My best tips on pregnancy, labor & all that follows.

Even though I ended up being one of the last of my friends to have a baby, there still ended up being a few stragglers who had their first babies after I did. And if I'm not mistaken, there are others of you out there who have yet to have babies. Here's my best list of things I wish somebody had told me in the days and weeks leading up to having a baby.

Diapers

- Without a doubt, I have to wholeheartedly sing the praises of Target-brand diapers (Up & Up). These diapers scared me for the first few months, because I had been gifted an extensive supply of Pampers diapers, and in my head, name-brand rules all while off-brand ends up being more of a Plan B thing. We used Pampers until they ran out, then decided on a whim to tap into some Up & Up diapers that a friend had passed on to us. As it turns out, they're AMAZING. Granted they don't have the frills that name-brand diapers have, like cute designs, wetness indicators or perfumes (not that I want that, though), but they're absolutely fantastic diapers with no tendency to leak, and they're half the cost of Pampers. Never again did I buy anything but Up & Up, nor will I for any future babies we may have.

- I will say, though, if you don't have access to Target or you prefer name-brand products, I'm inclined to tell you that if I could accompany a Pampers suggestion with lights and music, I would. They're great diapers, and more importantly, they're not Huggies.

- Because friends don't let friends buy Huggies-brand anything. Least of all their diapers. The consensus among anyone I've ever talked to is the same: do not waste your money on Huggies. They're awful.

Wipes

- Since we're on the note of Huggies, stay away from their wipes, too. They're like wet paper towel - they'll actually rip. No good.

- Pampers wipes are really fantastic. I got one large pack of them at one of my baby showers; they're great, quality-wise, and they have a nice smell if you're into that sort of thing. I thought I was, until my brain started associating that perfume smell with baby poop and now a whiff of them makes me want to hurl. Anyway though, that's neither here nor there. So as I was saying, Pampers offers good quality; the price, though, not awesome. I'm like a broken record when I say this - Target is where it's at.

- Target's Up & Up wipes. I swear by these wipes. I buy the unscented ones, so I can't speak for their perfumed ones, but they do the job well, and the price is fantastic. (And side note: I also use them as makeup removers. They're gentle on bums AND faces!)

Nursing Pads

These are something you're going to want to love, as they're going to become an extension of your own body. From the time that my milk came in, about 4 days after giving birth, I wore nursing pads round the clock, seven days a week. The only time I didn't have a bra on was when I was in the shower. You'll figure out your own groove, but for me, it was hard to even make it from the shower to my clothing without drip-drip-dripping milk down my legs and onto the floor. So nursing pads were my best friends.

Don't forget that for the most part, when you're nursing your baby from one boob, the other boob is leaking like crazy; and if your boobs are full (after an extended period of not feeding, for example), when your baby starts crying and you're getting settled and getting your boob out, watch out for spraying. Milk is just going to start shooting out in every which direction. So, again, nursing pads. You want. You need.

- Having said that, I've tried a few different kinds, and have pretty much (again), settled on Target brand (is this post sponsored by Target? No it most certainly is not. I swear.) They're not amazing, but they do the job well. Their only real downside is that they're kind of lumpy - i.e. they don't really conform to a boob as well as Johnson brand, for example. So if you're wearing a thin bra and a thin shirt, it'll be obvious that you've got a nursing pad in. but they're really absorbent, and they'll keep your boob relatively dry.

- Johnson brand. I have a love/hate/mostly-hate relationship with these. I bought a box, really loved the way they conform to my boob (nobody can tell you're wearing them), but I absolutely hate their absorbency. They stay damp, and the absorbent gel stuff leaks out! One day I noticed this weird clear jelly-like stuff on Margot's face, and had no idea what it was...until I went to change my nursing pads and saw a bunch of it around my nipple. Awful! I have no idea whether or not she ever ingested any of it, but suffice it to say I never bought another box, and I was changing nursing pads very frequently. Invest in these at your own risk.

- Lansinoh brand. These suck. I expected more since they're name-brand, but their only perk is two sticky patches (to stick them to the inside of your bra...the others just have one patch). They're stupid because of a fold down the middle that divides the absorbency into two sections. totally defeats the purpose, in the name of easier packaging. Not good. Don't bother.

Nursing Bras

Hilariously, I wore a nursing bra with a hoodie overtop for like, a ridiculous length of time after Margot was born. My sister still laughs at me for it. I laugh at myself for it. I couldn't wrap my mind around how to comfortably wear a regular shirt and maintain insta-access to my boobs, so a zip-down hoodie and jeans was my outfit of choice for months. Because I'm really trendy like that.

Rather than just being hoodie-clad for months, I recommend a nursing tank top that you can wear over a nursing bra (or instead of one, if your boobs can handle that. Mine couldn't.), and underneath a normal shirt if you're concerned with keeping from exposing your whole torso when nursing. I don't have a wealth of information here since I went with a Gillian & O'Malley tank and hated it.

