As we've ventured into this whole baby thing, we've finally started learning some things about being parents. There's the obvious things like how your heart might burst when you see your little one smile and laugh and then there's the practical things, like learning which pacifier works best and which diaper cream gets rid of his first rash. And while I don't claim that any of these things may work for anyone other than our baby, I encourage you to try them. Because that's how we found out what worked to begin with—we tried and then tried again.
First off, I have two books I highly recommend reading. I'm not one for lengthy, doctor-jargon books, so needless to say some of the more popular books bored me straight to sleep (literally). But there were two books that had me so intrigued I couldn't put them down, I even finished one of them in one day, and yes, that was while pumping and taking care of baby! The other I read while pregnant. With that said, I recommend reading this book while pregnant. It will give you some practical guidelines for a newborn (just a couple) and a whole lot of ideas for when they are older. I really recommend reading the other book after you've had your first baby, in the first few weeks. I think if I would have read it before having baby I would have been totally overwhelmed. I feel much more confident having spent time with my little one and understanding the importance of the issues discussed in the book.
So, here we go: What I've Learned. And as you read these, I want you to remember that every baby is different, every mom is different, every culture is different, and every day is different. In other words, let's not judge, but learn.
1. Learning to Read Your Baby Takes Time, But Trust Your Instinct
I really had that feeling of meeting someone new. I feel like it took a few weeks before I could even start to understand what to do with Ezra. We kind of just did a simple routine of put him down in his little lounger (rock n play) to sleep, when he wakes up crying, change his diaper, then my husband feeds him his bottle while I pump more milk, and repeat every three hours for weeks on end. Sometimes we'd change it up by putting him in the mamaroo, but we usually only used this when he was awake (more on this later), which means, not much use the first month. Now during growth spurts and cluster feedings life looked a lot more chaotic. There was less sleeping and more crying (mostly from us) and wondering if this would ever pass. I had never even heard of cluster feeding or growth spurts until my husband read about them online. Do yourself a favor and look it up, then be prepared. We know use an app called Wonder Weeks (there's a book too, but I haven't read it) and it will tell you when your baby is in his fussy stage. This helps with your sanity when you know he's growth spurting and not just fussy for no reason.
While learning to read our baby we were also able to realize that he was having tummy troubles. He would spit up a lot, have lots of gas, and just seemed to be in pain. At his one month check up the doctor put him on acid reflux meds and it's been a big game-changer. He started crying less and when I cut back on my dairy at month two I even noticed less gas, which also reduced the fussy fits he would have. That said, don't leave the hospital without gripe water—it will save your life! When our little when get the hiccups, crazy amounts of gas, or just not stop crying no matter what we would give him just a little bit of gripe water and the whole world would calm within seconds. I highly recommend Momma's Bliss brand because it's void of sugars and much more natural then other brands out there. You can get it at your local store or on amazon.
I usually put his paci in immediately after I give it to him so he sucks and soothes himself. And speaking of paci's we were all about those green Philip's Avent Soothers (the same paci on the wubanubs), but after using Dr. Brown Bottles we discovered that the Dr. Brown Pacifers worked better since they were same shape as the bottle he was use to sucking from. I suggest finding what works for you, if your little one doesn't take the paci, try a different brand, remember try and then try again. Also, I love using the wubanub type pacis when we are in the car or when we are trying to soothe Ezra during sleeping hours. Why? Because when he drops the paci I can easily find it with my hand, with the little soothers, I could never figure out where it rolled to. Oftentimes I would find it behind his head or under his carseat support pillow. And of course, he's screaming bloody murder because, ya know, he wants his paci. Now we use this one non-stop. He has his scent all over Mr. Turtle (as we affectionately call him) and it's become his lovey, comfort tool for sleep time. I also like the Dr. Brown over the wubanub beause you can remove the pacifer and replace it with a new one. With the wubanub it's attached forever, until your little guy yanks it off as my nephew did.
2. Teach Your Baby To Sleep & Have A Schedule
Okay, so remember, if you don't like what I say, just repeat my mantra above. But this is where I recommend the books above. I really believe that we need to be taught to sleep well. We can all sleep, but how many times do you hear people complain about lack of sleep, sleeping bad during the night, etc. It's interesting to see how sleep is viewed and taught in different cultures, and I love the Brining up Bebe book for this reason. It takes a look at French culture and how simples things like sleep aren't looked at as horrible and hard things to accomplish. So we decided from the beginning to try and train our baby to sleep. However, we got lucky and our baby was born way over 9 pounds so he slept 3 hours from the beginning and then slowly worked his way up to 5 and then one day it was 10, all before 3 months and without any sleep training! But after he started regressing and waking up during the night again, I decided to take a friend's advice and read a book she recommend (see above).
