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Becoming a parent can feel like you've moved to a different planet. The days and nights are upside down, you're handling a lot of new equipment, and there's a tiny alien yelling in a language you don't understand. And what's with that weird smell?
While moving to this strange new world may seem like a daunting task, you can take comfort in knowing that many have gone before you – and now they can't imagine living anywhere else. Here's a guidebook to help you prepare for this beautiful one-way journey. Bon voyage!
Baby and nursery gear
Diapers and car seats and strollers, oh my! Or, should we say, "Oh buy?" It's easy to get overwhelmed by everyone telling you what you "need" for your baby – not to mention the sheer number of choices available for each product.
Before you max out your credit card, do a little research. While certain supplies are definitely essential (you're going to need a lot of diapers), others aren't total must-haves (not every baby fusses over cold wipes and needs a wipes warmer). Our baby registry checklist will help you understand your options and make decisions about what's important.
Be aware that thanks to new safety standards, such as crib bumpers and drop-side cribs, have become definite no-no's. Our links below will help you navigate the aisles safely.
BTW, if you create a baby registry at Amazon, you can register for items not only from Amazon but from anywhere online, and you get free 90-day returns on most things. (Registering through this link earns our site an Amazon commission. Thanks for supporting us!)
Your baby's healthcare
You spend nine months taking care of your baby's health during pregnancy. By planning ahead, you can also make sure she'll be well taken care of after birth.
If you have health insurance, find out when and how to add your baby to your plan and confirm whether the plan covers well-child visits. Try to pick a doctor for your baby by late pregnancy so everything's squared away by the time you deliver.
If you're uninsured, visit the website for the Affordable Care Act to learn about purchasing health insurance through the Marketplace.
If you meet your state's income requirements, you may be eligible for maternity, childbirth, and children's healthcare benefits through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Learn about your baby's healthcare:
- Health insurance coverage during pregnancy and for your new baby
- Choosing a doctor for your baby
- Doctor visits for your baby's first year
- Guide to firsts: Visiting your baby's doctor
- Poll: How did you choose your pediatrician?
- What every baby needs to thrive
Money and budgeting
Baby gear, clothes, diapering supplies, and childcare can add up pretty quickly. If you – like most of us – are on a budget, planning ahead for these extra expenses can help ease the financial burden.
Your baby's impending arrival also heralds a host of decisions you might not have given thought to before, like making out a will, choosing life insurance, and starting a college fund. While it may be tempting to leave these things on the back burner until your kid is out of diapers, it's best to take the plunge and start thinking about them before your baby arrives. They may seem like distant worries now, but they can turn into a big headache later.
But it's not all bad! Along with a price tag, a baby brings tax breaks. Don't forget to read up on those, too.
Learn about money and budgeting:
- Family finances overview for new parents
- Top baby costs and how to save
- Can you afford to stay home with your children?
- The our site family tax guide
- Choosing life insurance
- Why every parent needs a will
Maternity and paternity leave
If there's one thing that's consistent about family leave in the United States, it's that it's inconsistent. The laws vary by state and the benefits vary by employer.
Depending on where you work, you may get several weeks of maternity leave during which you're paid part or all of your normal paycheck. This is typically covered by a short-term disability plan. If you don't get paid leave or you want to supplement it, you can cobble together vacation time, sick time, and unpaid leave. Paternity leave is just as varied.
New parents are allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, without risk of losing their job, by the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You may not be eligible if your company is small or you haven't been at your job long.
Find out your options well in advance so you can decide exactly how much leave you'd like to take and get the necessary paperwork started.
Learn about maternity and paternity leave:
- Maternity leave: The basics
- Maternity leave checklist
- Paternity leave: What are the options for dads?
- Paternity leave checklist
Stay at home or go back to work? Register at your church daycare center, or sign up for a spot at the home-based daycare down the street? Accept the offer of free babysitting from your mother-in-law, or spring for a professional nanny?
Childcare decisions can be very difficult. Each option often has strong advantages and disadvantages, and the choices are often steeped in emotion. But the more you know about your options, the better prepared you'll feel.
Learn about the different choices in your area and ask other parents for their recommendations. Figure out what makes you the most comfortable and what works with your budget. And just remember, the decision isn't set in stone. You can always adjust your plans once you return to work and assess how the childcare is working for your family.
Learn about childcare:
- Childcare options: Pros, cons, and costs
- How much you'll spend on childcare
- Staying at home: Pros and cons
- Backup childcare plans
How your life will change
A moment of truth: No matter how much reading and researching you do, you can't totally prepare for the upheaval that comes with pregnancy, childbirth, and a new baby. Parenthood affects everyone differently, and it's impossible to predict exactly how it will change you emotionally, physically, and every other way.
While you may not know what will be most challenging for you (breastfeeding is a cinch for some and a struggle for others, for example), it can help to find out what may be in store. Glean wisdom from parents who've crossed that bridge already.
Learn about how your life will change:
- 42 things that change when you have a baby
- Top 10 surprises of new parenthood
- Coping with sleep deprivation
- Body changes after childbirth
- Let's talk about sex: After the baby
- Stressed out: Life with a newborn
- Parents say: 40 ways to save time and make life with a baby easier
- How can I maintain my friendships now that I have a baby?
- Taking care of yourself during your baby's first months
They call that first baby the "practice baby" for a reason – new parents usually learn as they go. While you can't prepare for everything (just wait for your first public blowout), getting a few basics under your belt can be a tremendous help.
You might consider taking a newborn class that covers basics like diapering and bathing, or asking for a little tutorial from a family member or friend. You can also familiarize yourself with baby care basics by browsing the links below. And remember – that practice baby won't always be practice. Soon you'll be a parenting pro!
Learn about newborn basics:
- Diapering your baby: Step-by-step instructions
- Swaddling your baby
- 12 reasons babies cry and how to soothe them
- Newborn body care
- Breastfeeding: Getting started
- Choosing to formula feed
- How to burp your baby
- Baby sleep basics: Birth to 3 months
- Safety basics for expectant parents
- When to call the doctor for your baby
- Video: How to give your newborn a bath
- Your child's timeline: When the major milestones happen
- Top newborn problems and how to solve them
- Video: How to put a onesie on a baby