First-time parent FAQ
Pregnant? Planning to be? Local experts answer your most popular questions
For first-time mothers, the months leading up to childbirth include a long to-do list and oodles of advice from well-meaning family and friends. From planning the perfect nursery to tying up loose ends at work, it’s hard to know what to prioritize. Here are some tips to help you plan everything from choosing a hospital to taking care of yourself to making sure you spend your money wisely on baby goods.
Where should I give birth?
Depending on your health insurance carrier, you will likely have some latitude in deciding where to give birth. Most hospitals in New Hampshire have labor and delivery units, and depending upon where you live, you might be able to choose between hospitals only a few miles apart. But how do you choose and when should you decide?
Christine McKenney, RN, BSN, CLC, CCBE is the perinatal education coordinator and a lactation counselor at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester. She’s worked as a prenatal, postpartum, and NICU nurse at CMC since 2012, and has two children with one on the way. She encourages all expectant families to tour a few hospitals, even if they think they want to deliver at a particular hospital.
“It’s important for families to do their research and find out all of the information they can about local hospitals and what their care practices are,” she said. “If you are a first-time parent, you often don’t know what’s out there and what you want. That’s why it’s important to know what your options are early in your pregnancy journey.”
CMC offers a free 90-minute tour to expectant parents; families can meet staff, explore birthing suites and ask questions.
Some questions to ask, according to McKenney, include:
- What prenatal offices/providers deliver at this hospital?
- Do you have midwives and doctors who deliver? What about residents or students?
- What are your practices for moms wishing to labor and birth in positions other than in bed? Can moms labor in the tub?
- Do you encourage rooming in (staying with your baby at all times)?
- Is there ample lactation support?
- Do you have a labor and delivery doula program or allow doulas if families hire them privately? (Doulas are non-medical personnel who provide support to women during labor and delivery.)
- Do you encourage skin to skin immediately after birth? What about for cesarean births?
- What is your policy on support people during labor/birth? What about visitors during our stay?
- What do you provide us with during our stay? What should we bring?
- How many patients does a labor nurse at your hospital typically care for at one time? (Ideally there should be one nurse per mom during labor.)
It’s important for families to understand that where they choose to receive prenatal care determines where they will be able to deliver their baby.
“If a family wants to give birth at a particular hospital, they will need to establish prenatal care at an office that delivers at the hospital they desire. Often moms have been seeing a gynecologist for years, but when they get pregnant and start receiving obstetrical (prenatal) care, they later learn their midwife/doctor only has delivery privileges at a specific hospital,” McKenney said.
For example, the following practices deliver at CMC: Women’s Wellness and Fertility Center and The Pregnancy Care Center (both affiliated with CMC), and the obstetricians, midwives, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock OBGYN-Bedford.
Do I need to take childbirth education classes?
We’ve all seen the TV sitcoms that show couples on a mat breathing heavily through “labor pains” in childbirth class. But what would be helpful to learn before you deliver your baby?
Like most hospitals, CMC offers a variety of childbirth education classes. In these, couples learn the basics about childbirth and the standard labor and delivery process, McKenney said.
“What makes our classes unique is that we dive much deeper into preparing parents for their birth and parenting journey than a typical hospital birth class. We use multi- sensory experiences and our discussions go beyond ‘this is what you can expect,’ she said.
“We challenge parents to think about how they can be resourceful and solution-focused in any situation they find themselves in. By gaining knowledge, confidence, and expanding their ideas on what this experience may be like, parents report how empowered and prepared they felt having taken our classes.”
Other specialty classes offered at CMC include breastfeeding, infant CPR and parenting your newborn. For parents who need a refresher, CMC also offers a “Birthing Again” class and a class for women who will be planning a vaginal delivery after a cesarean section (VBAC).
“Every birth is unique — there is always something unplanned and unexpected that happens and catches the family by surprise,” McKenney said. “People often are shocked by how powerful their birth experience is. No book, advice, or movie can fully prepare you for your transition into parenthood. It is momentous.”
What should I bring to the hospital?
The hospital tour provides a good opportunity for you to learn what should come with you to the hospital and what should stay home, McKenney said. At CMC, among the items moms can expect to receive include diapers, wipes, a digital thermometer, a nasal aspirator and self-care supplies for mom. Moms also receive a newborn care and postpartum care book and the formula they need to feed their infants while they are staying in the hospital. What you don’t need to bring are excessive amounts of baby clothing, formula or a breast pump.
One of the most important things you can bring is a safe car seat: it’s the one thing every baby must have before he or she leaves the hospital.
“You must have an unexpired car seat to take the baby home in. Read your manual, play with the car seat in your car ahead of time to figure out how it works, install the car seat, and make an appointment at a local car seat check station (usually your fire or police department),” McKenney said.
“Eight out of 10 car seats are installed wrong, even after people follow the instructions. In the hospital, nurses will provide you with car seat safety information and check if your baby is properly strapped in prior to you leaving, but they are not allowed to go to your car to check or install your seat.”
We are home. What should I do now?
