The to-do list for expectant parents can feel endless, with suggestions and recommendations coming from every possible angle. With stress at a high during this time, we talk to parenting experts to break down the biggest questions before baby arrives.
Preparing for a baby can be one of the most daunting experiences in life. No matter how much is done to get ready, it can feel like the ‘to-do’ list to welcome a child into one’s life is endless. It’s important to focus on the most necessary tasks so as not to overwhelm yourself during this time. You may not be able to get to everything, but that’s okay!
We’ve talked to a series of experts to help lay out some of the most important steps to keep parents from feeling weighed down with stress before — or after — their child arrives.
Choose a healthcare provider
One of the biggest tasks is choosing the healthcare provider that works best for you. This is the person that will be with you every step of the way of your pregnancy, and will be the source for most of your questions. Pediatrician and author Dr. James Sears MD stresses how imperative it is to pick someone you feel comfortable with.
“While much of the medical aspects of our job will be based on standard of care, and shouldn’t vary much between pediatricians, there are also many areas where personal preference will come into play,” Sears tells PEOPLE. “How a pediatrician raised their own children will reflect what parenting advice they give you in areas like discipline and sleep. Try to meet a few potential pediatricians before baby arrives.”
Adds Lindsay Powers, author of You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids, “You should choose a healthcare provider who feels like a partner and who you trust to make the best decision for your health and that of your unborn baby’s.”
Get started on some financial planning
A big stress on the minds of expectant parents is finances. You will now have to factor in the life of a new person who will be entirely financially dependent on their parents. That’s not to say it isn’t manageable.
“I’m not a financial planner, but I can say: You’re never going to feel like you finally have enough time, money, or job stability to have a baby,” Powers tells PEOPLE. “When you feel ready to have a baby, you should go for it. Yes, they’re expensive, but most parents figure it out.”
According to financial assistance company NerdWallet, it’s necessary to map out a budget. “You should forecast your expected costs fairly early in the pregnancy,” the staff writes. “Understand your company’s policies and your state’s laws to get an accurate picture of how your maternity leave will affect your bottom line … Once you know what you’ll be spending on out-of-pocket medical costs, understand how your income will be impacted in the coming months and have prepared a shopping list for your new addition, adjust your budget accordingly.”
Come up with a birth plan
Once you’ve also chosen a healthcare provider to help you figure out what you want, as well as what the best options are for your birth experience, a birth plan can help map out some of the lingering questions.
“Birth plans are a good way to think through the kind of birth you want: Epidural or not? Hospital or home? Music? Yoga ball? Who should be in the room? But you should be prepared to throw your birth plan out the window when you’re actually in labor,” admits Powers. “As long as you trust your medical provider, you will trust when they guide your birth. Just because a c-section isn’t in your birth plan doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Your medical provider needs to make the final call to get the baby out safely, and keep you healthy. A birth plan is an exercise in preparing for birth, not the end-all, be-all plan to delivering a baby.”
Sears agrees it’s necessary to consult your healthcare provider about your plan to find out what is actually doable. “If something is important to you, best to put it in the birth plan, and discuss it ahead of time with the OB and/or pediatrician to be sure they are comfortable with those items,” he says.
Consider taking classes, if you can
The amount of classes available to soon-to-be parents are endless, and only seem to be growing by the day. That said, just because they exist, doesn’t mean they are necessary for everyone. The trick is picking what works best for you, whether it be what you have time for or finding things that you’re genuinely curious about.
Most experts recommend taking a childbirth class taught by a registered labor nurse or a certified childbirth educator, but as Powers points out, no technique is the same for everyone. “People have been giving birth for thousands of years with and without classes,” she says. “Some people like to take classes with their partners so they both understand their roles in the delivery room. Take whatever classes pique you or your partner’s interest, and that you can afford, but don’t feel pressured to take classes just because somebody told you to.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected how and when hospitals are offering childbirth, breastfeeding and CPR classes; check with your healthcare provider to see what your options might be.
Prepare your home
Getting a home ready for baby may sound far more taxing than it actually is. Powers notes that most childproofing won’t be an issue until the baby can crawl, which will be months after you bring them home.
