Archive | new baby series

My Favorites for a 3-Month-Old

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There is some kind of baby boom going on among my friends right now… woohoo!  For many of you mothers- and fathers-to-be, Elliott and I have hoped and prayed for these babies from the sidelines for awhile, and it gives us enormous joy to hear that there are little mini versions of yourselves on the way.  You are richly blessed, and we can’t wait to “meet” these babies this winter and spring!

With that in mind, I wanted to get back to my neglected New Baby Series.  I was hungry for advice when I was pregnant, and I know everyone likes to have suggestions about what works and what doesn’t.  Here are links to my advice about maternity clothes, postpartum survival, and newborn essentials.

When you hit the 3-month mark, your baby will be finally taking on a routine (if he or she hasn’t already) and will also be more active and eager to engage.  The 2.5-month mark was an enormous turning point for us with Gil, as he finally started smiling (such a relief to see that he could actually be happy about something), and soon thereafter he began to eek out a few heart-melting baby chuckles.  Bring on the good times!

1. Nursing cover — Around this stage, at least with Gil, I felt like I emerged from hibernation.  I was really back on my feet and  had errands to run, friends to see, events to attend… and a baby to nurse.  This beautiful nursing cover was a lifesaver, and I love the gorgeous print.  I’ve tried a couple of nursing covers, and Bebe Au Lait is my favorite brand because of the terrycloth inside the corners… perfect for absorbing little messes!

2. Play mat — If you’re on the go, this mat is perfect because it will zip right up into itself and has handles for easy carrying.  Because of our move to Sicily, we were constantly traveling with Lena during this stage, and we brought this play mat with us everywhere.  I can’t recommend these types of play gyms; parents I know got so frustrated with the poles bending all the wrong ways after awhile.

3.  Baby lotion — Infant massage was part of the transformation in Gil’s life.  I loved these quiet moments with my baby before bed, moments that have come and gone now that he is a wriggly, roly-poly 9-month-old.  Watch this DVD if you can, stock up on completely pure products for your baby (like this one; we like their shampoo), and enjoy this peaceful stage!

4. Sleep sacks — Around 3 months, most babies will be busting out of even the snuggest swaddle or blanket, and — after some tears — will be ready to transition to sleeping with his or her arms free.  I always put my babies in a wearable blanket (“sleep sack”) to give them an extra layer over their clothing or just their diaper.  A word of warning if you want to go with this lovely brand: Aden by Aden + Anais and the original Aden + Anais are not the same thing.  Aden by Aden + Anais is the cheaper, knock-off version, and their zippers don’t work well.  Register for or buy the real thing… or go with Halo, which has never let me down.

5. Toys! — It’s play time… at last.  Your little one will be reaching out to touch, feel, grasp, and mouth everything before you know it.  In a refreshing purge, I donated all plastic and stuffed infant toys and kept to just a few bright wooden toys for Gil.  Generally wooden toys are quieter, cleaner, and more pleasing to the eye.  My favorites were several toys from Haba, a Montessori-inspired wooden rattle, and — how can you resist? — Sophie, who is made of natural rubber.

6. Bath seat — Elliott and I both love this hammock-like bath seat.  It folds up flat (!) and dries quickly, and thus we have taken it with us all over the world, sticking it into the bottoms of endless duffel bags.  We’ve bathed both of our kids in it until we were sure they could sit up themselves, and it’s none the worse for wear after two children.  Highly recommended.

7. Towel and washcloth — Totally unnecessary, because babies can dry off just fine in your regular bath towels.  But cute… !  We have these matching sets for Lena and Gil, and they are adorable when they’re both wrapped up side-by-side with the hoods on.  Both the towel and washcloth seem enormous beside a newborn, but after a few months you will be grateful for the extra material.

8. Baby Bjorn — After our babies outgrew the snuggly Moby wrap at 3 or 4 months of age, we put them in this carrier.  With the option for your increasingly-curious baby to face forward, and the great back support for you, the “Active carrier” version of the Bjorn is an easy favorite.  We enjoyed it with both our kids until they were about 9 months old, at which point they could fit comfortably into our Ergo carrier.

And there you have it… a few things that got us through those early months!  I didn’t even talk about cloth diapers here, but I’ll have more info about them in another post about the 6-month stage soon.  Any suggestions or questions?  I know other mamas-to-be would love to hear what has worked for some seasoned mothers out there!

