A TRAUMA SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO THE PANDEMIC

By Anna Kreiner

The last few months have been hard on all of us. Not not only on a personal level, but on a global scale. At first it was hard to separate sci-fi apocolypse movies from reality because everything seemed so panicked and surreal. The world was on fire. But over time the pandemic has morphed into a beast that is both similar and enormously different from what it was a few months ago. We have the same problems: number of COVID19 cases, deaths, fear, quarantine, racial disparities in healthcare, companies going bankrupt, lack of access to testing, essential workers putting their lives on the line, and us doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Except now, even though we know more about the virus, we have all of these same problems plus the added bonus of public denial, political gas-lighting, and the fear that so many of us have about schools opening this fall. It’s a lot. It’s overwhelming. And it’s exhausting. Especially because we need to continue to stay vigilant as case numbers increase again.

In healthcare, our doula work, and our personal lives we’re starting to see the long term mental health effects that this constant “survival mode” has had on our minds and bodies. Our bodies are not built to withstand this long-term anxiety and such an intense fear for our own survival for so many months on end. There’s a reason that anxiety disorders and long-term trauma wreak havoc on the mind and body. Fight or flight by nature is intended to get us out of immediate dangerous situations and carry us to safety on a last-ditch burst of energy. Not to sit in it for months on end. That being said, there’s a lot to process, a lot to feel, so much to grieve, and a lot to work through just from existing in the world right now. And even more so when you add in managing work, homeschooling, figuring out where your next paycheck is coming from, taking care of the kids, and for some, bringing a new baby into the world.

We are unfortunately experiencing a collective trauma that will likely continue for more months to come. I entered into the pandemic already as a survivor of trauma from an awful event I experienced in my late teens. Clinically, the 6 -year war I fought with my own mind was diagnosed as PTSD, but I personally just called it “hell.” I am grateful to have since recovered and have healed through many ugly years of demolishing and rebuilding myself. Now, thankfully, that specific event is no longer the main thing I see when I look at myself in the mirror, but rather just a formative part of my past. In many ways my previous experiences with fighting for my own survival have helped me throughout this pandemic. I already had a tool kit packed for if I ever needed to operate out of constant survival mode again. Don’t get me wrong, even as a seasoned vet I’ve still been struggling to navigate all of this. But there are a lot of small, very tangible things we can all do to make this whole experience a little bit easier on ourselves.

So whether you entered the pandemic as a trauma survivor or with perfect mental health, these are my tried and true methods for making this period of constant uncertainty and fear just the slightest bit easier to get through. If you can do them all in one day, cool. But if you can’t, that’s totally fine too. I personally aim to do at least one per day.

 

So let’s get started…

A little tidbit I have learned throughout my healing process: Trauma has a posse. And it’s not a great posse. And while not everyone will have a full blown PTSD trauma response to everything that’s going on with the pandemic, I’ve definitely noticed the majority of the people in my life (even those who haven’t struggled with mental illness in the past) being visited by one or more members of this unfortunate group:

  • The suffocating vice grip of panic
  • The stale fog of insomnia
  • The slimy voice of self doubt/self-invalidation
  • The heavy tendrils of lethargy/depression
  • The cracked wasteland of numbness/denial (dissociation)
  • The non-stop hamster wheel of hyper-vigilance (constant anxiety)
  • The hellish rage to fight this thing (fight)
  • The quick-footed sprint to flee somewhere else, somewhere safe (flight)

These reactions are all normal under these circumstances. It is our brains trying to protect us. And this is your reminder that you will get through this. You HAVE gotten through this, and you will continue to do so because this will not last forever. And simply recognizing which member of this posse is visiting you on any given day can help identify the things that might help to alleviate their ickiness.

17 things that can help make the pandemic even slightly better:

1. Establish a routine. Some people are naturally spontaneous. But when it comes to crisis situations and issues of mental health, our minds and bodies do much better with a routine. It eliminates the element of the unknown so that our brains know what to expect and how to prepare for the day. That way they’re more willing to get out of survival  mode. Of course it’s not reasonable to expect that every single day will look the exact same. But integrating small repetitive elements can do wonders. My brain knows to expect that when I wake up in the morning I will have my cup of tea, I will go to work, at lunch I will always have my cup of coffee, and before I go to bed at night I will watch some Netflix, read a few pages of my book, and go to sleep. And as long as all of those things are happening, everything is A-OK. In a way it’s kind of like looking after a scared pet. 

