When new parents feel the imminent changes in their lives because a baby is due, often the only thing we can do to make ourselves feel ready is to plan. Rather than focusing on things to buy, let’s take a look at the points of action that we can engage in to make real change rather than adding to an ever-growing pile of stuff.
When expecting a baby, parents have to make plans and take steps to be ready for the birth and be baby. A well-thought-out plan can give both baby and mom the best chance at a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery. This includes planning for pregnancy wellness, home preparations, legal preparations, and hospital and birth research and planning.
Read on to learn more about the health and wellness changes, home preparation, insurance, and legal steps, and more that you can be doing to truly get ready to meet your little one.
Health and wellness during pregnancy
Whether your pregnancy is fraught or smooth sailing, doing what you can to maximize your health and wellness can often help you feel better and your baby be healthier, but it should never be a point of stress.
Remember, healthy babies can be born in the least ideal of circumstances. The two most important things you can do for both yourself and your baby are to get the recommended prenatal care and diligently take prenatal vitamins.
Don’t think prenatal care is that important? These stats might change your mind:
- Experts recommend 13-14 prenatal visits with a doctor or midwife beginning in weeks 10-12.
- Babies born to mothers without prenatal care are 3 times more likely to have low birth weight and 5 times more likely to die in infancy.
- Women who receive no prenatal care are 5 times more likely to die in pregnancy and birth.
Regular doctor visits
Regular doctor visits during pregnancy is the number one thing you can do to improve your outcomes. Routine prenatal care reduces the risk of low birth weight, reduces maternal mortality, and improves outcomes for both mother and baby.
The visits ensure that any problems that arise with you or the fetus can be treated as soon as possible. Prenatal care also offers you the opportunity to get to know the doctor or doctors who will be delivering your baby, troubleshoot any pregnancy concerns you are having, and communicate your labor and delivery concerns and needs to your doctor.
Regular doctor visits offer tests to screen and diagnose both you and your baby with any health issues. Some parents skip screening and testing with the thought that it would not change anything on their end, but doing so means losing the opportunity to catch treatable conditions or situations that need monitoring for the safety, and even the survival, of the mother or baby.
Use the many prenatal appointments as a continued interview of your doctor, and change providers if you feel unsafe or that your concerns are overlooked.
Prenatal vitamins supplement any deficiencies in the mother’s nutrition to ensure that the fetus has all the nutrients needed to develop properly and optimally.
A good prenatal vitamin includes:
- Folic acid – Prevents neural tube defects.
- Iron – Helps the placenta, which supports the baby, develop.
- Calcium and Vitamin D – Help the baby’s teeth and bones develop.
Prior to trying to conceive, consult your doctor to determine if you need any specially formulated prenatal vitamins based on your family history or previous births. For example, some people lack the ability to properly utilize folic acid and require vitamins with folate instead.
Start taking prenatal vitamins at least 3 months before you plan to conceive. Prenatal vitamins are so important that the Affordable Care Act mandated prenatal vitamin coverage for all women capable of conceiving, even if they are not actively trying.
Diet and exercise
Always consult your doctor regarding your specific diet and exercise needs during pregnancy.
All mothers and babies are different, but generally, mothers are encouraged to get their recommended vitamins and minerals from healthy goods rather than relying on supplements, to stay active (walking counts!), and to remember that while they are “eating for two,” they are not eating for two fully grown adults.
In fact, expectant mothers only need about 300 additional calories per day – good, nutritional calories from proteins and foods high in Omega-3’s and low in sugar, not the ice cream you’re probably craving.
Being upfront with your doctor or midwife about any concerns you have is the best way to head off any potential issues with your health during pregnancy. For example, women with a history of disordered eating may not do weigh-ins with the doctor to avoid triggering a relapse, or mothers with high-risk pregnancies may be discouraged to do much beyond walking.
