Newborns are just about the most precious thing on the planet. Anticipating, having, and caring for newborns is a big life changer. There's lots to get ready for, and even more to enjoy. Under this topic we have articles covering your hospital stay through the first few months with a newborn baby in the house.

Disaster and Emergency Prep for Families

disaster prep kits for familiesFew places in this world are safe from the kind of disasters that Mother Nature likes to throw at us. There are hurricanes and tropical storms. There are earthquakes. There are tornadoes and flash floods. Before kids, safety in these kind of emergencies was mostly common sense. You go to the most sheltered place and ride it out. No big deal.

When you have kids, the whole disaster paradigm changes. Your previous emergency kit (which was probably a bottle of water, a flashlight, and two twinkies) isn’t going to cut it any longer. Here are some of the things that you (adults) will tolerate, that your little ones probably won’t take well:

  • Waking up in the middle of the night, which is when most natural disasters seem to strike
  • Spending a lot of time in the dark, and the quiet.
  • Staying entertained without TV, movies, or internet
  • Living on bottled water and canned food.

Let’s be honest: the safest room in your house — low to the ground, away from windows — is probably some kind of storage area. Maybe it’s a basement or finished lower level or extra bedroom. It’s probably not the play room, heck, it’s probably not even babyproofed! It’s time to talk about a basic disaster and emergency prep kit for families.

Home Emergency Kit

Last year, after several close calls with tornadoes and other weather events, we finally buckled down and assembled a serious emergency kit. It’s in a 10-gallon clear rubber tote, and we keep it in our bomb shelter. That way it’s easy to find, and we can also find what we need in it without too much trouble. So what things do you need in a disaster?

For the Adults

Preparing for an emergency is not really rocket science. Just picture yourself living in a small, dark, cramped space, and make sure you pack the following:

  • Water. We stocked bottled water, which seems more portable and easier to dole out as needed. It’s also useful for pouring, in the event that you’re mixing baby formula or cereal in the dark.
  • Food. Non-perishable food items keep best, obviously. We’ve stocked things like granola bars, sealed snack-sized bags of chips/crackers, etc. For a longer haul, we also packed some canned goods, a stainless-steel container, and utensils.
  • Light and warmth. A butane lighter (or waterproof matches), candles, and an emergency blanket all take up a tiny amount of space, but provide a lot of comfort when the power goes out.
  • Tools. What if something breaks, or the door gets jammed? A couple of screwdrivers, pliers, a saw (a wire saw is especially compact) and a utility knife are good additions to the kit.

For the Kids

Rule of thumb: take the amount of stuff you have for yourself, double or triple it, and that’s the amount you’ll need for your kids. This applies anywhere, even in the emergency kit. For those little ones, be sure to pack:

  • Formula or cereal, if they’re still eating it. In airtight containers, with smaller containers or bowls (and spoons) for mixing. Yes, you’re essentially writing this stuff off because it’ll expire eventually, but if you end up taking shelter, you’ll be glad for it!
  • Pacifiers or soothers, to help keep the baby calm even if there’s noise or commotion
  • A little blanket and stuffed animal, because most basements/storage rooms have nothing but hard surfaces
  • Heavy socks. Your baby probably sleeps without socks, and he or she might need something protective when crawling/toddling around. Shoes they’ll outgrow too quickly, but heavy socks last longer and provide those tootsies some warmth, too.
  • A few small but entertaining toys. Imagine keeping your kids occupied with no electricity, cell service, or anything. That’s a tall order, isn’t it? Stashing a few toys now will save you from having to let them play with, say, the screwdriver instead. Because that’s just not going to end well.

Communication: Crank Weather Radio


Midland emergency Radio

If you’ve dragged the kids down into the basement or bomb shelter, you can assume things are pretty bad out there. You’ll probably want to know what’s going on, but what if the power’s out? A weather radio is a good choice here: it picks up the NOAA live weather broadcasts, which run on a loop and are updated constantly.

Battery-operated is OK, but I like the weather radios that can be powered by manual crank as well, like the Midland Emergency Crank Radio. It has AM/FM bands, weather bands, and a built-in flashlight. They can be powered with the A/C adapter (included) or by manual dynamo crank.

