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It may seem like your pregnancy will go on forever, but you'll get to meet your new baby before you know it. In the meantime, take advantage of the long wait to prepare as best you can for the changes ahead. A little advance planning now will make it easier to relax and enjoy your pregnancy as your due date nears.
Here are some helpful ways to prepare for your baby's arrival:
Learn about the birth process
The prospect of giving birth can be daunting, and you may be tempted to put it all out of your mind until it happens. But Glade Curtis, obstetrician and coauthor of Your Pregnancy Week by Week, advises against this strategy. "In my experience, women who learn about birth ahead of time are more active participants in their own birth process, which leads to better outcomes," he says.
Consider taking a birth class to learn about the stages of labor, options for pain management, breathing techniques, and medical equipment that may be used during your delivery. It's a good idea to start looking into classes midway through your pregnancy to make sure you can get into one you like – and have time to take it!
You can also learn about different ways of giving birth by watching videos of actual deliveries, including natural birth, water birth, birth with an epidural, delivery by c-section, and more.
Once you've done your research, you might want to list your preferences in a birth plan. But keep in mind that being well informed and armed with a birth plan doesn't mean your labor and delivery will go exactly as planned.
"There are so many twists and turns that labor can take, and no one can predict how it will go," says Dianne Randall, a childbirth and lactation educator at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns in San Diego.
Find a doctor for your baby
You may want to start looking for a pediatrician or family doctor for your baby midway through your pregnancy. That may seem early, but you'll want to give yourself plenty of time to find a physician who will be a good fit for your family – and who is taking new patients and accepts your insurance.
Talk to your health insurance provider to find out how to add your baby to your policy, and see which local doctors are covered. Make sure you understand how your insurance plan works, especially regarding your benefits for labor, delivery, and maternity care.
Get on the same page as your partner
Just as it's important talk about how your partner can help you during labor, be sure to discuss what you'll need from each other during the newborn period. Differing expectations can create big conflicts, so try to work this out ahead of time as best you can.
Don't assume that your partner knows how much your new baby will turn your lives upside down. Talk about how you'll divide baby and household duties. And educate your partner about less obvious things, like how to support you in breastfeeding.
You can also make life easier by hashing out some big decisions now, like what to name your baby, whether to circumcise, how you'll feed your baby, and whether to have a religious ceremony (such as a baptism or baby naming).
Talk to veteran moms
There are all kinds of things about new motherhood that, for whatever reason, sometimes remain taboo subjects – leaking pee, the baby blues, and diminished sex drive, just to name a few.
You won't have the same experience as your friends, but finding out about certain things ahead of time can reduce the shock factor. So ask your mom friends for the real deal.
"For example, there's a myth that bonding should happen right away. That's not true for everyone," says Patricia O'Laughlin, a marriage and family therapist at Center for the Psychology of Women in Los Angeles. "Finding honest people who are willing to share their experiences can help you adjust your expectations."
But if a friend starts rambling on about her third cousin's rare-but-terrifying labor complication, gently put a stop to it and ask for some helpful suggestions on diaper brands instead. Try the our site birth clubs for great advice from women in all stages of pregnancy and childrearing.
Prepare older siblings – and pets
The new baby may rock your older children's world even more than yours. Fortunately, your family has several months to get used to the idea, and there are things you can do to set the stage for a new brother or sister.
Many parents use a baby doll to help their child understand what's coming. Older toddlers or preschoolers enjoy the pretend play, and when they see you diapering or feeding the new baby later, it will seem familiar.
Some hospitals have sibling classes, where older kids can learn about babies – why they cry, how to keep them safe, and why they sleep so much. "Kids really love this. It makes them feel part of the family," says childbirth educator Randall.
As your due date approaches, make sure you've lined up someone to care for your children during the birth and afterward.
Pets also benefit from special pre-baby preparation. Local trainers may offer classes, or you can turn to books, articles, or videos for tips on getting your pet used to the new baby. And consider whether you'll need to make arrangements with a pet sitter or dog walker for when you're away from home.