Childbirth classes can help you develop coping skills for labor and mentally prepare for the big event. They will cover the different stages of birth, help you identify when to go to the hospital or birth center (spoiler – it’s not at the first contraction!).
Much of the information covered in birthing classes is available online, but they can be helpful if you prefer in-person, hands-on learning, one-on-one learning, or benefit from learning in groups, or if you just feel like you need the support of a group of people who are going through the same thing you are. Look for classes at your hospital, from parenting organizations in your area, or by doulas.
Classes can be specialized to focus on an unmedicated birth, specific birth techniques like Hypnobirthing or the Bradley Method, or just general labor and delivery classes. Some hospitals offer special classes for families planning for a Caesarean section.
There is no right or wrong here. Many people never take a class and love their experience. Others feel comforted by the knowledge that they gain and find them invaluable.
In addition to finding a doctor or midwife to assist in the delivery of your baby, you may also want to consider hiring a doula to be present at the birth.
Doulas are trained birth assistants who focus on the mother and her needs during the delivery. They can act as a birth partner and help with unmedicated comfort measures like hip squeezes or massage, recommend positions and other methods to progress through labor, help the mother advocate for herself, or just be an extra support system for the mother.
Having a doula can help a laboring mother (and stressed-out father) because they can bridge the gap between the doctor and nurses who are most likely dealing with several other patients as well, and help to ensure that your birth is as close to your birth plan as possible.
Preparing your home for a new baby
Having a safe place to bring your baby home to is important both for your peace of mind as well as your baby’s health.
The greatest risks to newborns in the home are:
- Second-hand smoke
- Unsafe sleep arrangements/SIDS
Getting the nursery ready for baby
Set up the baby’s room for function before aesthetics, but there’s nothing wrong with both!
Before setting up the nursery, consider your planned sleep arrangements. Parents who plan to have the baby sleep in their room will need a very different set-up than families who choose to have the baby sleep in the nursery from the beginning.
If the baby is sleeping in your room, the nursery needs a lot less attention. Many parents choose bedside bassinets for the newborn days and don’t even use the crib for the first six months. Keep an eye out for the weight limit on the one you choose; they can be a flip risk if your baby grows out of it but you keep using it.
Consider putting the changing table in your room as well so that everything you need in the middle of the night is in the same room. You may also want a chair for feeding and a mini-fridge upstairs for breastmilk or formula.
Newborns are notoriously noisy, fitful sleepers. The phrase ‘sleeping like a baby’ wasn’t coined by a parent! Consequently, having your baby sleep in your room or at your bedside can be a daunting prospect, and you may want a Plan B.
Plan B (or Plan A) for some families, is for you to room in with your baby rather than have them in yours. This is a great setup for families where both parents take turns managing the baby at night. You can split the night in a way that best makes sense with your schedules, and during your ‘off’ shift, you can have a blissful uninterrupted four hours of sleep in silence.
If you want to sleep in the baby’s room, try to squeeze in a daybed for yourself if you can. If not, a high-quality camping air mattress will still feel like a cloud of pillows during those exhausting newborn days. You can either deflate it daily or just prop it up against the wall to make floor space.
Regardless of which method you choose, examine the room carefully for potential dangers before bringing your baby home.
While the room may look perfectly safe at first glance, remember that it will be home to a tiny, fragile, and let’s face it, stupid person who wants to touch everything. Can it be knocked over? Can it be yanked down? Can it be chewed on? Baby proofing isn’t just about electrical covers (although those are important too!).
Here are a couple of common nursery risks:
- Changing table – A major potential source of falls, you should also ensure that it is secured to the wall so there is no risk of it pushing away from the wall or tipping over. Never leave baby unattended!
- Curtains or window cords – Cords shouldn’t hang where baby can reach them from the floor, the bed, the changing table, the chair, or anywhere else baby is likely to be. Curtains shouldn’t hang low enough that baby can grasp them and pull them down. Baby’s crib should be far enough away from the window that curtains can’t get into it.