Immediately we began implementing the steps. What I like most about her book is that it gave me a practical step-by-step guide on what to do. First, being to feed him every 4 hours and make sure by the end of the day he had at least 24 oz. This helps eliminate snacking and makes sure he's full so he can sleep for 12 hours straight. Since Ezra was already eating around 24 oz, I knew it wouldn't be a problem to get his amount in, but he was having them sporadically. When he would cry we would feed, what we learned in just one day of following her steps, was that sometimes when he cried, he was tired, but needed help. Wow, remember how I said reading your baby will take time, yeah, still doing that at month 4. So we started by picking our 12 hour time frame (8am-8pm). Some people do 11-11, some 6-6, etc, you can make it work for your schedule, which is another important thing that is stressed in both books above. Baby needs to adapt to your world, you don't need to adapt yours to baby's. So at 7:45am we get Ezra up, change his diaper, and begin feeding him by 8am. We then feed him again at 12pm, 4pm, and 7:30pm. We try to make feedings last only 30 minutes, and to have an average of 6oz each time. He usually heats 8 oz in the morning and then less at the 12 pm feeding. At 10am we attempt to take an hour nap and at 2pm we attempt to take a 2 hour nap. Ezra is not a good napper, which I'm learning is because we weren't reading him well. But since trying our sleep traing for only 3 days, he has now started taking a 10 am nap and sleeping through the night. He does wake up or root around a bit once in the early morning, but instead of feeding him, we now use shooshing, paci, and rocking the rock n play to get him back asleep. Guys, I really can't recommend this book enough! It's been amazing! We are still trying to get naps down, but she doesn't even recommend nap training until 2 weeks of sleeping through night, and did I mention we are on day 3 of 3 of trying and succeeding! *happy claps*
Also, having a schedule really helps me have a set time to get my work done, and be able to plan site visits or grocery shopping. It wil lbe even easier when I'm done pumping and can just rely on formula. Because of that, my husband helps A LOT! And I mean a lot. I honestly wouldn't be able to stick to this schedule if I had to pump and get him fed and down for sleep all by myself.
3. There are Few Things I Couldn't Live Without
So now, for the fun stuff. Here's a few things that Ezra has loved and so have we. Again, each baby is different, but I encourage you to try them out.
1. This thermometer. Because let's be honest. There have been so many time I thought he might be sick, and sticking this up to his forehead is WAY easier than trying to stick one under his arm and hold it.
2. Gripe Water, because it will be your best friend. Read more about it above in the blog post.
3. Zen Swaddle. Our guy was too big and strong for ordinary swaddling, it was pointless. I couldn't even do it for his newborn photos. But this guy not only keeps him in with the velcro straps it also has a weight in it that makes him feel as if he is sleeping on his chest. It really helped in those early months.
4. Bamboo is amazing, and even more amazing for Africa weather and washing clothes in harsh water with no dryer. It's the only fabric that doesn't seem to get all stiff and hard after washing. We love using this particular style now that he's older and sleeping 10-12 hours.
5. Because we don't leave the house without mosquito protection. This stuff is gentle enough for even a young baby.
6. The insert that came with our infant car seat was a joke. It did nothing, so we quickly realized we needed something else to support his neck. I love this one because it's reversible (ya know for spit up situations) and the other side is plush and soft! There is also a removable neck support pillow and we actually took that out and use it to support his neck when he is in the mammaroo.
7. Because in Africa you cover up. Also, I would totally use this for walks at dusk in the states, I mean we may have Dengue and Malaria in Africa, but the US has West Nile and Zika, both of which have been found in the neighborhoods we have lived in.
8. Favorite paci so far, see above for more on this.
9. Love these bottles. We quickly switched from the basic Madela bottles when we noticed he was getting too much air and having trouble with gas and spit up. It didn't eliminate those things, but it reduced them for sure! I have enough bottles now for one day of pumping and feeding (thanks to a friend who donated her stash) so I only have to wash them once. I will say, I really wish I had dishwasher for these, but that's where #12 comes in handy.
