Parenting 101: Essentials All First-Time Parents Need To Know

Bringing a new baby home from the hospital is thrilling, life-changing, exhausting – and a little bit scary.

You’ve spent nine months (or longer) thinking about and preparing for this moment. But even the most thoroughly prepped new parents can find this profound life transition intimidating. After all, until the moment you come through the door at home carrying your beautiful new infant, it’s all been theoretical. Taking prenatal courses and reading endless piles of books are of course wonderful, but they can only do so much – now it’s time for “hands on,” real world parenting. Are you ready? Just in case you need a quick refresher course, here’s a roundup of the essentials all new parents need to know.

1. The three of you bond after the birth.

It’s natural for family and friends to want to come to see you and your baby as soon as they’re born, but hold off, even if only for a few hours. The first hours after a baby is born are crucial bonding moments for them, and it should be just you, their parents, in the room and holding them right after the birth. Let everyone pour in and take turns holding the baby the next day!

2. Get help with breastfeeding at the hospital.

All new parents hope breastfeeding happens easily and quickly, but that simply isn’t accurate in many cases. Many hospitals have lactation specialists on staff today, so if you need help or feel uncertain in any way, ask for guidance right away.

3. Make sure your car seat is an approved model.

Some babies arrive before parents have a chance to buy a car seat, but not to worry: simply go online to: and learn which models are most recommended.  This site also offers a complete rundown of how to install and use car seats, and highlights brands based on safety, the kind of vehicle you have, and other crucial details.

4. Sleeping, swaddling & soothing.

Every new parent has moments of wondering if they are doing one (or all) of these things correctly. Your baby should sleep near you (though not in your bed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, because there is a risk of smothering). If you want your baby in your room, rather than their own, placing the bassinet close to your bed is best, as recent studies suggest that the baby settles more quickly and easily if mom’s heartbeat is near.

Wrapping your baby with their arms close to their sides and the swaddle tucked around them closely keeps them warm, comfortable and secure. During the day, keep the baby stimulated with bright yet soft light, which helps them learn to distinguish between nighttime and daytime. Be active with your infant, smiling, laughing and making gentle noises. Between naps, engage in any way possible that makes them happy, and soon you’ll be enjoying that thrilling first smile! On average, newborns sleep about 16 hours in a 24-hour cycle, but rarely more than 2-3 hours in a row, even at night. When they are awake, freshly changed, and full, seize those moments to enjoy your baby, and foster bonding in every way you can.

5. Changing and feeding your newborn.

Knowing when to feed your infant is crucial – feed them on demand. They let you know immediately if they’re hungry, and whether you’re nursing or bottle-feeding, respond to their “requests” immediately. (It’s important for mom to drink plenty of water all day, about eight ounces every hour or so, to bolster the body’s production of milk). When you set up your baby’s nursery, it’s ideal to put the changing table close to the crib. Never take your eyes off the baby when they’re on the changing table, not even for a brief second. If you need to step away to retrieve a clean washcloth or wipes, put your baby back in the crib.

6. Create a spot just for you and baby.

Whether it’s grandma’s old rocking chair or a brand new recliner, have a quiet spot where mom and baby can be close while nursing. Tuck the baby into your stomach, help them latch, and gently rock, sway or talk to the infant while they’re feeding. All of this fosters the special mother-child bond, and helps the baby – and you – relax during feeding time.

7. Keep visitors to a minimum, at first, and keep visits brief.

Of course the whole family and friends will be anxious to stop by, to see and hold your new baby. While allowing some visits is fine, try to avoid over-tiring the baby and exerting yourself unduly. New parents are exhausted for, in some cases, many months when a baby comes home. If there are career demands still vying for your attention, that makes the situation even more stressful. Outsiders mean well, but even making tea or coffee and feeling like you have to be “on” for visitors is draining.  Remember: this time is for you, as new parents, and your baby; time to bond and get used to each other, and time to rest (when you can) and not worry about anyone else’s needs except those of your own family.

8. If you need help, don’t be shy about asking.

First-time parents are sometimes overwhelmed with the new responsibilities they face, yet feel that seeking help or counsel is somehow indicative of failure. Let us assure you: it isn’t! Few people can undertake parenting for the first time without a lot of questions, concerns, fears, and worries. No doubt you have a friend or family member who has faced similar or even identical problems with parenting during their first experience. And they would love to help if you just give them the chance to do it!

Becoming parents for the first time brings profound changes, and along with all the love and wonderment you feel comes a healthy dose of anxiety, because so many of these changes are new. No one can truly prepare you for the path you’ve embarked on, but feeling reassured and ready – as much as you can – goes a long way toward making these moments exciting and fulfilling. In the end, being prepared means accepting that almost nothing you’ve read in books or seen in movies or heard from friends is going to occur. This is a wholly unique experience for you both, something no one but you will ever experience in precisely the same way. It is indeed exhilarating, thrilling and – to be absolutely candid – just a little terrifying, too. That is how it should be, because your family has been completely transformed.