Advice for a New Mother

Advice for a New Mother

A reader writes to ask for advice on “necessary” products, “useful” products, and “non-essential” products that make life with a newborn/toddler easier. And also inquires about “any good Catholic books to read during/after pregnancy or on the topic of marriage and family life in general?”

I’m more than happy to come up with a list of things a new mother might want. I myself was quite blessed when my sister-in-law and then-mother of three volunteered to walk us through registering for baby gifts. Without her help I might still be stuck in the aisles of Babies R US. Other blog readers might also have good advice and can hopefully fill in anything I might forget. Please, pleas fell free to leave ideas in the comments section. Meanwhile, here’s my list with the caveat that there will almost certainly be things that I find essential and you won’t and vice versa.

One thing I will say is that you don’t need at least half the stuff they’ll try to sell you in the baby registries and parenting magazines. And unless you really want to spend extra money for personal aesthetic considerations, you don’t need the expensive designer stuff. We got most of our baby stuff at Target or Babies R Us and generally went with the cheapest available model except where I just didn’t like the way something looked.

essential stuff:

baby swing— other moms may quibble, for my kids this has been essential. I wish, how I wish, we’d had one when we first had Isabella. We’d have got so much more sleep! For the first few months of her life it seemed that she’d only sleep when held. Then we finally got the swing and a whole new world of sleep opened up. With Sophia I think I tried to put her in the bassinet the first night or two and after that I skipped that and have just put her down in the swing. At some point I suppose we’ll have to transition her to a crib, but for now I’m enjoying the sleeping. We got one called a “cradle-swing” that turns so it will either swing the baby front to back or side to side. The girls have both loved the side-to-side motion.

changing table at a comfortable height—It’s worth it to go to Babies R Us and stand at a bunch of them. Maybe it’s just because I’m taller than average, but I only found one table there that was at a comfortable height for me. In the first few months you won’t believe how often you’re there. And having a table at a good height lets you linger, making goo-goo eyes at your precious child. It’s good for giving sponge baths on too. (I don’t use the baby bath tub until the baby is old enough to sit up on her own. I hate wrestling the slippery little things when they’re floppy and helpless.)

at least three covers for the changing table pad. Its amazing how you can go through several in one day with all the bodily fluids leaking from both ends.

lots of receiving blankets— Get all you think you’ll need and then get a few more. I use them as towels to wipe up baby spit up as well as for wrapping up the baby.

also, lots of baby washcloths and towels. Both my babies had a week or two of clogged tear ducts with very gunky eyes. You need to wipe them frequently with warm water and a clean cloth each time. It’s amazing how many washcloths I went through. But even if you don’t have to deal with that issue, I much prefer the smaller baby washcloths for face wiping and sponge baths. Adult washcloths are too big. 

very useful:

baby grooming kit— w/ nail clippers, comb and brush, etc. Someone gave us this as a shower gift and it’s quite handy. I especially like the nail clippers with the big bulb.

I’ve been quite fond of the Graco carseat/baby carrier and stroller combo. The carrier snaps into a base that you keep strapped in your car. It greatly simplifies getting the baby in and out of the car in inclement weather. And if the baby falls asleep in the car, she can stay asleep in the carrier after you bring her inside. And the carrier also snaps onto the stroller. I love being able to move the sleeping baby from the car to the stroller without having to unstrap her. Handy for outings to the park, the mall, etc.

Also, I highly recommend buying the Target brand diapers and wipes. Much, much cheaper than Huggies, Pampers etc and I think they work just as well. Buy one package of wipes in the hard plastic dispenser and after that buy the refills.

Not necessary:

I’m a big fan of skipping the play yard unless you’ve got a dog or an older child. All you really need is a quilt thrown on the floor and the baby will entertain himself quite happily.

Babies don’t need lots of toys, you’ll probably get more than you really need from friends and family. I’ve bought a few things that I really liked but for the most part am more worried about weeding out than acquiring more.

Different people have different philosophies about co-sleeping, cribs, etc. Do what feels comfortable for you and don’t worry about what other people think. We have a bassinet with a side that lowers so it can act as a co-sleeper. Isabella and Sophia rarely sleep in it—Bella spent more time sleeping in our arms or in bed with us and Sophie sleeps in the swing—but now I find it handy as a place to plop Sophie when I need to put her down for a while. We didn’t move Isabella into a crib till she was maybe four or five months old. We got a used one for free from a friend of a friend of a friend and just bought a new mattress.


Surprisingly, I can’t think of many Catholic parenting books. I’ve generally turned to blogs for getting my fix of Catholic mom talk.

During pregnancy I liked Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers-To-Be. Good prayers and meditations for pregnancy.

I love both of Danielle Bean’s books about mothering: My Cup of Tea and Mom to Mom Day to Day. (See my reviews here and here.)

And its not a Catholic book, in fact it’s quite secular, but I really enjoyed reading The Scientist in the Crib, a great book for thinking about how babies learn. 

I know this list is missing some things but my brain is fried right now. I’ll update in the comments section as new thoughts come to me.

Meanwhile, readers, help me out. What is on your must-have for baby list, what can you live without? And any good book suggestions?

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  • To think of all the sad people who are convinced that a priest can’t possibly know or say anything about love…

  • I wonder, aren’t they the same people who would disagree with his definition of love. Many people think love is an emotion, a warm fuzzy feeling, an intoxicating wave. To them the very idea of self-denial and sacrifice are foreign. So the kind of love that a priest has of course seems impossible to reconcile to their understanding.