When you finally give birth and get to meet your new baby after nine months of pregnancy, it is a hugely exciting moment. It can also be a time filled with mixed emotions. The first few days after birth can be awesome, overwhelming and exhausting for you. You will be spending time gazing and cuddling your baby, but also trying to figure out how to feed him and change his nappies, and your body needs to recover from the birth.
First Baby Checklist
If you haven’t given birth to your baby, but he has come to you much loved and wanted from an adoption or surrogate pregnancy, you will also experience the same emotional experiences of elation and exhaustion. You will gaze at your baby and wonder at his delights, while you struggle to figure out how to feed him, get him to sleep and readjust to a total change to your life.
If this is your first baby, then there’s plenty of planning to do prior to the birth.
Practical items for your baby
First off, you will be bombarded by advertising about all the absolutely indispensable items you’ll need to care for your baby. It’s tempting to be attracted by the bright and colourful gadgets available, but it’s usually best to stick with the basics until you get to know what you really need. If you have friends or relatives with new babies, they will be your best guide. Often, friends and family pass on clothes and other useful items. In the meantime, here’s a list of ideas contributed by other mums that might help you.
New babies wee, poo and may bring up quite a lot of milk, so they tend to get messy. So your new baby will need quite a few changes of clothes at first. Opt for clothes that are easy to get on and off, such as jumpsuits and singlets. These clothes need to be easy to wash and dry. You may even benefit from some soft cloths or bibs to catch the milk spills.
- At birth, he’ll probably need size 0000 baby clothes, but if you have a very small baby, you may wish to invest in at least one 00000, just in case. It’s also a good idea to start off with some larger sizes to save money, because your baby will grow quickly!
- If you have no objection to second-hand clothes, friends or family frequently offer to give or lend newborn clothes, because they wear their small sizes for such a short time. If they are clean and not too well-worn, this can be a good money-saving idea.
- If your baby is born in winter, you may want to purchase two or three cardigans and two cotton hats without strings or bows. It’s important for your baby to wear a cap in winter to keep his head warm. Because his head is quite large compared to the rest of his body, he loses a lot of heat through his head. Caps are a good way to keep him warm, especially when you’re out and about.
- Your baby will need about 6–8 nappies a day – new babies can get very messy. If you are going to try reusable cloth nappies, you will need about 18–24, depending on how often you wash them. It’s usually best to have a three-day supply in case of rain. Cloth nappies are best soaked and washed every day to second day; the nappies have waterproof outer layers and soft reusable inserts that are laundered.
- If you plan to use cloth nappies, you might like to sign up with a cloth nappy washing service for the first month or so while you settle in. There are a number of nappy washing services available in each Australian state and territory, which can easily be found with an online search ‘nappy washing services’. Some nappy services offer their own packages of cloth nappies included with the laundering.
- Have a supply of some soft, muslin wraps. Your baby will need to be wrapped so he feels safe and cosy.
- A supply of baby wipes for cleaning your baby’s skin at nappy changes – he doesn’t need baby wipe warmers, special disposable nappy bins or even special disposable nappy bags. There are plenty of ready-made nappy wipes on sale, or an alternative is a reusable flannel baby wipe system. Importantly, the less plastic we use, the better for the environment.
- Sometimes, your baby can get a red bottom from pooing and weeing so frequently; it’s therefore good to protect his tender skin with a protective nappy rash cream.
- You will need fitted sheets for the cot, and a blanket if you’re using one, but your best option is an infant sleeping bag that meets Australian/NZ Standards and complies with safe sleeping recommendations. A safe infant sleeping bag is made so that the baby cannot slip inside the bag and become completely covered. The sleeping bag should be the correct size for the baby with a fitted neck, armholes or sleeves, and no hood.
- You should have a safe place to bath your baby, such as a laundry tub or baby bath, and some soft towels.
- You may like to use a safe change table with change mat or, alternatively, you can change your baby on a mat on the floor, which is safer.
- If you are thinking of using dummies or bottles, you will need a steriliser such as a microwave steriliser.
- You will also need a pram and car capsule – one mum recommends a combo if possible, plus a cot or bassinet, baby sling, wrap or pouch, and bouncinette.
What you will need for yourself
You also need to take care of yourself after you have the baby, physically and emotionally. Here are some more ideas:
- If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need a nursing bra and plenty of breast pads.
- You probably won’t need a breastfeeding pillow or special breastfeeding chair. It might be an idea to wait and see if you need those before spending the money.
- You will need lots of sanitary pads – maternity pads are recommended because there is quite a heavy flow in the first days after your baby is born.
- Once you’ve had your baby, make sure you stock up on groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables, and easy-to-cook food you like.