It’s a good idea to lay low for the first couple weeks after you get home. Resting as much as possible, limiting the number of visitors who come to your house, and asking family and friends for help are all good rules of thumb, McKenney said.
Here are some other things families should tackle after they return home:
- Set up a follow-up appointment with a pediatrician. At CMC, parents are encouraged to make those appointments before they leave.
- Set up a follow-up appointment with your OB/GYN. Most moms are seen six weeks postpartum, but some practices schedule follow-ups between two and six weeks, depending on the patient’s needs and what kind of birth she experienced, McKenney said.
- Know the number of your lactation consultant. Breastfeeding a newborn can be challenging. At CMC, there is a “warm line” moms can call to get help. “Sometimes breastfeeding can be difficult in the first few weeks — we don’t ever want moms to feel alone. We can help moms by answering questions over the phone or by having them visit our lactation office. It’s great to have support from friends and family, but if there are issues it is best to seek expert advice,” McKenney said.
- Recognize the signs of postpartum depression. It’s normal to be tired, overwhelmed, and cry sometimes. But, if you can’t take care of yourself and/or your baby, it’s a bigger concern. Moms should reach out immediately to providers if they are having trouble getting out of bed and functioning.
While you might be excited to dig into your baby “stuff” and even have a desire to buy more to ensure you have what you need, McKenney urges families to keep it basic.
“Websites and companies tell us we need to fill our homes with $5,000 worth of baby stuff. In reality we may never use most of these ‘must have’ items they recommend or use them for a short period of time and then store them to collect dust in our attic,” she said. “You don’t need to spend a lot of money to be prepared.”
She adds that some baby gear like jumpers and other devices can actually force a babies’ bodies into positions they aren’t ready for. It’s most important to hold them, keep them warm and fed — and let them play on the floor to allow them to explore their body and environment.
How can I get extra help in my ‘fourth trimester’?
After settling down with baby during your maternity leave, you may find that you need extra help after all of your visitors have departed. What many moms may not know is that you can hire a postpartum doula to help you adjust during the postpartum period known as the “fourth trimester.”
Although postpartum doulas do not have a medical background, they are experts in newborn care and behavior. Postpartum doulas often help moms after the first three months of birth. They answer questions about newborn care and feeding, make sure the new mom is eating well and stays hydrated, and assist with tasks like meal preparation, housework, and child care while moms nap, shower, or run errands, according to Darcy Sauers, a postpartum doula and the founder of Dover Doula in Dover.
“Throughout history when women had a baby the community came around and supported that family and helped with the birth and caring for the baby afterwards,” Sauers said. “Society is not set up that way anymore — often people are taking care of their new baby in total isolation.”
A doula’s role is to help by providing nonjudgmental physical and emotional support to moms in whatever ways they need. Sauers is also a certified lactation consultant and can help support breastfeeding moms, too. Although she supports her clients during the day, her partner provides overnight help to moms who might need assistance with night-time feedings, for example.
It’s important for moms to realize that there is no stigma to asking for help, she said, and that working harder at being a new parent doesn’t make it easier.
“The birth and postpartum experience is seared in your mind, you might as well make that time enjoyable,” Sauers said. “A doula can help you enjoy it all instead of making you feel like you are pushing and struggling.”
Other tips Sauers has for new moms:
- Cook and freeze meals ahead of time for easy-to-reheat meals
- Put the changing table in the living room
- Consider interviewing postpartum doulas before your baby is born
What should I include (or have included) on my baby registry?
Maybe you scanned random pieces of furniture at the department store or checked off a bunch of items on an online retailer’s website, but you still don’t find that you have quite what you need.
That’s fairly common, according to Kateri Kaloyanides, director of education at retailer Nini Bambini in Bedford.
“With my oldest I was walking through the aisles just scanning things, and you end up buying a million things you don’t need,” she said.
Nini Bambini offers parents specialty products in its boutique, including locally handmade items such as baby blankets and essential oils. Swaddles and creams for mom and carriers are some other products on the store shelves.
Kaloyanides, who teaches the newborn care and breastfeeding classes at the store, urges moms not to feel like they need to purchase every product at once.
“You have lots of time to set up the nursery and the baby doesn’t usually go in it until after a couple of months,” she said. “Having a safe sleep space is the most important thing; and if a mom is nursing, I recommend good nursing bras, a nursing pillow, and a pump. Beyond that, there is not a huge amount you need right away.”
One thing you should avoid is registering for one brand of any particular item. For example, if you order one brand of baby bottles and your baby doesn’t end up liking that bottle, you may end up with a box of bottles you’ll never use, she said.
“Some people have a closet of newborn-sized diapers that their babies never fit into,” Kaloyanides said.
Strollers, carriers, bassinets, and other big-ticket items can all be bought used, as well as clothes. At Nini Bambini, moms often purchase from one another and donate items. Breast pumps should be bought new, she said.
While there’s a lot to consider while you are planning for your baby to arrive, with a little preparation, you can get back to enjoying this special time.
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks has worked as a journalist and a marketing director, and now regularly writes for higher education and technology organizations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.