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Discouraged by cost?  Remember my advice to beg, borrow, and steal maternity clothes and baby gear!  On this list, we registered for some things, got others used or as hand-me-downs still in the box, and then waited to be gifted the rest by kind family and friends.  The only thing we bought on this list is the baby lotion!  Even though it’s hard — and my husband will tell you that it’s really hard for me to do this — we stick to a pretty strict “just say no” policy about baby gear and toys, and our patience has been rewarded over time.  It’s worth it for a clutter-free home with only the things you and your baby really need!

5 :: in motherhood, new baby series

My Favorite Newborn Essentials

becca-garber-newborn-product-recommendations Ahh… baby gear!  Choosing what to buy or register for is truly overwhelming for parents-to-be.  I have had only two newborns, so I can’t claim to be an expert on everything.  However,  I think most moms will agree that after two kids you’ve seen a lot of baby stuff — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and you have found your favorites.  So here are my favorites!

1. Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat.  We used Consumer Reports to help us choose the top-rated, safest baby items, and this car seat gets the highest ratings from them.  We have found it easy to use and very durable.  It still looks brand new after being buckled and unbuckled from dozens of vehicles, traveling to approximately 10 countries with us, and weathering almost as many trans-Atlantic flights.  Extra tip: I borrowed this stroller frame from a friend.  I loved that it fit my car seat, all my bags, and usually some extras, because otherwise I would have been carrying everything, including my sleeping baby in his heavy car seat.

2. Zip-up sleepers.  Zip-ups are the easiest to get on and off your newborn because nothing has to go over his/her head!   Most sleepers snap up, but new parents will find themselves fumbling for a few weeks before they can snap them up easily even in the dark.  I love this one from Baby Gap — they have the cutest prints! — but there are many less expensive options, too.

3.  A bouncer.  Gil loved his bouncer (borrowed from a friend) and I carried it all over the house wherever I went with him.  This bouncer has the highest average customer rating on Amazon, and I love its sleek, quiet profile.  Extra tip: If your bouncer has a toy bar (maybe with obnoxious lights and music?), remove it until your child can focus, play with it, and appreciate it.  Until he was a couple months old, the toy bar just scared Gil, and it got in my way when I took him in and out of the seat.

4.  A swing.  Gil also loved his swing, and he napped in it for months.  Although I didn’t love having that big clunky thing in my home, I did thank God for that invention many, many times during those first three months.  We got an older version of this swing from someone in our neighborhood; it has the highest average customer review on Amazon.

5. Arms Reach Mini Co-Sleeper.  I’ve sung the praises of this little crib before in my post about sharing a bedroom with your baby.  It was Gil’s bed for the first 4 months of his life, even after he moved into his own room.  It folds down into a little portable carrying case, just like a Pack n Play.  I loved the storage pockets underneath and on the sides, too.

6. NUK pacifiers.  Elliott’s mom gave me a package of NUK pacifiers when I was pregnant with Lena because “these were the kind Elliott loved,” and I have been grateful for that early direction.  Mostly I like that I can buy them anywhere (including on military bases for much less than on Amazon), and so I never have to worry about being stuck somewhere and offering Gil a pacifier that he won’t take.  They are also inexpensive, BPA-free, and orthodontist-approved.  Elliott and I have been so grateful that our kids liked pacifiers (personally, I think you have to teach a child to take a pacifier) because it has saved us all so much grief when they could soothe their natural need to suck.  Also, it’s a lot easier to one day take away a pacifier than a thumb!

7.  Aden & Anais swaddle blankets.  These have become the world’s favorite, so I am just person #54,937 to sing the praises of these swaddle blankets.  They are lightweight and fold up tiny, but somehow they are also warm and surprisingly large.  The muslin fabric has the perfect amount of stretch and grip to keep your newborn swaddled.   Besides swaddling, we have used them as picnic blankets, nursing covers, sunshades, and sleeping pads everywhere we go.  I also own the extra lightweight bamboo version with these Indian-inspired prints… so beautiful!

8. Moby wrap.  We were given a Moby wrap, Baby Bjorn carrier, and Ergo carrier, and I love them all, but the Moby is my favorite for newborn-four months.  It is so soft and cozy, and it supports the fetal position newborns like to assume.  Our babies have loved being snuggled close to me and Elliott, especially in cold weather.  My friend Emily wore her newborn all over the house in her Moby for the first weeks of his life.