The First-Aid Kit

Homemade first aid kit

First Aid Kit (credit: Sarah with an H)

Your emergency kit should have medical supplies, too. You can buy first aid kits anywhere, but I don’t like those ready-made jobs and here’s why: they sell it as a 120-piece kit or 240-piece kit, but 100 of those “pieces” are tiny band-aids. That’s ridiculous. Sure, we use band-aids quite a bit, but they’re also not going to treat more than a boo-boo. Get a nice airtight/waterproof case or tackle box, and stock it with:

  • Hand sanitizer, for whoever is going to play doctor when someone gets hurt.
  • First aid spray (i.e. Bactrim) or hydrogen peroxide spray, for sanitizing things.
  • Ace bandages, tape, and a good pair of scissors
  • Diaper rash cream, antibiotic ointment, and burn cream
  • Teething gel, if your little one hasn’t gotten the two year molars yet
  • Band-aids in various sizes
  • Cottonballs and Q-tips for cleaning/applying creams

Don’t forget aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, or whatever you take for pain. Because if you’re really going to spend hours in an enclosed space with your kids, you’ll probably need it.


Fussy Newborn: 8 Causes

causes of fussy newborns

Image credit: mcguirk on Flickr

For the first three months of life, babies have very few ways to communicate. Generally, they let you know of their unhappiness by fussing. Most of the time, it’s cute. At 4 a.m. when you have to get up for work in three hours, not so much. Having raised three little ones, and spent many hours puzzling over the reason a newborn is fussy, I’ve come up with this list of usual suspects.

1. Hunger

Newborns eat about every 2-3 hours, day and night, nonstop, for the first few months of life. If your newborn starts fussing, and you haven’t just physically removed a nipple from his or her mouth, it’s probably feeding time again. This one is easy to test for, fortunately — you just offer something to eat and see if the baby takes it. Just try not to get into the habit of feeding your newborn every half hour.

2. Indigestion (i.e. About to Spit Up On You)

Many newborns — and preemies especially – are born with immature digestive systems. In other words, they spit up. A lot. They need to be burped. And when their tummies get upset, they fuss. The best way to handle this kind of situation is to get out in front of it. Burp early, burp often. Keep your little one upright for a bit after feedings.

We had some success with Mylicon, whose active ingredient (simethicone) is a sort of soap that helps bubbles in the tummy merge together so that they can be burped out. We also tried Gripe Water, which did seem to calm our fussy baby sometimes, though it’s inexplicably pricey.

3. Time for a Diaper Change

We might as well follow the digestive tract down to usual suspect #3, a wet or dirty diaper. Modern diapers are pretty amazing in their ability to absorb things and wick away moisture, but even so, they have their limits. You’ll develop a good sense for detecting when it’s time for a diaper change, but once in a while we’ll still miss one. Then we check just to be sure, and have to admit, “Oh, so you did have a dirty diaper.” It happens.

Watch for Diaper Rash

On a related note, if your newborn develops a diaper rash, it can easily cause fussiness. Even if the diaper is clean, the irritated skin causes discomfort, so they’re just not happy. Especially in the car seat or Bumbo or any sitting position that puts pressure on it. There are about a million different topical creams for diaper rash. Hands down, the best one we’ve ever used is Dr. Smith’s. When that runs out, we prefer the “cream” treatments over the gels.

4. Sleep Problems

Humans in general tend to get cranky when they don’t have enough sleep, and this is certainly true of newborns. Probably because they can’t have coffee. You’ll be keenly aware of this fact if your newborn gets off of his or her normal sleep schedule. Babies need 14-18 hours of sleep per day, and when they don’t get enough, they let you know about it.

Newborns tire quickly. It’s easy to keep them up a little bit too late, which gets them over-tired, and then it’s harder to fall asleep even though they need it. A little bit of baby sleep training will go a long way.

