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Life as a new parent is filled with happiness as you admire your new addition. It also might be the most challenging task you’ve ever faced. A study by the ZERO TO THREE foundation revealed that 91% of new parents describe parenting as their greatest joy, along with 73% viewing it as their biggest challenge. With my nine years of parenting experience and three kids as inspiration, I’ve developed this list of tips for new parents that can help you find more joy and less stress as you navigate new parenthood.
1. Nurse on Demand
If you’re breastfeeding, you might feel like you’re nursing your newborn all of the time––and you probably are. Especially during the early weeks and months, your baby requires around-the-clock feeding. While this aggressive schedule can take a physical and emotional toll on new moms and new dads, it’s important, so stick with it. Pay attention to cues that your baby is hungry like rooting on your chest, opening their mouth, and trying to stick their hand in their mouth. Feeding every 2 to 3 hours––or less––can be expected during the first few months because baby’s belly is especially small––just the size of a cherry at birth and the size of an egg a month later.
2. Invest in a Bouncer or Swing
Reliable baby gear is essential so that you’re not always holding the baby. While you’ll certainly enjoy some snuggle time before and after feedings, you’ll also need to put the baby down during awake times throughout the day. Investing in a bouncer or swing can entertain the baby when they’re away, giving you a break from around-the-clock baby care. A swing provides constant motion that can calm baby, which means it might even lull them to sleep. A bouncer sits baby upright and may include a toy bar for entertainment and vibration for some movement. When choosing a bouncer or swing, consider which style fits better in your home. A bouncer is a more portable option that leaves a smaller footprint than a swing.
3. Say “No” If You’re Not Up for Visitors
Soon after the baby arrives, you’ll be fielding phone calls and text messages from family and friends who want to meet the baby. Some will want to visit you at the hospital; others will want to come to your house once you’re settled in. While you might welcome the occasional guest, a rotating door of guests when you’re sleep deprived, overwhelmed, and recovering from childbirth can become exhausting. Don’t feel bad about declining or delaying visits if you’re not up for them. Remember, your recovery and emotional health are important right now. Plus, you’re the parent, so you set the rules.
4. Rotate Middle-of-the-Night Shifts
Get dad involved in the middle-of-the-night feedings to give mom a break. If you’re formula feeding, parents can easily take turns with these feedings, which will give each parent one longer stretch of sleep. If you’re nursing, the burden of feeding does fall on mom, but dad can help too. Once your milk supply is established, you can start pumping so that dad can take over some of the middle-of-the-night feedings. Learn how to properly pump and store breastmilk before you split shifts at night.
5. Never Leave the House Without a Change of Clothes
You will quickly realize that diaper changes are a major part of your life with a newborn. You may also unfortunately learn that blowouts always seem to happen in the worst situation. Never catch your family out without extra diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes for your baby. While choosing the right diaper and size can help minimize the risks of leaks and blowout, it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen. So, stock your diaper bag with easy-to-put-on clothes like a onesie or other popular baby clothes so that you’re always ready for a quick change.
6. Pull a Onesie Down, Not Up
If that diaper blowout or leak does occur when your baby is wearing a onesie, try this hack to minimize the mess. Pull the diaper down by slipping the shoulders out of the arms and carefully removing it from the baby, which will keep the mess away from their face and head. You might even be able to skip that post-blowout bath if you use this method.
7. Pay Attention to Mom’s Emotions
The baby blues are real, as are postpartum depression and anxiety. Distinguishing between momentary bursts of sadness and PPD or PPA can be difficult, so everyone in the family should keep an eye on mom’s emotions so that she can seek help when needed. According to the American Pregnancy Association, up to three-fourths of new mothers experience the baby blues. PPD and PPA affect 15% and 10%, respectively, of new mothers. Support from family and healthcare providers can help mothers effectively treat their PPD or PPA.
8. Invest in a Versatile Stroller
Don’t end up like me and have more strollers than kids. Instead, invest in one high-quality, versatile stroller that you can use both indoors and out. When shopping for a versatile stroller, look for a style that’s lightweight and easy to break down for transport in your car. This stroller should work well on all terrain, whether you’re pushing it through a store or outdoors on a trail. With so many options out there, be sure to do your research to find the right style for your needs. Compare different reviews and try to check out a style in stores to see how it maneuvers.
9. Give Babywearing a Try
Let’s face it: We all love baby cuddles, but mama (and dad!) have to get stuff done, too. Babywearing offers the best of both worlds––your little one is happily snuggled on your chest, and you have two free hands to tackle those tasks on your to-do list. Babywearing delivers other benefits like promoting bonding and helping with reflux. A variety of different baby carriers exist, including wraps, ring slings, soft-structured styles, and backpacks. Explore different styles to find one well suited for your needs.
