Despite being planned, nothing truly prepared me for my first baby. Of course I read all the books and trolled all the parenting sites, but I never felt fully confident in my mothering abilities once my daughter arrived. Two and a half years later, when our son was born, it was different. There were ways my first baby helped prepare me for my second, and I definitely felt I had a better handle on being a mom to a newborn. Then again, he turned out to have a totally different personality than his older sister, so I still had to figure most of it out all over again.
Still, there are some aspects of having a newborn that feel pretty universal, and I can only say that because I’ve had more than one kid. Their basic needs were the same, and my basic instincts were the same: I wanted to keep them safe and happy and nothing else motivated me more in those first few months of their lives.
If I didn’t also have a toddler running around, I probably would have enjoyed my second baby’s newborn stage more than my first kid’s. However, it was only because I had a toddler while my son was an infant that I was able to relax about certain aspects of caring for a newborn. I only wish I didn’t have to divide my time and energy when he was born. His older sister had taught me so much about what really matters in those first few months, and I was a more confident mother of a newborn when my son was born. Unfortunately, I was also the most exhausted version of myself.
Other than counting on being sleep-deprived, here are some ways my first baby helped prepare me for my second (and, honestly, helped my husband and I decide that we could even handle a second kid):
By Cluster Feeding
Nothing builds up your stamina for motherhood than a wailing infant demanding to be fed every hour. Luckily, this routine didn’t last more than a few days with my newborn daughter, but it did help me manage my expectations when it came to breastfeeding my second baby. I knew not to rely on having a couple of hours between nursing sessions, since his sister had been so demanding about eating a couple of years earlier.
By Ending Up In The Emergency Room When She Was 6 Weeks Old
One night — New Year’s Eve, to be exact — when she was not even 2 months old, my daughter was not able to keep anything down and the pediatrician recommended we take her to the ER. I have never been so afraid. I had to nurse her so the staff could witness how she would upchuck immediately after. So not only was I desperate to stop my daughter from being in any pain, but I was then scrutinized for how I fed her to see what in the process of breastfeeding her was causing her repeated vomiting. After having to take her to get a sonogram so they can view her digestive tract, while I bent over her to feed her, it was determined she had a bad cold and we just had to kind of wait it out for the next day or so.
The experience of your child being wheeled through a hospital on New Year’s Eve, amidst the passed out drunks and other ill bodies in gurneys lining the halls, was something I would wish upon no parent. I have never felt more helpless.
When we discovered that my second child had a deadly nut allergy, and we rushed him to urgent care as he broke out in hives and began to swell, it was just as horrible, but at least it wasn’t a brand new feeling. I had been this anxious before. I had been this scared before. I recognized these feelings and knew they were temporary. He got a shot, stayed at the doctor’s office for observation, and was dismissed with a clean bill of health, and a prescription for an Epi Pen and follow up allergy testing.
And I have not had to take my kids to the ER in the last years. (Of course, I’ve probably just jinxed myself now.)
By Never Napping In Her Crib
My daughter napped in her stroller. Period. On rainy days, we’d wheel her around the apartment until she drifted off. This was not only inconvenient, but bad for my carpeting. So I vowed that my second kid would nap in his crib. I was adamant about that, insisting we be home by nap time so he could be put in his own bed. This worked great, except for the fact that our schedules were dictated by his naps and we could never go anywhere between the hours of one and three in the afternoon. Oops.
By Torturing Me With Her Moro Reflex
My daughter would flail her arms out with a jolt every time I placed her down to sleep. She’d wake herself up, cry, I’d pick her up, soothe her, and gently (not to mention super-slowly), start the whole process of setting her down again. The Moro Reflex is just something babies outgrow after a couple of moths but, until then, it forced me to re-think my whole strategy of putting her to sleep. I had to press her against me the whole time I was bending over her bed to place her down. I never let the pressure of my body decrease as her back slowly made contact with her mattress. I’d lie there, pressing on her, and then, centimeter by centimeter, slowly raise myself off her so she wouldn’t detect a difference in pressure. It was like tantric baby yoga, and lord help me if I had to pee or if the phone was ringing when I was taking my sweet time putting her down.
When my son was born, I didn’t even attempt to put him down quickly. I just assumed the position so that he wouldn’t freak himself off with that Moro Reflex.
By Surviving When I Left Her Alone On Her Play Mat For Five Minutes
I was paranoid about leaving my infant for a few minutes to look up at the dangling soft toys on her play mat. Whether it was to get my coffee, or put on underwear after a shower, I had a lot of trouble thinking it was OK that I left the room, even though she was perfectly safe on her mat since she wasn’t rolling over yet.
Learning that she could actually be left alone for a few minutes (and probably not even realize I was gone), paved the way for my bravery in leaving my second baby alone on his mat, though this rarely happened, since his sister had grown to be an active toddler by then and you can’t trust one of those.
By Projectile Vomiting And Not Crying About It
As a parent, it is horrifying to witness my tiny infant spewing vomit at a force that sends it clear across the room. One time, she threw up when she was on her back, and it completely covered her face. She just blinked and stared up at me through the mess. I may have freaked out, but she was pretty chill about these episodes. The second time around, when my son hurled like that, I knew to play it off like it was no big deal, so as not to upset him.
I was no less thrilled about the clean-up with my second kid. That gets old immediately.
By Hating Her Baby Sling
I don’t know what it was about the sling, but my firstborn detested it. While she always preferred being held to being put down, there was just something about getting tucked into that swath of fabric that made her see red. It was just one of many items of baby gear that was totally useless to us, so when we had our second kid, we knew better than to accumulate any more baby junk, and actually got rid of a lot of stuff that we ended not using much the first time around.
By Finally Taking A Bottle
My daughter still wasn’t taking my breast milk in a bottle by the time my 12 weeks of maternity leave ended. I was apoplectic about it, and afraid she was going to starve. However, my sitter assured me that the baby would take it. I went through that whole first day back at work, sweating about her empty belly but, sure enough, my daughter took her bottles at feeding time and never refused them again (unless I tried to give her one).
Cut to two and a half years later and it’s the same scene, with my 11-week-old son still refusing a bottle on the eve my return to work. Again, the daycare workers shrugged it off: “Don’t worry, Mama. He will eat.” This time, I didn’t work myself up all day while at work. I knew he’d eat, because his older sister did. And I was right.
By Having Cute Clothes
Doing a little kid’s laundry is not the worst thing ever. The tiny clothes dry quickly, and you don’t really need to worry about getting them so clean, since the kid will outgrow them in a matter of weeks. You don’t even have to fold the clothes; I just rolled them and tucked them into a drawer. So when our second kid was born, it wasn’t so daunting to have double the amount of children’s laundry since I could get through the all the washing, drying, and folding fairly quickly. (Putting the clothes away seemed to take days, for some reason.)
By Eventually Sleeping Through The Night (Consistently)
I swear, if my daughter had never gotten to the point of sleeping through the night, she would have remained an only child. Sleep training her was exhausting. There was no way I could have handled the idea of a second baby if my first kid was still waking up, even occasionally. I needed to know that I would get at least a few months of sleeping at least seven consecutive hours nightly before giving all that up to wake with a newborn every two hours.