2. Give yourself some grace. It’s okay to be social one day and anti social the next, angry one day and then fine the next. The flip flopping emotional roller-coaster is just our brains figuring out how to handle all of this while protecting us. Be gentle and patient with yourself. If the emotional roller-coaster becomes too much to handle, I highly recommend touching base with a therapist. My therapist is honestly my favorite person right now, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need references!

3. Go for a 20 minute walk 3 times per week. Some people are getting buff during quarantine which is AWESOME. Power to those who are! But for a lot of people it’s just not feasible. Initially, I tried to do a 20 minute walk every day but it was just… not happening lol. Sometimes I’m tired and don’t want to walk around! But setting a goal to go for a walk 3 times per week at least ensures you’re getting up and moving twice during the work week, and once on the weekend. Vitamin D and movement are important for the mind and body. So take care of your body like you would your little ones. Even if you can’t become a body builder (like the majority of us), just make sure you’re moving. Even if it’s just stretching. Doing what you can is okay. I personally use Pokemon Go to get me up and moving (yes I’m a dork, I love catching all the pokemon). 

4. Give yourself a pat on the back for the little things. I do this by having my favorite tea throughout the day. Then when I get home from my day job I make a point to get either boba tea or eat a coconut popsicle. It’s a smaller version of “treat yourself.” Existing in every day life with the constant din of anxiety in the background consumes so much energy. It makes everything just that much harder. So you deserve these little rewards. Give yourself some credit!

5. Boycotting/immersing in social media. For this one, you’ll have to be super honest with yourself because your needs may change from day to day. Sometimes social media is so over-stimulating that it makes me panic. Sometimes it makes me feel relieved because I get to bond with others over shared experiences. It’s important to check in with yourself. Listen to what you really need. The news will be there tomorrow. Anything immediate will be announced through emergency alerts. But if you need to watch funny videos on facebook to keep yourself sane, absolutely go for it. 

6. Give your body some slack. Unfortunately, there’s a loooooooot of body shaming going on right now. This is your reminder that there is NOTHING wrong with your body changing. Specifically, there is nothing wrong with gaining weight. I’ll say it again: GAINING WEIGHT IS NORMAL. A lot of us are less active than we were in February, so of course it’s going to happen. And even if that weren’t the case, gaining weight or being fat is not a bad thing. Curves, rolls, and squish are beautiful. I don’t know about y’all, but my body has changed a lot since March and that’s okay. This body is the body that got you through the pandemic. It is strong, it is resilient, and it is worthy of love. 

7. Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Unless I’m at work, it’s No Bra Central over here at my house. Take it easy and wear your comfy clothes when you can. Things are going to be stressful and unpredictable regardless, so you might as well be comfortable while working through it.

8. Remind yourself that it’s not just you. It’s easy to feel alone in a time period that requires us to be physically distant in order to heal. This sense of isolation makes it even easier to be hard on ourselves since we’re not surrounded by our usual goals and support systems. A lot of us are working from home, so “supposedly” our productivity should increase, right? Nope. Sorry. You’re not just “working from home,” you’ve been forced to work from home during an international crisis. There’s a lot to worry about, and even just going to the grocery store takes so much extra thought and planning. Your productivity will probably take a dip at some point if it hasn’t already, and so will your kids’ if they’re going back to school this fall. This is all okay. And it’s important to be patient with yourself. You’re getting through it. Getting through it is the goal, anything else is just a bonus. You’re doing enough. 

9. Sleep as much as you can! Life is exhausting for a lot of us right now. Sleep when you can. Naps are a godsend. And don’t feel guilty about it! You’re giving your body what it needs, and it needs that extra energy and rest to conquer the day. 

10. Be honest with yourself. About everything. Boundaries, your limitations right now, alcohol consumption, how you’re feeling, exhaustion level, finances, what’s good for you, bad for you. All of it. No shame or guilt whatsoever. If you’re honest with yourself you’ll be able to see clearly where you have leeway and where you’re running low on reserves. It’s okay if you drop some balls here and there. It’s just a matter of which ones are made of rubber and which are made of glass. 

11. Talk to your loved ones when you feel up to it. Isolation, both emotionally and physically, creates an excellent breeding ground for the trauma posse. So please don’t forget to talk to your loved ones. Zoom exhaustion is real though, so of course don’t over-exert yourself socially. But there’s definitely something to be said for a sense of community counteracting anxiety and depression. 