9.  Kiddopotamus SwaddleMe.  Our babies both loved being swaddled until they were about three months old, but they became Houdinis at getting out of swaddle blankets.  This wrap is the answer: the velcro closures kept our kids cozy, safe, and securely swaddled.  I like to have at least three.  I have also heard wonderful things about the Halo Swaddle Sleepsack, which gives your baby more room to kick and move his legs.

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Those are the things we have most appreciated with our newborns.  Experienced moms, what have you enjoyed best of all?  I know of several moms-to-be who will be reading this, eager to hear your advice!

5 :: in motherhood, new baby series

Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide

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Ah, those postpartum days.  With both of my children, I felt like I was living in a bleary new universe studded with bright, unforgettable moments.  At the beginning, what I remember most is gazing at this precious little creature and thinking:

  • I know I am supposed to love you, but I just don’t know you.  I should know you, I suppose, because you’ve been inside me for 9 months and I have felt every move you’ve made, but… well, this relationship is going to take a little time to blossom into know and love.  In the meantime, I praise God that you’re here and that you’re whole and healthy.  We have prayed for you since before you existed!  Welcome to the rest of our lives.
  • You are a miracle.  There is just no way you came from inside me.  You may be tiny compared to the rest of the world, but compared to me… you are huge.  Also you are so detailed!  How did my body know how to help you make your tiny wisps of hair, the intricacies of your blue eyes, and the perfect little nails on your fingers and toes?

And so began my life as a mother of one, and then mother of two.  With consternation, wonder, and tentative love.

Those first few weeks of motherhood are different for every mother.  The personality of each baby and each mother also ensures that each postpartum period is totally different, or at least that’s how it was for me with Lena and then Gil.

With Lena, I floated on an emotional high that lasted for weeks.  I remember those days as a golden season in our lives.  Elliott was in the middle of a yearlong assignment with the Army in the desert of Egypt, so he was only home for a few weeks.  Lena was born in the middle of his time at home, and I know it was his exclusive devotion and our mutual ecstatic joy – we had such a beautiful baby girl and we were all together!!! – that helped me bounce back so quickly after childbirth and embrace my new role.   Breastfeeding clicked, as did our new sleep schedule with our baby.  At the hospital, a lactation consultant walked into our room and saw us snuggled in bed together as I laid beside Lena and nursed her.  The consultant said, “Well, I can see you don’t need my help!”  Encouragement like that gave me wings.

After Elliott left, though, life took on a new edge.   I was alone with a 3-week-old baby, living in a tiny studio apartment in D.C., and I knew I needed help.  After dropping Elliott off at the airport, I drove (and sobbed) my way to my parents’ house to stay for a few days.  A few days turned into a few weeks, and in the end I spent most of the three months until Elliott’s return living at their house in the suburbs.  One night when Lena was screaming inconsolably and I was alone in my D.C. studio, I felt the cold fingers of postpartum depression wrapping themselves around my mind and heart, and they terrified me.  I fled to places where I would be surrounded by help, activity, and love.  With the help of so much family, those early months with my first baby slipped by peacefully and joyously.

Needless to say, my postpartum period with Gil was completely different.  We lived in Sicily with no family nearby.  We also had Lena, and so now Elliott had an almost full-time job keeping Lena occupied for the entirety of his paternity leave (almost two weeks, with weekends).  It was January and our house was cold, so Gil spent most of his time in our bedroom with the heater running, and thus our world became incredibly small and incredibly focused on that one bedroom.  I felt confident as his mother, but also pulled in so many more directions than I had been with just one baby. I took longer to heal, longer to bounce back.

And then one-week-old Gil descended into the dark, black hole of “colic.”  By “colic” I mean he cried a lot, inconsolably, and was impossibly hard to soothe… maybe not enough to medically qualify him as a colicky baby, but enough that the term describes the misery that we dealt with for months.  Every evening from 5pm-11pm was a nightmare.  Elliott and I descended into depression.  Family came, helped, and left.  Friends brought meals, hugs, and left.  Elliott often slept in the guest room while I walked and walked and walked around the warm bedroom with our screaming son, gritting my teeth and praying and then swearing and then crying and then eventually falling to sleep beside Gil before the whole process began again an hour or two later.

