During pregnancy you have a lot to talk about, from how you’ll manage delivery room visitors to what characteristics you hope to find in a pediatrician. Don’t neglect these important conversations you’ll need to have before the baby arrives.
You might have the layette planned, the diaper bag already packed, and your car seat installed in anticipation of your new arrival, but sometimes it’s easy to forget the less obvious details. The more planning you do before Baby, the less you’ll have to think about in those first few hectic weeks. Aside from all the physical prep work, becoming mentally prepared for your new addition can benefit you later. Addressing these topics now will save you from a lot of unexpected stress and conflict later on.
Money and Budget
“Incorporating a budget into the family finances should be a top priority for every married couple,” says certified financial planner R. Jeanne Renner of San Diego. Renner’s company, Making Ends Meet, offers families personalized consulting, from basic budget building to household management education. “I like to compare getting married to starting a small business with two owners. Each comes with his or her own financial history, money skills, and upbringing. A baby only adds to this. You wouldn’t go into a business without knowing the financial attitudes of a business partner, but many couples rarely discuss finances until there is a problem,” says Renner.
Renner offers the following financial preparation tips:
- Work on setting goals and spending boundaries. “A goal might be to buy a house in the next few years. To do this you need to create a savings plan. Likewise, make concrete boundaries, such as neither partner will make a purchase over $200 without first talking it over.” Goals can be broken down into immediate (like furnishing the nursery), futuristic (buying a house), and long-term (saving for college).
- Plan ahead. Budget in incidentals such as holidays, birthdays, and other extra expenses. “These types of expenses don’t have to catch you off guard; don’t wait for the need to arise.”
- Don’t lose perspective. Renner makes it clear that children learn at a very early age about money from their parents. “Kids are happier with time and attention rather than things. Kids need to know where money comes from, so include your child early on in the family budget.”
- Make getting out of debt priority number one.
- Begin saving for college now. Renner suggests getting into the habit of putting just a few dollars into a savings account each week.
The Birth Plan
Having a birth plan is an accepted part of labor these days. Review your plan with your doctor or midwife and learn your hospital’s childbirth policies. No birth plan guarantees the planned type of birth, so it is important to remain flexible.
Also, consider whom you’d like to have present during labor and delivery. “It’s totally an individual decision who is in the room … Hospitals have become very acclimated with this procedure and follow [parents’ wishes] as much as they can,” says Dr. Louis Borgenicht, MD, pediatrician and author The Baby Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance.
Don’t feel pressured to include your entire family in this event—make the decision that is most comfortable for you. Laurel Fay, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist in Washington, DC, and mom to twin girls, says, “Birth is the start of a period of intense adjustment for the new family, and it is important that friends and family understand that, too, and give the new family time to adjust.”
If you’re having a girl, you can skip this section—but if you’re having a boy or are waiting to be surprised, it’s important to address circumcision before the doctor hands you a stack of consent papers to sign.
“This procedure is usually done in the hospital on the second day after birth,” says Dr. Borgenicht. “Generally emotional and social factors contribute to a family’s decision to circumcise, so these are things you need to discuss—whether the father wants the son to be like him or there are deep religious beliefs that would influence the decision.”
Do some research and look at both sides of this much-debated issue. Talk to your partner about why he feels a certain way, and don’t feel pressured by what friends or family say. If you do decide to circumcise, says Dr. Borgenicht, make sure you select an experienced and knowledgeable doctor for the procedure.
Recovery Room and At-Home Visitors
Besides who will be in the delivery room with you, try to establish before Baby arrives how you’d like to receive visitors at home. “I think [a visitors’ schedule] is a very important topic for a couple to discuss ahead of time,” says Fay. “In a very real way, it defines the couple and child as a new family unto themselves and lets extended family know where those new boundaries are.”
To avoid conflicts and hurt feelings, Fay suggests creating a tentative visiting schedule for well-wishers. “I would recommend a schedule that is as concrete as possible, with lots of room for flexibility and change. It’s also important that the couple be on the same page in terms of understanding what the other partner wants, needs, and expects from the visits of family and friends.”
Set aside the first couple of days just for immediate family. Dad can act as the family ambassador, answering the phone and so on, while Mom and Baby rest. Later, “Dad should be the point person for his family, and Mom for hers in order to minimize potential misunderstandings,” adds Fay.
Encourage guests to bring food or other things to make the visits easier. Make sure the guests understand in advance the time they are welcome to stay. If family members are traveling a far distance, make plans ahead of time for a mutually agreeable way for them to stay. “Flexibility is the name of the game when you are bringing home a new baby,” says Fay.
