroughly that in an odd way I felt more prepared for the birth of our first kid than of our second.
2. We prepared the house
Doing things when you have a baby around is really, really hard. Especially when said things are major projects like painting rooms, building or moving furniture, decorating a nursery, and so forth. Within weeks of learning we were expecting, my wife and I had an architect and contractor working on adding a new master suite to our house so we wouldn't outgrow the place, and the day it was done, we began setting up what had been our room as our son's nursery.
We also baby proofed much of the house before he was born (and long before he'd be crawling) because we had the time then and wouldn't later.
3. I got myself in good shape
I had been running five times a week and working out a couple times weekly for years before our first kid was born, but I knew my schedule would be rocked and my free time slashed as soon as he showed up, so in the weeks before we had our first child, I worked extra hard to get in even better shape hedging against the reduced exercise I'd get for a while.
It was also a great way to alleviate some of the stress and nerves that came with anticipating parenthood, as excited as I was. (And if you don't already exercise regularly, the pre-parenthood days are a good time to start; life is about to change anyway, so you might as well make some personal changes, too.)
4. We did the paperwork
Babies come with a surprising amount of paperwork. From hospital forms to social security records to dealing with your insurance company, there are lots of forms to be filled out, signed, submitted, and filed. But you can do much of the work ahead of time.
Contact your insurance company to see what you can do regarding planning coverage before the baby is born and speak to the hospital about pre-registration and which forms you can complete ahead of time. That way, when the labour pains start, you and your partner will have minimised the amount of paperwork to worry about.
5. We enjoyed life as a couple
Once you have a child, special time between you and your partner is something you won't take for granted for the next decade or two. Instead, it's something you'll have to plan for, and maybe even pay for if you need a baby sitter. So make the most of the time you have together when it's just the two of you.
My wife and I decided to spend a bit of money and take a decent chunk of time and took a trip to Europe knowing it would be our last couples vacation for years if not decades, but even a special weekend or two or more nights out can help you make the most of the last months as a two ship formation.
6. I found a great paediatrician
Weeks before our son was born, I visited several different paediatric practices in our area, attending open houses where there were Q&A sessions with the doctors. This helped me compare a few different offices and allowed us to choose a practice with an approach to medicine that mirrored our own. When our son arrived, we already knew who his primary care doctor would be and had a good hand on the office's protocol.
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