When you get home with your baby, everything is going to be quite topsy-turvy for a while, so cooking is going to be the last thing on your mind. Eating for sustenance is what’s important at this point.
However, if you’re so inclined and have the energy prior to your baby’s birth, you could prepare and freeze some meals for later. Try and have three healthy meals a day, using the food you’ve stocked up with. It’s easy to melt cheese on toast in the microwave – or smash the ubiquitous avocado on toast! Have a small snack in-between meals. Try to avoid junky processed foods – you know the drill!
- Make sure you drink plenty of water and have a glass of water each time you breastfeed. If you don’t drink enough water, you can feel tired, cranky and may get headaches. Drinking water is essential.
- Make sure you can have a shower when your baby is asleep; even better, have your shower when someone is with you and can look after your baby. When you get to have a shower each day, you’ll feel much better.
- Once you’re settled at home, it’s important to enjoy social contact and support. Your local mother’s group is a good place to start.
- Try and go for walks in the fresh air with your baby. You will both feel better.
- It’s perfectly normal, almost mandatory, to have a messy house for the first month after your baby is born. It shows you’re only interested in your baby and that’s a good thing.
If you’ve had a difficult labour and birth, you’ll need to talk with someone about your experiences to get some emotional relief. It’s a shock when your labour and birth is different from the lovely natural experience you dreamed of. Sometimes, your partner, family and friends are helpful, listening and being supportive. This is exactly what you need. Hopefully, you’ll get visits from the midwives at the maternity hospital, then the Child and Family Health nurses. You can discuss your labour and birth with them and, if you continue to be emotionally distressed, the nurse or your general practitioner (GP) can suggest a referral for supportive counselling. A very difficult labour and birth may cause emotional trauma, and professional support can help you recover from this.
Finally, you will probably experience a period of emotional ups and downs. In the first week after birth, you may experience the ‘baby blues’. This is where you feel a bit overwhelmed, teary and irritable; these are normal feelings that about 80 per cent of new mums experience. It usually just goes away after the first week and, as the first month goes by, you settle into being a new mum. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, teary, irritable and distressed well into and beyond the first month, don’t try and put up with it, hoping it just goes away. Talk to your Child and Family Health nurse and/or GP to get help and support. They’ll know how to help you.
A safe place for baby to sleep
When you’re considering where to put your baby to sleep, think about what’s best and safest for your baby. The Red Nose website is a great resource for information about how your baby can sleep safely. It provides the latest research on Sudden Unexpected Deaths in Infancy (SUDI), including SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Red Nose advises that the safest and best sleeping arrangement for your baby is to a place his cot in your bedroom, either next to or near your bed. He needs to stay in your bedroom for at least the first six to 12 months.
Room-sharing has lots of benefits, both for you and your baby. Feeding your baby through the night is much easier, and you can help him return to sleep more quickly after waking. Another advantage is that you can monitor your baby’s comfort and security during sleep more easily.
Depending on the size of your bedroom, that means you have to choose somewhere for your baby to sleep. You might be unsure whether to use a cot or a bassinet. Whatever baby furniture you choose, the main point is that it’s safe for your baby. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC’s) Keeping Baby Safe booklet is available online. This can inform you about the safest products for your baby.
The safest place for your baby to sleep is in a new cot that meets Australian/NZ Standards.
If you’re offered a second-hand cot by friends or family, you need to check it for mandatory standards and safety:
- Brakes and locks are working properly
- Paint is in good condition – no chips or cracks
- The cot is stable, secure and all screws are tight
- Nothing sticking out or sharp.
Make sure to follow Red Nose safe sleep guidelines, when you make up your baby’s cot.
Your baby needs a safe, firm mattress that fits into the cot nice and snugly. You also need to keep his mattress flat. Don’t be tempted to elevate or tilt it on the advice of well-meaning family or friends; researchers have found there’s no value to your baby sleeping like that. Your baby doesn’t need pillows, doonas, cot bumpers, or lambs’ wool or soft toys in his cot – it’s important not to use these because their use is associated with a greater risk for SUDI, including SIDS.
Safe sleep bedding for your baby
If you’re going to use a blanket for your baby, ensure you place him with his little feet at the end of the cot, so he won’t slip down under the bedding. Tuck the blanket securely underneath the mattress; that way, the blanket will only come up as far as his chest and the blanket won’t slide up and cover his head.
