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What I wish we discussed about parenting before having kids

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My husband and I talked about a lot of things before becoming parents—our values, what kinds of parents our parents had been, and how that informed the kinds of parents we wanted to be. Those were good and important conversations and helped us get on the same page about some overarching themes of parenting.

But you know what we did not discuss? Which parent would be in charge of pediatrician visits. Who would handle researching the best way to introduce solid foods. And, down the road, which parent would take the lead on communicating with teachers. And oh so much more! If there is one thing I would love to go back and redo, it is being very specific about how parenting duties were going to be shared. Let my mistake be a boon to you.

Here's what I wish I knew.

Think about what you each need to feel comfortable heading into parenting

My brother was born when I was 10 years old, so, I had a fairly innate level of comfort with babies. My husband, not so much. When we looked over the possible classes we could take before delivery—breastfeeding, childbirth, and so on—he was very interested in a class called Newborn 101. I thought it was a waste of time, but I agreed to go because it seemed to matter so much to him.

All I remember learning from the class is that newborns look weird when they come out (gray and slimy as opposed to pink and shiny), and you don't need to bathe them very often. Afterward, I told my husband it had been a waste of time, because we didn't learn much.

"I know!" he said happily. "I feel so relieved." For him, learning that being around a baby is way less complicated than he thought it was going to be was a major stress reliever. I didn't realize until that moment that he had concerns about parenthood that were totally different from mine.

Work as a team from the start

When there's a pregnancy involved, the birth parent is intimately involved with parenthood from the start by carrying the baby, but if the non-birth parent can take on some responsibilities during pregnancy it sets the stage for co-parenting equity down the road.

When Sheehan David Fisher, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, works with new parents and parents-to-be, he recommends that the non-birth parent stay engaged throughout pregnancy by attending all the prenatal visits, reading books about child development, understanding the changes a developing fetus is going through, spending time around (and holding!) babies, and looking for dads' or parents' meetings to start attending in pregnancy. "The more engagement during pregnancy, the better the involvement outcomes in the postpartum," says Fisher.

Look at the big picture of parenting

"I think people can be great dads, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are great co-parents," says Jill Krause, creator of the popular blog Baby Rabies. Krause tells parents to "talk with your partner about what it is to be a co-parent versus what it is to be a mom or dad." And set up the expectation early that you will share not only the practical responsibilities of raising a tiny human (like who handles the inputs—food—and who handles the outputs—diapers) but the big decisions that come with being a parent.

"We talked about a birth plan, how we were going to diaper them, and where they were going to sleep." But Krause recommends thinking even bigger than that and talking about other issues you will eventually face in parenting, like managing social media, asking about firearms in the home before sending a child on a playdate, getting help if your kid needs it with school. Not that you have to answer those questions now, but by talking now, you are setting up your "team game plan" for sharing the small and the large aspects of parenting. "Talk about all the issues together so that it doesn't feel like one person is the boss and the other is the employee."

Break it down—in detail

Fisher meets with parents before delivery to sort out who is going to do what in the days and weeks after birth. Making those kinds of decisions in the moment—when you're feeling overwhelmed and sleep deprived—is much harder. Fisher has folks come up with a plan of who will handle some of the early tasks, including making sure there are groceries and diapers in the home, bathing the baby, and putting him or her down to sleep. If one parent is breastfeeding, then the other can commit to picking the baby up when she starts to cry and bringing her to the breastfeeding parent along with a glass of water and a snack, for instance

When sleep specialist Kathryn Lee, RN, was researching how to help new parents get better sleep, she actually had them sign a contract listing out which responsibilities they would each take on.

Whether or not you go the contract-writing route, putting to paper a brainstorm of all you will need to do and assigning responsibilities will make it so much easier to share the work when the time comes and also be a great reference when the inevitable arguments about who's working harder begin. And, of course, it will be a living document that changes as you learn more about what parenting actually entails.

I really wish my husband and I had done that so that he could have had ownership over certain aspects of parenting from the get-go. We have a general belief in equity, but I retained so much control over the logistics of parenting that I was usually asking for "help" and then having to turn over reams of information in order for him to follow through. But writing this section of my book has helped me begin to change that dynamic—ten years later. It's never too late, but starting early is way better!