12. Save the things that make you laugh or smile. I personally take so many screenshots and send so many videos to my loved ones. That way I can spread the joy, and look back on them later if I’m having a case of  “Pandemic Brain.” Get the laughter, smiles and peace wherever you can. Pinterest has also been a godsend in this respect because you get all the pretty pictures and crafting ideas without the facebook fights. I especially recommend beautiful nature photos as a grounding tool. They’re a great reminder that some things are still effortlessly beautiful. For me especially, if the photos have people in them, I can picture myself standing exactly where they are in the photo with the wind in my face. Visualization is powerful. The sense of peace just comes naturally.

13. Take things minute by minute, and day by day. When everything feels so overwhelming that you can’t think clearly, take it one thing at a time. Slow down and breathe. Just get through this hour. Then this day. And before you know it the weekend will be here. Baby steps still move you forward. 

14. Watch happy TV. Life is already stressful. The media you consume doesn’t have to be. Sometimes this rule falls to the wayside for me though. I love Grey’s Anatomy too much. 

15. Make your bedroom cozy and a place you feel safe. Somewhere you can retire to for sleep, sexy time, and to reset when everything feels too heavy or overwhelming. Over time your brain will start associating your bedroom with safety. There will come a point where your brain will automatically decrease the levels of stress hormones in your body simply from the act of you walking into your room. There’s a reason professionals suggest this for insomnia and anxiety! Pro tip: Plants and twinkly lights go a long way. 

16. Make sure your basic physical needs are getting met as much as possible. Be sure to eat, drink water, and sleep when you can because Maslow’s hierarchy of needs isn’t fiction my friends. If your basic physical needs aren’t met it’s easier for your brain to leap into survival mode because your body is physically already that much closer to it. It’s unbelievably difficult to achieve emotional stability if these basic needs aren’t met. Physical/emotional safety are also big factors as well. If you’re in need of temporary shelter due to emotional or physical threats to your safety (including but not limited to abuse and homelessness), please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for resources or to any of the following organizations: SafeHouse (Washtenaw County), Coalition On Temporary Shelter/COTS (Detroit), Common Ground (Oakland County), First Step (general Wayne County area), and Detroit Trauma Project (general Wayne County area). 

17. Cry it out if you need to. Do it. You’ll feel better. Even in labor, if we notice that a birthing parent is feeling frustrated, stuck, or if their labor is stalling during active labor we will often suggest crying it out. It releases SO much tension and allows people to move forward both physically and emotionally. There’s a lot of pressure to hold everything together right now. So if you’re feeling stuck, cry it out. Let the pressure go. 

There’s been a lot of emphasis on finding a “new normal,” and while that’s definitely a goal to strive for, I, myself, have struggled with this. Because nothing about this is normal. And accepting this lack of normalcy has lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. It has forced me to focus on the little things in my day that I do have control over. So please remember, that regardless of how you’re coping with the pandemic, you’re doing just fine. You’re getting through it. And that is more than enough for now.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH AND BEYOND

We may be nearing the end of Black History Month, but the influence of Black folks in birth work and every other aspect of society continues 365 days a year. Black History Month is a time to recognize the pivotal role that Black folks have played all throughout history, and celebrate the richness they have cultivated, despite society’s continuous efforts to hide their accomplishments. However, it’s not enough to stop at just Black History Month. We need to continue celebrating Black folks in the past and present as well as making sure that our doula practices are accessible to Black parents. For us, creating equity is a continuous and intentional act of centering the voices and needs of marginalized communities in our doula work.

When it comes to our particular field of work as doulas, if you haven’t seen the statistics that have been zooming across news outlets and social media: Black parents are dying at 3-4 times the rate of white parents, and Black babies are twice as likely to die during childbirth as white babies. Furthermore:

“Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.”  

-Linda Villarosa, New York Times

It’s not okay. And it’s horrifying. There’s no explanation/reason that could ever make this statistic okay or any less devastating. Black parents deserve better. 

(To learn more about HOW this happens, be sure to read this article from Lamaze International. They do a great job of breaking down the statistics, the vibrant history of Black Midwives in the US, and their importance in modern America.)