5. Infant Colic

A colicky baby is, by most accounts, one of the most difficult challenges new parents can face. The medical definition of colic is a baby that cries for hours at a time, at least three times in a week. Surprisingly, we don’t know much about the actual cause of infant colic. There are many theories. Even if we don’t know the cause, we know the effects: a baby that cries constantly and can’t be soothed.

There also seems to be a “witching hour” for newborns (colicky or not) at around 5-6 p.m. when nothing seems to make them happy. Our pediatrician mentioned that it’s probably a combination of hunger and end-of-the-day tiredness that brings this on. A good napping schedule, timely dinner, and an early bedtime are probably the way to go.

6. Different Personalities

Even at the newborn stage, babies can have very different personalities. I know this quite well because I have twin boys and they couldn’t be more different. One was relaxed, laid back, and completely calm about everything. Slept wonderfully. Rarely cried. The other was high-maintenance enough for both of them. So personality does make a difference, and sometimes (by the luck of the draw; it’s not your fault) you get a fussy, needy baby. I’d love to tell you that they grow out of this completely as they get older, but ah, well, you’ll see.

7. Loneliness or Fear

Newborns are quick to recognize their parents, to become familiar with their face, scent, and the sound of their voice. They have a pretty good idea who loves them the most! And their vision isn’t very good for the first couple of months. So if they can’t see or hear you, they might fuss a little. Just to get some attention. The good news about this is that picking them up for a snuggle usually does the trick.

8. Teething or Sickness

There are occasionally real, medical/developmental causes of newborn fussiness. Teething is one that you generally don’t have to worry about until 3-6 months, but an early tooth coming in will make them fairly miserable. See our baby teething guide for some help there.

Alternatively, you might be dealing with a baby who’s got a little cold or stomach virus. A sick newborn is a rough experience, and I hope you don’t have to go through it. Those who have begin to understand the “Have you washed your hands?” onesie.

7 Baby Bad Habits for the First Year

bad baby habits

Original image credit: Flickr user mcguirk

Bringing your baby home from the hospital launches what may be the most stressful, challenging, wonderful year of your life. You are now responsible for another human being! All of the baby classes and “What to Expect” books probably got you about 20% prepared for what that first year will entail.

It’s also when you’ll establish some of the baby habits that resonate throughout the first years of your little one’s life. Many of those will be good habits, I hope. On the other side of the coin, here are some baby habits you’ll want to avoid getting into.

1. Baby Sleep Shortcuts

This is an important one, because it ultimately affects your baby’s health, your own sanity, and the peace of your household. Mainly, you get into bad baby sleep habits by taking shortcuts: letting your baby sleep on the couch or in your bed, never establishing a consistent bedtime routine, keeping the little on up too late, etc.

Do yourself a favor: learn and follow good baby sleep training practices. This will pay off big time!

2. Letting the Germs In

baby tiny hands

Credit: Flickr user mcguirk

Babies have a tendency to put everything in their mouth. It starts with their hands, and once they master fine motor control, it extends with anything they can grab. Anything you hand to your baby — a bottle, a book, a toy, a pacifier, needs to be clean. The same goes for your floors, the stroller, the crib, and other places where your baby spends time. Especially if you have pets.

It’s important to realize the most virulent germ carriers that will come into contact with your baby: humans. This includes you as well as all the people who touch your baby’s cheeks or hands or toes.

Don’t worry about hurting people’s feelings. Put your baby’s needs first. If you read my article on what to expect when your baby gets sick, you understand what’s at risk here!

You gotta love it when a friend pets their dog or a relative comes in from the garage and wants to touch your baby without any hand washing. Put up the wall, and offer them some hand sanitizer. There are a lot of germs out there, and most people don’t wash their hands enough.

3. Baby Gear Overload

You know those annoying commercials where “there’s an app for that?”  Baby gear is kind of like that too. They have not just one, but five baby products for just about everything. It’s hard to know this in advance, but there’s a lot of crap out there that you really don’t need. And this might vary from one baby to the next.

For example, our little ones never liked the baby bouncer, the little one on a stand that vibrates and plays music. But some babies love those. The best thing you can do is ask other couples with 1- and 2-year-olds what products they never ended up needing, and what gear they wouldn’t survive without.

