Sleep Help

May 8, 2012

OK, here’s me at eight months pregnant: “I’m not going to go nuts getting my baby on a fixed schedule: we’re social, we travel, and I want her to know how to sleep on the road. I’m not setting up some rigid, baby-centric plan where she can only sleep in her crib at home in total darkness, silence and at super specific times.”

Here’s me four months later: “Where can I get some blackout curtains? And don’t forget the iPod with the white noise on it. We’re never traveling again.”

Granted, that was after three weeks on the road, some of it at mountainous altitudes (which babies don’t enjoy), and after it became clear Astrid had big plans to be up multiple times a night for the indefinite future. She just wasn’t a sleeper. Some babies aren’t. I can’t say I ever made my peace with it – unless going right up to the edge of losing your mind is a kind of peace – but we got through it and so will you if your baby isn’t a sleeper either.

Just so you know, pre-baby, there are some things you can do to help matters along – or at least feel like you’re doing something while you wait for your night owl to sort out his nights. These aren’t a substitute for sleep training (whichever – if any – path you choose there) but some basics that might make things better and support that effort (if you sleep train it all).

1. Consistency. Kids like routine and it’s your friend too, especially when you’re sleep deprived. Knowing what’s next is calming for you and Baby.

A bedtime routine – bath, story, feeding and bed – at the same time every evening won’t initially seem like it’s making any impression on Junior, but it’s laying down expectations and physical cues (warm bath = sleepy time) that will eventually take hold. It also gives shape to what can be increasingly chaotic evenings as parents go back to work, getting home right when babies start fussing in the 6-8PM time frame. (Nice coincidence, huh??)

(The doctors, nurses, baby experts and sleep consultants I talked to generally agreed that bedtime should probably be no later than 7PM if you can manage it. 8 at the latest. Babies need lots of sleep and while it can be fun to hang out until 9:30, it’s not generally considered ideal for Baby.)

2. More consistency. Transitions are not your friend. If you’re blessed with a narcoleptic child, moving house, switching baby’s room, changing cribs, and hitting the road might not bother little Rip van Twinkle, but otherwise, your child is as likely to be as disrupted by these things as you are – if not more so – which makes sense since their Spidey sense is all they’re going on before they can understand language. In babies’ case, eating and sleep are where that stress is going to show.

Little story: we did all of those things – traveled for five weeks, moved, graduated her from mini crib to full-size crib, and gave her her own room in the new house – in the space of months 4-9 when she might otherwise have been settling into longer stretches of sleep. I’m not saying that avoiding all those disruptions would’ve meant 10-hour nights, but in retrospect I don’t think it helped matters.

3. Keep it dark. Along the same lines as the bedtime routine, keeping it dark can be a visual cue for Baby that it’s time for sleep.

For a few weeks after she’s born, your infant will seem like she prefers to be up at night: that’s a hangover from being in the womb when Mom was moving around during the day and providing nice, rocking sensations for comfy baby sleep. It will take a little while for her to adjust to the opposite schedule, and providing light and dark at the proper intervals can assist that learning. Open the curtains when she’s awake, take her for a walk, and get her into the rhythm of daytime. Likewise, when it’s time for sleep, do your best to keep it at least dim, if not dark in her room.

Blackout curtains were something I swore we wouldn’t need but which we eventually got and are still a help, especially with summer’s long days that keep the house and her room bright past bedtime.

4. Keep it quiet. This might seem obvious, but you will probably have gotten used to Tiny sleeping pretty much everywhere all the time in the first month or two. I navigated a number of ridiculously loud dinners in San Francisco and Manhattan with Astrid snoozing in her Ergo. That stage is short though and you’ll want to keep in mind that you don’t get your best night’s rest sleeping in a restaurant either. And that, if you’re like me, you wake up when dogs are barking or sirens are wailing outside your window.

A quiet room away from the street is great, and white noise (from a machine or from a rainshower track on iTunes*) can even out sleep-disrupting upticks in noise that do make it through, like those German Shepherds next door. Again, it’s all about creating a consistent environment for learning how to sleep.

If you’re having trouble getting off an infant sleep schedule, give these a shot and see if they help. I hope they do. Either way, eventually it will get better. Really. I promise. Our little one is a great sleeper now. They all get there!

*Make sure you listen to the whole rainshower/rainforest/waves track before setting it on repeat on Tiny’s iPod: some of them throw in monkeys and parrots mid-track. Or rabid seagulls. Or thunder. It freaked me out, and I guarantee it’ll wake up a baby. Don’t ask me what they were thinking: I have no idea.

Bottom line necessities: 

  • 1 sturdy, warm blanket for warmth and floor time.
  • 2-4 lightweight inexpensive blankets (muslin or flannel) for general use (shade, clean-up, having in your bag for whatever comes up). 

Optional, nice to have/will use later too: 

  • 2 flannel, muslin, or, even better, jersey blankets for swaddling. Get them big enough to use for bedding later (47″ square is great).
  • An extra warmth/floor blanket.

Giggle Better Basics Ultimate Swaddle Blanket

When I made my registry/shopping list pre-baby, it bothered me: web sites and books all recommended I stock up on “receiving blankets.” Since I would be busy with the delivering part, I assumed my excellent OB would take care of the receiving bit  and bring along any necessary accessories, including blankets.

What exactly is a receiving blanket? What is it used for post-reception? And why did I need, like, eight of them, especially since these same books and sites were adamant that only if I wanted to endanger the very life of my newborn would I ever think of putting a blanket in the crib with her before she was, say, twelve?