That being said, it’s not enough to simply state that we’re allies of Black parents. “Ally” isn’t just a label that we can pin to our chests and call it a day. It’s a constant commitment to equity, growth, and advocacy. And beyond that, a promise to uplift justice, action, healing, and mindfulness. A simple label won’t absolve our communities of the weight of the maternal mortality crisis, or the racism that still exists in every aspect of our society. That weight is inter-generational, centuries in the making, and has existed since Africans were first brought across the sea against their will as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Here at Tree Town Doulas we want to say thank you to all the Black birth workers that have paved the way, from Margaret Charles Smith to Racha Tahani Lawler. If you’re a Black birth worker and would like to connect to gain experience, exchange resources/networks, or more please don’t hesitate to reach out! 

If you’re a non-Black birth worker committed to change but don’t know where to start: Check out this article that amplifies the words of DONA’s Black doulas themselves. This article might be a few years old, but it’s still applicable. An oldie but goodie.

To Black people who are looking to be parents and are looking for a doula for their birthing process, we will actively work to hear you and center your needs. We understand that we’re not a fully Black staff, so if you’re in southeast Michigan, below is a list of Black birth workers and parenting groups in the area. 

Black Birthworkers and Parenting Groups in Southeast Michigan

Our Village: African American Expectant and New Mom Group

4260 Plymouth Rd, Ann Arbor MI 481905

Contact: Mnscott@umich.edu

Link for their facebook page

Link for their schedule/event page

 

Black Mothers Breastfeeding Socials through Washtenaw County WIC Breastfeeding Support: 

WIC office, 555 Towner St, Ypsilanti MI 48198

Contact: (734) 544-6800 or message their facebook page

A lovely article about their work

 

Mosaic Midwifery Collective

Homebirth midwives: Heather Robinson, Cynthia Jackson, and Jahmamma Selasie

Contact: mosaicmidwiferycollective@gmail.com or call (248) 965-9539

Main website: www.mosaicmidwiferycollective.com

Link to their facebook page

 

Organizations dedicated to professional, childcare, educational, safety, mental and reproductive health support for Black parents:

WIN Network Detroit

Contact: info@winnetworkdetroit.org, or call (313) 874-4581

Main website: winnetwork.org 

Their page of resources for parents

 

Focus: Hope

1400 Oakman Boulevard, Detroit MI 48238

Contact: (313) 494-5500

Main website: focushope.edu

 

Mothering Justice

777 Livernois, Ferndale MI 48220

Main website: motheringjustice.org

A FRIENDLY REMINDER

There’s nothing quite so powerful as a story. In particular, our own personal stories. The vulnerability we create by sharing and owning our stories (when we feel safe and comfortable enough to do so) holds so much power. That vulnerability opens up opportunities to learn alongside each other, but also to open minds, change opinions, and empower others. It gives us permission to feel, to dig into the deepest depths of ourselves, to question, grieve, play, laugh, empathize, and to explore. And in many cases, reveals to us the true beauty and complexity of what is within our reach in in every day life. With a single collection of words, our stories (and we ourselves) have the ability to fulfill one of our most basic human needs: the need to feel like we belong, and to know that we are not alone.

So here is your friendly reminder: You are not alone.

Regardless of where you are in your parenting/life journey, you are not alone. We’re in your corner. There comes a point in every journey where we need to lean on the wisdom of others, and if you’re there right now (and also if you’re not!), that’s totally okay. As doulas, we have our own stories, but we have also witnessed the many successes and struggles of other families too. And if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that parenting can be hard, and sometimes we all need a little extra TLC. That’s where we come in. Of course we love getting to meet your beautiful baby, but we’re also here to check on YOU. To help you get your needs met while you look after your little one. We know that if parents are nurtured and cared for, their babies will be too. We are professionally trained to support parents without judgement and in ways that make sense for their unique relationships with their babies. We don’t have an agenda for how we think you “should” parent because we know that parenting is already hard enough. We don’t expect you to be perfect or to know everything. We don’t judge, and we know that sometimes you’ll want to think of something other than parenting. Above all else, we embrace and honor whatever decisions you have made for you and your family. Instead of giving you directions, we walk with you. We’re just here to listen and to help.

WILL YOU BE MY VALENTINE? (AND CHANGE THE BABY’S DIAPER?)

It’s almost here, folks! Valentine’s Day: the hallmark holiday filled with cutout hearts, chocolates galore, witty candy hearts, and sexy underthings. A lot of people have a very specific idea of what Valentine’s Day “should” look like since it’s the stereotypical holiday of couples. But it’s no secret that becoming a parent changes everything. From relationships to your daily routine, fatigue level, hobbies (or sometimes lack thereof), alone time, sleep cycle, diet, finances, and all things in between. You just created a whole human being, and it’s hard work! Who has time to stop at Victoria’s Secret when your life is currently consumed by a crying baby, a mountain of dirty diapers, an endless sea of baby clutter, and a little one that feeds around the clock?