“Newborns don’t need much. You should get a crib or bassinet certified safe by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, as most cribs sold in stores are,” she says. “If you inherit or purchase a used crib, check for recalls and that it doesn’t have features that have since been ruled unsafe, such as a side that moves up and down. You’ll also need a car seat that hasn’t expired — so if you get a used one, check that it hasn’t. I like the Car Seat Lady for video tutorials on how to install them correctly; fire departments also sometimes do seminars if you want to check with your local one.”
That said, when it comes to time for a baby to start exploring the home, Sears says parents should look at things from their perspective. “A step many parents forget, is to get down on the floor and look up at all the tables, counters, chairs, etc.,” he recommends. “This will be the baby’s point of view and you might spot potential hazards that can be missed while looking from above.”
Figure out childcare
It may seem like a far-off need while you’re still preparing for a baby, but it’s never too early for parents to start thinking about what their childcare situation will look like when they have to return to work. Powers reveals that in some high-demand areas such as New York City, there can be waitlists for child care solutions, so she suggests starting the conversation before the baby arrives.
“You can get on the same page with your partner (if you have one) about the different options, and which is best for your family,” she says. “Will a parent stay home? Will another family member serve as a caregiver? Will you do an in-home daycare center, a center daycare, or a nanny? While your plans may change once the baby is here, it’s good to start talking about it before they arrive.”
Make a registry
Registries can be an easy way to secure items you’ll need without the stress of having to get them yourself. That said, deciding what to include can seem overwhelming. The options are endless, but Powers says to keep the focus on practical necessities like diapers, plenty of onesies, wipes, socks and bibs. “You could also add a couple of big-ticket items, like a car seat, stroller, or crib, in case people want to split the cost and buy it together,” she says. “I also like the idea of doing a ‘book shower,’ where people send baby books and write nice messages in them. Overall, babies don’t need as much stuff as all those blogs say — a warm place to sleep, something to eat, and lots of love. If you plan to breastfeed, I recommend Lansinoh, which is a nipple cream, or olive oil.”
Learn infant CPR
CPR may be something a parent never has to perform on their child, but it doesn’t hurt to pick up the skill just to be safe. “Hopefully you will never need it, but it’s good to be prepared,” says Sears. “A CPR class can give you the confidence to calmly handle an emergency situation.”
Experts point out it’s important to know how and when to perform CPR because administering CPR improperly can be harmful to a child. “Time is very important when dealing with an unconscious baby who is not breathing,” says the National Library of Medicine. “Permanent brain damage begins after only 4 minutes without oxygen, and death can occur as soon as 4 to 6 minutes later.”
Powers adds that it doesn’t require much for a parent to get properly trained. “Most pediatrician offices and hospitals offer free or low-cost classes,” she says. “I also recommend watching infant Heimlich maneuver videos on YouTube. I’ve had to use it on both my kids as infants, and was glad to have watched a tutorial on YouTube. They’re fine!”
Prepare your older kids and/or your pets
Some parents won’t be bringing their new child back to a completely empty home. There might be another child or animal(s) that will have to get used to life with a new baby as well. As a result, additional preparations should be made to ensure they’re also ready for the adjustment.
Dr. Mary Mason, internist and founder of Little Medical School, advises keeping the older child or children looped in from the beginning. “It is important to include the older child in the process of bringing the baby home and adapting to changes in the daily routine,” she tells PEOPLE. “While an older sibling may not be able to change a diaper, they can mimic the diaper change the adult is doing with their own doll.”
Mason also insists on identifying childproofing opportunities such as an older child’s toy parts and food that could be a choking hazard for the baby. As for pets, Powers suggests acting as you would with the new child before they arrive to get the animal(s) familiar with their new reality. “If there’s a room where the pet won’t be allowed to go into (such as the baby’s room), I’d start closing that door a few weeks earlier to get them used to it,” she says.
Do your research — but not too much!
The information available to expectant parents is endless, and it can be easy to panic without getting too far down a Google rabbit hole. Outside of that, every parent you know or meet will have a laundry list of recommendations. How do you wade through all the advice to find out what you really need to know?
Powers suggests sticking to a limited number of friends, your pediatrician, and trustworthy, research-backed books. “The reality is that everyone has an opinion, but not every method will work for you,” she says. “You shouldn’t feel pressured to raise your kids a certain way because some person told you that’s how they’re doing it. You have to do what works for you and your family, and that will change as your baby grows and your family’s situation evolves.”