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A baby is kind of like a new car…once you have one, you immediately start noticing everyone else who has one or is going to have one. As we round out the fifth year after graduation for my masters classmates, it seems like everyone has decided to jump on the baby train at the same time. Which is totally fine with me because now I can’t seem to shut up about motherhood and because baby showers are, in my opinion, way more fun than bridal showers. Probably because it’s more fun to watch someone open tiny feetie pajamas than, say, dishes. (Not that I don’t looooooove our Fiesta ware. But feetie pajamas are still cuter.)
I’m going to let you in on a secret. If you want to give the BEST baby shower gifts for a pending mother, bring something for her. Not that the baby clothes and gadgets aren’t useful and ahhhh-dorable (I think since he was born we have yet to buy a single article of clothing or toy or book for Fire Monkey with our own money) but Mama tends to get overlooked and she is, after all, the one who will be doing most of the hard work.
I started making a list of postpartum must-haves and it ended up being mostly a list of things to make breastfeeding work. Because if you are exclusively breastfeeding, that is literally all. you. do. for about the first month. And possibly beyond depending on how hungry your baby is. (Fire Monkey became marvelously efficient at eating around 6 weeks so I was finally able to get out of the rocking chair at that point.)
Here are Mama’s Must-Haves for a successful* first month with baby:
*success defined as not throwing baby or partner out the window and/or not running away from home
My Brest Friend nursing pillow: The gruff but oh-so-magical lactation consultant who helped me survive the early days of nursing told me in no uncertain terms that Boppys were ridiculous and I needed My Brest Friend instead. I had sewn myself a slightly misshapen Boppy but had mostly been building a small pillow fort using our bed pillows up until that point, so I didn’t have much of a comparison point. After trying the hospital-grade, plastic-covered version at her office, I was convinced and got myself a gently used one the next day. (Though honestly I was so overwhelmed with gratitude to her for helping us with our latch that I would have done anything she told me.) The Brest Friend is firmer than a Boppy and has an adjustable waistband so it keeps Fire Monkey in position better. I have eaten meals and written blog posts (ahem) with him nursing supported only by the pillow.
Lansinoh lanolin: The hospital gave me a mini-tube of Medela lanolin and I registered for and received a crunchy organic nipple butter from Earth Mama Angel Baby, but I bought the Lansinoh a week after delivering at the advice of an experienced mom and it wins hands-down for me. The texture is a bit tackier than the Medela formula but it’s less prone to smearing everywhere and somehow just seemed to work better at healing.
Cloth breast pads: I didn’t bother buying breast pads until after my milk came in and I got tired of flooding my shirts at every feeding. My pump came with some disposable nursing pads and seriously, they are sandpaper compared even to the most basic cloth pads. I got the organic cotton set of six for about six dollars, but I’m sure bamboo or other natural fibers would work just as well. (You can also easily make your own but I didn’t think about it until too late.) Since I was doing laundry every few days anyway, it was easy to throw these in the wash too. I stopped leaking so much after about 8 weeks but they’re still nice to have around during the first morning feed or when I have to miss a feeding.
Hand breast pump: I should note that this is one item I haven’t actually used personally, but I imagine it would be handy to have. (Eh? Eh? See what I did there?) Since I’m staying home for the time being, I only pump if he misses a feeding or sometimes when I wake up super full for no apparent reason. The electric double pump I got from my insurance is nice but sometimes I would just like to express an ounce or two without hooking up the entire apparatus. I learned to hand-express well enough but a hand pump would probably make it easier. (Apparently you can also make one from a juice jar but ain’t nobody got time for dat.)
Nursing tanks and tops: Because I was pregnant mostly during the fall and winter, I didn’t buy much maternity clothing and instead survived with tunics and leggings. (I also inherited a good portion of my maternity stash from a friend.) So it didn’t really occur to me that my wardrobe malfunctions would continue AFTER the baby was born, and I came to the unpleasant realization that I had far too few nursing friendly tops. (Crew necks bad. V-necks and camisoles good. Guess which category I purged from my wardrobe when I went back to teaching.) I found the one nursing tank I had to be my favorite since I could wear it around without an additional nursing bra, which is great because I still haven’t found one of those that I like either. Some pregnancy tops, especially those that are wrap style, can do double duty as nursing wear too. So if you’re looking for a baby shower gift, grab a gift card to a maternity store or convert some tank tops if you’re crafty. (Again, ain’t nobody got time for dat now.)
Lactation consultant visit: Since most hospitals probably don’t offer gift cards, just give mama-to-be some money to put toward a visit to the lactation consultant. Mine was worth her weight in good and those three visits were worth every penny, but it wasn’t free.
Bengkung belly bind: This is probably the best gift I bought myself. Bengkung is a custom originating in southeast Asia that is meant to promote physical and spiritual healing after childbirth. Wrapping ten yards of fabric around yourself may seem like the last thing you want to do when you’ve just had a baby, but I gotta say I loved having the extra support when my waistline muscles had the approximate consistency of cooked spaghetti, and it felt good to just take ten minutes for myself every morning. I didn’t wear it religiously but I used it for about six weeks postpartum and sporadically after that. That I was in decent shape before I got pregnant, maintained some semblance of an exercise routine during pregnancy, and breastfed a hungry hungry hippo probably let me regain my waistline more than anything else but the bengkung helped too. I bought mine from Wholistic Roots on Etsy and it came with a firming herbal paste.
Babywearing device: While I am not fanatical about building a stash of $250 woven wraps like many of the moms in our local babywearing group, I am pretty evangelical about the benefits of wearing. First, you get the use of your hands back. Second, your babywearing device is basically a magic sleep machine that lets you rock your child to sleep while doing chores or dancing to Beyonce. Third, it is an easy way to transport your child in places where a stroller isn’t practical. We ended up with a Beco Gemini, which has more structure and backpack-like straps and buckles, and a Baby K’tan, which is like a long stretchy wrap without all the length and tying and other things that made my child angry.
Nightlight: Science Guy’s co-workers got us a small dim lamp that we ended up putting next to our bed for awhile so we didn’t have to turn full lights on blazing when I got up at night to nurse. We also have a constellation night light turtle that my department got us for Fire Monkey’s room. We installed the Twilight app on our smartphones, which dims and reddens the white balance of the screen to not completely destroy our sleep hygiene. Would it be better if I just didn’t look at my phone when I nursed at night, probably, but what else are you going to do at 3am? After awhile I did learn to doze while Fire Monkey ate and now we’re sleeping through the night, which unfortunately is not a gift I can tell you where to find.
Amazon Prime: We used this a few times to replenish our stash of disposable diapers and get a few other necessities in the early days when I technically wasn’t supposed to drive and Science Guy probably shouldn’t have either on account of sleep deprivation. Some moms swear by it and get everything from baby supplies to groceries delivered to them. If you don’t gift an Amazon Prime subscription, offer to run out for essentials in the early weeks when an expedition to the store will seem too daunting for new parents.
So there you have it. Any or all of these gifts will instantly garner you the Best Baby Shower Gift prize.* I’m glad I heeded people’s advice that babies really don’t need that much in the early days, just milk and diapers and a safe place to sleep. Give Mom a way to provide those things more easily and she’ll thank you for it.
*not a real prize
Best wishes for all the moms-to-be,