Line up help for after the birth
In those first postpartum weeks, extra help is essential. "Moms who get help will be better equipped to help their babies, which is infinitely more valuable than trying to be some superhero mom who does it all herself," says O'Laughlin.
If you're lucky enough to have a relative who can help you, consider having a sit-down before the baby arrives to discuss specifics. "Talking about it ahead of time can save a lot of headaches," says Randall. Grandma may to want swoop in and take care of that cute bundle of joy, but Randall says it's more important for the parents to figure out baby care together.
So where does that leave the grandmas? "They should focus on the nest rather than the baby," she says. "This means laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and errands."
Of course, not all potential helpers will be open to this. But many genuinely want to help you in the best way possible and will appreciate hearing exactly what you need.
You can also hire help, such as a postpartum doula, night nanny, or cleaning service. "I'm a clean freak, so I saved up for months and paid for a cleaning service to come in every week for the first eight weeks following my baby's birth. It was wonderful," says mom Ali Bergstrom.
Another service to consider: babysitting for your older children so you can rest. "Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety or depression for some people, so it's crucial to get sleep when you can," says O'Laughlin.
A well-timed babysitter can ensure you get a precious hour to snooze. "I arranged to have family and friends take the older kids to the park and the zoo and out for pizza," says Bergstrom. "They really enjoyed these special outings."
Know what to do when labor starts
Long before the first contractions hit, you'll want a firm plan in place about who to call, where to go, and when to leave.
Your healthcare provider should give you a clear set of guidelines on what to do when you go into labor, like when to call and when to head for the hospital or birth center (or when to call the midwife if you're planning a home birth). Decide who will accompany you, and have a few back-ups just in case.
Plan the route you'll take ahead of time, including where to park and which entrance to use when it's time to check yourself in. You can get a handle on these logistics by taking a tour of your hospital or birth center. On the tour, you'll also learn about basic policies and see the labor rooms and nursery.
If you can, register ahead of time to get the paperwork out of the way. That way when labor rolls around, you'll be able to bypass the bureaucracy and breeze right in.
Decide who will attend the birth
This is a very personal decision. Some moms like a full room, including their partner, a doula, a friend or two, their mom, and their mother-in-law present to witness the miracle of birth and provide support. (If you fall into this category, check with the hospital or birthing center to see how many people are allowed.)
Others prefer as few people present as possible. Give some thought to what you want, so that there are no misunderstandings, unwelcome observers, or offended grandmothers.
It can also be helpful to designate a "family spokesperson" ahead of time – that is, someone who can send emails and make phone calls (or spread the news on social networking sites) to let everyone know when your baby arrives.
Finally, remember that labor can be exhausting, and visitors popping by unannounced during your recovery may not make for the most restful experience. Mary Lou Light, mother and baby nurse, recommends limiting the number of visitors. And if it starts to get overwhelming, ask a nurse to act as bouncer.
"I've seen many moms who want to sleep or breastfeed, but they feel impolite asking the visitors to leave. We nurses do it for them," says Light.
Pack your bag
The last thing you'll want to worry about when labor starts is whether you have a toothbrush packed. Ease your mind by getting your bag together a few weeks before your due date. Make a comprehensive packing list for the hospital or birth center or, if you know you're having a c-section, a more specific c-section list.
In addition to the essentials, think about personal items that can make your hospital stay more comfortable. "I bought nice slippers so I could feel good walking around the hospital, and I also brought my own pillow," says Rachel Scott, who has eight children.
Stock up on the essentials (but don't go overboard)
A new baby requires an installed car seat, diapers, wipes, some clothing, and a safe place to sleep. Add bottles if you're bottle feeding, formula if you're formula feeding, and nursing bras and pads if you're breastfeeding (though some nursing moms do just fine without them).
Don't feel pressured to have every baby product you'll ever need ready to go. You can wait on some items, and getting preoccupied with having all the right stuff can detract from more important emotional preparation. Talk to mom friends or other our site moms about which items they really found useful, and don't worry about the rest.
One final idea: Stock up on household must-haves before the birth to avoid trips to the store afterward. Pantry staples, frozen food, toiletries, medicine, toilet paper, shampoo – even extra pairs of underwear – often come in very handy when you first bring your baby home.