You can glean plenty of important skills in prenatal classes -- such as how to swaddle a bawling baby or perform infant CPR. But how do you conquer all those inevitable challenges that aren't on the curriculum, like nursing a baby in the middle of a bustling restaurant or surviving on 12 minutes of sleep? American Baby comes to the rescue with some of our best "who knew?" how-to's. Watch your struggles instantly disappear!
Everything in this slideshow
Change a diaper in the dark
Your baby has just finished his late-night feeding and is happily dozing off when you suddenly hear a tiny explosion -- and get a whiff of that telltale sour smell wafting out of his crib. If you turn on the lights to change him, he'll think, "Whee, it's time to play!" But with a little prep and practice, you can swap out his diaper without flipping the switch -- and disturbing his peaceful slumber. First, stock up on sleepwear that doesn't require twisting baby into a pretzel to undress him, says Carrie Kennison, R.N., a pediatric nurse and mom of two who blogs at OurTipsAndTales.com. She recommends you skip the footed sleepers entirely. Just put a zip-up sleep sack, like a Carter's sleep bag, directly over his all-in-one. There's no need to fly completely blind; plug in a dim night-light near the crib so you don't accidentally diaper your honeybun's head. "Don't even bother to take the baby out of the crib," Kennison advises. Just unzip the sleep sack and all-in-one, slide the fresh diaper under his bottom, remove the dirty one, swipe with a wipe (warm it up by rubbing it in your hands for a moment so the cold doesn't startle your munchkin awake), and fasten the new diaper. With any luck, he'll be dreaming about Elmo and kitty cats through the whole presto chango.
Take a frame-worthy photo of a wiggly wee one
You have, bar none, the most gorgeous baby on the planet, but when the flash goes off, your wee one makes a pouty face or squirms in the other direction. The trick is to pretend you're not going for a picture; you're simply lying on the floor playing with her, and you happen to have a camera in your hand. "Most people stand over their child, but you should be down at the same level," says Abby Cope, a professional baby photographer in New York City and mom to an antsy infant of her own. Then, says Cope, hold up a toy, and let out a honk, moo, or squeak that your baby has never heard before. "If it's just the same old sound she's used to, she won't pay attention," Cope says. But do something ridiculous and she'll look at you like she's just won the Baby Powerball. Then quick -- click away!
Nurse in public without anyone noticing
The first few times you feed your hungry baby in a coffee shop or on a park bench, it'll probably take you several minutes to artfully arrange a blanket over your shoulder, find a comfortable position, and coax him to latch on. But once you both get a feel for it, the best cloak of all is simply a laid-back attitude and a smile. "Wear a loose blouse and undo the top couple of buttons," advises Lori Becker, a postpartum doula and mother in New York City. Then slip the baby's head inside your shirt and let him feast -- his head will cover your most private part and a typical onlooker will make the assumption that you're cuddling. "I once nursed my son while I was walking down Main Street in Disneyland, and no one else had a clue!" Kennison says. "If you behave as if nothing is going on, no one else will even blink twice."
Hire a babysitter you can truly trust
Whether you're returning to work and need child care or you'd just like someone to watch the baby for a few hours on a Tuesday, you'll require a sitter who is loving and responsible and isn't wanted by the police in three states. Unless you know her very well, ask her for three references plus her name, current and recent addresses, and social security number, and tell her you plan to run a background check, says Melissa Marchwick, of the online referral service SitterCity.com. (If she won't give you the info or acts strange when you mention it, move on to the next candidate!) You can call her references yourself, but you'll have to pay a service like USSearch.com to delve more deeply into details like aliases, lawsuits, and criminal records (which costs around $79). Another option is to hire a nanny through an agency that does its own vetting (prices range from $10 a month for a SitterCity.com membership to more than $1,000 for a top agency).
