Oh baby, baby: Hospital bag for the birth

One definite lesson learned revolves around the hospital bag. Typically, you would want to have that packed 4-6 weeks before your scheduled due date, since some babies decide they are too eager to meet mom and dad and cannot possibly stay in their cozy womb any longer. Birth is exciting and stressful enough. So when it happens a couple of weeks earlier than scheduled, you really won’t need additional things on your to-do list other than the big event itself. Certainly no “quick, let’s pack a bag” action.

What is most important though is that despite hospital bag preparation being a somewhat important task, you will always need less than you packed. A lot of women, myself included, check into the hospital for the birth giving the impression they plan to permanently live there and have thus seemingly brought all their belongings. Don’t worry too much about forgetting something, because you will not be there all that long if everything goes the optimal way, so a couple of nights at most, and anything that you did forget and can’t live without can be brought by your partner or a relative/friend.

Btw: ask if it is possible for your partner to stay with you and the baby overnight in a family room. The first 24 hours are very precious moments and allow you to bond as a family.

So here is my hospital bag list based on my personal experience (anticipating you stay in the hospital 2-3 extra nights):

Clothing for mom

  • 3 extra-large t-shirts (more if you stored a lot of water, as a substantial amount will be sweated out in the first couple of days after the birth).
  • 2 pairs of very comfy PJ pants.
  • 2 nursing bras.
  • 3-5 panties that are one size larger than your normal ones (to fit the hospital pads).
  • 1 cardigan.
  • 1 set of clothes that fit you 5 months into the pregnancy (opt for comfort over style, since you are most likely not a celebrity who is at the risk of being photographed by a lifestyle magazine while leaving the hospital, meaning a pair of sweat pants is probably making you feel better than jeans).
  • A couple of extra comfy socks.
  • Slippers or any type of shoe that is easy to get on without too much bending over or tying.
  • Optional but surprisingly handy: bring an older buttoned down shirt from your partner (assuming his frame is larger than yours), as it is comfy like a PJ shirt and can be easily opened to breastfeed. Plus – but this might be a personal Mareike thing – I love wearing my partner’s buttoned-down shirts.

Optional: Clothing for dad (you know, since a birth can be long and if he can stay overnight)

  • 1 set of clothing to change.
  • PJs (if dad stays overnight in a family room).
  • Personal care items to freshen up after the birth or in case the dad can stay overnight.

Items for your baby

  • 2 onesies.
  • 2 pajamas.
  • 1 jacket or outdoor piece for the trip home (unless the baby is born on a hot summer day).
  • Baby hat.
  • Baby car seat (only bring that on the day you actually take the baby home, ideally simply leave it in your car) (optional: light blanket to tuck your baby in if s/he’s born in a colder month for the journey home).

Cosmetics and personal care for mom

  • Lip balm (for the time in the delivery room).
  • Hairband (for the time in the delivery room).
  • Wash cloth.
  • Towel (although some hospitals do provide them, so ask first).
  • Tooth brush and tooth paste.
  • Hair brush.
  • Facial care items.
  • Shower gel and shampoo.
  • Dry shampoo (that might sound weird at first and I never saw it on any hospital bag checklist, but in case you are unable to take a shower (for instance if you end up needing a cesarean or are simply too sore to feel capable of standing in a shower), but want to freshen your hair up, I definitely recommend it).
  • Wet wipes (as everything will be veeery sore and they do not provide these in hospitals and the first bathroom visit is terrifying enough as it is).

Documents

  • Large envelope or folder to hold all documents listed here.
  • Maternity log (will be needed by the hospital team handling your birth to know the history of your pregnancy).
  • Health insurance card/documents.
  • ID card.
  • A bit of cash (in case you want to visit the hospital cafeteria).
  • Varies by country: documents to register the birth in the hospital (if applicable).

