Stop wasting your time on parenting books

Feb 28, 2013 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Take it from all of the sleep-deprived out there: Whatever you think you’ve learned about babies by reading parenting books will not be available for recall anywhere in your brain once your newborn finally arrives.

Pregnant woman reading a book

You may feel like you need to cram, but this isn’t an exam. There are no footnotes to memorize. Your baby will test you, but not in any way that you could ever have imagined. Any parent will tell you, enjoy the time before your firstborn makes her debut to rest, read a novel, sleep in and eat out.

Jenelle C., mom to three boys, says, “I wish I had known that no matter what you may read beforehand, you will have to figure out what works for you and your baby. What worked for your mom, your friends or the experts may need to be modified or not used at all.”

The simple truth is this: That first month out of utero, your baby will eat, sleep and poop, and you’ll be lucky if you have time to do the same.

Sleeping like a baby

Some people misuse the phrase “sleeping like a baby.” There is no consistency, soundness or established length to a newborn’s sleep those first few weeks. And that child will not care that you lovingly put together a cozy crib or co-sleeper for her slumber. “None of us would have slept if it weren’t for the swing,” says new mom, Mary S. Other parents swear by a bouncer. Either way, having an extra baby-holding apparatus or two in the house will give you options to help get that child to snooze. Be prepared to be flexible because sometimes you just have to get creative so everyone can get a little shut-eye.

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Eating like a champ

If you plan to breastfeed, nursing tanks will make life easier since you’ll be feeding on demand and round the clock. Find a nursing pillow that you’re comfortable with and, once you’ve determined that your baby has established a good latch and will be nursing exclusively for as long as you’re able, invest in a breast pump so you can begin to regain some control over your life.

Bottle-feeding mamas will become experts on different bottle and formula brands within no time, but it may take some time to establish which combo works best for your baby. Be patient and have a few samples on hand to test out for your little one.

No matter what way you’ve chosen to feed your child, spit-up will be as ever-present as poop, so stockpile burp cloths and bibs. You’ll be doing laundry a lot anyway, and tissues just aren’t going to cut it for this kind of baby output.

Bottle feeding essentials >>

Pooping like a pro

There’s one thing your baby doesn’t have to learn how to do and that’s poop. There will be a lot of it — and pee too. You’ll soon perfect your own amazing diaper-changing technique that will have you thinking you should write a book about your mad skills. But here’s the thing to know about poop: It will not necessarily stay in the diaper. So it’s important to stock up on basic baby wear: onesies, sleeper gowns (which truly simplify nighttime diaper changes), swaddles and sheets. Oh, and of course, plenty of diapers.

New mom’s guide to baby care products >>

Things mom might need

Having a newborn isn’t always about what the baby needs but what mama needs to help her get through the sleepless nights and unexpected challenges. While new mother Rachel K. couldn’t live without things like easy-access nightgowns for nursing, all-natural hand lotion, comfy and thin nursing bras for sleeping, high-waisted granny panties (after a painful C-section recovery) and her favorite restaurants on speed dial, one of the things she endorses most is her Kindle Fire. “It’s small and lightweight and it gives me something to do while I nurse him. I only need one hand and I can see it in the dark. I either read or play Sudoku.”

How can I learn about parenting?

No one expects any first-time parent to go into the job completely uninformed and clueless. But trying to memorize the massive collection of parenting books that are out there is daunting and impossible. Carefully choose a parenting class and breastfeeding class to get you prepped for the basics of childcare and feeding. How is sitting in a seminar room with other expectant parents any different from reading a book? Hands-on learning and interaction with others is more likely to stick in your brain than a bunch of text from the umpteenth book you attempted to read before falling asleep.

More about having your first child

The ultimate new baby checklist
Get space ready for your newborn
6 Tips to green your nursery