Red Nose guidelines suggest that an approved sleeping bag may be easier to use and safer for your baby. A safe sleeping bag has fitted neck and armholes, no hood, and is the correct size for your baby. Extra benefits to using a sleeping bag include:
- Reducing the risk of bedclothes covering baby’s face
- Delaying baby rolling onto the tummy during sleep until baby’s past the age of peak risk of SUDI
- Promoting back sleeping because the zipper opens to the front
- Keeping baby’s temperature at a more constant level while sleeping.
If you’re considering using a bassinet or rocking cradle for your baby, be aware that there are no Australian/NZ Standards for them. You should look for sides that are higher than 3000 mm to prevent your baby from falling, a snug mattress no more than 75 mm thick, and a wide stable base that won’t tip over. However, current safety recommendations are to place your baby to sleep in a cot from birth. (Source: ACCC, Keeping Baby Safe)
Antique cribs or cots
You might have your heart set on a vintage or antique crib or cot, which has been handed down through the family or that you’ve seen in an antique store. These cribs and cots don’t meet modern Australian/NZ Standards and, unfortunately, aren’t considered safe. If you’re buying a cot from a second-hand shop, it must come with a certificate that warns you it’s not a safe place to place a baby or child. It must also have a metal plaque attached with a warning that says it doesn’t meet mandatory safety standards.
Antique cots may look lovely and have great sentimental value to you, but your baby is far too precious to put his safety at risk. (Source: ACCC, Keeping Baby Safe)
Portable cots should not be used as a permanent bed for your baby. They are only meant for short-term use. They must have mandatory standard AS/NZS 2195:1999 with compulsory clear, permanent warning labels. (Source: ACCC, Keeping Baby Safe)
Co-sleeping or bed-sharing arrangements
This is a very important topic about where your baby should sleep. You will probably hear from your friends, family and read online opinions from both sides of the debate about whether it’s okay to sleep with your baby or not.
Often, whether you intend to or not, you are so tired that you fall asleep with your baby in your bed either because you’ve been feeding, or he’s been unsettled and you are so exhausted that you both go to sleep in the bed! This is called unintentional co-sleeping and, sometimes, it just happens.
Nevertheless, sharing any type of sleep surface whether it’s a bed or sofa can increase the risk of SUDI and especially when your baby is under three months of age. The risks are much greater to babies if either parent smokes or is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. As you can imagine, being under the influence of alcohol and other drugs would impair someone’s thinking, cause drowsiness and, therefore, the parent would be less responsive to their baby.
As long as you stay awake, there’s no harm in feeding, cuddling, soothing and enjoying your baby’s company in your bed. Once he’s happy, settled and content, you should then put him safely back in his cot to sleep, following safe sleep guidelines.
If you do decide to co-sleep or bed-share with your baby, it’s important that you use strategies to make sure you keep your baby very safe and reduce the risk of SUDI. Whatever the reason that co-sleeping or bed-sharing occurs, make sure you are aware of the Red Nose SUDI guidelines to ensure your baby sleeps safely.
Sharing a sleep surface increases the risk of SUDI, including SIDS, and fatal sleep accidents. Babies most at risk are those who are under three months of age, born prematurely or small for their gestational age.
It’s safest not to share your bed or any sleep surface with your baby and anyone who is affected by alcohol or other drugs – including medicines that cause drowsiness, either prescribed or over-the-counter medicines – or with someone who smokes.
You shouldn’t sleep with your baby on a sofa or couch, waterbed, hammock or beanbag. These surfaces aren’t flat or stable, and are completely unsafe if you fall asleep and accidentally roll on your baby.
Child Car Restraints
Your baby’s car restraint or seat is one of your most important purchases. Possibly, you have already planned to buy a child car seat during pregnancy, especially if you are going to drive home from hospital after having your baby. It’s easiest to purchase one ahead of time but there’s a good deal to know first.
There are Australian legal requirements for using child car seats, which are based on your baby’s age. Your newborn baby must use a rear-facing child car seat with an inbuilt harness and continue to use this for the next six months. From six months up to four years, your baby can use a rear- or forward-facing child car seat with an inbuilt five-point harness.
It’s important to follow the guidelines for which type of car seat to use according to your baby’s age, so that your baby is protected in the event of a car crash.
Australian/NZ Standards for car restraints
Your baby’s first car seat needs to be an approved rear-facing capsule with the mandatory Australian/NZ Standards AS/NZS 1754 label on it. This standard applies to all car restraints for children.
When you buy a new child car seat, it will come with all the guidelines you need for how to install, maintain and use the child car seat. It’s important that you use the restraint exactly as shown in the instructions. The safest option for installing the car seat into your car is to get it done by an approved fitting station. You can contact the government roads authority in your region or the Kidsafe Australia website to find a fitting station.
- All child car seats come with warnings, so you must read them carefully. They include:
- No child should ever be left unattended in the car at any time.