In a piece in The Huffington Post a few years ago, the blogger M. Blazoned coined a term for this kind of the kind of parenting setup my husband and I inadvertently started off with: "The Default Parent."

"Default parents know the names of their kids' teachers, all of them. They fill out endless forms, including the 20-page legal document necessary to play a sport at school, requiring a blood oath not to sue when your kids [get] concussions, because they are going to get concussions. They listen to long, boring, intricate stories about gym games that make no sense. They spell words, constantly. They know how much wrapping paper there is in the house. The default parent doesn't have her own calendar, but one with everyone's events on it that makes her head hurt when she looks at it. They know a notary. They buy poster board in 10-packs. They've worked tirelessly to form a bond with the school receptionists. They know their kids' sizes, including shoes."

It's exhausting just to read that paragraph, let alone live it. Which is why I suggest taking some time now to consciously set up a real division of labor. Of course, it will change over time, as you each develop different interests and competencies in parenting and as the hours of your paying jobs ebb and flow. But by starting parenthood with a plan to truly share the tasks in those early weeks and months, you will be laying the groundwork for meaningful co-parenting down the road.

Let the other parent make decisions and mistakes

Fisher encourages couples to work against the "default parent" set up by making sure both parents have a chance to carve their own path for taking care of the baby without micromanaging each other.

"If somebody feels incompetent or is criticized, they stop trying," says Fisher. "If every time the baby is crying, a dad hands off the baby, it sets up the expectation that mom is the one always solving problems," says Fisher. "I encourage couples to avoid that."

Krause puts a finer point on it: "It does nobody any good for a mom to take on a martyr role or play into stereotypes. You have to give the non-birth parent more credit, show that you trust them and believe they can do this. Allow them to make mistakes, because you're going to make them too, and the last thing you need to do is be at each other's throats when you do."

Been there, done that: Moms talk about what they did to prepare for parenting together

"We talked a lot about wanting it to be equal. I was up front about wanting to have the baby because I was pretty sure it was the only way our kid would like me—kids just always love my wife. We took turns getting up at night and still do. We take turns letting the other person sleep in on weekend mornings. We split the evening time so that one of us does pajamas and teeth brushing while the other does books and bed, and whoever puts her to bed gets her up in the morning."

—Amanda, Decatur, Georgia

"In the first few weeks, my husband was great about letting me sleep (bottle-feeding helped with that). We shared many of the responsibilities that come with a newborn. Once he went back to work and I was still on leave, things shifted more to me, which made sense, but the tension grew. My suggestion for new parents is figure out your agreement ahead of time. Are you going to take turns throughout the night? Do you get up Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and he takes Tuesday and Thursday? Does he get up with you? I feel like if we had done that, we would have saved a lot of energy."

—Amber, Indianapolis, Indiana

"Next time, I would devise a plan with my husband and delegate who was doing what. I would insist that he be in charge of some of the research and decisions. You look into how we should start solid foods. You decide how we introduce the dogs to the baby. You make a meal plan and cook for the week."

—Jamie, Atlanta, Georgia

Excerpt from STRONG AS A MOTHER: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood.

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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.

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A viral video about car seat safety has parents everywhere cracking up and humming Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

"I like safe kids and I cannot lie," raps Norman Regional Health System pediatric hospitalist Dr. Kate Cook (after prefacing her music video with an apology to her children."I'm a doctor tryin' warn you that recs have changed," she continues.

Dr. Cook's rap video is all about the importance of keeping babies facing backward. It's aptly called "Babies Face Back," and uses humor and parody to drive home car seat recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Switching from rear-facing to forward-facing is a milestone many parents can't wait to reach," Dr. Cook said in a news release about her hilarious video. "But this is one area where you want to delay the transition as long as possible because each one actually reduces the protection to the child."

