Everything I needed to know about raising babies I learned from my girlfriends

12 great tips, from how to get your husband involved to diapering shortcuts


An expert babysitter (if I do say so myself), I thought I had a good handle on the whole motherhood thing … until I had Ned. Mothering and babysitting, I soon learned, are two very different things. I needed help. Whenever I asked our pediatrician for advice, she’d say, “It’s a stage. It’ll pass.” When I asked my mother how she survived a teething baby, sleep deprivation and the like, she responded, “I don’t remember.”

So how did I survive my son’s first year? With a little help from my friends. All the really clever ideas, the secret tricks of the trade, the creative solutions to everyday problems came from my pals (and friends of pals) during late-night e-mails, casual conversations at the playground and long-distance phone calls between feedings. Here are 12 of the best bits of advice they gave.

(1 ) Reserve the first 15 minutes of your baby’s nap time for yourself. “If you start right in on the dishes, laundry, etc., your baby inevitably wakes up before you ever get around to relaxing,” says Monica Cramer, a friend of a friend. “So I began taking my ‘me’ time first.” Monica, who has one toddler, suggests setting a timer to force yourself to chill out—read a novel, soak in a tub or simply sip tea with your feet propped up—until the buzzer goes off. “It absolutely saves your sanity,” she adds.

(2) Hang a calendar in the baby’s room to keep track of all those firsts. “A wall calendar with a pen hanging beside it offers a quick and easy way to record your baby’s progress each day,” says Lady (yes, Lady) Smith, a former colleague and mother of one.

(3) Invest in a headset phone. (I got mine at Circuit City for less than $100.) I don’t remember who gave me this tip, but I couldn’t survive without mine. A headset phone allows you to talk with friends while you fold laundry, cook dinner or even lift weights during baby’s nap time, preserving her awake time for uninterrupted bonding.

(4) Leave tags on all but the basic newborn clothes. My sister-in-law, Willa Neale, with whom I speak at least once (OK, twice) a day about baby-care quandaries, saved me a lot of time, money and frustration with this tip. “As anxious as you are to wash the baby’s clothes and have her closet all organized two weeks before she arrives,” says mother-of-three Willa, “resist the urge.” Leave the tags on anything you don’t need right away—and save all those gift receipts—so you can return or exchange outfits. This way, your summer baby doesn’t get stuck with winter clothes in newborn sizes or 25 dresses in size 6–12 months.

(5) Let your husband have “alone time” with the baby for as long and as soon as possible. This advice comes from Ann Ostrowski, another friend of a friend and the mother of 1 1/2-year-old Max. “Even if it’s just for an hour, it’s the best way for him to learn how to care for the baby in his own way.”

(6) Order baby announcements ahead of time. “Once you have the baby, all you have to do is call in the details (name, weight, etc.),” explains Ann, who would probably be my new best friend if our relationship weren’t limited to e-mail. “This saves you from attempting to decide between thousands of options on two hours’ sleep.” (Many companies will supply the envelopes before the baby is born, so you can address and stamp them while you’re still in nesting mode.) Check out Customcraft at www.cuscraft.com and Naptime Productions at www.naptimecards.com or look under “Stationers” in your Yellow Pages for local resources.

(7) Keep a stocked emergency diaper bag in the trunk of your car. So advises Jan Smith, another former co-worker and a mother of two, who gives these bags as shower gifts. Stock your bag with diapers (one size larger than your baby wears now so the supply will last longer), a change of baby clothes, a top for you (in case of spit-up or overactive letdown), zip-top bags (for soiled clothes or diapers when there’s no trash can in sight), emergency contact list, ready-to-use formula if you’re bottle-feeding, extra pacifiers and toys, paper towels, baby wipes and a disposable camera so you never miss a photo op.

(8) Test drive and assemble baby gear before you need it. My friend Alyson Haynes learned this the hard way. “You should have seen my husband, my mom and me in the parking lot of the hospital. It took us about 30 minutes to get the baby in the seat—incorrectly!” Alyson laughs about it now, but it wasn’t hilarious at the time. “And we didn’t assemble the swing until 11 p.m. our second night home when the baby was screaming his head off. Big mistake.”

(9) Set up more than one diaper-changing station. Whether you deliver vaginally or by Cesarean section, you’ll want to minimize stair climbing while you recover, says Rachel Jones, a longtime friend of my other brother’s wife. “I used the top of the washing machine and padded it with bath towels,” Rachel says. Bathroom countertops work, too. Stock your second changing station with everything you’ve got in the nursery—extra diapers, wipes, burp cloths, diaper-rash ointment and clean clothes.

(10) Serve baby food at room temperature. There’s nothing worse than listening to a baby whimper while you heat up a meal and then wail while you blow on it to cool it back down, says Amy Sklansky, my college amigo and now a mother of two.

(11) Start preparing dinner in the morning. You’ll avoid added stress during the late afternoon, when babies tend to be more demanding. My friend Janet Murphy, who had three kids in 33 months (no multiples!), gave me this tip. If you can prepare the whole meal ahead of time, do. If not, get the chopping and other prep work done.

(12) Trust your instincts. My college roommate Kadi Anderson, an alarmingly calm mother of two boys, admits this isn’t always easy. As a baby, her second son fell asleep being rocked and nursed. “According to the books, this was a problem,” Kadi says, “but it seemed so natural.” Her son made the transition to going to sleep on his own without incident. Do what feels best for your child.

Though all these tips helped enormously, my new-mom girlfriends also were great for another reason: to constantly remind me how blessed I was to have this little soul in my life.

When your friends aren’t around

If your friends are still single or live far away, take comfort: These books by our favorite baby-care specialists read like advice from your best pal.

The Baby Book, by William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N. (Little, Brown, 2003).

The Girlfriends’ Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, by Vicki Iovine (Perigee, 1997).

The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp, M.D. (Bantam, 2003).

The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent, by Michel Cohen, M.D. (HarperCollins, 2004). Touchpoints: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development, Birth–3, by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. (Perseus Publishing, 1992).