“We're having a baby!” These are among the most exciting words that anyone will ever say or hear. And the most life-changing… especially for those new parents who are taking their first steps into starting a new family.
But while this chapter of life is incredibly rewarding, it also comes with plenty of stress. It may not be long before you find yourself asking “What if I'm forgetting something? Are we ready for this? Are our finances ready for this? Are we going to be good parents? How do we discipline our kids?”
Not to mention, it seems like everyone you talk to suddenly has an opinion. People who maybe barely knew your name are suddenly regaling you with stories about their own experiences. And the books! Every book says something different. Check out our guide to the best parenting books.
Everyone has advice (and whether you asked for it or not, they're going to give it to you.) Retailers want you to buy their product, other parents want you to raise your children this way or that way.
With so much advice, new parents may soon find themselves totally overwhelmed. If this is happening to you, you may start worrying about every little thing.
“What if I make a tiny mistake and I ruin my baby's life forever and my child grows up to resent me…”
Here is some real talk: you will make some mistakes.
You will also do many, many things spectacularly well, in ways that will surprise you.
The trick is to know what matters, and get those taken care of. And these tips are here to help you identify some of the big ones.
The really, really big ones. Things like:
Your baby's health. Your baby's sleep and food schedule. Your baby's physical safety. Your finances (babies are expensive!)
The point here is to focus on what is important. What is crucial. Ace those, and don't forget to have fun with this chapter of your life!
So without further ado, here are the crucial things new parents need to remember.
Unless you've already baby-proofed your home, odds are that it's going to be a perilous place for a new arrival.
Even if it's essentially safe for adults (no clutter lying around on the stairs, sharp objects properly stored, electrical wiring all well installed, etc), it will amaze you what can pose a threat to a new baby.
So this one isn't a big surprise. But it's a good one to start with, because how we deal with our staircases will set the tone for how we deal with the rest of these challenges.
The best thing to do is to block off both the top and the bottom of the stairs with a baby-safe gate. A wall-mounted gate is recommended here.
Once the baby gets big enough to stand and walk, a pressure-mounted gate can come loose if a baby starts pulling on it.
Addressing the problem this way will get you in the habit of thinking ahead, and solving problems before they arise rather than after. This sort of mindset and approach will make the whole parenting journey a lot less stressful.
What about those other cases you have?
Your favorite book case may be perfectly stable, but would it stay that way if a child was trying to crawl up it like a ladder?
It's a good idea to bolt book cases to the wall. It usually only takes a few screws and a couple of inexpensive bolts. Check this off your list so you can forget about it.
Bonus points: if you live in a part of the world that is considered earthquake country, go ahead and move any heavy objects to the lower part of the shelf. That way it won't be likely to fall on your kid.
As children grow, they will be curious about everything in your home. They will try to open cabinets and hide in them. They will want to pull out drawers and sit in them, or use them to climb higher up.
Even if you don't have anything dangerous inside these containers, they may pose a safety risk. Check out locks and latches for each of the places your child may try to investigate.
You'll want to prepare the windows as well. The most important thing here is to make sure that they can't be opened so wide your child might fall out. Especially in the case of second-story windows, this is a leading safety hazard.
Install window latches at these points so that you can still open them and get airflow. You will want to make sure to check what kind of latches you need, as sliding windows will use one sort, and hinged windows will need another.
Electrical outlets that are not currently supplying power should be covered with plastic covers.
This is a very easy and inexpensive one to address, and it's a literal life-saver.
Even if your smoke alarms have fresh batteries, you'll want to make sure that the alarms themselves are up to date. If the smoke detectors are ten years old or more, they may be losing their effectiveness.
If the age of the smoke alarm is getting into the double digits, replace it.
Space heaters need to be treated carefully. They can easily become fire hazards if ignored, or if flammable items are left near them. And they are often risky with babies in the house.
If you can afford to do without them, great. But if you live in a part of the country that gets very old in the winter, look into models that are designed specifically with child safety in mind.
Tall floor lamps are a popular way of adding a splash of light to a room, but once your child gets older and starts crawling, pushing, or tugging at everything, it can be a hazard.
If you don't want to get rid of the lamp, consider moving it to a position that is behind a couch or table, so that it will be harder for your child to send it crashing down.
You've probably thought of a few of these already. But just to make sure that we cover our bases, let's run through a few more danger spots, and then we'll take a quick walk through the house to make sure everything is ready for your new arrival.