10. Read Every Day
It won’t be long before your baby coos, points, and giggles when you’re reading to them. But even before they respond, reading is beneficial. Early exposure to language helps babies long before they start talking. Listening to your voice and different sounds can help soothe you baby and allows you to engage with them. Board books and soft-sided books are great options for babies younger than 6 months. A sensory book allows baby to explore with their hands while you read.
11. Pay Attention to Milestones Without Stressing
During your many pediatrician checkups during the first year, your doctor will ask about baby’s milestones. Is he rolling over? Does he smile? How is his neck control? Be prepared for these questions by noting when––or if––your youngster achieves them. Try a checklist to keep track. However, don’t worry if your baby is a bit behind the curve. Milestones are general guidelines, but every child develops differently. My middle child sat unassisted and crawled before he rolled over, which certainly didn’t follow typical infant milestones. Unless your pediatrician is concerned, you shouldn’t be, either.
12. Don’t Stress About Spoiling Your Newborn
If you haven’t heard an older and wiser parent tell you to “put that baby down before you spoil them,” are you even a new parent? Don’t listen to grandma when she tells you to stop spoiling your baby. Your baby needs your constant attention––after all, you’re the one familiar person in this big, new world. Science tells us you can’t spoil a baby, so go with your instinct. When your newborn cries, pick them up. Want to snuggle after a feeding? Go for it! Babies don’t need to be taught how to fend for themselves; they need to be provided with comfort and support.
13. Say “Yes” to Help When You Need It
Friends and family members will want to support you after your baby arrives. Don’t shy away from accepting help. If someone wants to drop off dinner, accept it graciously. If your best friend offers to come over and hold the baby so you can shower (or sleep!), take her up on it. No one wins an award for being the best newborn parent. Relying on family and friends for postpartum support gives you a break and shows you that you’re loved.
14. Spend Less Time in the Kitchen by Batch Cooking
Dinner time and the infamous witching hour always seem to collide, which always made it hard for me to eat a reasonable hour. So, I quickly learned to batch cook to save time. Batch cooking involves making larger portions that you can repurpose throughout the week. An hour or two of meal prep can make throwing dinners together so much easier throughout the week. Some of my favorite hacks? Toss some chicken breasts in the crockpot with your favorite seasonings and shred them. You can add chicken to a bagged salad for some added protein, toss it in a casserole with pasta or rice, or make chicken tacos with it. Meal problems solved!
15. Learn How to Swaddle
A good swaddle can promote better sleep for your baby. Swaddling has several key benefits, including making your baby feel safe and secure and keeping them in a safe sleeping position. Swaddling is safe to do until the baby starts to roll or starts to fight the swaddle––whichever comes first. A high-quality swaddling blanket plus some practice will allow you to swaddle your little one like a pro.
16. Use White Noise to Your Advantage
White noise can help calm a fussy baby or even lull them to sleep. It mimics the sounds of the womb and can help them feel safer. It can also block out other household noises so that the barking dog doesn’t wake up the baby. A variety of white noise machines are on the market, including some styles built into a stuffed animal that you can position near the crib. You can even pull up white noise using an app on your phone. Give it a try if you have trouble settling a fussy baby.
17. Minimize Accidents During Diaper Changes
Over time, you’ll probably become a speed diaper changer––after you learn that speed is essential. Move too slowly, and you might have a mess on your hands––literally! Before you take off the dirty diaper, open up and slide a clean diaper under your baby’s bottom. Then, open the dirty diaper, clean up your baby, and lift the bottom to slide it out. The clean diaper will be ready to fasten before an accident occurs.
18. Be Prepared for Growth Spurts
Your baby is growing––yay! Unfortunately, during a growth spurt, your baby is also going to be fussier and hungrier than usual. Growth spurts typically hit around the same time for all full-term babies. You’ll notice the first a few days after birth, followed by another around 6 weeks. The 6-week growth spurt was hard to miss with all three of my kids, thanks to around-the-clock feedings and lots of fussiness. Fortunately, they only last a few days to a week.
19. Join a Parenting Group
Becoming a new parent can be lonely at times. Your world is wrapped up in this new baby who needs you constantly. Combine this with sleep deprivation and postpartum emotions, and you might feel down and disconnected. Look for a local parenting group to connect with like-minded parents. You can find these in a number of ways, from searching online to asking friends or your pediatrician for recommendations. As your little one gets older, a playgroup offers early socialization for them, too.