What style of parent are you? You might only have some vague ideas about how you will handle your new role or you might be passionate about your attitude and values. It’s a good idea to get to know your partner’s ideas about parenting before birth to avoid conflict in the early weeks.
Read a variety of books about parenting together and discuss topics that will arise. If the baby is crying, will you pick him up or let him cry it out? Are you planning on wearing your baby or co-sleeping? These types of endeavors usually work best if the whole family is on board. When opinions conflict, deal with the immediate needs of the baby first and choose a relaxed time to discuss the situation.
It’s important to discuss the details of a maternity leave with your employer. Put all details of your leave in writing, then give a copy to your boss and retain one for your records. Include specifics such as when you plan to leave and return, what projects you will finish before leaving, and how you have prepared the work for your replacement. Set up a meeting with the person who will do your job in your absence to go over details and answer any questions. Include a list of all this prep work for your records. Make sure you have read over whatever company policies are in place regarding extended leaves and whether your state has any requirements that your company might qualify for.
As important, talk with your manager about how you will transition back into your job. Will your role remain the same? What projects on the horizon may be in full swing upon your return? Some women find that where colleagues (rather than temps or contractors) have filled in for them, there may be some reluctance to “give the work back.” If you can get your return strategy in writing, all the better, but at the very least, discuss with your manager. You never know, this may be an opportune time to tweak—or advance—your position with the organization.
Whatever your job situation, open communication is your most effective strategy. According to the Federal Medical and Family Leave Act, employers with 50 or more on-site workers “must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period” for birth (or adoption) and care of the newborn child. Proactive planning for this leave shows you are trying to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Your child’s pediatrician will become an integral part of your life during the first few years of parenthood, so it’s important to give real thought to who will fill this role. Many of us spend more time shopping for groceries than choosing a doctor, typically relying on a friend’s reference or convenient location, but by researching medical practices, you can find a pediatrician that works best for you.
“We typically have parents-to-be who come in a month or two before their baby is born. The appointments usually last for about a half-hour and we generally schedule them at the end of the day so parents have a chance to talk and see how the office runs,” explains Borgenicht. “This is a great chance to get to know a doctor and understand his or her style and opinions. You have the luxury of time at this point to shop around and select the pediatrician who best fits your needs.”
Childcare for Siblings
If you have other children, you’ll need to plan a strategy for their care during and around the birth. Who will watch them while you are in labor? Are they old enough to come to the hospital or birth center or should they stay at home with a grandparent? Who will take them to school?
“Expectant parents should definitely discuss their ‘after baby’ plans—who will help with the baby after the birth, the extent of maternity/paternity leave, if friends and family will help, who will work and/or who won’t, and so on. It’s good to be as concrete as possible while still maintaining the aforementioned need for flexibility,” explains Fay. Include your children in this discussion, so they become comfortable with the new childcare situation and know what to expect.
The Division of Labor
One area of conflict that often arises shortly after the birth of a baby is when one partner feels overwhelmed and discontented with his or her spouse’s share of the workload. A new mom might feel her husband isn’t helping out enough with the baby, while a husband may see a messy house as a sign that his stay-at-home wife isn’t working as hard as he is at his job. Often these hurt feelings and misunderstandings result from a lack of communication and conflicting expectations, making it important to plan out specific responsibilities and negotiate changes routinely in the coming months.
Parents-to-be can begin by creating a chart that delegates household chores and responsibilities and also allows each person some free time. Revisit this process as your child grows; there will always be a need to effectively delegate household tasks.
Future Work Plans
Well before your baby’s due date is the time to consider future work plans, including possibly working from home. Your employer may offer this option, though you’ll likely cut your hours in the first month or two after delivery as you adjust your schedule to caring for your baby.
If you’d like to work exclusively from home, begin researching work-at-home opportunities in your field of expertise while you’re pregnant. Be wary of “opportunities” directly marketed to new moms. Instead look into more specialized careers. Create a business plan with time frames and a budget and discuss this in depth with your partner. Although you can do much of this start-up planning before the baby’s arrival, count on a few months of low productivity after childbirth.
“There is no way to truly prepare for the birth of a child, except to expect the unexpected,” says Fay. “Expect your heart to explode with emotion in ways you have never anticipated; expect to be more tired than you ever thought humanly possible; expect times of genuine sadness even in the midst of this greatest joy, as one life chapter ends and another begins. Expect to grow and change and be willing to do things for your child you would never do for yourself. Expect it to change every day, every minute, and remember what a huge responsibility and blessing it is all at once.”
Fay adds that most importantly, don’t expect everything to be perfect. When children are concerned, inevitably someone’s feelings will be hurt or someone’s expectations may not be met. “New parents can’t please everyone, but they can handle delicate situations with open communication and understanding, while always remembering that they, as the new family, are the first priority.”