Trade secrets: tips from moms

Psst! Wanna know what raising babies is really like? Here's the inside scoop from the real pros, moms who've been there

I prepare for life’s big events. Moving September 1? I was packed by August 1. Getting married? I took almost two years to plan the day. So when I found out I was pregnant, I thought, “Sure, I could buy the books. They would tell me why I’m breathless or why my allergies seem to be so much worse during my pregnancy.”

I found that the baby guides gave instruction on such things as how to get a good latch or how to get fit again after baby. But I wanted the good stuff — the secret tips and advice that got generations of women through their first year of motherhood. I wanted hand-me-down advice. So along with the garbage bags of clothing, I asked the many women in my life what got them through their “freshman” motherhood year. From the philosophical to the practical, here’s what they came through with, starting with my mother:

Rest assured
“The first night you were home, I had you sleeping beside our bed. And almost every 15 minutes or half-hour, I woke up and put my finger under your nose to see if you were still breathing. I got so nervous from it and didn’t sleep too well. After two or three nights, your Oma (Dutch grandmother) said, ‘That’s it. We’re going to put her in the cradle and in the other room.’ I had our door open anyway and she pointed out I would hear if you woke up. And then I had a good sleep, which I really needed.
Bonney Van Den Broek, mother

Avoid the waiting game
Some people say never, ever give your baby a pacifier, but I used them. If you do, my main tip is take the pacifier away no later than six months. If you’re going to wait until they’re two, they’re going to be attached to it and you’ll have trouble. I thought Anna was going to be a two-year-old with a soother because she’s so cranky and fussy. But I sent her to the sitter’s one day and I didn’t send her with the pacifier in her mouth. The sitter didn’t realize it was in the bag and didn’t give it to her the whole day. From that point on, she didn’t have it.
– Sherry Cassell, sister-in-law

Go with your gut
There is no “right” way of doing things. If I’ve learned anything about parenting, it’s that you shouldn’t judge other people’s parenting choices. Every child is different. I know it’s a cliché, but what has worked for me won’t necessarily work for another parent and child. For example, my cousin’s little girl is such a handful for her, and I don’t blame her behaviour on my cousin at all. She’s just a spirited little girl. Do what works best for you and your baby.
– Charmaine Wong, friend

Know thyself
You really have to figure out what your needs are. I knew I liked to get out a lot and that would be important to me when I had the baby, so I went all out on the baby carrier. I used it with both kids and then turned around and sold it for $50 after Sophie grew out of it. And rather than the snap-and-go stroller/car seat system everybody was buying at the time, I bought a good stroller which I literally drove into the ground because I would walk easily an hour a day with it.
– Kathryn Dorrell, friend

Lunch ‘n’ learn
Before the baby is born, get in touch with a good lactation consultant. Pay the money — it’s worth it. Your first time home breastfeeding, you forget what you were taught, you tense up, and the baby senses that. My consultant had a balloon with her and used it to explain how the milk comes out of the nipple. I truly believe that when you have a good understanding of how the process works, you deal better with the challenges you’re faced with.
– Linda Cudmore, sister-in-law

Mr. Mom
“From day one, Dad’s your best resource and I’m not just saying this because he’s my son! There’s this thing about moms. They think, ‘My way of doing it is the only way of doing it,’ and lots of times other people do it differently, and maybe not quite as well, but the fact that they’re doing it is the main thing. If he changes diapers differently and they’re baggy, so be it. If he baths the baby and it takes a bit longer or he uses the wrong soap, relax. Go lie down while he’s doing it.”
– Mary Cassell, mother-in-law

Look, Ma, one hand
Anything you can do with one hand is good because you’re usually holding baby or holding baby down. I had a diaper disposal system that was basically a step-on garbage can, which was good because I had my hand on the change table. I also had a one-handed-opener nursing bra. I tried on another brand that required two hands to undo the flap…yeah, right.
– Jennifer Campbell, friend
Look, baby, no hands
Use the Snugli inside so you can do things while the baby’s awake. Babies are more content when they’re with you, especially for the first couple of months, and it frees your hands and the baby gets held at the same time. I did everything with it on, including housework. It was my best gift. You can nurse with it if your arms are tired, or even read a book while you’re nursing.
– Karen Cudmore, sister-in-law

The simple life
With gear, sometimes the basics are the best. I got this massive mother-of-all diaper bags and I didn’t need it. I used to bring that huge bag around, and it was just too big. Instead I used this free bag I got from the grocery store — no pockets or anything, and put Jillian’s changing pad in there, diapers, wipes and whatever other supplies I needed, and it was enough. It was just a square bag, almost like a purse. You always think you have to get all the bells and whistles, but you don’t.
– Michelle Mullins, friend

Cut the cord
Cordless phones. I’m able to be mobile and do what I’ve got to do while attending to Jimmy’s needs. Also, when he’s napping, I don’t like to have the phone ringing, so any other phones I have in the house, I turn the ringer off, and I turn on the ringer on the portable phone and bring it in with me.
– Amy Cassell, sister-in-law

Stock up
One word: batteries. I’d just advise making sure your nursery and other assorted baby paraphernalia are completely ready. With my baby 10 days overdue, I was feeling pretty convinced that I was ready for Carlyn’s arrival. But I was wrong. The last thing you need to discover in those really difficult transition days when you’re first home is that you have no D batteries for the baby swing!
– Sharon Ferriss, friend