4. Giving Up On Nursing Too Soon

Nursing might seem like the most natural thing in the world, but the fact is that it can be hard. It’s difficult to get started, it wears you out, and it’s tough to do while working or traveling. Even so, nursing has countless important benefits:

  • It provides the best nutrition for your baby
  • It confers natural immunity
  • It creates a special bond between mother and baby
  • It saves money, LOTS of money.

So even though it’s tedious and uncomfortable sometimes, don’t give up on nursing. Keep going as long as you can!

5. Buying Everything New

You will need a fair amount of stuff, especially if this is your first baby, but buying it all new is going to cost you. Besides, there’s a lot of stuff — especially big things like strollers and jumpers and play yards — that stays in good shape when you get it second-hand. You can find relatives, friends, or even strangers on Craigslist who are selling these things in good condition for a fraction of the cost. Second-hand baby gear stores are also great for nabbing deals and encountering all kinds of products you didn’t even know existed.

A couple of safety tips if you buy something second-hand, especially from Craiglist. First, make sure the product’s not under re-call, like a drop-side crib. Second, meet the seller in a public place and don’t bring a bunch of cash or valuables with you. There are bad people out there, though most of them aren’t peddling baby gear.

6. Insufficient Babyproofing

baby proofing habitsUndoubtedly you’ve spent some time getting your house ready for baby, especially as he or she enters the scooting/crawling/walking stages. I can tell you right now, it’s probably not enough. Babies are clever and motivated. The moment your back is turned, they’ll be finding the loopholes in your home babyproofing plan. So double-check your home for these gotchas:

  • Electrical outlets. You not only have to cover all of these that are within reach, you have to keep them covered after vacuuming and inevitably losing some of the covers. But this was an easy one; I’m trying to build your confidence.
  • Mini blind and electrical cords. Keep these strangulation hazards up out of reach, and secure them with hooks or twisty-ties.
  • Stairs, ledges, and fall hazards. Babies don’t yet understand gravity, and falls are one of the most common kinds of injury.
  • Tippy furniture and decorations. Tables, bookshelves, vases, grandfather clocks, anything that can be pulled over will be pulled over. You can bolt things to the wall or move them to a secure room, or put them in storage for, you know, years from now.
  • Drawers and cabinets. I hate installing those latches (everyone does) but you’ll have to put in some. As a failsafe, you can sometimes use bungee cords and/or rubber bands to secure some of these; it doesn’t look great but it does the job. Put your sharpest, smallest, or most valuable objects in the best-babyproofed drawers or even better, cabinets up high out of reach.

Good babyproofing requires constant vigilance and improvement.

7. Letting the Time Fly

cherish baby habits

Image Credit: Flickr user ankurp

Taking care of a baby can keep you so busy that you forget to cherish it. Every day, your little one gets older, bigger, stronger, and a little less reliant on you. At some point (if not already) they won’t want to snuggle you any more: they want to roam around and explore the world.

Devote some time — maybe a few minutes each day, maybe once a week — to taking photos, writing down milestones (or first words, or hilarious parent-child conversations), and otherwise making a record of this moment. They’ll never be this little again. One day you’ll look up and realize how much time has gone by already.

So cherish that little baby!

Your Newborn’s Crazy Lifestyle

newborn crazy life

Image Credit: Flickr user salim

Bringing your newborn baby home from the hospital is a landmark moment in parenting. It feels like a victory: you managed to get pregnant, carry the baby, give birth, and now your precious little one is coming home for the first time. If the timing goes right, you get discharged on the same day and have the added bonus of leaving backless gowns and mediocre food behind! The baby goes into the pumpkin seat in your car, and then reality sets in.

I hope you followed my advice on 9 things to do before the baby comes. Because your newborn is now in charge.

Sleepless Nights

For the first few months of life, babies eat every 2-4 hours. That’s around the clock, day and night. Sure, they sleep around 18 hours a day, but between the diaper change, feeding, and burping you’re looking at a few hours of sleep in between. Undoubtedly you are in for some sleep deprivation. Try to be patient with your spouse, and don’t make any important life decisions, until you can actually get some rest. Here are some tips for how to catch up.