Items to support you during birth

  • Energy bar and a couple of snacks (a birth can be a long process and you don’t want the dad-to-be wandering around the hospital at 4am to find a vending machine).
  • Water bottle (they do have water in hospitals, but it’s sometimes helpful to have some right there with you, without having to call a nurse first, as you will be alone in the delivery room for the majority of the time with your partner until the action truly starts).

Various

  • Camera or smartphone (fully charged and either equipped with enough storage space for all the gazillions of pictures you will take or with an app to an online database).
  • Phone charger.

 

What you do not need to bring in 99% of cases:

Just to be certain, check in with your hospital of choice to see if these apply in their case

  • Baby sleeping bag (provided by the hospital).
  • Baby diapers (provided by the hospital).
  • Nursing pillow (provided by the hospital).
  • Hygienic pads for the mother (provided by the hospital).
  • Night gown (while it’s a nice idea in theory, in reality you will not sit or walk around in a night gown, more handy is a cardigan as it will also allow you to feel a bit more “dressed”. After all, you are not in the hospital because you are ill, you “just” gave birth).
  • Books (a lot of checklists contain books, but let’s get real. These are the first moments you get to spend with your little munchkin outside of the womb. It’s a crazy emotional rollercoaster ride and fascinating to no end. I doubt you will need to read a thriller or a romantic novel to entertain yourself. Baby watching, baby cuddling, baby everything is usually all you will feel like doing).
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Oh baby, baby: Things no one tells you about newborns

As if suddenly holding your own baby in your arms wouldn’t be mind-blowing enough for parents, nature thought it would be really funny to throw in a couple of additional awesome stunts. You will find a lot on the internet with regards to surprising baby facts, like that you will still look pregnant for a while or about baby’s first poop (don’t google unless you are pregnant). So since that’s all covered, I listed the things that no one really tells you prior, but that everyone you will tell about after any of the things listed below will happen as in “Ah, yeah right, ours did that too” like a Monday-night-quarterback. So may this blog post be like a pre-game prep.