- Mirrors and artwork – Anything hanging on the walls should be secure to ensure that it cannot fall and strike your baby.
- Crib – Make sure your crib is safely assembled and doesn’t have any sharp corners or unnecessary padding. For more information about crib safety, check out these related posts.
- Baby mobile – If you choose to hang a mobile over your baby’s bed, make sure that it has strings less than seven inches long, does not pose a choking hazard if something falls off, and is hung about 16″ above the crib mattress.
If hanging things above either the crib or changing table, up your wall hanging game beyond a paneling nail, especially if you live anyplace likely to experience an earthquake. You can actually buy safety wall hangers for this very purpose that have an extra latch to secure the item.
New Baby Nursery Shopping List
As much as we may not want to buy a lot of stuff, a few things will make taking care of a new baby a lot easier. Money does tend to buy convenience, and any convenience available does feel really good when adjusting to a new baby.
Here are some things beyond the obvious crib and baby monitor that you may want to implement in your nursery depending on your home and your family’s care plan:
- Sound Machine – A sound machine creates white noise to help your baby sleep more soundly and, to be honest, it will help drown out the baby’s grunting and flopping to make it easier for you to sleep as well.
- Humidifier – These can be a must in dry, arid areas to prevent baby nosebleeds. If either parent has asthma, be sure to get a cool mist rather than a warm mist machine.
- Extra Sheets and Changing Pad Covers – You do not want to do laundry in the night when you have a blowout or leaky diaper. Keep at least one spare at hand at all times.
- Wipes Warmer – This much-mocked item can be really helpful for winter babies, especially if you keep your house cool at night. The goal of night changes is to do everything humanly possible to disturb your baby out of their sleepy state, and an ice-cold wipe will do exactly that. This portable version is nice if you change in several areas of the home or do not have space for a changing table and want to use a caddy for your supplies instead.
Preparing the bathroom for your baby
Bathing the new baby is one of the things new parents most commonly look forward to only to realize it is much harder (and scarier!) than expected. Holding a tiny baby that is now slick with soap in a cold bathroom full of sharp corners and hard tiles can make you overthink every breath you take.
Bathing a small baby is challenging for a couple of reasons. First, it would be easy enough to hold them in a bath with you, but the ideal water temperature for babies is no more than 100°F. For most adults, that is going to feel uncomfortably tepid. Second, their bodies are like Jello, and when they flop and squirm, and it can be more than a little tricky to keep them in place.
For these reasons, baby bathtubs have a huge niche in the baby market. You can get free-standing baby tubs that you fill from a faucet and then place on the floor or inserts that you put directly into your bathtub or sink. Either one gives you a sturdy, safe surface to bathe your baby.
Remember to check the water prior to putting the baby in, and a water thermometer can take out the guesswork. Some parents are excellent at judging the water’s safety just by dipping in their own hand, but those of us who nearly boil ourselves in our baths may not have such a good perspective for judging bathwater for a baby.
Use mild soap and shampoo and have a soft towel nearby that you can quickly move the baby into before she gets cold.
Making the rest of the house safe for baby
One of nature’s great gifts to new parents is that we have several months before that newborn can crawl or walk to get into dangerous things around the home. Do not exhaust yourself in the last days of your pregnancy with worries of installing baby gates and cabinet locks. Those days will certainly come, but no need to borrow trouble yet.
The safety measures that you do need to work on before bringing the baby home are allocating safe places that you can put your baby down where they will be safe from pets, other siblings, and from their first attempts to roll over. Many parents love Dock-a-Tots for just this purpose, but remember to supervise.
In most homes, pets are the greatest risk to newborns, whether from curiosity or ill-intent. Pet owners are often told not to leave the two alone, but families need real advice for keeping their furry and human children safe and happy.
- Endeavor to keep your pet’s schedule the same so that they do not become jealous of the baby. Remember a tired dog is a good dog, so do not skimp on walks (utilize that stroller or baby wrap to get everyone outside).
