There’s a lot to be said for being prepared for when you bring your baby home. We read lots of books, bought way too much gear, and signed up for a college semester’s worth of childbirth classes. In reflection, the best investment my husband and I made was taking the Barks & Babies class at The Pawsitive Dog.
We have two pure-bred American Shelter Dogs (aka rescue mutts) who came to us with their own personalities; one is afraid of people, the other is aggressive with other dogs.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew their reality was about to shift in a big way. I was anxious for advice on how to manage the changes for them -AND most importantly, have a safe environment for the new baby.
In comes Jen Vickery, a canine-human relationship guru who helps families manage the “new baby transition.” She’s the founder of The Pawsitive Dog, in Boston, MA. In Jen’s Barks & Babies class, we gained a whole new perspective on what bringing baby home would be like through the eyes (ears and nose!) of our dogs.
I was six months pregnant when we signed up for Barks and Babies. I learned there was no time to waste. It turns out there was a lot we could do even before the baby arrived! Jen promptly gave us our marching orders, and here was some of her best advice:
- Start walking the dogs while pushing your new stroller—they need familiarity with the new gear. (Yes, you will look a little strange because there isn’t actually a baby in the stroller yet.)
- Channel your inner toddler by pinching and poking the dogs and then reward them with a treat. (Yes, pinching, poking and pulling WILL happen in the toddler years. Best to desensitize your pup early on.)
- Start giving your dogs commands with your feet, not your hands. (At first I thought this was odd, but Jen was so right. Once the baby arrives forget using two hands for anything! And, if you have a sleeping baby in you arms, the last thing you want to do is utter a word that might disturb the peace. )
- Last but not least, FORGET to feed the dogs now and again. They need to get used to unpredictability. (This has happened on more than one sleep-deprived occasion, I’ll confess.)
Jen’s been running Barks and Babies for over 20 years. Her advice was solid, effective and helped tremendously in those early blurry days when we were overwhelmed with our newborn. We found comfort in her advice and reflected back on our learnings well into toddlerhood. Now, in large part thanks to Jen, we are now one happy, harmonious pack.
By Johanna Cockburn
Johanna COCKBURN is a mom, co-pack leader, and nonprofit development consultant in the Boston area. When she’s not managing the canine-human life force in her home, she’s matchmaking people (and sometimes people and rescue dogs) to help build a better world through community activism and social change efforts.
FOR MORE great Gear RECOMMENDATIONS FROM JOhanna, CHECK OUT HER MAMAJAMAS LIST.
New motherhood can be a lonely time, even for those living in vibrant urban areas. When Rachael Fanopoulos had her first child, she was living in the biggest of big cities, New York City. Nevertheless, it wasn’t easy for her to find a community of like-minded parents and good parenting resources (and we all know that the internet can be a scary place when it comes to locating quality parenting advice). That’s when she discovered Mommybites, a national online parenting community, and started attending their NYC events with her infant son. Through Mommybites, she was able to connect with other first-time parents who were going through what she was experiencing, and tap into a rich trove of online courses and resources.
When Rachael moved to the Boston area a few years later, she was determined to help the Boston parent community access the same support she received in New York. So, in 2012, Rachael founded Mommybites Boston with the goal of “empowering moms” by connecting them to each other, experts and local resources. Today, the Mommybites mission has never been more relevant in the Boston area, especially in light of the recent abrupt closure of a local parenting institution, Isis.
So when I sat down with Rachael to get her take on baby products (she sees lots of new moms and lots of baby gear!), it was no surprise that her advice focused less on what products you have, and more on surrounding yourself with the right community and resources:
Nothing can prepare a new mom for how drastically your life changes after baby arrives. You can read all the books and have all the right gear, but being a new mom can be an emotional, exhausting and overwhelming time (as well as the most joyful and rewarding time of your life). Having a friend or moms group to lean on is the best thing you can do for yourself. They help you realize that everything you and your baby are going through (isolation, feelings of self-doubt, for instance) are normal.