For all of you new parents out there looking to cherish or rekindle the romance while also keeping up with the new routine you have finally fallen into, have no fear! 

These are our tips and tricks for having a stellar Valentine’s Day as a new parent:

Keep it Simple If You Need To. 

Take the pressure off. If all you want to do for Valentine’s day is take a nap, THAT IS TOTALLY OKAY.

Self Love.

Whether you have a partner or not, give yourself the gift of self love this Valentine’s Day. You matter and you are important!! Take moments throughout the day to appreciate YOU and how far you’ve come. Not only did you make a tiny human, but you’ve also managed to take care of that tiny human! Congratulations!! Self love and self-appreciation often falls to the way-side for a lot of parents. So this Valentine’s Day, be intentional about acknowledging your needs, making peace with them, and reaching out to your support system to make sure those needs get met. No shame or guilt whatsoever. Self love is all about working towards a healthier you. You deserve to be healthy. Even just honing on one particular aspect of your life that you’ve been neglecting can do wonders for creating a sense of calm and self-appreciation.

Reinvent Romantic Dates.

It’s time to nix the notion that something only counts as “romantic” if it’s a giant gesture with dramatic swelling music, hundreds of roses, shouting from the rooftops, and a fancy restaurant dinner. Especially now that there’s a new baby around, it’s time to mix things up! Romance can absolutely still exist (and be within your budget!) as a new parent. Even amidst the dirty diapers and spit-up. It might just look a little different! A few ideas to try out:

  • A chill movie night with your partner. Even if you only have time for an episode of your favorite TV show, that little bit of quality time with your partner can go a long way. And if you don’t have a significant other, a movie night with friends is just as effective for getting the good feelings flowing 🙂
  • DIY restaurant date. This is a great one if you love the idea of a dinner date but don’t have the resources for a babysitter (or just aren’t ready to take that step yet!). Clean your eating space to set your mind at ease, light a bunch of candles strategically around the room to set the mood, and order some Take-Out to minimize preparation and clean-up. You now have your very own homemade restaurant date.
  • A nap date. Not only will you both be catching up on the Z’s that you need and deserve, but you really can’t go wrong with some good old fashioned big spoon-little spoon cuddle time 🙂
  • A nice cup of something. Whether you’re a tea drinker, coffee drinker, or neither (grab a cup of orange juice!), the time it takes to savor a beverage is plenty of time to just be in each others’ presence and appreciate one another.

It’s the Little Things.

Normalizing everyday romance is so important, and it can really be a godsend when it comes to bringing back some of those ooey-gooey coupley feelings. Small expressions of appreciation can sometimes mean even more than enormous gestures because they show special attention to your partner’s likes, dislikes, daily routines, and what puts them at ease. For example: cleaning the bedroom, doing a load of laundry, bringing your person tea in bed in the morning (or any other beverage/food they enjoy), a massage, or little valentine’s notes all over the house. All of these things let your partner know that you’re thinking about them, care about them, and are cherishing them through every day actions. Especially if your significant other is stressed and you have the ability to take care of something on their To-Do list. That’s one less thing they have to worry about and they’ll likely feel super grateful.

Gift Inspiration.

If you and your Honey are gift-givers, this section is for you! Keep in mind that not all gifts have to be material items, and they certainly don’t have to be expensive.

  • The gift of timeA lot of hobbies and small (but important) forms of self-care often fall through the cracks when caring for a newborn. An amazing gift you can give your partner is the uninterrupted time to do something they love while you watch the baby for an hour or two.
  • The gift of sleep. The same goes for this gift! Your partner will be eternally grateful when you surprise them with the chance to take a nap or sleep in without having to worry about a diaper change.
  • The gift of relaxation. Few things can beat a massage or a relaxing homemade herb bath.
  • A family photo. The early days of raising a baby often fly by faster than we expect. A family photo or photo album of the memories you’ve made with your little one is the perfect way to preserve those beautiful moments.

Sexy Time? Who knows.

If sex is just not on your radar right now (especially if you’re still recovering from a physically and/or emotionally traumatic birth) that is TOTALLY okay. Expressing love and affection in ways that you feel comfortable is all that matters!