Sleep Tips for Parents of Newborns

There are two main ways to handle the sleep deprivation a newborn bestows upon your home, and generally avoid becoming a walking zombie:

  1. When the baby sleeps, you sleep. You’ve probably heard this rule already but it’s easy to break… when the baby is asleep, it’s tempting to pick up around the house or watch TV or you know, shower. Keep this stuff on the back-burner (except perhaps the showering) and focus on grabbing an hour or two of sleep. You’re going to need it.
  2. Share the workload. Trading off with your spouse can make a big difference, especially at night. If you work out a schedule that lets each of you bag 5 hours of sleep, it can work wonders. If both of you get up every time, you can take turns with feeding, burping, diaper changing, and tucking back into bed while one of you dozes nearby.

Trying to find ways to keep up on sleep is essential in those first few months; disrupted sleep can cause maternal depression, marital discord, and all-around crabbiness. Snooze when you can and don’t feel bad about it.

Expensive Tastes

Your newborn’s arrival may herald tough financial times ahead. Having a baby is expensive, and I’m not just talking about $20,000 hospital bills (one of the few times you’ll be glad to have expensive health insurance). I’ve heard the statistic that the average expense of raising a child from birth to age 18 is approximately $1 million. When your newborn arrives, you’ll soon understand why. Here are some things to save for:

  • Big-ticket items like cribs, strollers, car seats, and baby furniture, and other baby gear. You may receive some of these from family, friends, or co-workers, and that can save you a nice chunk of change.
  • Diapers and wipes. Figure on 10 diapers a day at the newborn stage. At $0.25 per diaper, you’re looking at $75 per month and that doesn’t even account for the cost of wipes, which run about $0.02 each. As your baby grows, you’ll have fewer diaper changes per day (good) but they are bigger and therefore have a higher price tag. There’s no escape.
  • Infant formula. If you supplement with formula, you’ll quickly understand why it’s the “liquid gold” of baby care. Sure, it provides everything your newborn needs and more, it’s convenient, but it’s also pricey… especially as your baby grows and starts taking 4, 6, or 8 ounces at a time! Try not to think about the cost of each little scoop; it’ll drive you mad!

Money Saving Tips

By the time you’re reading this, it may be too late for me to advise that you save, save, save, before the baby comes. Having some money tucked away will help you avoid that second mortgage. But here are some ways to reduce the cost of all those things a newborn needs:

  • For big-ticket items, complete your baby registry early and don’t be shy about it. When people ask if there’s anything you need, give them the registry. The more you receive as gifts, the less you have to spend on your own. 
  • Buy baby gear second-hand. Craigslist is usually a good place to find swings, strollers, cribs, and other things at less than half of the price. Just make sure the products have all of the pieces and aren’t under recall.
  • Buy diapers and wipes in bulk. We signed up for Amazon Mom and use the Subscribe & Save to get free shipping. We also buy at the big-box stores when there’s a good deal.
  • Generic forms of infant formula are available and usually less expensive, especially when bought in bulk. These are almost identical to the big brands (Similac, Enfamil) and you can even find the specialized kinds (e.g. sensitive). The most important thing is finding one whose taste your newborn likes, and sticking with it. Also, get as much formula free from the hospital as you can… at the NICU they gave us a few containers, one of the many reasons that we love the NICU.

The Newborn Time Is Short

Enjoy these sweet, short months with your newborn. Before you know it your baby will be rolling, crawling, walking, and asking for the car keys. It seems hard now, I know. It might seem like hardest thing you’ve ever done. But in a few months you’ll look back and miss these precious moments with your little baby when he or she is still a newborn.

8 Reasons to Love the NICU

8 reasons to love nicuAll three of our children went straight to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit — the NICU — after birth. This can be a frightening experience. Babies that are perfectly healthy and born without complication don’t go there, right? And yet, while I would not wish it on anyone, there are many things to love about the NICU and our experiences there.