The kitchen is one of the more dangerous rooms in any home. The combination of sharp objects and electrical appliances make it high on our list of areas that need to be baby-proofed. Here are a few things that we need to see:
The living room should be a place your child can be comfortable in as they get older. As one of the main places for socializing, it's good for a growing child to be around people. Some suggestions include:
The bathroom is a major source of hazards, as well as being absolutely necessary. For this room it's important to:
Of course, this is one room that is built around being a safe place for your baby. Given how much time the child will spend here, you want to make sure it's as safe as can be.
Children will usually want to explore outdoors as they become more mobile and self-sufficient. In order to keep your yard a safe place for your child to play, double check these pieces:
Now that you've gotten the place all ready for Baby, here are a few finishing touches to make it really shine…
Odds are you know that baking soda and vinegar make a great combo.
They can be used together in order to help polish a glass countertop, or to clean up after someone has been sick. But did you know they can also unclog a sink? That's versatility!
Use a dish brush with a detergent compartment. It's a low-fuss way to clean, you will wind up using much less dish soap in the long run.
Here's a secret tip that waiters will recognize: coffee filters can dry and polish glass and other smooth surfaces without leaving any streaks! Try it on your glass, stemware, or mirrors.
All sorts of crud can get tracked in from the street. Especially the more people you have in your home. Keep the dirt and mess contained by leaving shoes at the door.
Wait! Don't toss that toothbrush! It will make the perfect tool when you need to do some spot cleaning in the bathroom, (especially on gunky surfaces you'd rather not handle too closely.)
Part of making your baby's nursery safe is keeping it clean. After all, you don't want to do all that baby-proofing work and then forget about germs, right? Make sure you know where the most germy bits of the nursery are, and clean them regularly. Change the baby's crib sheets at least once a week.
New parents may be a little surprised to find so many people having strong opinions on this. Cloth or disposable? Isn't a diaper just a diaper? Why does it matter that much?
Here is a better look at which of these two holds an advantage, depending on what's most important to you.
Category: ComfortWinner: Cloth
The reusable cloth diapers are typically gentler on the soft baby skin than their disposable counterparts.
Category: ConvenienceWinner: Disposable
Disposable diapers are meant to be tossed after one use, which means there's less cleanup involved.
Category: Effectiveness (How Absorbent)Winner: Disposable
Disposable diapers are typically somewhat more absorbent than cloth, although it's close in this case.
Category: Environmental ImpactWinner: Cloth
Cloth diapers get reused many times, while disposable diapers wind up adding to the landfill.
Category: CostWinner: Cloth
Cloth diapers will require washing, but you don't have to keep buying them. This saves a great deal of money over time – especially if you have more than one child.
If you have a baby who is especially fussy when changing diapers, try having a special toy that is specifically for diaper time. The playful association can calm the child, and encourage them to focus on the toy long enough to get them changed.
You're going to want to get a good handle on your finances next.
This is something that causes a great deal of stress to new parents (it's made that much more difficult by the fact that only 11% of these new parents realize how much the baby will cost in the first year.
Here are the major things you're going to want to do so that you can stay ahead of the curve:
Just to be clear, if you have student loans or any other sort of “good debt,” that's not what we're talking about here (although it wouldn't hurt to have those paid off, now would it?).
No, we are referring to credit cards or other high-interest debt. This added burden can frequently become very overwhelming to new parents who are adding hundreds of dollars a month in child expenses. Having to worry about both of those sets of bills is a big challenge.
If you can eliminate that debt, so much the better.
Figure out what your company's leave policy is when it comes to new parents getting time off. You'll want to spend time with your newborn, but standard paid leave varies from one company to another. If you get the details well in advance, you will be able to make the best plans possible.
Related Post: The best disability insurance for parents
The average American family spent about $13,000 per child annually in 2015 (this was not a number inflated by the wealthiest families either; this was a survey of middle-income households).
The baseline cost of raising a child will vary from state to state, but it is important to make the best possible guess so that you can start planning before you are scrambling.
One habit you can start practicing, even before the child arrives, is to start to budget as if you were already spending that amount on raising a child. How would you deal with having $1,000 less disposable income per month?
If you've already answered that question then congratulations! You are ahead of the curve, you savvy parent-to-be. But if you haven't figured it out, it's time to start thinking realistically.
And also remember - a child will have the usual ongoing expenses you would expect of food and healthcare… but there is also a significant up-front cost to consider. Making a home for the baby is a big investment, and childbirth is expensive as well.