  1. Sneezing: Babies sneeze. A lot that is. Your initial reaction being: “OMG my baby’s got a cold.” No, it doesn’t. Babies have to sneeze regularly to humidify their nostrils. Being German I came to the only logical conclusion “This baby of mine needs to be dressed waaaay warmer” (see point 3 on this list), while her dad insisted that she is just fine and there is nothing to worry. Turns out she was indeed fine and that sneezing is just part of this whole baby package. After all sneezing is also just really cute if done by a tiny bundle of joy.
  2. Baby girl’s first period: Female babies can actually get their period in the first couple of days and it’s totally normal. They told us about it in the hospital during the first initial check-up right after birth, but my overwhelmed brain didn’t process that info, so I had a mini meltdown when I spotted blood in the diaper. Luckily my partner paid enough attention, so he solved that mystery quickly. Still it was something I never knew about. The reason for the period is (as so often when it comes to pregnancy related things) the hormones your little girl was exposed to while being a womby (a womb inhabitant that is).
  3. Babys are more robust than you think: Chances are they feel a lot less cold than you think and you might overdress them in the beginning. Chances are also that you will experience a lot of anxiety when it comes to going out with your baby for a stroller walk or to a café due to fearing overstimulation. However chances are also that you worry too much and it’s gonna be just fine. Unless a place is really too noisy or too crowded with potentially ill people (like during cold seasons), it actually does your baby a lot of good to go out. However the general advice you will receive, is to exert caution. If you feel like going out for a walk, do so by all means. There is no rule of thumb. You don’t have to keep the baby indoors for a magical 2 weeks or a month, unless it makes YOU feel more comfortable to do so. That being said, babies often face a few circulation challenges while their system gets up to speed, causing them to have cold feet and hands. As long as the rest of your baby’s body is warm and pink and they are not severely underdressed (aka no socks despite the fact that it’s winter), you are on the safe side. There is the saying to always dress your baby with one more layer than yourself. While that might be sensible in winter, it might be overheating the baby when it’s a hot summer day. So make common sense your guideline.
  4. The fussy hours: A lot of newborns go through the daily routine of fussy hours for a couple of weeks until it randomly stops again. Like clockwork your baby will start screaming and crying around the same time and not stop for what feels like a couple of hours, usually in the evening hours. No, they are not in severe pain, no, you didn’t do anything wrong. They are just coping with their day and the fact that really everything is new and crazy. A baby is on a gigantic psychedelic trip, since everything is a first. At this point everyone will point out a list of suuuper helpful tips on how to cope with that and help your baby calm down, often initiated with “This always worked with you ours. Without failure.”. Chances are that it didn’t ALWAYS work. Chances are as well that some trick works one day and completely fails the other. So after having done the general check- up round of feeding, diaper and simply holding your baby to soothe it, you can try additional things like swaddlin, tummy massages or this mindblowingly effective manoever. But there will be days when none of this works and all you can do is simply hold your baby, let it feel your heart beat and let the crying rain over you like a thunder storm that you simply have to endure. This too shall pass. Try to keep your cool and also as a couple, try to not get frustrated with each other. None of you has done anything to cause it.
  5. Every baby is different: Well maybe that is not suuuch a big revelation in theory, but in practice it is hard to hold back from comparing your babies development to others. Truth be told, even the most reasonable people can suddently become competitive when it comes to their offspring. While there is a general guideline when your baby should be able to do X or Y, it really is just that: a general guideline. Everyone develops in their own pace. So yes, there might be babies that hold up their head up really early and others that seem to take unusually long to respond to dangling objects and that’s all fine. Don’t worry. At the end of the day each baby will turn into a normally functioning grown-up, it’s just they each do it in their own unique timeline. So I can only strongly encourage to do yourself a favor and don’t compare too much – neither with checklists, nor with other babies. If anything is off the norm, your doctor will tell you. Just because someone says it’s like this and that, doesn’t make it any more true for your baby. You and only you will know YOUR baby best.
  6. Letting others hold your baby: Some moms experience severe anxiety when someone else holds their baby – and yes, that can include her own partner. Others are completely at ease with others holding the mini-me, even for a longer time period. Both is completely normal. You carried your baby in you for 40 weeks, so being separated can hurt emotionally, even if your baby is just in someone else’s arms and a mere 3 feet away. At the same time, don’t think there is anything wrong with your mommy instinct or love and affection for your baby if you don’t mind someone else holding him or her. The thing is: you cannot possibly know what type you will be before actually being in the situation and this can come as a surprise to you. The toughest woman who thought she lacks motherly instincts can turn into an envious hyena when the baby giggles with joy while grandma cuddles her/him. Others might think they would be such a mommy lion who will want to keep the baby for just themselves and find themselves surprised at how easy they find it to give their munchkin to a babysitter. Unless you shield your baby away from everyone when they’ve got several month on their belt or if you randomly hand your baby to strangers on the street, chances are you are completely within the norm and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  7. Baby acne: Your baby might get a few pimples in the first couple of weeks. This doesn’t mean there is lack of hygiene in your household (unless we are talking about severe rashes appearing on their face) and it’s simply the results of hormones (yip, here they are again) working in your baby and the fact that there is always a degree of pollution and debris in the air.
  8. Baby eyes – discharge and tears: Some babies have a cream colored discharge out of the tear dugs of their eyes. In fact, sometimes there can be quite a lot flowing out. Unless their eyes are flaming red and swollen or your baby has a fever, this is all quite normal and nothing to worry about. Most of the times it’s harmless mucus. When in doubt, ask your doctor or your midwife. Most of the time all you can do is simply take a clean dry pad, soak it in warm water and wipe it off. Do NOT use black tea or chamomile tea, even though it’s often recommended, because the tiny cut leaf residue might actually irritate the eyes. Sometimes this discharge process can however open another challenging route to travel: baby tears. Nothing rips you apart internally quite like tears flowing down your baby’s cute face.
  9. Baby weight: In the first couple of days your baby will lose weight, because even if you breastfeed them within the regular recommended cycles, it most likely will take a couple of days for the regular breast milk to shoot in (even if your breasts might already feel like it did). So while your baby might get only a few milliliters out on every feeding session and might sometimes feel constantly hungry, don’t worry. They can lose up to 10 percent of their birth weight in those first couple of days and might be unsettled because they are indeed craving food. The good news is: they are most likely not starving. The milk will come, especially if you keep on breastfeeding. If you are worried about it, ask your midwife or a nurse or doctor for advice and a check-up, as of course there are cases where there is a physical challenge present like your babies cheek muscles not being strong enough to properly suck. But mostly it’s just a matter of a few days and nature has prepared for it. However, it can still catch you off guard, despite knowing about it and thus technically being prepared. It makes you inevitably feel anxious when you fear your baby is hungry.