The sun began to break through the clouds when Gil was about 2.5 months old.  He began to sleep in his own room (the weather was warmer) and began to fall asleep with minimal soothing.  Slowly, he began to smile, which was later than most babies.  By about 5 months he turned onto his stomach on his own, and that was life changing.  He now napped on his stomach for more than 30 minutes at a time.  By 6 months, Gil was napping twice a day for two hours each, going to bed at 6pm, nursing a few times throughout the night, and waking up full of smiles about 13 hours later.  We were finally—finally—in a peaceful new normal.  That was the end of what I hope was longest and darkest postpartum period of my life.

Anyway, this was not how I intended this blog post to turn out, but some of it had to be said if I wanted to honestly give postpartum advice.  Every baby combined with every stage of life makes every postpartum period entirely unique and entirely different.  Postpartum depression is real, but many women (like me with Lena) don’t experience it, and many others (like our whole family with Gil) suffer for months on a roller coaster of emotions, stress, and misery.

Looking back on both of my postpartum periods, here are a few things that made life more manageable:

1)    Nutella!  OK, high-energy snacks is what I really mean.  When your body is learning to make breast milk and trying to recover from childbirth, you need delicious, quick sources of nutrition.  While I would recommend granola bars, fruit, and nuts (at the bedside!) first, I have to say… sometimes a spoonful of Nutella right out of the jar just helps the world go ‘round.

2)    Burp cloths.  New babies spit up a lot, and Gil continued to spit up after every feeding until he was 6 months old.  (It was awful.)  Forget about using those cute fabric burp cloths; get something really absorbent.  For me, nothing worked better than these loosely woven prefolds.  So cheap on Amazon.  Worth their weight in gold.

3)    Something to read.  I love nursing while lying down, and that always meant I could put my baby in between a book and me and just… relax.  Nursing works so much better when you’re relaxed! I read this bookduring my first week home with Gil and, while it wasn’t good literature, it was an engrossing and easy read.

4)    Nursing tank tops from Target I think I have six of these now (thanks, Mom!) and love them all.  They’re so well made, make breastfeeding easy, and cost half as much as any other brand I’ve found.  Layer them under sweaters or v-neck dresses, or wear them on their own.  Live in them (and yoga pants) for the first few months.

5)    Mattress pad.  I heard someone say that the post-partum period is a very “wet” time and laughed out loud.  So true!  Both your baby and yourself are figuring out how to make your bodies work; there are a lot of spills in the process.  Put a waterproof mattress padon your bed and be prepared to change the sheets a lot.  It’s all good.

6)    Water cup.  I am perpetually dehydrated (this is how I know) and never remember to carry a cup or water bottle around the house.  Right after Gil was born, I bought this 24 oz plastic cupon Amazon for $8.  It even has a lid so the kids can’t spill it and the cat can’t drink out of it!  Also, I always fill it up before I get in the car so I have something to sip on while driving.

7)   Nursing pads.  These are my favoritesbecause they are individually wrapped (throw a few in your diaper bag!) and have adhesive strips so they don’t slip around inside your clothes (see #4).  I’ve tried reusable organic cotton pads — which are too small to keep track of and too lumpy under my shirt — and several other brands, and I recommend Lansinoh over any others.

Finally, for a collection of great postpartum survival advice, check out this Pinterest board.  So many good resources in one place!

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Now I want to hear your stories!  What would you tell a new mama about postpartum survival?

11 :: in motherhood, new baby series

a few tips about maternity clothes

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Some of you already know this, but my dear friend Johanna recently announced that she is expecting her first baby! I cannot wait to meet that little bundle in the spring.  He or she?  Curly hair or strawberry blonde… or both?

With all the joy — “this is really happening!” — comes so many questions.  “Maternity clothes?  Choosing baby items?  Working within a budget?”  She asked me to pass along any advice that I had as it came to me, and I thought it might be fun to turn the multiple emails I knew I’d be writing to her into a bunch of blog posts for her… and for other new moms out there, too.

So, whether you’re in the thick of this stage, looking forward to it (or dreading it!), or waving at it in the rearview mirror, welcome to a new little blog series on Making Room.  Please share your own tips and advice; we’d all love to learn from each other’s wisdom!

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Johanna wrote that maternity clothes that are “attractive/affordable seem awfully hard to find!”  I remember feeling the same way in those early days too, as price tags discouraged me (“but I’ll only be wearing this for a few months…”) and the cheapest things often just weren’t my style.  Can anyone else relate?