But if you ARE feeling in the mood for a little sexy time (solo or otherwise), open up a conversation with your partner ahead of time so you can set time aside to get that need met. And honestly,  if you’re in the mood, why wait until Valentine’s Day? You’ve been exhausted, stressed, and working hard to raise a beautiful new human since the second they were born into the world. Sexual needs are needs too, and you don’t need a Special Occasion as an excuse to get that Big-O. At the same time, it’s super common for parents to feel self-conscious about sex after having just launched a baby out of their bodies. A lot of new parents struggle to feel sexy when their attire consists mainly of  nursing bras, maternity wear, and whatever bodily fluids their baby chooses to eject on them at the time. Plus, the “bounce back” culture of postpartum body standards has brought so much unnecessary anxiety to the lives of new parents. But we’re here to remind you that those expectations are pure garbage. Your body is perfect, sexy, beautiful, and powerful in all of its postpartum glory. It might take some time to get used to your body again (now that you’re its sole occupant), but please don’t let that stop you! Sex and intimacy of all forms can be wonderful for nurturing that spark with your partner and rediscovering what feels good for YOU. Not only will your stress fade away for that period of time in the bedroom, but it’ll also remind you both that you’re individual humans outside of being diaper-changers. So if your partner is game, go get ’em Mama 😉 

Love on Each Other.

If your schedules are conspiring against you and there is absolutely no time for anything other than your normal routine this Valentine’s Day, you can still make the day special by loving on each other. Even if you’re just ships passing in the night. Whether your texting your boo how cute they looked this morning or complimenting them on how they handled the baby’s 2AM meltdown. Never underestimate the power of words, gratitude, and affirmation.

And when all else fails, you can’t go wrong with some classic hugs and kisses 🙂 XOXOXO

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! 🙂 

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS

Sound of Music (1965) Julie Andrews

If you have tried creating a baby registry lately, you have probably noticed that there are an overwhelming number of baby products.

So what do you actually need for your little one?

The truth is, that it is really hard to know what your little one will actually like before he or she is actually here. You might find that that swing, pacifier, or swaddle that you thought you needed is never used by your little one. You might find that the stroller that your friend raved about just doesn’t quite fit in the trunk of your car. What works for one family doesn’t necessarily work for others. With that in mind, I still wanted to put together a list of some of my favorite products.

These are the things that have made my life easier in the fourth trimester: 

Haakaa silicone breast pump

The Haakaa is unlike any other pump I have ever used. First there is the price point. At under $20, this is something that I thought would be worth it even if I only used it for a couple weeks. I was under the impression that the Haakaa just caught the milk that would otherwise leak out of the other side while I was nursing. Although that is largely true, just squeezing it a bit more will create a suction that pulls more milk out. I started using the Haakaa when I was about a week postpartum. I was quite engorged, particularly on one side, and my little one was having trouble latching on. I suctioned the Haakaa to the engorged side and sat down to feed my little one on the other side. By the time he was done with that side I had 3 ounces in the Haakaa and he was able to latch on to the other side. I started using the Haakaa for the first couple feedings of the day and it didn’t take long before I realized that I was starting to have a nice stockpile in my freezer. I wouldn’t say that the Haakaa replaces the electric pump. I haven’t had any luck using it without my baby nursing on the opposite side. It wouldn’t do me any good if I had to pump at work and it certainly isn’t discreet. It is, however, a game changer for those of us that find ourselves leaking or engorged. 

Aden and Anais knotted gown

There are a lot of opinions on what kind of baby pajamas are the best. The options are generally snaps, zippers, or gowns. I judge all of them on how easy it is to change diapers in the middle of the night. I love the ease of a gown, but I often find that my little one ends up with cold little feet. The knotted gown solves this issue. You literally just tie a knot in the bottom of the extra long gown and those cute little feet are kept warm inside the super soft pajamas. The only downside to this gown is that Aden and Anais only makes it in a 0-3 month size. I was very sad when my little guy outgrew it.