- Create either a baby-free or pet-free safe place in the house. For particularly concerning pets, it will be a huge relief to everyone to make a portion of your house inaccessible to either the pet or the baby so that you can have a space that does not require intense supervision and everyone can relax.
- Don’t forget to plan for your pet’s care when you go to the hospital for the birth.
- Enroll your pet in training classes if they need improvement in leash walking or other forms of obedience.
Getting your vehicle ready to transport baby
Getting a new vehicle specifically for a new baby is a nice luxury, but far from required.
To get your current car in the best shape for your newest family member, complete the following steps:
- Get your oil changed and any other routine services that are due completed 3-4 weeks before your due date.
- Clean out your car! If you have an accident with the new baby in the car, you do not want last month’s coffee mug or that baseball bat you forgot to return flying around your car.
- Consider an emergency service membership like AAA or OnStar. If this expense is not possible, then write down the names and phone numbers of mechanics or friends and family that you can call if you break down when your phone is dead or you have no service.
Some vehicles just can’t safely transport an infant in a rear-facing car seat, whether because they lack a second row altogether are just too sporty and small to accommodate the bulky seat.
Surprisingly, when safety is a priority, you are not relegated to only minivans. Consumer Reports marks the Subaru Forester as the best car for new families.
Picking the right car seat
With so many car seats on the market, it can seem impossible to settle on one with real intent rather than just resignation.
Like so many things, different options work best for different families. Everyone you know may have an infant car seat travel system, but if you are not planning on having out-of-home childcare, you may never need that transportable infant seat and benefit from a 4-in-1 convertible seat that grows with the baby up to the booster seat stage.
Start by narrowing it down to the type of seat you think fits your lifestyle, whether infant carrier or convertible. Some seats even convert into booster seats so you’ll only ever need one seat for your child.
Next, review the safety ratings for seats that are in your budget or that you are interested in.
Once you select a seat, do not drive around with it in the car for months prior to the birth. If you have a car accident, that seat will be useless and you will need another.
Carefully review the installation instructions for your seat, and then take advantage of any program your hospital or local fire department has to get a free seat installation safety check. Most new parents are surprised by how tightly latched down a properly installed seat is.
Putting together your diaper bag
Packing a diaper bag feels like packing for a weekend getaway just to go to the grocery store, but it does not have to be that way.
Diaper bags usually serve one of two purposes:
- to provide supplies to facilitate an excursion
- to ensure you have what you need to keep your baby safe and alive should an excursion go wrong.
That’s not to say that one bag has to serve both purposes. A great option is to pack a container in your car with the extras you would need if you had a car break down or got stuck in back weather and had to unexpectedly stay someplace overnight: diapers, formula or other nutrition, weather-appropriate clothing, a pacifier and entertainment items for your own sanity.
Then pack a separate bag with the specific items needed for that trip: maybe a blanket for the park or an extra change of clothes for pictures with grandparents.
Preparing for the hospital
Whether you prefer to plan ahead or fly by the seat of your pants in most things, do make some preparations for the birth of a new baby to reduce future stress.
Even if you’d prefer not to overthink things going into the birth, it’s important to make sure that you’ve made plans with your employer, your immediate family, and close friends who may be helping while you’re not at home. Most importantly, you should make sure that you are and your spouse are on the same page regarding your birth plan.
If you’re worried or scared about the birth, it may help for your to work backward in your planning. I know lots of moms who started birth planning by assigning a friend to sneak in a favorite snack they hadn’t been able to have while pregnant.
Every work situation is different and you’ll probably need to talk directly to your boss or the HR department before being able to make any real plans, but it’s crucial that you and your employer be on the same page before you give birth.
Speak to your employer and get all the information about your company’s maternity policy, and ensure that all the paperwork is completed and filed. Consider that you’ll be returning to work in six to eight weeks, probably exhausted and stressed and sad to leave your sweet little one for the first time; new-mom-you will be extraordinarily grateful to detailed-planner-you for leaving things as neat and orderly as possible. Even better if you’re able to work with whoever will be filling in for you in that time!