10. I wasn't sure if I'd use this or not until he got older, but after his two month shots and a couple rough nights after some intense travel to Africa, this stuff came in very handy. There have been a total of 3 nights when he was in a lot of pain. We gave him a little bit of this and it worked like magic and made him sleep for hours. :)
11. I didn't think I'd need a monitor at first, but wow, was I wrong. I also didn't want to invest in an expensive monitor or one that used wifi, because our wifi is not unlimited in Africa. When I ran across this guy for under $100 I was skeptical, but my mom graciously purchased it for us and it's been amazing. Sometimes it looses signal so I have to play around with where I put it, but it allows me to hear him cry after nap time while we are in team meeting or when we were still in the states it would let us know he's awake for night feedings, because even though in the beginning we'd wake up at the slightest sound, we eventually became immune and it took a lot more to get out of our sleep deprived state. In other words, volume up.
12. Because without a dishwasher you want to make sure these bottles are clean! So this guy helps get all the leftover residue out.
13. I had the hardest time picking out a stroller. For one they can be super expensive! And then there are ones (like ours) that are priced for normal people, but what's the difference? I have yet to discover anything wrong with our "cheap" stroller and he even handles the pot hole dirt paths of Africa. Ezra loves his carseat (I think because it keeps him upright) so he spends most of his time in his carseat when we are out of the house. I also like keeping him in the stroller because it puts him at my height and I don't have to bend down to reach him in the carseat. Anyways, if you are having trouble deciding on a stroller and don't want a fancy $500 one, but you aren't really into umbrella strollers, I highly recommend this one!
14. If your kid has acid, this will be a life saver. It can adjust to different inclines, and is great for rocking your baby to sleep. It's been even more handy during our sleep training nights. I can't say enough about this, except that they should make them longer for babies like ours. I'm not sure how much longer he'll be able to sleep in it, because the poor guy is getting kind of cramped!
15. Y'all, this bag! I didn't use it all in the states, but starting from the airport on, it's been my only bag. Since there are no changing tables in the rest of the world, this guy provides the perfect solution. We went on a 3 hour drive in country last month and in the middle of no where I can plop down the bed of the truck, open this guy up and voila, changing pad. We also had a blow out diaper at a cafe one day (all over Reed, poor thing) and with no bathroom, we were able to open this bag up, change him, wash him, and get him clean without any hassle. It even has an insulated pocket for milk. Seriously, can't go without this guy.
16. This one serves two purposes. First, it's a must for moms. I have so many times started a cup of coffee only to have gotten distracted and not finished the cup before it went cold. With my Yeti it stays warm for hours. In fact, one day I didn't have my morning coffee till dinner, the Yeti even kept it warm for me. I also use it for ice water. Since we live in a place that is hot all year round and we only run a/c at night in our bedroom, drinks get warm quick. I love that I can put water in this guy and it never goes warm, plus it doesn't sweat so there's no clean up or dripping of water everywhere.
Okay and purpose number two. It's great for warming up bottles. Since it retains heat, we put the hot water in it and drop in the bottle. To be honest, we actually have another mug we got a coffee shop in Colorado. It is tall and slender and has a lid to it. I like that one better because I can fit the whole bottle inside the mug and then twist the lid shut and wait for the bottle to warm. It also allows us to bring hot water with us when we leave the house in case we need to warm up a bottle on the go.
17. Another bamboo clothing item. In the first two months when baby is still getting up every 3 hours or less this guy made diaper changes MUCH easier. We didn't have to mess with buttons during the middle of the night and could just pull it up and go. And if you want you can covert it to pants instead. win, win.
18. The mamaroo. Really, any swing would do. I just recommend using it for playtime and not sleeping, read the sleep training book above to find out why. We just have the mamaroo because that's what someone bought us. And we loved it so much we put it in it's original box and took it as one of our luggage allowances back to Africa.
So there you have it, a list of all the things we have come to love these past 4 months. I'm hoping that we'll start using a baby carrier and play mat and toys soon, but for now they haven't really been much of help. There were a few times I would put Ezra in the Moby Wrap and it would calm him down, but here in Africa it's just so hot! I plan to try a ring sling soon, so we'll see how that goes. I would love to hear what products or tips have been a big help to you as you raise your little ones! Leave comments below and let me know!
Also as a sidenote, if you are overwhelmed by cost (as we were) make sure and ask friends who are done have kids if they want to sell anything or check out craigslist or resale shops. We got almost everything gifted to us and the few things we didn't get as gifts we found at resale shops. Just remember that there are LOTS of people getting rid of things and all you have to do is ask!
If you want to see more reviews of incredible products check out Jenn Reviews' Blog Post Here!