- Use the restraint exactly as shown in the instructions.
- Don’t alter or modify the restraint.
- Have the manufacturer undertake repairs.
- Destroy the restraint if it’s been in a severe car accident, even if no damage is visible.
- Always supervise children in the restraint, so they don’t touch or undo the buckles.
- Don’t allow the restraint to come into contact with polishes, oils, bleach and other chemicals.
(Source: ACCC, Keeping Baby Safe)
If you are offered a second-hand car seat to use, ensure it has the mandatory Australian/NZ Standards AS/NZS 1754 label on it, and that it comes with the original instruction booklet. That way, you can make sure it’s installed, repaired and cared for properly.
Also check that the second-hand car seat hasn’t been involved in a serious car crash and that it’s in good condition, with no broken or frayed buckles and straps.
Finally, you must always ensure that your baby is secured in his car seat whenever you are in the car. Make sure the seat fits snugly, and that there’s no slack in the straps and they aren’t twisted. When you reach home, it’s recommended you remove your baby from the car restraints, even if your baby is asleep. It’s not safe for your baby to remain in the seat for extended periods of time.
Prams and Strollers
You definitely need a good-quality pram for your baby, so you can get out and about in the fresh air and sunshine, walk about the shops, and have coffee with family and friends. What do you look for when buying a pram? First, your new baby needs to see your familiar face constantly, feel your gentle touch and hear your soothing voice to help him settle and make him feel safe. The best type of pram is one where you and your baby face each other.
Australian/NZ Standards for prams and strollers
Prams and strollers must meet mandatory Australian/NZ Standards AS/NZS 2088:2000. There are certain things to look for when you’re buying a pram or stroller:
- It must have a five-point restraint harness that goes around your baby’s waist and between his legs, with a warning label that says ‘Use at all times’.
- It must have one or more brakes, with red parking brake levers. You should always put the brakes on when you stop – even on a flat surface.
- It must have a tether strap to stop the pram or stroller from rolling away.
- It should have easy steering, a strong frame, solid durable wheels and footrest (stroller).
- Frame locks must be secure to stop the pram from folding during use and a secure lock on reclining backs.
- Its carry basket shouldn’t tip or rock the pram, and one that is preferably in a central spot underneath the pram. Prams can fall over when you hang things on the handles and your baby may fall out.
Before using your pram, read and follow the instructions. Always park the pram parallel to traffic/pedestrian crossings, and on train stations and other hazards, so the pram and your baby can’t roll into danger. Don’t ever leave your baby unattended in a pram, even when he’s asleep. A pram is not a substitute for a cot. He can become trapped among the straps and other pram parts, or the pram may tip if he moves and wriggles. (Source: ACCC, Keeping Baby Safe)
Baby Wraps, Slings and Pouches
Carrying your baby in a sling or pouch is common and popular. Using slings and pouches is certainly not a new thing – parents have carried their babies for millennia. It’s lovely to carry your baby close to you.
There is a lot of information about choosing and using wrap slings and pouches. Wrap slings and pouches don’t have identified leg openings and are usually made from fabric. While wrap slings usually have buckles, rings or clips, pouches typically don’t have any.
Safety tips for carriers and slings
You need to take great care whenever you use any type of sling or pouch to carry a young baby less than four months of age. If you’ve had a premature baby, low birthweight baby or a baby who’s had breathing difficulties, be very aware of the risks and take note of how to use slings and pouches safely. If you’ve had a premature baby, it’s best and safest to consult with your paediatrician before using a pouch or sling.
Babies have suffocated because they were placed incorrectly in slings. This is because, when your baby is little, he doesn’t have the muscle control to turn or lift his head and neck to reach fresh air, if his face gets squashed against you, the pouch or sling; or if he gets his chin stuck onto his chest.
Avoid products that describe a sling wrap or pouch as womb-like, a cocoon, or that puts your baby in a foetal position. The two most dangerous positions for your baby are:
- Lying with a curved back with his chin resting on his chest
- Lying with his face pressed against the sling material or your body.
(Source: ACCC, Keeping Baby Safe)
When you buy a wrap or pouch, take your baby with you to try it on. This ensures it’s the right fit and size for you and your baby. Whatever you buy, it needs to have detailed instructions for use and is appropriate for your baby’s developmental stage.
If you’ve heard stories that your baby will feel more safe and secure if you carry him in a foetal position, don’t believe that dangerous urban myth. He is not a curled-up foetus anymore, floating in warm amniotic fluid, relying on you for oxygen and nutrients.