If your doctor schedules you for an induction, make sure to communicate that to your employer.
Write out your birth plan
Birth plans are commonly maligned as frivolous. We so often hear “you won’t care in the moment,” or “all that matters is a healthy baby.” Feel free to roll your eyes whenever you hear these.
If you care about your birth experience, your feelings are very valid, and you should share them with your care providers. Of course, you want a healthy baby, but you also want to feel respected, safe, and seen. Many women have had experiences with medical professionals that make them feel just the opposite. And even more women are sexual assault survivors that bring really significant life experience to their deliveries, and medical staff must treat the whole woman.
Birth plans serve as an expression of values and concerns, not a step-by-step blueprint of labor and delivery.
Even if you do not present it to the nurses, write out your birth plan weeks in advance, and identify your fears and values. Discuss those with your OB-GYN, and the sooner you do that, the better so that you can switch doctors or hospitals, if needed.
Here are some things to consider when planning your ideal birth experience:
- Do you feel strongly about delivering in or avoiding a specific position?
- Are there any ways or areas in which you do not want to be touched?
- Do you want non-essential staff to stay above your waist?
- Do you want your doctor to narrate his or her actions?
- Do you want the doctor or nurses to ask before touching you in certain places?
- Do you want to do skin-on-skin after birth? Delay cord clamping?
Doctors and hospitals can put notes in your file, and you can notify them of any of these things when you come into the hospital. Even better, put the responsibility of sharing these things on your birth partner or doula.
Not sure where to start? Choose from one of several templates online and feel free to add and subtract to meet your needs. Depending on the birth class you choose, you may also create a birth plan as a part of your coursework.
Take a tour of the hospital
Touring the hospital prior to birth can help you select a hospital if you have more than one option near you. Policies vary greatly depending on the hospital, and it’s better to prepare rather than be caught off guard in the moment.
Here are some things you may want to consider when choosing a hospital:
- Is it a teaching hospital? Will there be extra people in the room as a result?
- Does it have religious affiliations? If so, will that have any impact on your care or will there be religious paraphernalia in the room that you are uncomfortable with?
- What is their check-in or admissions process? Can you pre-register?
- When do they want you to come to the hospital?
- Do they have a nursery?
- Do they automatically encourage skin-to-skin or delayed cord clamping?
During the tour, ask questions about any particular concerns or questions you have. Don’t forget that a hospital is a business, not a public service, and you are the customer.
Plan for what happens next
The first weeks with your new baby are a wonderful, exhausting blur as you heal from the birth and get into a routine with the newest human in your family.
Future you will be grateful if you take some time in the last weeks of your pregnancy to plan for the less wonderful things that come with having a baby.
Find a pediatrician
Your new arrival will have several pediatrician appointments in their first year, even if they are perfectly healthy.
When looking for a doctor, consider the following factors to make it easy on yourself:
- Proximity to the home or work location of the parent or guardian most likely to attend the bulk of the appointments.
- Office availability for sick visits and after-hours questions.
- Whether you want a family doctor so that you and your partner, if any, can be treated at the same time if illness spreads through the family.
- Will the pediatrician respect your feeding method?
Decide on a pediatrician before delivery and confirm the new patient process with that office.
Keep in mind that if your pediatrician does not visit the hospital where you deliver, you will have to pay the hospital pediatrician for the discharge exam, which can be several hundreds of dollars, depending on your insurance.
Handling maternity leave
Be gentle with yourself when trying to plan your future before the baby even comes and try to ignore the pressure that society puts on you to do things one way or the other, and instead try to identify what you really want.
Some mothers cannot wait to go back to work and cut maternity leave short while others quit their jobs in a panic 10 weeks in because they cannot leave the baby yet. Both are ok, and the goal is to find what feels best for your family while meeting your very real practical needs.
