As you might have guessed by now, we are a bit obsessed with babies this week at #BornTODAY.
In the past several months, TODAY has welcomed a bevy of beautiful babes —Mila, Harper, Ava, Kate, Charlie Jane, Joseph, Jax, Lila and Liam, to name a few — and congratulated their dazed-and-delirious new parents.
With all those babies-on-the-brain, we figured our sleep-deprived colleagues – and new parents everywhere -- could use some tips to better navigate those initial days, weeks and months of baby’s first year.
Since baby advice comes in many forms -- what you wish you knew before; what you learned along the way; what you realized long after -- we asked some special friends of TODAY (who have either “been there, done that,” or are currently “there and doing!”) to give us their best counsel on a variety of topics.
TODAY host Al Roker has a stark warning for any parent who thinks they are READY for a new baby:
“Prepare for chaos and complete lack of control. There’s nothing that you have done before that can possibly prepare you for parenthood,” Roker said.
Willie Geist agrees that there are some totally unexpected challenges of being a new parent, such as “the sheer amount of assembly required when the baby comes.”
“You gotta build yourself a changing table, you gotta put the crib together, the stroller together. … At Ikea they hand you pile of lumber and say, ‘Go build a crib for your child.’ Nobody tells you that,” he says.
For brand new mom Jenna Wolfe, who had daughter Harper Estelle on Aug. 22, the best piece of advice she has received was direct and poignant:
“Feed her. Change her. Love her. Everything else will fall into place.”
It’s no surprise that sleep tops the list of concerns parents wish they had known more about.
Christy Turlington Burns, a mom of two and founder of Every Mother Counts, a maternal health organization, says sleep deprivation was one of the most difficult parts of being a new mom.
“The best advice I received was to sleep when baby sleeps and it's so true. A rested mother is a more relaxed mother and a more relaxed mommy is a more confident one,” Turlington-Burns says.
Michelle Duggar, mom of 19 and star of the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” says that same sleep advice worked for her, too. At least with baby number one.
“That’s the first real advice I remember and I took it ... when that baby was sleeping, I’d take a nap,” Duggar said, but adds, “When the 19th one comes along, oh boy, you need different advice.”
Duggar says she and husband Jim Bob now know that what matters most in parenting is connecting with kids’ hearts.
“Connect with them through heart to heart talks … talk about life, where they are at, and let them know you are there for them no matter what,” Duggar said.
If it’s not about their own sleep, new parents seek advice for how to get baby to sleep better and longer.
Rachel Campos Duffy, a mom of six, spokesperson for The LIBRE Initiative, and the wife of Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy, didn’t discover the secret to getting babies to sleep until her fourth child, when a friend lent her a co-sleeper, a bassinet that attached to her bed.
“Having the baby so close for breastfeeding and being able to go back to sleep without getting out of bed or worrying about rolling over if the baby was in our bed helped me sleep better,” she said. “With an infant – sleep is truly the new sex.”
Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and author of “The Happiest Baby on the Block” and a contributor to the parenting website Baby Center, said the best advice he got as a new parent was to always wake a sleeping baby. Karp’s tips:
“The #1 complaint of new parents is exhaustion. To get enough sleep parents need to start training their babies to be able to fall back asleep in the middle of the night (as long as they are not hungry). To fall back asleep babies need three things: 1.) swaddling, 2.) rumbly white noise, 3.) to be briefly awakened when they are put into their bed ... to give them the opportunity to learn how to put themselves to sleep without being in your arms or having a nipple in their mouth.”
For those first three months, everyone knows babies don’t do a whole lot more than eat and sleep and poop. Then those smiles start happening, and all of a sudden your little one is ready to play.
For Stephanie Decker, a mom of two who famously used her body to shield her kids while a tornado destroyed their Indiana home in 2012, playing with kids is a key to parenting, even when the kids are tiny babies.
“Kids don’t care if the house is perfect or if the laundry is done; they care if mom will have time to sit, play and cuddle with them. At the end of the day, all our kids want is to be loved and cherished.”
Linda Murray, global editor in chief of BabyCenter, says the best advice she got as a new parent was to “clean when the baby cleans.”
“In other words, don’t clean! Forget about housework, at least for the first few months. Focus on your baby and leave the vacuuming to someone else. If you can afford a house cleaner, it’s money well spent.”
Friends, many say, are another secret to surviving new parenthood.
Actress Brooke Shields, who experienced severe post-partum depression after the birth of her first child, says she had to learn to ask for help from others.
“I want to say to parents, if people offer you help, take it. Family, friends, anybody. “
Cindi Avila, mom of two daughters ages 3, and two months, and owner Green Goddess Public Relations in New York City, says shopping for that baby registry can be daunting, so it’s best to bring a friend who has done it before and can help you work through what you really need.
“Baby wipe warmers? Nope don't need those, do you really want your baby to get used to warm wipes?!?! A special bottle drying rack? Who has room for that in a N.Y. apartment? Not me! Tons of clothes in newborn size? Nope, they grow out of those in two weeks, such a waste! And the list goes on and on…a friend will help not only save you money, but also space.”
Pediatrician Alanna Levine, author of Raising a Self-Reliant Child, says the best advice she got as new parent came in the form of a list from an old friend.
“[It had] exactly what to buy and how much of each for everything from burp cloths to undershirts to a car seat to the nail scissors that my 11-year-old still uses. I passed that list on for many years afterwards.”
And friends aren’t just good for helping you babysit and shop. They can help you in ways you don’t know you will need, says Glennon Doyle Melton, a mom of three who authors the popular blog Momastery. Friends make up that village that everyone tells you it takes to raise a child, she says.
"No matter what “parenting philosophy” you choose, caring for a baby will be harder than you can imagine. That really is OK, because you can do hard things. The only way to make it easier is to talk to other honest moms about the hard. Find honest women to laugh and cry with. Honest moms who could use a friend are everywhere- in play groups, online, in the grocery store. Find them and then be brave enough to make the first move. Say hi. Ask for a date. Be honest. Use the hard to make a friend."
Now pay it forward. Share your best parenting advice on Facebook or Twitter at #BornTODAY.