20. Buy a Breastfeeding Pillow
Whether you’re nursing, formula feeding, or a mix of both, a breastfeeding pillow comes in handy during feedings. Tiny newborns are hard to position at the breast or bottle with one arm while feeding them with the other. Breastfeeding pillows, which fit around your waist, come in a number of styles, so do your research to find the right product for you. I found a Boppy pillow to be comfortable and easy to use for babies of all sizes. A breastfeeding pillow and the right position can make nursing more comfortable for all involved.
21. Don’t Be Afraid to Call Your Pediatrician
Chances are you spend some time worrying about your baby as you adjust to life as a parent. You might worry about milk or formula intake––is it too much or not enough? Is baby gaining weight appropriately? Does baby have enough wet diapers every day? What is this rash? Don’t rely on Google to answer your baby health questions. Remember––your pediatrician is always a phone call away, even after hours.
22. Establish a Bedtime Routine Early.
A bedtime routine might not mean much in the early weeks of life as a parent, when the baby is waking every 2 to 3 hours to eat. However, over time, your baby will respond to this routine, and it can even encourage good sleep. Dim lighting and minimal noise pave the way for better sleep. Incorporate a bath, book, music, rocking, or feeding into the bedtime routine, too. Be sure to have some swaddle blankets on hand so that your baby is cozy before bed.
23. Create Multiple Diaper Changing Stations.
A changing table in your baby’s nursery is a convenient feature, but it’s not one you’re going to use for every diaper change, especially if you live in a two-story house. If the baby’s room isn’t always nearby, create a second diaper changing station on another floor. A portable diaper changing pad allows you to change your baby on the floor or the sofa without making a mess. Then, turn a spacious basket into a diaper changing caddy by filling it with diapers, wipes, diaper cream, and a change of clothes. Diaper changes will be easier with a portable station set up nearby.
24. Create a Space for Mom to Feed Baby Comfortably
During the first few months of your baby’s life, mom––with dad’s help––is going to spend a lot of time sitting down and feeding the baby. Make that experience more comfortable by creating a comfortable spot to feed the baby. Position a small table next to the glider or sofa so that mom can rest a drink there or store her smartphone. Add a basket filled the table with mom’s favorite things: a book or magazine to read, a charger for her electronic device and a few prepackaged snacks. If she’s nursing, add nipple cream like lanolin and nursing pads for easy self-care after each feeding session. Don’t forget a few baby essentials too, including burp cloths.
25. Seek Help for Feeding Concerns
If you’re having trouble with breastfeeding, introducing a bottle, or formula feeding, seek help. Your pediatrician is trained to help address feeding issues, whether you’re concerned about a low milk supply, acid reflux, or slow weight gain. If you’re breastfeeding, find a local lactation consultant who can provide hands-on assistance with nursing, helping you troubleshoot latch issues, reduce pain, and improve supply. Don’t shy away from reaching out to the resources available to you.
26. Create a Contingency Plan for Sick Days
If both parents are returning to work after parental leave, be prepared for some sick days. A baby in a childcare setting with other kids will likely have to fight off some colds and viruses in the first year. Talk to your partner now about how you’ll navigate these sick days and which parent will take time off. By having a plan in place now, you can quickly plan for unexpected sick days.
27. Get Out of the House
After a few weeks cooped up with a newborn, you’re probably going to feel a little stir crazy. Make an effort to get out of the house regularly to break up the monotony. Go on a walk around the neighborhood or on a local trail. Meet up with fellow new moms for coffee. Go out to eat––baby just might sleep through that meal, anyway, so you’ll feel like you’re on a kid-free date!
28. Find a Reliable Babysitter
On a similar note, take some time to search for a reliable babysitter. You might not use one often at first, but having someone you trust to watch your little one is important. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. If your baby goes to daycare, find out if any of the teachers do evening babysitting on the side. Check references and set up an interview so that you can get to know the sitter before you hire them.
29. Invest in Some Sensory Toys
Within just a couple of months, your baby will be ready to play with sensory toys. Babies explore with their hands and––sometimes––their mouth. So, any toy that’s easy to grab onto will be ideal for babies under 6 months. Two of my kids’ favorites? Tag blankets, which offer plenty to grab and can be purchased or made easily if you can sew. They also loved soft teethers like Sophie the Giraffe products.
30. Trust Your Instinct
Remember, every baby has different needs. While some advice applies universally, parents should trust their instincts when caring for their baby. Some babies respond more quickly to sleep training; others are great eaters but not-so-great sleepers. Follow your child’s lead and respond to their needs based on your instinct. After all, mother (and father) know best!
Did these tips inspire you to find the joy in your life as a new parent, even when times get rough? I hope so! Keep this advice in mind as you navigate those inevitable challenges so that you can find happiness every day––even on the hard ones. Share your favorite tips in the comments below, and pass this list along to other parents for some inspiration and encouragement.