Over two pregnancies, though, my maternity wardrobe has grown and I now love many of the pieces in it.  Some of them are totally cute and I was excited to wear them again when I was pregnant with Gil!  However, I didn’t build my wardrobe by dipping in and out of maternity stores or by online shopping.  The truth is that I spent no more than $50 on my entire maternity wardrobe (right down to undergarments, which were all new).  My strategy is…

Beg.  Borrow. Steal.

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1.  Beg, ie. ask for things

Let people — especially family members and close friends — know that you are in need of maternity clothes.

All of the maternity pieces in the two photos above (dress, jacket, sweater, jeans) were gifts from my mom and mother-in-law.  (The scarf was a non-maternity gift from my sister!)  They knew I needed maternity clothes and so that is what I got for my birthday and for Christmas.  All of these pieces have gotten a lot of mileage in both of my pregnancies, so thank you, Mama and Mom!

Also, letting close friends know you need maternity clothes can lead to some fun surprises.  A friend might be in Old Navy, see something cute, and think of you!  Or, in the case of my sister-in-law Jess, they might decide to go on an online shopping spree and surprise you with a box in the mail.  (All the things you got for me, Jess, were wardrobe staples for both me and Becca Arthur.  Thank you again and again!)

Finally, don’t be afraid to return things if they just aren’t your style.  Most people who gave me maternity clothes also handed me a receipt “just in case.”  I took advantage of that in a couple of instances and often walked out of the store with a much larger pile of clothing than I walked in with, thanks to sales and coupons.

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2. Borrow

Ask a friend, neighbor, or community member
if you can borrow their maternity stash.

The shirt in the photo above was one of many incredible maternity clothes that I borrowed from this super talented young lady.  She and I were a part of the same church in D.C. and she had listed her maternity clothes as “available to borrow” in the moms’ group.  I was kind of sorry to give them back after Lena was born.  They were cute!  Highlight of that experience: walking into a church event and having her and multiple other women say, “Hey, I know who you borrowed that pretty maternity top from!”

The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancyhas a lot to say about sharing maternity clothes.  I enjoyed that book and recommend that section of it.

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3. Steal, ie. find things for a steal

A beautiful maternity wardrobe does not have to cost much.  It takes patience and time to build an attractive, functional maternity wardrobe on a dime (ie. a steal). 

However, patience and time are two things our culture does not value.  Here are a few tips to help you thoughtfully build your wardrobe on a budget (and with things you like!):

  • Make your current clothes last as long as possible.  With most first pregnancies, you won’t need real maternity clothes until halfway through or more.  You can make your regular clothes stretch (pun intended) by sticking to more forgiving, flexible materials and patterns.  The green floral top I’m wearing above is one of my favorites… but it’s just a size L shirt from H&M that has a tie in the back (and cost $5 on sale).  For your pants or jeans, use “the rubber band trick.” (<– that is a great blog!)
  • Hand-me-downs are amazing.  I love love love my neighborhood moms’ group on Capitol Hill in D.C.; it networked the community so well through a simple email listserve.  With about 5,000 moms on the listserve, there was always something baby- or maternity-related that someone wanted to give away (like the brown blouse above).  Through taking others hand-me-downs, sorting through, donating what I didn’t want, and saving what I did, I got most of my maternity staples for free.  (And yes, I did this while working full time.)  Is there a moms’ community in your neighborhood, church, town, or city?  If not, start one.  All it takes is a Yahoo or Google Group and a few ground rules.  Here in Italy the moms in my community use a Facebook page.
  • Shop sales and thrift stores.  Check out Craigslist for women who are desperate to sell their whole maternity wardrobes.  Take your time… there is gold out there!
  • Buy only when you need to.  Your body will change and clothes will not fit the same at 20 weeks (“these maternity pants are huge… lucky me!”) and 40 weeks (“I cannot fit in anything.  Time to be born, baby.”)  When you don’t fit into what you have, it’s time to go shopping.  You’ll be disappointed if you bought everything you thought you’d need at 20 weeks and then get tons of hand-me-downs and gifts… and end up with a lot of money wasted.
  • Finally, accessorize.  Taking time to add a scarf, belt, boots, or earrings somehow takes you from wearing “preggers clothes” to “an adorable outfit.”  I am terrible at this, but I love this mom’s ideas for “dressing the bump.”  Made me want all her clothes!!!

Now it’s your turn!  Do you have any advice for dressing well during pregnancy?

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