As my first Mother’s Day with my son on this side of my abdomen approaches, I’ve reflected on the things he’s taught me in the last year. By sharing I hope not only to let other new parents know you aren’t alone (although some are probably wondering how these things slipped past us), but also maybe make parents of older children smile and remember those early days too. 

I was one of those who swore they’d never have kids, and rarely babysat growing up. To say the learning curve was steep is an understatement; but between myself, my husband, and Google, we’ve somehow kept our son happy and healthy for his first year. 

Let me start by saying, the best thing you can do for your family is whatever works for you. I’m a researcher by nature, so I have a tendency to read as much as I can about everything — especially for things I’m new at (parenting) or don’t have any knowledge of (babies). The amount of information out there for new parents is overwhelming. A great place to start is the American Association of Pediatrics, your child’s pediatrician, and asking family or friends who have kids what books or tips they thought were helpful. No matter what you do, do what is right for your child and your family. If there was only one right way to do it, there would only be one parenting book, right? 

Here is what we have learned, mostly the hard way. 

Feeding your baby

To my surprise, breastfeeding was hard. it’s not as easy as bringing your baby to your chest and viola! They figure it out. There is some instinct that comes into play, but there’s a lot more guiding and helping a newborn to figure out how it works than I expected. Luckily, our lactation consultants here in the Black Hills are amazing and helped us get into a rhythm in those first weeks. My husband was also incredibly supportive and went to my appointments with me. Considering I was a hormonal, sleepless mess at that point, him being there to learn and help me once we got home was crucial. 

Bottle feeding isn’t necessarily easy, either. Who knew there were so many varieties of formula? When we decided to combo feed, I lost sleep over researching formulas; what ingredients to watch for, whether organic formula made a difference, and if we needed the kind that makes him less gassy. After I spent a week doing research and finally arrived at what I thought was the perfect formula, my son didn’t like it. We tried it for a couple days and every time he refused it. My recommendation now? Most formula brands offer free samples you can sign up for online. Try them and see what your baby likes, and go from there. You can find Enfamil’s program here, and Similac here. There are others, but these two brands are available almost everywhere.

The same idea goes for types of bottle. I bought a pack of bottles based on the fact they also worked with my pump, which I figured would save me the trouble of transferring milk to bags and back. My son disagreed with this tactic, as well. Luckily, there are variety packs you can buy with several styles of bottles, so you can give each a try and see what works best. Bottles are also easy to find on local listings online for cheap, so you can try out a few styles before investing in new ones. If using secondhand nipples doesn’t sit well with you, you can still get the bottles and buy new nipples for cheaper than a whole new set. Either way, sterilize everything prior to the first use, whether or not it’s new. 

Getting the right size

We all know there are sizes for things like diapers and clothing, but it turns out there are different levels for bottle nipples too. And pacifiers. And teethers. 

First, the easy ones. How do you know your baby has outgrown a onesie? If you’re us, it’s when you’ve already made them fussy trying to squeeze their head through a shirt and then you can’t get the crotch snaps together because the shirt is too short. My advice? If you have to even mildly work to get their head through (and it’s not because you forgot to unsnap the collar), toss that outfit into the too-small bin. 

Similarly, a great way to realize it’s time to size up on diapers is to tell yourself, “after we get through this box I just opened, it’s probably time for the next size.” It works like a charm; just be sure to pack an extra outfit in your diaper bag full of too-small diapers, because as soon as you get to the checkout line in the grocery store, you’ll be ready for a wardrobe change. 

On to the stuff people who haven’t been around babies (aka, me) might not know. For bottles, the different nipple types have to do with the flow rate. A younger baby needs a slower flow, so they don’t get overwhelmed by too much milk or formula at once. Most bottles will come with the slowest flow the brand offers, and then you buy the faster ones as needed. While there are age guidelines for when you need to size up, babies don’t really abide by them (who would have thought?). Here are a couple signs to watch for when your baby might be ready for a faster flow:

  • They get fussy or irritated when they eat, which might signal they’re frustrated at not being able to eat fast enough.
  • They fall asleep during feeding but haven’t eaten much, or wake up still hungry. Babies tire easily, and having to work too hard to feed can make them fall asleep before they’ve gotten enough to eat.
  • The nipple should keep its shape while your baby is eating, it shouldn’t be flattened or sucked into the top of the bottle. If it does, it’s a sign your baby is sucking too hard and might need a faster flow.

Pacifiers and teethers also come in sizes based on the age of your baby. There’s a lot of variables that go into it, but the biggest thing we learned is you need to trade them out once your baby has teeth. Newborn pacifiers are soft and flexible, but baby teeth can rip them, which makes it easy for them to swallow small pieces of rubber or choke. 

If you’re lucky like us, your child won’t take a pacifier or a teether no matter how hard you try until he’s about 10 months old. Don’t worry, he’ll still get relief by chewing on your fingers, your shoulder, your cheek — really any squishy body part he can get a hold of until you find a teether he likes. Good luck! 

Day-to-day life

Baby proof before you think you need to. One day, our son decided he was going to roll over. We were elated! What we didn’t expect was when he tried to sit on his own a week later. Guess who hadn’t laid out the squishy foam mat we bought to cover our hardwood floors? It happens fast, so try to stay a step or two ahead. By the time he was pulling up, we had at least covered the edges of our slate fireplace.

Tupperware doesn’t need to be organized. Once our son started walking, he quickly found an affinity for rearranging our Tupperware shelves (we put baby locks on everything else, so at least there’s that). We attempted to stack them neatly for the first few weeks, but now it’s a matter of just collecting them from all over the house and returning them to a shelf somewhere in the kitchen. Putting away leftovers after dinner is now a bit of a scavenger hunt, but it certainly keeps life interesting. The same theory applies to anything else — his clothes, books, toys, anything that lives in a bottom drawer in our kitchen — just go with it. 

Babies cry. I’m sure that’s not earth-shattering news, but especially in the early days, it’s tough to figure out why. Your baby crying doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, or that you aren’t caring for them enough. We came up with a sort of checklist to get us through the crying, as it turns out it’s hard to think clearly while holding a wailing baby. We narrowed the usual culprits down to sleep, food, and diapers. Start with a clean, dry diaper, offer food, and then see if they’re tired. Sounds easy, right? In practice, it was amazing how many times we didn’t clue into the fact our son was hungry, usually because we could have sworn he just ate. Time flies when you’re having fun, so just in case, try another bottle.

It really is different when it’s your own kid. Like I mentioned, I was convinced I wouldn’t have children for most of my life. I spent little time around kids, and I’d changed precisely three diapers. Having our son has been life changing in many ways, but some things weren’t as hard as I initially feared. Changing a diaper isn’t that bad; spit up happens, but only when you don’t have a burp cloth handy; and there are long nights, but that’s why there’s coffee. Having a small human that relies entirely on you is a big job, but getting to watch them grow and experience everything for the first time again is worth it. 

Oh, and baby snuggles. If nothing else, do it for the snuggles. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms; no matter what today brings, you’re amazing!