Because it is hard to know what you will want in the future, or how you will feel postpartum, or even how challenging your baby is, it is best to educate yourself on your options so that you do not feel trapped or backed into a corner when your baby is finally here.
- The Family Medical Leave Act is the federal law that mandates employers of 50 or more employees permit an employee that has worked at that employer for 1) at least 12 months, and 2) worked at least 1,250 hours in that 12 months to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
- Many states, like California, have additional state laws in place that either extend the available weeks or provide partial paycheck reimbursement during the leave period.
- To have income during the leave period, some employees are eligible for supplemental disability insurance programs that pay out during the leave. Keep in mind that most programs require that you enroll in it prior to conceiving, and not all employees are eligible for these plans, especially if their work offers its own disability insurance program, even if the work program does not cover the birth of a child.
Be aware that if an employer is not covered by the FMLA, then mothers are not entitled to 12 weeks of leave unless it is in their employment contract or unless the employer is covered by state law on the subject.
Another commonly overlooked element of the FMLA is that if both parents work for the same employer, the two parents get a combined total of 12 weeks of leave, not 12 weeks each.
Prepare for a transition back to work
Prior to taking maternity leave, discuss a return-to-work plan with your employer. If once you are at home with that new baby, that plan no longer seems tenable, reach out to your employer to pitch options like a period of reduced hours, working remotely, or transitioning permanently to part-time work.
If you choose not to return to work after being on maternity leave, your employer can deduct the employer’s contributions to your health insurance premiums during your maternity leave. This can result in the employee owing the employer money at termination if the employer’s contribution is greater than the employee’s earnings due.
Don’t forget about insurance and legal documents
Plan to flex your adulting muscles and make some important changes to your insurance and estate planning when a baby is imminent.
Setting up health insurance
When your baby arrives, you can add them to either parent’s insurance policy. Each carrier has a deadline for doing so, and that deadline is serious.
Failure to add your new baby means that the insurance company will not provide coverage of the birth or subsequent care. It will likely be the most expensive mistake of your life.
For employer-sponsored plans, you may have to submit a copy of the birth certificate and Social Security card to Human Resources to add your baby, or you may contact the plan directly. Inquire about this prior to birth and have a plan in place to follow up.
Keep in mind that if the mother is on a single person plan and adds the baby to the plan, the birth itself will be under the single plan, but the baby care may be under the new family plan. In these situations, you will see the delivery fees applied under the old plan, deductible, and out-of-pocket maximum, and then that deductible and OOP max may increase to the family plan numbers.
Updating life insurance
Take a look at your family’s finances and decide what changes need to be made to both parents’ life insurance plans.
Know that if you name the other parent as beneficiary, then that parent will continue to manage the money to care for the child and the home as they do now. If you name the child as a beneficiary, it is likely that the court will become involved as the life insurance company is legally required to release the funds only to a conservator or financial guardian for a minor under 18. This ensures that the money does stay with the child, and it can still be used for their care, but the court’s permission will be required.
Things to consider when updating your life insurance policies:
- If either parent dies, will the other parent be able to stay in the home with the child on their current earnings?
- Will paid childcare be needed if one parent dies?
- Do you want to provide for your child’s future education or other expenses if you die?
Revise estate planning
In addition to deciding what to leave your new baby, if anything, also consider who you want to take care of them if both parents die.
In your will, or a separate document, you can nominate someone to be your child’s legal guardian in the event of death or incapacity of both parents. The court then gives preference to your nomination, and it can even make the process of being appointed less cumbersome for the guardian.
It is so hard to contemplate who you want to raise your child if you are gone, and honestly, nobody may sound like a great option. But family members can and do fight about who gets the baby, putting the child through years of custody battles. Sadly, the same people who fight over a sweet little baby often look to push a challenging teenager off on someone else, and some orphaned children never know stability.