Since August is the month with the most babies being born, let's talk about what you really need when preparing for baby. It's probably not what you think! I remember the fun of “shopping for baby.” All that pastel was sooooo appealing. But truth be told, most of what we think we need to buy in advance of baby’s arrival is an illusion conjured by our shop-happy culture, an alluring but costly response to the most natural of pre-parenting instincts—to nest.
What Not to Buy (Yet)
What you don’t need—at least for now—is a crib. If you go the family bed route you may never need one; otherwise, a cradle by your bed will provide the closeness you both need for many months. While attachment parenting doesn’t mean wearing your baby 24/7, on-body carriers like snugglies and slings can be wonderful. If possible, borrow some to try; together you and baby will know which to buy.
Radical but true, there is always time later to purchase what is needed! In fact, waiting is a great way to begin developing the essential parenting tools of intuition and discernment. YOU will become the expert on your baby, discovering if she prefers sponge baths to “real baths” in the plastic contraption, or… if the sound of Velcro frightens him, or… if she is enchanted by the color purple. The nursery itself can also easily wait. It’s time we outgrow this Victorian notion of The Baby’s Room; indeed, the best place for your baby in the first few years is close to you. So you have lots of time to move to a bigger place or convert the guest room.
Bring in Help
In fact, guest quarters are way more important than a baby's room in the beginning -- along with someone helpful to occupy them! Whether it is a postpartum doula or your mother or your partner’s mother or a friend, human companionship and help is invaluable—to cook, field extraneous phone calls, do laundry and fetch a glass of water for you when you nurse.
Note: It only qualifies as help if this person’s presence DECREASES anxiety, tension, and insecurity, and CONTRIBUTES TO feelings of peacefulness, competence, and joy. This is no time to buckle under the pressure of someone else’s need to feel needed and included—or worse, entertained! Nature designed these precious weeks for slowing down to the languorous pace of new life, for falling in love with your baby, for unfolding the mother in you.
Clearly discuss your vision for the postpartum weeks with Mom or Mom-in-Law or Jill-from-college, even if it's not the most comfortable conversation. Consider it a double-investment in the wellbeing of your child and in your effective parenting: the ability to set authoritative, loving boundaries is going to come in handy on a daily basis for the next eighteen years!
If someone is throwing you a shower, one of my biggest recommendations is to ask them to find a fun way to incorporate a meal-signup into the festivities. Having someone bring you home-cooked meals (or send them from a nearby healthy restaurant) will feel WAY more precious than even the most tricked-out stroller in those early weeks. And it's never been so easy to coordinate, with today's technology: Meal Train and and Meal Baby are two online scheduling platforms that streamline the process. You will be so thankful you did it!
What to Buy
If you’re itching to make a big purchase, I recommend a rocking, fully-reclining lounge chair, the kind stereotypically reserved for watching football and midnight reruns of “Law & Order.” As glorious as the baby stores’ glider-rockers are, wooden arms are unforgiving after a few minutes. The comfy embrace of a lounger will see you and your baby through many nursing-through-the-night bouts of teething or fevers or stuffy noses. It is a true lifesaver, sleep-saver, and sanity-saver! Ideally you will use natural-fiber upholstery that has not been chemically treated; believe me, the price of this custom approach is an investment that will pay off in peace-of-mind and many hours of bliss.
Beauty is imperative. Silk veils in soft rainbow hues draped over your baby’s cradle or bassinet will soften the sharp contours of this brand new world. Not just enchanting, but well-advised in light of brain science and the growing epidemic of sensory processing disorders—which are associated in part with the bombardment of sensations to which we routinely submit even our teeniest babies.
Preparing for Baby's Healthy Brain Development
One of the finest ways to “expand baby’s world,” once she is at least a couple months old and weather permitting, is to spend a bit of time every day out in nature—whether that is your own garden or a quiet nearby park. Some time for baby to lie on a blanket in the shade, gazing at the leaves of a tree dancing in the breeze, is such an improvement over the mezerized stare at a mechanized mobile with tinny music and artificial shapes and colors. And it gives baby and you a break from whatever oh-so-common indoor pollution might be present in your home, as well as an invigorating dose of the fresh new oxygen produced by trees!
Speaking of natural and peaceful places, please refrain from schlepping your less-than-six-week-old baby to the mall or anywhere else that represents a full-scale assault on fresh new senses! Whenever I see a tiny new being on a parent's shoulder (or worse, slumped in a car-seat fastened to the cart) in Target, or most recently the other day in a noisy San Francisco bar (!!), I mentally send a little buffering bubble to encase those raw new senses in some needed protection.
And while we’re on pet peeves… do yourself and your child an important service and opt out early from the vicious and destructive cycle of fear that Junior will miss the Ivy-League boat if you don’t introduce him to Baby Einstein, or ANY electronic “enrichment” shamelessly hyped to parents who just want to do the best for their children. The world around him--most especially YOU--is all your baby needs for optimal brain development!
The Most Important Piece in Preparing for Baby
The best nest preparation you can make is possibly the least appealing, because you can’t put it on a credit card: cultivate your ability to just BE. One of the major causes of parental misery is our impulse to be somewhere other than where we are right now (or to wish our kids were somewhere else.) It may be with a colicky baby who is crying for her 27th straight evening, or a toddler who has again missed getting to the potty (recalling that bumper sticker, Sh - - Happens.)
It is in the very resistance to giving ourselves over to what is, that lies much of our distress. And paradoxically, when we let go of our idea of what should be in this moment, and instead trust in the rightness of this moment as it is... any moment can become perfection. Bliss Happens.
Depending upon your own experience of babyhood, and whether someone was able to “just BE” with you, this might be an incomprehensible—maybe even terrifying—concept. But babies and children are our Zen masters, inviting us daily to our own renewal through PRESENCE.
Poet Andrea Potos sees it as an invitation to “unclench your life.” From her poem "Instructions for the New Mother": Give up your calendar and clock, start flowing with milk time.
Do less... buy less... just BE, more.
I'm the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, and I write and speak worldwide on prenatal, child and parent development. I also have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I'd say my most important (and joyful!) credential, though, is being mother to Ian and Eve, both flourishing in their twenties. As a gift to Natural Baby Pro readers I'm offering a free copy of my "Empowered Birth Checklist for Couples" ebooklet: 25 concrete ways you can confidently parent during this momentous family experience!