Here are a few items and ideas that have been indispensable for us.
1) BREASTFEEDING IS MUCH HARDER THAN ANYONE ADMITS TO YOU.
Lactation consultants are very fond of saying "if you're doing it right, it won't hurt." I'm just going to tell you, straight-up: This is a lie. As far as I can tell, breastfeeding hurts most women in one way or another. Either the baby doesn't latch properly, which you may not be able to fix right away, or your nipples are flat and/or inverted. Your skin might be sensitive, and your nipples might chap or crack. It's not that it hurts everyone... just most people. Fiona latched properly from the beginning but my skin was sensitive and my nipples were flat. I thought I was a failing her. It was terrible.
We've been using silicone nipple guards and it has made solely breastfeeding Fiona possible for me.
There's lots of debate about the guards, most of which seems pretty outdated. They used to be made of rubber and caused some women's milk supply to dwindle. Nowadays, they're made of ultra-thin silicone. I have no problem whatsoever with supply--although I certainly would have if I'd kept trying and failing to feed her without them! Many women don't want to be reliant on the guards (what if you lose them?) but I don't mind. Fae eats well and I have no pain. Carrying around a silicone nipple seems like a good trade, especially since I have to carry around all kinds of things anyway!
I'm also a fan of lanolin to keep my skin from chapping.
It works beautifully.
2) YOU NEED LOTS OF RECEIVING BLANKETS AND BURP CLOTHS.
I didn't think we'd need many receiving blankets.
They seemed kind of silly since we have a sleep sack for her to sleep in. But Fiona uses at least one or two daily, and they go straight into the wash at the end of the day. We currently have eight of them, which is the bare minimum to suit our needs.
Burp cloths are stupidly expensive for something that's going to be used to clean up vomit. We picked up inexpensive bar mop towels instead.
We use at least two every day. Buy accordingly depending on how often you do laundry. They need to be absorbent, of course, and it would be better if they're soft. Ours aren't that soft so when I get more, I'll get a different kind. They do the job, though, and they're cheap.
3) CLOTH DIAPERS ARE SUPER EASY.
I mean, I guess they might not be if you have a real weak stomach. There is a certain icky factor. However, it's going to be icky regardless of whether you use cloth or disposables. Poop is poop is poop. We're cloth diapering in an apartment building with a coin-operated washer and dryer; it would be stupid-easy if we had our own machine. We use cotton prefolds with a Snappi and Thirsties Duo Wrap diaper covers.
A pre-rinse in very cold water has proven to be very important. Since our machine won't do it, I soak them myself in the bathtub and swish them around a lot. And yes, I then scrub the tub down to disinfect it. But I did that regularly anyway so it isn't a hardship. Then I dump them in the machine on the hottest setting with my homemade laundry soap and bleach alternative. Easy peasy. The diapers go in the dryer and the covers air-dry. It adds two extra laundry loads a week to my routine.
We also use cloth wipes.
Might as well, when we're already washing the diapers. We wet down the wipes with water in a spray bottle. I add a tiny bit (not even a full drop) of tea tree oil to the bottle of water; it's a natural antiseptic but you have to be very careful with it. It can cause irritation. She has developed a little diaper rash recently. We're treating it with pure coconut oil and it's working well.
When Fae starts eating solid foods (in about five months), I'll probably invest in a diaper sprayer and some reusable liners to cut down on staining. I don't really care about stains-- they are diapers, after all-- but Casey doesn't like them. If the stains get too bad, we can always dry them in the sun. That fades pretty much any stain very quickly.
4) YOUR PERSONAL HYGIENE WILL SUFFER.
All those lovely pregnancy hormones that gave you that "glow"? Yeah, those are gone now. Post-pregnancy, I've been dealing with acne, hair loss, sweating, and dry skin. I have bags under my eyes and crazy eyebrows. There isn't much time to take care of myself. Showers feel like a bit of a luxury. My hair is usually a mess. I have to remind myself to put on deoderant.
Also, TMI warning: You leak a lot of stuff after birth. Breast milk leaks, for starters, and you'll have heavy uterine bleeding. This means heavy duty menstrual pads (the overnight kind) and disposable nursing pads.
I also have reusable nursing pads, which I thought I'd like to use at night, but it turns out that I leak through them. No problem if I remember to change them at her 3am feeding but I don't always remember. I end up having to wear two at a time on each side. Many women have incontinence issues for a while after birth. I did, for a few days. If you have an episiotomy, which I did not, you might need to take laxatives. You might need them even if you don't. So there's that to deal with too.
Basically, you're not so cute for a while. And everyone wants to take pictures of you. All the time. Ugh.
5) WEAR YOUR BABY
Newborns want to be held pretty much constantly. Unless you are really good at doing everything one-handed, you'll need a way to carry your baby around. We have an inexpensive structured baby carrier.
Sidenote: This is Casey's number one favorite baby-care item.
6) CONSIDER CO-SLEEPING.
This is sometimes called "family bed" or "bed-sharing." It's pretty simple: co-sleeping involves letting your infant sleep in the same bed with his or her parents. Dr. Sears has a great explanation of the practice, along with the risks and benefits.
We never intended to co-sleep with Fiona. Her crib is in our room so I knew I'd be able to hear her if she woke during the night. This has not worked out well. If she falls completely, unmistakeably asleep then she might--might--sleep in her crib for three to four hours in between feedings. But usually she will not. She absolutely hates the big, empty expanse of her crib at night. Infants have no sense of person permanence. Dr. Sears explains it this way:
"Many babies need help going back to sleep because of a developmental quirk called object or person permanence. When something or someone is out of sight, it is out of mind. Most babies less than a year old do not have the ability to think of mother as existing somewhere else. When babies awaken alone in a crib, they become frightened and often unable to resettle back into deep sleep. Because of this separation anxiety, they learn that sleep is a fearful state to remain in (not one of our goals of nighttime parenting)."
Fae will sleep beautifully at night in bed with us. She feeds between eleven and twelve o'clock, then goes to sleep next to me until I wake her just enough to change her diaper and feed her at three or four in the morning. She rarely fusses at that time and goes back to sleep until seven o'clock. Casey doesn't even wake up for her feeding at three, so he usually sleeps straight through the night
Obviously, we don't let her sleep with a big loose pillow up against her head like that. She sleeps on my side of the bed without pillows or blankets, just a sheet pulled up no higher than her waist. To add extra safety, we have some foam bumpers under the fitted sheet along the edge of the mattress. She usually sleeps on her side facing me.
If we try any other method, it fails miserably. She can spiral out of control rapidly when her schedule is disrupted, crying almost continuously from eleven to three. It's definitely colic, but it really does seem that the colic is controllable if we stick to this schedule. Yes, we could probably get her adjusted to her crib in a few weeks if we allowed her to "cry it out" a bit. But we live in an apartment building, and we're not a-holes so we're not going to subject our neighbors to that for no reason.
You may wonder why we did not get a co-sleeper.
Initially, we had no idea we'd want one. As I said, this wasn't our plan. They are expensive and take up additional floor space. Also, I don't think it would solve Fiona's particular problem. She wants to be up against me, snuggled up close enough to touch me and feel my breath. A co-sleeper would leave her too far away to do any good as far as soothing herself back to sleep; I'd still have to wake up to comfort her. I'm sure these are good solutions for some babies but not for us.
I'm not recommending anything, one way or another. I'm just suggesting you consider that co-sleeping could happen to you.
I hope that helps someone! We're doing well and thankful for all the help we've received thus far. We are so blessed.