Last summer the AAP updated its official stance on car seat safety to be more in line with what so many parents were already doing and recommended that kids stay rear-facing for as long as possible. But with so many things to keep track of in life, it is understandable that some parents still don't know about the change. Dr. Cook wants to change that with some cringe-worthy rapping.

The AAP recommends:

  • Babies and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible. Many seats are good up to 65 pounds.
  • When children outgrow their car seat they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly, between 8 and 12 years old.

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

Suicide rates for girls and women in the United States have increased 50% since 2000, according to the CDC and new research indicates a growing number of pregnant and postpartum women are dying by suicide and overdose. Suicide rates for boys and men are up, too.

It's clear there is a mental health crisis in America and it is robbing children of their mothers and mothers of their children.

Medical professionals urge people to get help early, but sometimes getting help is not so simple. For many Americans, the life preserver that is mental health care is out of reach when they are drowning.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg just released a plan he hopes could change that and says the neglect of mental health in the United States must end. "Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal," says Buttigieg.

He thinks he can "prevent 1 million deaths of despair by 2028" by giving Americans more access to mental health and addictions services.

In a country where giving birth can put a mother in debt, it's not surprising that while as many as 1 in 5 new moms suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, more than half of new moms who need mental health treatment don't get it. Stigma, childcare and of course costs are factors in why women aren't seeking help when they are struggling.

Buttigieg's plan is interesting because it could remove some of these barriers. He wants to make mental health care more affordable by ensuring everyone has comprehensive coverage for mental health care and by ensuring that everyone can access a free yearly mental health check-up.

That could make getting help more affordable for some moms, and by increasing reimbursement rates for mental health care delivered through telehealth, this plan could help moms get face time with a medical professional without having to deal with finding childcare first.

Estimates from new research suggest that in some parts of America as many as 14% or 30% of maternal deaths are caused by addiction or suicide. Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce those estimates by fighting the addiction and opioid crisis and increasing access to mental health services in underserved communities and for people of color. He also wants to reduce the stigma and increase support for the next generation by requiring "every school across the country to teach Mental Health First Aid courses."

These are lofty goals with a lofty price tag. It would cost about $300 billion to do what Buttigieg sets out in his plan and the specifics of how the plan would be funded aren't yet known. Neither is how voters will react to this 18-page plan and whether it will help Buttigieg stand out in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

What we do know is that right now, America is talking about mental health and whether or not that benefits Buttigieg's campaign it will certainly benefit America.

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[Editor's Note: Welcome to It's Science, a Motherly column focusing on evidence-based explanations for the important moments, milestones, and phenomena of motherhood. Because it's not just you—#itsscience.]

If you breastfeed, you know just how magical (and trying) it is, but it has numerous benefits for mama and baby. It is known to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half.

If this wasn't powerful enough, scientists have discovered that babies who are fed breast milk have a stomach pH that promotes the formation of HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells). HAMLET was discovered by chance when researchers were studying the antibacterial properties of breast milk. This is a combination of proteins and lipids found in breast milk that can work together to kill cancer cells, causing them to pull away from healthy cells, shrink and die, leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

According to researchers at Lund University in Sweden, this mechanism may contribute to the protective effect breast milk has against pediatric tumors and leukemia, which accounts for about 30% of all childhood cancer. Other researchers analyzed 18 different studies, finding that "14% to 19% of all childhood leukemia cases may be prevented by breastfeeding for six months or more."

And recently, doctors in Sweden collaborated with scientists in Prague to find yet another amazing benefit to breast milk. Their research demonstrated that a certain milk sugar called Alpha1H, found only in breast milk, helps in the production of lactose and can transform into a different form that helps break up tumors into microscopic fragments in the body.

Patients who were given a drug based on this milk sugar, rather than a placebo, passed whole tumor fragments in their urine. And there is more laboratory evidence to support that the drug can kill more than 40 different types of cancer cells in animal trials, including brain tumors and colon cancer. These results are inspiring scientists to continue to explore HAMLET as a novel approach to tumor therapy and make Alpha1H available to cancer patients.

Bottom line: If you choose to breastfeed, the breast milk your baby gets from your hard work can be worth every drop of effort.

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