Your baby is a newborn in the outside world and needs air to breathe, so he needs his face, nose, neck and head available to the fresh air. He needs a nice straight back to breathe and you always need to see his sweet face to check he is breathing freely, and give him a kiss or two.
Using slings safely
A good source of information on the safest way to use your baby sling is at the Kidsafe South Australia website, where there is an instructional video. Kidsafe uses a simple phrase to help keep your baby safe in a sling: Remember to keep your baby ‘Visible and Kissable’.
That means keeping your baby’s:
- Chin up
- Face visible
- Nose and mouth free.
(Source: Kidsafe South Australia)
Bouncinettes and Rocker Chairs
Bouncinettes and rocker chairs are popular for little babies. They’re useful for those few moments when you just want to pop your baby down safely, while you have a cup of coffee or tea, and collapse on a chair while supervising your baby. Bouncinettes are also great for sitting on the floor and having delightful social times with your baby. You get great face-to-face contact with each other, your baby is well supported and you have both hands free to play different games.
Safety tips for bouncinettes and rockers
There are no mandatory safety standards for bouncinettes or rocker chairs. The most important thing is to use them on the floor only. Never place them on a table or other raised surface, which could cause your baby to fall. Other considerations include:
- Solid base should be wider and longer than the area in which your baby lies.
- Rubber tips on the base should stop the bouncinette/rocker chair from moving when the baby rocks.
- Bouncinette should have a waist and crotch strap.
- Rocker chair has a five-point harness – you should always place your baby in the harness.
- Your baby shouldn’t sleep in the bouncinette or rocker. It isn’t safe because his head and chin may tilt onto his chest, restricting his breathing.
- Once your baby starts to roll, stop using the bouncinette and rocker chair.
- Only use under your supervision.
(Source: ACCC, Keeping Baby Safe)
Baby exercise jumpers or ‘jolly jumpers’
Baby exercise jumpers are not recommended for young babies because they lack head and neck control.
Baby monitors are popular devices for babies. The most common kind of monitors simply alert you that your baby is awake from a sleep, and is crying or moving about. Then there are more specialised breathing and apnoea monitors.
Baby breathing monitors have an alarm that goes off if your baby stops breathing. The trouble with these monitors is that they can go off when your baby is breathing normally. When he’s asleep, your baby doesn’t breathe in the same regular pattern as you do. His breathing can be irregular, especially in active sleep, so he may have some normal brief pauses that cause the alarm to go off. This can be stressful for you and may cause you unnecessary anxiety. You may want to consider if this product really meets your needs.
Red Nose recommends that normal, healthy babies don’t need breathing monitors and that there’s no scientific evidence for using monitors to prevent SUDI, so manufacturing claims that a monitor can prevent SUDI are probably false advertising. You will probably find your sleep is disturbed for absolutely no reason, and you will be stressed and anxious. If you are anxious or worried about your baby, however, do talk to your doctor or nurse about how you are feeling.
Breathing monitors are useful when they are recommended by and used under the supervision of your doctor or nurse; they are usually for infants with specific medical conditions. Then, of course, you have to know what to do when the alarm goes off. That’s why they are best used under supervision.
Using a baby dummy is your choice and yours alone. It’s not a moral issue and no one has the right to dictate whether you should use one or not. Using a baby dummy is a divisive issue, especially when you’re establishing breastfeeding and you may experience the most pressure not to give a dummy. There is always a middle way, however. When you’re exhausted, your baby is crying and you need someone to give you a short break, a dummy will sometimes do the trick. Nothing terrible is going to happen – it’s just a dummy for a baby who needs to suck. So let’s have a look at them.
Safety standards for dummies
Baby dummies do have mandatory Australian/NZ Standards, which are AS 2432-1991. Safety features and other considerations include:
- Your baby dummy’s shield should have ventilation holes.
- It needs to be strong and mustn’t be able to detach into smaller parts, which could cause your baby to choke.
- There can’t be any strings, ribbons or ties on it, which could wrap around your baby’s neck.
- It can’t have unsafe decorations such as beads, chains, leather straps, twine, brooches or other pretty bling.
- You need to check your baby’s dummy before each use and regularly check for wear and tear. You need to buy new ones regularly.
- Store away from direct sunlight because sunlight causes rubber or silicone to perish.
(Source: ACCC, Keeping Baby Safe)
Getting ready to bring your baby home does take a bit of preparation, but hopefully breaking it down into these lists helps you to figure out what it is you want. While you can do some emotional preparation for the thrills and spills of the first few weeks of motherhood, no one can prepare you for how that tiny little baby can bring you so much happiness, confusion and mess! Putting some practical measures in place may help you to adjust more easily to the life change of becoming a parent.