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What I wish I knew before I had my baby

Sep. 23, 2012 at 12:03 PM ET

Throughout the summer, LearnVest has asked five amazingly accomplished moms to chime in on the topics that are near and dear to all moms' hearts. So far, they've chimed in on bullyingthe ways we could be holding girls back from reaching their full potential and the old-school habits we should be teaching our kids to ensure their success. Today, they'll be discussing the things they wish they knew about parenting before they became moms.

Read what they have to say about their own take on the topic, then get to know them better by joining the discussion here!

With pregnancy comes an avalanche of unsolicited parenting advice.

Some people — your family, coworkers, the passenger next to you on the bus — just can’t help themselves. For example, a woman at my old job stopped by my desk every day to say things like, "You’ll never sleep again!” (actually that’s true) and, "Never leave your baby alone!" on the bed, changing table, fill in the blank.

After a while, you start to wish your belly wasn’t such a beacon for well-meaning big mouths. The thing about raising a kid is that women can't truly understand what it's like until they actually have one.

That said, here are a few things I wish I actually had known before I had my baby:

1. Cozy is convenient

Babies come with a lot of gear: Strollers, swings, bouncers, activity gyms, bottles, Boppys, car seats and high chairs. As gifts arrived and baby’s new furniture got assembled in our small one-bedroom apartment, I could feel the walls closing in on me.

Where would I practice yoga? How could we puzzle my husband’s golf clubs into the corner where we kept the boxes of wipes and diapers? Would we survive our cramped quarters until we traded in the apartment for a house in the 'burbs?

Like most families living in Manhattan, we made it work — while dreaming about our future digs and watching a lot of "House Hunters." I coped by taking frequent walks to the park, putting some belongings in storage (aka my parents’ basement) and buying toys that I could fold up and tuck away. But now that we’ve moved into a two-story colonial, I realize that apartment living was actually the ideal way to cohabitate during my son’s first five months — no racing up and down the steps to retrieve a rogue pacifier or make a midnight bottle. When your changing table, dishwasher and couch are all within 600 square feet, baby chores are a breeze.

2. Organic overload

While I was pregnant, I fantasized about giving my son an au natural childhood. An idyllic youth untainted by chemicals, pesticides, synthetic fabrics or off-gassing.

Then I went shopping.

Organic is everywhere — bibs, bottles, baby carriers; even spoons made out of corn — and it’s almost always more expensive, especially when it comes to clothing. And unlike food products, the fabric industry isn’t regulated. Manufacturers might label a onesie with just one stitch of untreated fabric as organic. I splurged on a (mostly) organic mattress, which I like more for its firmness than its materials. If buying organic is important to you, then buy organic baby food. Because once baby starts rolling and crawling and socializing, it’s harder and harder to control what he comes in contact with.

(We've covered organic stuff for baby before: Check out this piece about how to buy guilt-free, affordable organic clothing for your kids, see how Jessica Alba is shaking up the eco-baby industry here and read this for the easy way to keep your baby toxin free.)

3. Mommy and me for free

Soon after my son was born, my husband began to freak out about college tuition. I, on the other hand, fretted about the crazy cost of baby music classes, many of which required us to pay tuition for a semester-long block of classes. My singing voice would have to do, I thought.

Then, when my son was around four months, I discovered that many mommy and baby organizations, like Gymboree, offer free trial classes. A friend even found a gratis infant gymnastics class for babies up to 6 months. If you’re still wary of paying for playtime, try free story hour at your local library or start your own playgroup.

4. Step away from that cute romper

When you’re nesting, it’s hard to resist buying for baby. Every teeny tiny piece of apparel had me sighing and saying, "Awwwww." But before you snap up that pint-sized designer fedora, remember that baby will probably outgrow it before you remember to snap a picture. And aside from basics like onesies and pajamas, your little one’s wardrobe will likely be furnished entirely by friends and relatives for at least the first six months. I made the mistake of stocking up on cute little towels with animal hoods. My son will need to bathe right away, I thought (of course, I only gave him a sponge bath a few times a week in the beginning). Then I promptly received 10 adorable hooded towels as gifts, most of which I’ve never used thanks to my trusty washing machine.

(Check out the other money mistakes a first-time mom made here.)

5. Work-from-home woes

When I quit my job at a magazine to stay at home with my son, I promised myself I’d bolster the family income with freelance gigs. My husband naively imagined I’d be churning out stories during my maternity leave. While I knew that was never going to happen, I assumed I’d be tapping away at my computer soon after. I’ve written a few articles here and there, but trying to craft publishable sentences while baby is fussing on his floor mat is no easy feat. Doing real work, for me anyway, means hiring a babysitter (which isn’t always cost effective), writing late at night (and trying not to zone out in front of the monitor) or putting my son down for an extra-long nap. I’ve learned to pace myself and say no to some assignments, even when my ambition is screaming at me to say yes. (If you're thinking of quitting your own job, check out these seven things every mom should know before she does so.)

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