Oh baby, baby: Fun gadgets

Oh, wouldn’t life be boring without the ability to purchase unnecessary things that make it fun and exciting? Here are my favorite items that you will not need, but may want. I certainly did. First and foremost: with anything that is NOT a survival essential, I strongly recommend to ask friends and family before any purchase if one of them has the desired gadget/item at home and if you can try it out with your baby. Why? Because it saves you money and frustration to make sure your baby likes it and that it works for your family first. That might be less necessary with stuff that is relatively cheap (like baby sunglasses), but with bigger purchases like a swing, it definitely makes sense.

One fun thing for most babies is being in the water. Whether it reminds them of their time as belly inhabitants or it’s simply the fact that everything is all cozy and warm in the bath, it seems like the little munchkins can’t get enough. One way to enhance that is with the Floatie (click here). This is a cute neck ring that ensures your baby’s head stays afloat while s/he is swimming in the bathtub or when you take them to the pool or a lake. While it ain’t something for the first months, it is certainly a fun gadget as soon as your baby is more or less able to hold up his or her head. It is also a great thing for bonding time with dad. In our family anything water related is dad territory, as we see it as important that each parent has their own personal time with our daughter and since dads can’t breastfeed, swimming and bathing are great, positive activities to bond.

A shocking truism is that no matter how much we love our babies, even the most dedicated mom needs to take a shower or prepare a meal so that she doesn’t starve. At least from the perspective of your little munchkin, this can be a big no-no. This will be less the case in the very first weeks, but as soon as your mini-me is getting a little more active around week 4 or 5, you will want a strategy to soothe and occupy your baby. Enter the portable baby swing into the equation. This will gently rock your youngest family member while you borrow a couple of minutes for yourself. We have this one by Ingenuity and so far our baby is as smitten with it as we are. Since it is portable, you can set it up wherever you currently are – kitchen, living room, nursery, etc. I recommend getting a portable one, as some options are set up being fixed to the ceiling or are not really mobile. They are usually only good for the first six months, so you might want to look into getting one second-hand.

 


Oh baby, baby: 10 steps for taking the perfect biometrical passport picture for your baby

One of the beautiful things of being a parent is the ability to discover the world anew through the eyes of your little baby. This includes taking your baby on trips abroad and introducing them to travelling. Granted, they might not be fully able to indulge in the experience when they are very young, but I believe in the mantra “Happy and relaxed parents equal a happy and relaxed baby”. One thing that is not contributing to a relaxed state of mind however is the question how to get your baby to pose without movement or giggles for a biometrical passport picture to enable your traveling. While some countries are fine issuing travel documents without pictures, the US at least requires a biometrical picture for baby passports as well. This naturally makes you ask yourself how to approach this. To spare other parents the photo booth experiments gone wrong journey we took at first, I wanted to share our solution for this challenge, which is also recommended by the US State Department aka acceptable for the task at hand.