Get your baby to doze anywhere
Sure, putting your cherub down to nap in her own crib is ideal, but you can't always be home at the same time every day. You may be on the road to Grandma's house, or driving a big brother to peewee soccer. "To get your baby to sleep in the stroller, a car seat, or a play yard, keep all the other naptime cues consistent," says Kira Ryan, a founder of Dream Team Baby sleep consultants in New York City and mom of two. That could mean offering her a bottle and singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" before she drifts off -- even if you're at the mall. It's also smart to have a lovey your sweetie uses only for siestas. As soon as she rubs her eyes, recline her stroller, hand her Sleepy Bear, and push her around till her snores commence.
Keep your cool on minimal zzz's
You may not be able to finagle more than a few hours of sleep in a row until after your baby's first birthday, but you are still required to function -- whether that means making it through a day at work without your head hitting your desk, smiling and nodding through mommy-and-me music class, or just putting on matching shoes in the morning. The first step is to maximize the winks you do get, says Ryan. "Do whatever you have to do to make sure your first three hours of sleep each night are uninterrupted, since that first stretch is the deepest and most restorative phase," she explains. That might mean letting your husband give the baby the 2 a.m. bottle or conking out whenever your baby goes down for her longest stretch of shut-eye -- so what if it's at 6 p.m.? "You'll feel so much better the next day, even if you ended up having to wake every hour after that first phase," Ryan says. Then it's all about shamelessly asking for help, quaffing cups of coffee, and, most important, cutting yourself some slack, says Laura Jana, M.D., a pediatrician, mother of three, and coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn. "You have to change your expectations of what you can do right now -- you're not going to write that book, run that committee, or even always get a shower. Cut out any unnecessary commitments and focus on what you can accomplish." Good news: Managing to hit the sack at an insanely early hour qualifies.
Blow off unwanted "wisdom"
When you push a stroller down the street, you become an instant magnet for unsolicited advice. Everyone from your dry-cleaner to the lady behind you in the Target checkout line would like to tell you how to get your tyke to sleep through the night, give up the paci, or become the next Baby Gap model. Some of their counsel may be genuinely helpful, but most of it not so much. Instead of getting defensive or being drawn into a debate, use this response, from Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books and a mom of four. "That is so interesting! I'm going to ask my pediatrician about it first thing tomorrow."
Keep your baby quiet and entertained when you're dining out
Every parent should have a "restaurant bag" full of board books and toys ready to go when a yen to be waited on strikes your tot. Yet once in a while you'll find yourself at a caf? with little more than a spare diaper and a stick of gum. "Ask the waiter for a package of Saltines," suggests Jennifer Ritter, a mom of two in New York City. "Let your baby pound the heck out of it and try to open it. My son will play long enough for me to eat at least half a sandwich!" At a fancier joint? Explore the many possibilities of a cloth napkin: Chief among them, you can roll it over your face like a Muppets curtain to play peekaboo. Guaranteed giggles!
Leave your baby with a sitter for the first time, meltdown-free
Even if your baby clings to your shoulder and wails as you walk out the door, she'll be fine a few minutes after you leave. You, on the other hand? Sniffling, fretting, and checking your cell phone every five minutes is not going to make for a romantic date night. To ease your own separation anxiety, take a few test runs, says Douglas. "First, have the sitter come over for an hour while you're at home," she says. "Next time, go for a manicure or run an errand for a half hour. Once you work up to dinner and a movie, you should be comfortable with the idea." Check in before the film starts, and let the fun begin!
Childproof a friend's house in less than 5 minutes without needing a toolbox or destroying property
Every toilet, door, and cabinet in your home may be more heavily protected than the Pentagon, but when you visit a pal who doesn't have small kids, all bets are off. This is why you should always have a roll of masking tape (it doesn't strip paint) in your diaper bag. Tell your host, "Sorry, Ethan is in his mad scientist phase -- he's fascinated by electricity!" and use the tape to cover any outlets in the room where you're hanging out. "Then get down on all fours to see what breakables your baby can reach and move them up higher," recommends Douglas. Pick pocketbooks off the floor too. "You never know what medications or other potentially dangerous stuff people have in their bags," Douglas says. Before you leave, put everything right back where you found it -- and if you discreetly straighten things up a bit while you're at it, you might even get invited back!
Originally published in the March 2011 issue of American Baby magazine.