1. The NICU Staff

The doctors and nurses that work in the NICU are all-stars. These are the people that society has entrusted to care for at-risk infants, and it shows. No matter the hour or day, this is a place you’ll find energetic, assertive professionals. When it came time to write the hospital review cards (we always fill out a stack of them), most of the people that stood out in our memory were NICU nurses. They were so good with the babies, and so patient with us. The answered a zillion questions.

You get to know certain nurses day in and day out because they work 12 hour shifts. You start to build a relationship. When we were back in the NICU with twins, and brought our 2-year-old daughter along, one of the NICU nurses remembered her. And us. They seem to care about everyone, and I like that.

2. Tight Security

Another thing we really loved about the NICU was the security. Everyone going in has to check in at a desk and be buzzed through a locked door. This not only serves as a comfort in the age of baby kidnapping paranoia, but it’s a great friends-and-family screen as well. In the regular hospital, anyone can find you can come visit with just a knock on the door. In the NICU, you can specify a list of people [grandparents] to be granted access. The others won’t get in without your approval.

3. Baby Care 101

Being in the NICU, while stressful, can be very valuable as a crash-course on baby care. We’d taken the baby class, of course, but there’s no substitute for hands-on experience with your own baby under the watchful eye of the NICU nurse. We assisted with our daughter’s first diaper changes, sponge bath, bottle feeding, and that sort of thing in the NICU. You get into trouble, and there’s a nurse there to help.

And usually helping is optional. If you’re worn out and the nurse asks if you’d like to “practice” yet another poopy diaper, feel free to say “Pasadena.”

4. Quiet Privacy

This part of the NICU experience likely depends on your hospital; ours delivers 10,000 babies a year so the NICU is top of the line. One of the things we really enjoyed was the quiet and the privacy of it. Aside from the staff, the only people really allowed into the NICU are the babies and their parents. Extended families and friends are sort of discouraged, and I find this a good thing. It allows for a sense of peace after the chaos of baby showers, labor, and delivery.

5. Comfort of Modern Medicine

Babies in the NICU are under more surveillance than Wal-Mart cashiers. They’re monitored for heart rate, breathing, blood oxygen level, intake, output, you name it. Our daughter’s birth was chaotic… 28 hours of induced labor, sweat, tears, every type of Lamaze that we learned… and then she was whisked off to the NICU almost immediately (because she came out so pale). There may have been some freaking out on our part.

Later, when everything had calmed down and she was in the superb care of the NICU staff, that was really the first time I took a full breath since it all began. It was in the dimness of her NICU room, lulled by the comforting beep of the monitors, that we slept for the first time since the labor induction. Mommy and Daddy stretched out on the couch behind a privacy curtain, and it was one of the best naps they’ve ever had.

6. Extra Free Stuff

I’m not sure why this is, but we netted a bunch of free stuff every time we went to the NICU. I’m talking infant formula, burp cloths, and our favorite newborn pacifier. I guess the understanding is that parents in the NICU are having a rough time of it, so they need a bit more help than most.

The nurses are very generous about this. When we left with the twins, they literally loaded us down with things like free formula. And we needed every bit of it!

7. Real Connections

The sad truth about health insurance in the U.S. is that they’re stingy about paying for hospital stays, even when you give birth! Once the baby arrives, a clock starts ticking after which you have to check out. The visit is so short, and hectic, you don’t really have time to connect with your nurses or caretakers. That’s too bad.

In the NICU, especially if your child has to stay a couple of weeks, you do get to know people better. You come to love certain nurses; you talk a lot with the pediatricians. You might even get to know other families. There are NICU reunions that bring back the families and babies to remember those times.

8. Baby on a Schedule

The NICU runs a tight ship, in my experience. These nurses have to look after 2-3 babies at a time, so they do it on a schedule. Baby A eats at 9, then Baby B at 10, and so on. And because it’s not their own baby, the nurses have no problem letting the babies get a little fussy before it’s time to eat. When their turn comes, it’s feeding, burping, diaper, swaddle, back to bed. These nurses are just amazing.

The wonderful result of this is that your baby ends up on a regular schedule of eating, sleeping, and pooping. This will work wonders for you when the baby comes home.