You need

  • A white or light cream colored blanket or bed sheet without pattern
  • A rattle or a set of keys
  • A smartphone
  • Patience
  • A baby

Step by step

  1. Dress your baby so that the neck area is free and the full face is visible on the picture later
  2. Lay the blanket or bed sheet on a flat surface. I recommend using your bed as the head of your baby will ever so slightly sink into the mattress which enhances the chances of him/her looking straight up into the camera
  3. Check your phone camera settings to ensure the pictures are all in high resolution (min 300 dpi)
  4. Place your baby in the middle of the blanket and make sure there is plenty of blanket space around the baby to allow for an all-white background
  5. Place yourself with the camera directly above the baby
  6. Make sure you hold your smartphone in a straight angle from above and that part of your babies shoulder area is in the picture
  7. Use the a rattle of a set of keys at hand to grab the baby’s attention
  8. Fire away with your smartphone, take at least 10 pictures in rectangular and horizontal, so you get at least one or two useable pictures out of the session and don’t have to redo it
  9. Upload the picture to a passport photo website like this one – this page offers a free service as well as a paid one and allows you to rotate the pictures ever so slightly until the eyes of your baby are perfectly aligned with the edges of the photo and to zoom in and out until the head fills the picture in the required proportion. Make sure to preselect the right size and format required in your case
  10. Either send the digital photo to the passport issuing authority for your country or print it at home or in a store

Oh baby, baby: Reclaiming your body postpartum

Everybody and every body is different, and so is the time it takes to recover from giving birth and shedding the weight we put on during the pregnancy. I had gained a whopping 21 kilograms/46 pounds, which meant that I added one third of my original weight to the scale. And while I lost most of his extra weight within the first 3 months after the birth, it is still a long journey to bring the body back to its initial, pre-preggo state.

 

One of the most effective and time-saving ways of redefining your waistline is hula hoop. And not the simple hoop we used as kids, but a weighted fitness hula hoop. The most amazing thing about it: 15 minutes per day is enough. The second most amazing thing: it strengthens and trains your inner abdominal muscles and works on the exact part of your body that has been most affected by the pregnancy. The hoop exercise works on your inner core and thus gifts you with a nicely trained middle. After all, fit is the new skinny! I already worked with a fitness hoop 2-3 times a week before the pregnancy, in addition to my gym workouts, and I can only wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone and every mom as an awesome way to trim your core to get that hourglass figure. This is the one I am using. It comes in 3 different weight options. Besides the added weight, it also has a wave design, so while spinning the ring also massages the love handles in your middle to trigger fat-burning in that area. However, only start this workout if your doctor gives you the okay to work on your abs again, otherwise you could do yourself more harm than good.

Do not get disheartened if it takes you a few attempts to get the hang of how to keep the hoop up. It’s not that you forgot all your skills from childhood (assuming you learned) or that your hips are too stiff, but merely that the added weight of the hoop requires a tad bit more training and muscle work to make it work. Click here for a great tutorial video.

P.S. Not its original purpose, but moms usually tend to get neck and shoulder pain from constantly lifting, shifting and holding a growing and not very cooperative baby. One way to help you loosen up those stiff muscles and ease the pain is to hold the hula hoop in front of you like a giant steering wheel and twist and turn it for a couple of minutes as if you have to swiftly maneuver a large, heavy semi-truck through an obstacle course.

Disclaimer: Before starting any type of postpartum workout ask your midwife or ob-gyn if it’s safe for you to start exercising or if there are any restrictions in your case. They need to check if there is any diastasis recti. This is vitally important, otherwise any exercise you engage in is actually doing your body more harm than good, especially in the long run and sometimes many years down the road. Basically it is all about making sure that the two abdominal muscles are reconnected. Do not do any ab training before this split that’s created during pregnancy is closed. This can take anything between a couple of weeks or several month depending on your body – so there is no rule of thumb on how fast yours abdominal integration will happen. Give it the time it needs. Just because a friend of yours took 5 month to recover, it might be still fine for you to restart after 3 weeks. Again every body is different, so check what applies in your case.