- So as far as nursing bras go, don't have much to say about these, as i don't own multiple brands. I invested in Bravado brand, and realized after awhile that they just don't withstand the test of time. I was really happy with them at first, but I wore out both of the ones I purchased within about six months or so. These are the ones I bought: Bravado's OriginalNursing Bra (Basic Style), and their Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra. I preferred the body silk one over the original, because the body silk comes with inserts, and because the original is a lift-over-your-head one. In the end, though, neither of them were offering me great support and for future babies I'll do some more bra-foraging before buying anything else.

Breast Pump

- I own the Medela Harmony. I got this at the recommendation of a good friend of mine who has used it for all three of her babies, and swears by it. I also got it because the concept of an electric pump really creeps me out. Anyway, the Medela Harmony is great.

Breastfeeding

- I really recommend Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Breastfeeding. I read this while I was pregnant, and it's full of fantastic information that'll get your confidence up, and help you learn methods, positions, proper latch, etc.

- Whether or not you read that book, know that a proper latch is VERY important. Do your research. And don't be afraid to break the latch while you're feeding, time and time again, if you need to. It's worth getting it right.

- To cope with my nipple pain and to advance healing, I used Lansinoh-brand lanolin. It's fantastic; get some if you need it. Actually, get some anyway. Your nipples will thank you.

- If you're being threatened with mastitis due to a blocked milk duct, address it STAT! I'm not saying this is a hard and fast rule, but take heart knowing that I was able to avoid mastitis by making a concerted effort at freeing the duct. Hot compress, nurse your baby with his/her nose pointing toward the blocked duct, and (this sounds crazy, I know), take a fine-toothed comb into the shower, lather it and lather your boob with soap, and comb your boob downward, as though you're combing the block out of the duct. It WORKS.

- Another good resource for breastfeeding information, aside from Ina May's book, is Dr. Jack Newman. He's from Toronto, and is a leader in the field. http://www.breastfeedinginc.ca/

- And, of course, La Leche League - a community of women all over the world dedicated to providing breastfeeding help, support and resources to new and seasoned mothers.

Childbirth

- Back to Ina May Gaskin: I can't speak highly enough of her Guide to Childbirth. Whether you're planning on giving birth naturally, doing it with the help of drugs, or haven't yet decided, read this book! It will empower you, and give you everything you need to know about how to work your way through pregnancy, labor and delivery. It's a fantastic book, and it taught me virtually everything I know - relief positions, deep breathing, etc. It also offers tons of birth stories of women who've done it naturally and had really positive experiences.

- Don't forget the power of your mind once you go into labour. Pick a focal point that works for you. Have your partner or doula squeeze your hips, massage your lower back, be a lean-post for you... whatever you find you're needing in the moment, go with it. Your mind is a powerful thing, as is your body, and you can really retreat within yourself to help work through contractions.

- BREATHE. This is number one. Swift breath in your nose (count to four), slow breath out your mouth (count to eight). Relax every muscle in your body. Keep your brow un-furrowed. Relax your lower jaw. keep your shoulders loose. And breathe.

- Take classes! I was never really into this idea since I did so much reading, and felt like there wasn't a ton I could learn from classes - and I really didn't want to pay for them. But then I found this group of doulas in my neighborhood called the Childbirth Collective, and they offered a free class each week about something different. I got to choose which ones I wanted to go to, and skip the ones I wasn't interested in. It was a great time to pick up bits of information here and there, hear again about all the things I'd read, ask questions, and chat with other expectant mums. The classes can just be really fun - if only to mingle with other big bellies! and you'll get peace of mind and confidence out of them.

- One thing that I learned in one of my classes is that through each of the four stages of labour (early labour, active labour, transition, pushing), the hormones that your body & brain need to cope and push forward take about 30 minutes to kick in once each new stage comes about. So you can be totally in the zone for early labour, then you bump up to active labour, and there could possibly be a half-hour lag time where you start to feel overwhelmed. This is where most women give up and feel like they're defeated. But then the hormones kick in, and suddenly they're back in the zone! Once during Margot's birth I actively felt ready to throw in the towel and toss to the wind everything I'd been hoping for with regard to a natural childbirth; I remembered throughout labour consciously telling myself, "do not say out loud that you can't do this." Because I didn't want to let the thought in. It did happen - once! - i said it - but the struggle passed, and on i went. Just remember you CAN do this! Women have been doing it for a bajillion years. And once you're done, you'll feel like the most powerful amazon woman there ever was.

General

- kellymom.com is an AMAZING resource for all things baby-related. Take advantage! It's a goldmine.

- Hormones. Don't feel bad if you find yourself overwhelmed in the days and weeks following birth. Postpartum hormones are real and powerful! And not lasting. So don't worry if you're completely scared, anxious, overwhelmed, freaked out, confused, happy/sad/happy/sad...post-birth is a crazy time, but things will regulate, and you will feel normal again. Remember that as everything does, this too shall pass.

- Your body. Give it a break. It takes TIME to heal. Time. Time. Time. The body is a powerful thing, but don't overwork it! Stay off your feet, eat well, drink plenty of water, soak in the tub, and relax. And give your body what it needs to slowly but surely get back on track.

You're strong and you're powerful. You're superhuman.