Halo Sleepsack Swaddle

 Swaddling a baby can help to sooth them and makes it less likely that they will wake up due to their startle reflex. Although you can certainly swaddle a baby in a blanket, it makes me nervous to leave them unattended with blankets. My oldest was like Huidini and no matter how well we swaddled him he would always work his way out of it. With my second and third I discovered swaddlers that had snaps or velcro to keep them secure. I have several different brands, but the Halo is my favorite. Halo’s genius design includes a zipper that appears to be upside down. The benefit of that is that you can leave your little one swaddled while you change their diaper. They make these sleepsack swaddles in a few different fabrics so you can pick something warmer or lighter depending on your needs. I also have Halo Sleepsacks (without the attached swaddles) in several sizes. These are perfect for keeping little ones warm when they are still too young to have loose blankets 

Reusable breast pads  

If you are breastfeeding you will probably need to have some kind of breast pads. At 3 months postpartum I leak a lot less than I did at 3 weeks, but I still find that I need to wear the pads in my bra. I still leak a bit from my right side while breastfeeding my little one on my left. I also will occasionally leak if I hear him (or sometimes other babies) crying. Although there are disposable options, it seems silly when they are so easy to wash. I have bought them from Target, but I prefer to support small businesses. You can absolutely find great reusable pads on Etsy, but my favorite are from Goddess Homemaker, a Michigan woman that also happens to make absolutely adorable baby clothes. How many you will need will depend on how much you leak and how often you want to do laundry. I have six pairs and it works well for me.

Evenflo EveryStage DLX

I do a lot of research on car seats and I have found that most people have strong opinions about the best seats. With my first two I had one of those infant bucket seats that everyone seems to get. There are a lot of benefits to being able to quickly remove the car seat from your car, but it just isn’t something that I did that often. I do a lot of babywearing and my car seat stayed in the car 90% of the time. When I realized that most convertible seats can hold a newborn as small as 5 pounds, I decided to skip the newborn seat with baby number 3. So far the only time that I have found this inconvenient is at restaurants. I have become really good at either eating while holding a baby or laying him on a blanket in the booth. When he can sit in a high chair this won’t be an issue any more. The EveryStage DLX has been wonderful. It quickly adjusts the height, so that in 3 seconds I can make it fit my friend’s three year old. The DLX is so easy to install that I am confident that my 8 year old could get a secure fit. I am hoping that I will be able to keep my son rear facing in this seat for at least a couple years in this seat. There are so many car seat options out there. I highly recommend finding a local store with knowledgeable staff that can help you work through the options that fit your car and your family best.  

Arms Reach Co-sleeper Mini

This is the best bassinet that we have found for our family. Two things about the design work very well for us. First of all, it securely attaches to the bed. This means that no matter how much I lean on it or trip getting out of bed. I will never tip this bed over. Secondly, the side of it can be lowered so that you can easily reach over and grab your hungry baby to feed him/her at night. This is a huge improvement from a traditional bassinet which I found awkward to reach into in the middle of the night. I suspect that the regular size co-sleeper would allow your little one to remain in it a bit longer, but the smaller footprint of the mini size co-sleeper works well for us. At 3 months old, my little guy is still doing well in the mini, but we will probably have to move him to his crib within the next month. 

Wrap-strap Meh Dai

It is no secret that I am a babywearer. My babies have been worn in just about every carrier out there. In the first 3 months of this little one’s life he has been in a woven wrap, a Moby, a Wrapsody Hybrid, a couple different ring slings, and a HopTye (a meh dai made by the German wrap manufacturer Hoppediz). The HopTye is by far my husband’s carrier of choice. It is soft, flexible, and there are no straps that need to be adjusted. It is also extremely comfortable. I can wear my little guy in this carrier for hours without it affecting my back at all. No matter how you choose to wear your baby, it allows you to meet their needs while also having your hands free to take care of your own needs. For me this means that I can grocery shop, play with my older sons, and feed myself while my little guy naps on my chest. The other big advantage of this carrier style is that this carrier that is working so well in these early days will also work on my back when he gets older and should be able to comfortably support him when he is a toddler. I got a great deal on this carrier on the second hand market, but they aren’t the only manufacturer of this style. Two others that I like a lot are Fidella and Didymos. I have a lot of experience and opinions about baby carriers. If you want help finding the right carrier for your family, consider setting up a babywearing consultation in your home or visiting a local babywearing group.

I hope that my list of my seven favorite baby products is helpful for you. Although some of the things I have came from reading a ton of reviews and asking a lot of questions, the majority has just been trial and error. Some things that I painstakingly bought (like our stroller) we have never really used. Other things, like the Co-Sleeper, were gifts we didn’t think we needed that have now become staples in our lives. You will find the things that work best for you.

Just remember that the only things your baby absolutely needs are love, warmth, and milk. Everything else is just to make your life a little easier.