It may seem like a lot to think about, but one of the most common regrets parents have is not saving sooner for their child's college education, back when they were new parents.
If you've already set aside money for your baby's arrival, then you may want to start thinking about the much, much longer term. You'll be glad you did (and so will your child).
Fortunately, we have a few tips to help bring that budget back down again. These are the sorts of products that will lower your overhead and also pay off in the long-term.
Children grow up, go to school, hit their teenage years, leave for college… over that entire time, a child can go through a lot of snack bags! So get the last laugh by buying a reusable set early, rather than having to replace them again and again. It's those little, long-term expenses that really cost you.
The potty training process is a specific chapter in a child's life, but you don't have to make a purchase and then waste it. This model doubles as a step stool, saving you from making an extra purchase you don't need to make.
Parents rave about this convertible booster seat that can be modified to allow for more room as your child grows. While many baby products are designed to become obsolete (so that you're forced to buy a replacement or a larger model), this seat saves you from having to buy another one for an older child. That's just smart.
Establish a nap time routine is a source of stress for every set of new parents. Part of the challenge is that every child grows, and can rapidly change in terms of sleep needs.
At the same time, not every child is the same in how they do that. But there are a few things that can help you get a handle on the process early.
First of all, realize that what you're getting with a newborn is very different from what you'll get from a six-month-old or a toddler. Children will go through phases where they sleep a lot, then less, then more as they go through growth spurts.
A typical newborn will sleep a lot. For the first three months, the baby is all about growing and acclimatizing to new surroundings. This requires a lot of time sleeping, and the newborn will wake and then nap in short bursts.
So the best thing to do is to work with those growing changes, and really look to lock down a routine around the time the child hits five months.
Here's one version of a structured feeding / sleeping schedule. Notice especially here, there's the repeated cycle of feeding the child and then going into nap time. Establishing a basic, reliable routine like this will cue the baby as to what to expect, making it easier to get them to fall asleep.
Just as you send your child cues about when nap time is starting, they will send you cues about when they are getting tired.
So look for patterns that signify when your baby wants to sleep. Grunting or frowning are common among young babies. Rubbing their eyes or yawning can also be indicators.
Putting a baby to bed can be largely about timing at this point. You notice the baby getting sleepy, help them start to wind down. If you wait until they are actually crabby, they will be tired, but much more difficult to lull to sleep.
If you notice their cues happening, don't wait for too long to start the naptime process.
A little bit of gentle white noise can be a great way of blocking out the sounds that impose on our hearing and sleep.
A baby often has to contend with noise on the street (if you are in an urban or suburban area) or other things happening in the house. Especially if there are other children, barking pets, electronic devices that are making noise.
Studies have shown that too much exposure to blue light or computer screens before bed will disrupt the sleep schedule and make the sleep itself less efficient. In fact, most adults could stand to learn this habit too… how many of us really need to fall asleep in front of another late night re-run of our favorite tv parents trying to navigate parenthood?
But it's especially tough on the youngest set. Try making sure your baby is free from the blue glow at least half an hour before they go down for the night.
You need sleep too, you know? None of us are at our best with insufficient sleep, but new parents especially have a tough time of it.
When you're juggling the baby's needs and a work schedule and any other commitments you might have… well, let's just say there is usually a stretch where the child requires a lot of attention late at night, and parents do not get as much sleep as they need.
And of course, you want to make sure you're tending to your little one. So there are some tricks that can help you get a little more sleep at night…
Pull double duty with your partner. If you are able to split the late night child-watching duties with another adult, you can alternate nights. Some couples prefer this as it gives each person one full night of sleep and limits the likelihood of having to go many, many nights in a row without any sleep.
A variation on this is to split each night into halves. First adult takes the early shift, second adult takes the late / early morning shift. It just depends which of those you prefer.
If it really gets to a point where your child's erratic sleep habits are making it impossible for anyone to sleep, there are experts in the field who can help stabilize things and get the child and parents back to getting a full night's rest. So if it's starting to get that bad, call in a sleep coach and reap the benefits!
The process of being a responsible new parent begins well before childbirth. And it never really ends.
This is going to be one of the most important things you ever do in life. It should also be one of the most fun, and all of this work is simply paving the way for welcoming a new life into the world.
So remember to focus on what's important. You will do great. And the next time you feel overwhelmed, it will be the joyous kind.