A little over a year ago, my husband and I became parents. Before our daughter was born, neither of us had any experience with infants. It was a scary moment when the hospital staff helped us pack up our daughter and waved goodbye. Suddenly we were responsible for a tiny human who couldn’t talk, couldn’t hold up her own head, and depended on us for everything. No pressure, right?
When we got her home, it was a baptism by fire. Or as least it felt like that, because it was 100 degrees F and she was screaming. Removed from her perfectly climate-controlled hospital environment and thrown into the heat of summer, her little system was shocked and she was very unhappy. She let us know how she was feeling with a lot of angry crying and we did our best to soothe her. It was a process of trial and error, but eventually we figured out some good ways to calm her and help her adjust to her new world. (One of them was installing an air conditioner 😉 )
That was the start of our parenting adventure. I call it an adventure because it’s a journey full of twists and turns. Every day brings new challenges to overcome and new milestones to celebrate, which means that you, like your child, are always growing, changing, and learning new things.
I’ve learned so much in my first year as a parent, simply through the experience of caring for a tiny human. I’ve also learned a lot through research. For that reason, I wanted to share the top seven things that we learned about and tried this year. My hope is to inspire and encourage you and to share with you a few ways we were able to save some time, money, and effort in our first year of parenting.
Note: I’m a stay-at-home mom with a single child. (For now). Every child and every family are different, so the things that worked for us might not work for you and that’s okay. 🙂
1. The 5 S’s
Before we had our daughter, a parent at the daycare that I worked at lent my husband and I a video called The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. It was a true lifesaver. Based on his studies, Dr. Karp discovered that babies are calmer and happier when their parents create a “virtual fourth trimester” which mimics womb-like sensations. He developed a strategy which utilizes some techniques which he calls the 5 S’s to help relax babies and put them to sleep. The S’s he identifies are Swaddle, Side-Stomach Position, Shush, Swing, and Suck. These 5 S’s are easy to put into practice and they work. We loved them because they gave us the tools that we needed to soothe our daughter as she adjusted to her new environment. If you’re interested in learning more, check out this article here.
I love, love, love breastfeeding. Not only is it super nutritious for your little one, but it is so convenient! There are no formulas to mix in the middle of the night, no bottles to wash, and nothing extra to carry when you go to the store. But, it didn’t come easily to me or my daughter. I actually had a terrible start to breastfeeding because within the first week, my nipples were bruised and cracked because of a few bad latches. At some points I wanted to scream because it hurt so bad. It took a couple months for her latch to improve and my skin to heal. In the end it was worth it though and I’m glad that I pushed through the pain, but I can totally understand why some moms choose not to nurse. But, if you have the opportunity, I encourage you to try breastfeeding and stick out the hard parts because it pays off in reaping enormous health benefits for your baby, as well as saving you time and money.
3. Sleep Training
Oh, sleep training! I could sing its praises all day long. Sleep training is one of those topics that is very controversial, but the truth is that it’s not going to harm your baby and it will make you a much better parent because you will actually be able to feel human again. Sleep deprivation is not a good thing. Is sleep training hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Totally. I can’t emphasize that enough. We decided to sleep train our daughter around 4 months because I could no longer function on the amount of sleep I was getting. There were a couple of weeks where we went to church and I started crying when I walked in the door because I was so tired. A family doctor at our church recommended sleep training. We took her advice, and within a week our daughter was sleeping through the night. She was waking up more refreshed and happy, and so were we. Win!
4. Baby Sign Language
I first learned about baby sign language when I worked at the daycare. Even though I worked with the older toddlers, occasionally they would still sign “more” or “please” when they wanted something. When our daughter was born, we decided to try teaching her baby sign language. We started around six months. At the suggestion of Babywise, the first word we taught her was “please.” Honestly I think it was a mistake! Why? Because she signed please for everything, and sometimes it was difficult to figure out what she wanted! I think next time we will start with other words so that our little one will be able to communicate her needs better. Even so, I think teaching our daughter some sign language has led to less crying overall because she knows to express her needs in ways other than through tears. One thing to note: you might have to make up some of your own signs, because some of the standard signs are too difficult for younger babies to manage with their developing fine and gross motor skills. If you’re interested in baby sign, check out this page here.
5. Baby-Led Weaning
Does your baby beg you for sauerkraut, turnips or grapefruit? Ours does! And I give all the credit to baby-led weaning. Baby-led weaning is when you allow your child to self-feed using appropriate finger foods, rather than the traditional parent-feeding-child-puree approach. We started baby-led weaning around four or five months with our daughter and it worked out great for us. We bypassed store-bought purees and rice cereals and instead fed our daughter baby-sized bites of whatever we were eating. Not only did it save us time and money, but it exposed our daughter to new textures, tastes and colors. Not surprisingly, she is willing to eat almost anything including cauliflower, liver and balsamic vinegar. An additional benefit is that we know she is getting healthy vegetables, fats and proteins rather than a lot of carby, sugary mush from a jar. Learn more about baby-led weaning here.
6. Cloth Diapers
Even before our daughter was born, I knew I wanted to use cloth diapers. They are cheaper, better for the environment, and better for your baby’s bum because they don’t contain harmful chemicals. But, they do come with a learning curve and they add a few extra laundry days to your week. When we first brought our daughter home from the hospital, we used disposables for convenience sake. I didn’t need any extra trips into the basement while I was healing and I certainly didn’t need to figure out how to care for cloth diapers while I was caring for a tiny human. But after I started feeling better, (which took forever by the way, 10 weeks!), I made the switch to cloth diapers and I’m never turning back. We’ve run into various challenges along the way and had to do some troubleshooting with our wash routine, but it feels great to be saving money, reducing waste, and investing in our daughter’s health.
7. Elimination Communication (Sort of)
One thing that has made this cloth-diapering mama’s life so much better is elimination communication. If you’ve never heard the term before, it refers to the practice of naturally potty-training your children by learning their elimination cues and teaching that the toilet is the proper place for them to “do their duty,” so to speak. The learning curve for EC can be messy because it involves some scheduled diaper free time and observation. We tried this for a bit, but honestly I didn’t need any more towels to clean and it seemed like our daughter didn’t give a whole lot of cues. So we did a modified sort of EC instead, where we would place our daughter on the toilet after naps, after meals, and before diaper changes. Our daughter learned that the toilet was the best place for her BMs, and in the seven months or so since we started, we’ve only had to change a dozen or so poopy diapers. A bonus? Our daughter isn’t afraid of the toilet and she gets less diaper rashes. Totally worth the extra effort. (And mess.)
So there you have it! Those are the top seven things that saved us time and money, and made our first year with an infant so much easier. I hope they will be just as helpful for you as they were for us.
What are the tips and techniques that worked best for you in your first year of parenting?