While making sure you have a strong supportive community around you in the first couple of years was Rachael’s primary message, she also had some down-to-earth advice on baby products that didn’t disappoint. She made a fantastic Mamajamas list
, which focuses on stylish, yet budget friendly baby gear options. She also had strong opinions on categories of products you don’t necessarily need. For example, she advises to skip the high chair and go with a booster instead:
I don’t think moms need a big high chair – just go with the booster seat from day one. It will save space in your dining area and also make the baby feel like they are eating on a chair, at the table, with the family from the start.
If you’re pregnant or a new mom and looking for some support, I highly recommend getting involved with Mommybites. They have tons of new moms groups popping up in the Boston area regularly, and their larger events are great too. I recently went to their Mom’s Ultimate Night Out and it was really fun (as well as lucrative – they had tons of giveaways and a nice gift bag – I downed an entire disc of free Taza Cinnamon Chocolate on the way home). So perhaps I’ll see you at their Mother’s Day Event in Cambridge?
Parenting in the modern age has become more isolating than ever, as families spread out over vast distances, and our lives become increasingly busy. When you have kids, you finally realize why so many people say “it takes a village.” So if you don’t already have that village or want to expand yours, and you’re living in the Boston area, I can highly recommend Mommybites Boston as a good place to start cultivating one
When I met Kristin for a coffee, the label of “Super Mom” kept running through my mind. Along with the intense job of mothering two young children, she is also an author and entrepreneur. She keeps an award-winning Mommy Blog, wrote a book: Misadventures in Mommyhood, runs a yoga studio, and along with her husband, invests and incubates up-and-coming lifestyle brands.
As I talked with Kristin, I found that she was very thoughtful about motherhood, and also had great insights about baby products. So obviously, I asked her to make a Mamajamas List.
And here it is! It’s thorough, opinionated, and she has great pulse on some of the newest gear out there. Kristin also shared with me some general supermama advice.
What product do you think new parents should definitely have?
Embrace the swaddle! I had two very active infants and swaddling was the only thing that let us both sleep at night.
I never used a diaper pail. I hated the idea of keeping around deodorized poop and pee in the baby’s room. I just put the diapers in blue plastic sacks and then put them into the big trash.
What’s your secret to “doing it all”?
I try to make excellent use of my time. I’m a natural multi-tasker so when the kids are napping or asleep at night I’m a total whirlwind of activity. My kids will always come first though so sometimes other things just slip…like cleaning the house, doing laundry, or feeding myself!
Kara and her lovely daughter.
We’ve been live for a couple weeks now, and it’s been wonderful for me to see all the amazing folks that have that have created thoughtful new lists of baby gear.
One of these great lists is by Kara Engelbrecht, who was my doula/midwife assistant for the birth of my son 3 years ago. At that time, I was living in the Bay Area, and she was finishing up training as a homebirth midwife. She now runs her own practice, Mothercraft Midwifery.
Kara was an incredible birth assistant. And though my homebirth dreams were not realized (due to some medical complications caught early), she and my other midwives provided the most amazing support during my pregnancy and very stressful hospital birth!
I’d like to share Kara’s wonderful Mamajamas list with you all. Kara’s list is minimalist by design, and focuses on products that are wholesome and nourishing for expecting and new parents.
If she had to recommend one “must-have” product for new mothers, it would be My Brest Friend:
“My Brest Friend makes learning how to breastfeed so much easier by supporting both mama and baby. And though you may not use it for more than a few weeks, it is really worth having.”
As for the product to not stress about (or even skip!), Kara says:
“There is a lot of pressure to get a good stroller before the birth, and honestly I feel like this one can wait. Babies like to be worn. Strollers usually end up carrying the groceries more often than the baby.”
Kara has a really calming demeanor. (She really helped to keep me as cool as possible despite a difficult pregnancy and an even more difficult labor.) So I asked her for her secret to tranquility. She offered this:
“Breathe. Breathe every night before bed with five deep belly breaths. This will carry you through your labor and birth. It will help you with latching your baby onto your breast. And when you have a day where you feel like you are at the end of your rope, breathe.”