From the other side of having an infant, here’s the deal: you’ll need some blankets. Small ones. That’s it. That’s what they mean by “receiving blankets.”

And forget, “You will need 4-6 light receiving blankets and 4-6 heavy receiving blankets.” Just get a few (3-4) small-ish, regular blankets based on your climate and the time of year you’re due.

Here’s what you’ll need them for – buy/register accordingly:

Swaddle Designs Receiving Blanket

Swaddling. The first few weeks of swaddling you’ll probably use blankets (vs. your other swaddling options). The hospital will send you home with a couple. If you aren’t delivering in a hospital or want some extra ones, buy them big so you won’t have to replace them in a month and you can use them on your toddler’s bed. Also, get jersey over flannel if you can because it’s softer and stretches better (= fewer broken swaddles later when Junior gets stronger).

Jersey blankets are weirdly hard to find, but they’re out there. My favorite, favorite, favorite baby blanket still – for swaddling or otherwise – is Tea Collection’s Lotus Print Blanket (pink or blue pattern). 40×40″ and $35 at their site or in stores. Soft, washable, single-ply jersey. Best, best, best. 

Satsuma Designs makes one that will work: only 35×35 but the right weight and feel. $26 at Amazon$32 at their storeOr Giggle’s Better Basics bold-stripe blankets ($36 online or at their stores.)  And JJCole’s new line ($27 at BabyEarth) also looks about right, although I haven’t personally seen them. 

 SwaddleDesigns makes large (46×46″) flannel swaddling blankets that wash well and will be big enough to last you through all your months of swaddling and will still be serviceable for your toddler’s bed. $10-$25 at SwaddleDesigns.com or $12-$20 at Amazon. Giggle’s Better Basics Ultimate Swaddle Blanket is similar, $25 at Giggle.

Aden + Anais makes even larger (47×47″) muslin blankets that are definitely stretchy enough for swaddling and their patterns are really very cute. But they’re also very lightweight, so not ideal for cold-weather babies. Still, a great cross-purpose buy. $50 for four at Aden + Anais ($26 for single organic), $32 – $50 on Amazon

Aden + Anais Muslin Swaddle Blankets


Warmth. You will not put these in the crib with your baby at night or nap time, but you will still need them to shuttle baby to and from the car on a chilly morning and cozy him up in his car seat or stroller. It’s also nice to have something toasty and fuzzy to put under him in his swing or bouncy seat. You do not need more than two of these (one for use, one for while the other one’s in the laundry). If you live in Florida, you’ll be fine with jersey or cotton – no need to invest in one of these.

If you have some warm, fleecy blankets around already, you can probably re-purpose those if they aren’t too big: just make sure to wash them in baby detergent first.

We were the lucky recipients of one of Little Giraffe’s chenille fleece blankets that are like a cloud of softness (until you wash them 100 times – or once, if you try putting it in the dryer!) Not cheap and the cloud part won’t last, although the warmth factor will. One still lives in our car for cold mornings. $65 at LittleGiraffe or $32-$65 at Amazon (or $80 from your local, high-end baby gift shop!) 

American Baby Company makes a Little Giraffe knock-off for a fraction of the price, so that might be a good option if Uncle Warbucks doesn’t step up with the expensive option. ABC Fleece Blanket with Satin Trim, $12 at Amazon.

Little Giraffe Chenille Blanket

The floor. This might be the same as your Warmth category blankets, depending on how much you invest in your Warmth blankets and how dirty the floors we’re talking about are. Your infant will spend a lot of time on the floor, not all of it on a play mat. You will want to put little Violet down at Grandma’s house to get tummy time, at your new mom’s play group while you discuss the finer points of the dream feed, and in your kitchen while you mix yourself a nice cocktail (just after breastfeeding, naturally). I would recommend a pretty heavyweight material, so there’s some padding and warmth built in, and a very washable color and fabric.

Really, here, you may not need to buy anything new: you can absolutely re-purpose one of your softest household blankets or quilts, provided it’s relatively portable. (Do make sure to pick one that will be comfortable for someone who can’t lift up his head yet – no wide-wale corduroy! – and wash it in baby detergent before you use it.)

Dwell Studio for Target Infant Blanket

DwellStudio for Target Newborn blankets ($13 at Target) are only 28×38″ but are so heavy and the patterns are so nice, they’re still a great floor/multi-purpose blanket (although probably not for swaddling: I found their double-ply material too heavy for that.)

Aden + Anais also makes adorable 4-ply muslin Dream Blanket (47×47″) that would work well – although their backgrounds are always white. And they’re $50 each. But man, those patterns are cute…

Shade. In the car, in the stroller and out and about in the sun, you’ll need something to shade Willemina from the sun. Her eyes will not like any sun for a few months and, while indirect sun is great for Vitamin D, you won’t want her in the direct sun for some time after that either.

Many baby carriers (like the Ergo) come with a hood, baby slings will fold over her, and many car seats also have a collapsible hood that will come most or all the way over the baby, which is awesome for shading her eyes from the sun coming in your car’s back window or while she’s tooling around in your car seat/stroller combo.

If your carrier or car seat doesn’t have that option, no big deal: just keep a lightweight, dark-colored blanket handy. It can be one of your swaddling blankets, no problem. (Don’t use your heavy fleece warmth blanket though: she needs to breathe under there!)

Disasters. Well, messes anyway. There will be spitting up, possibly a lot of it on a long car ride, for example. Maybe at a gas station outside Tahoe at night after a very long day. I don’t want to get too specific. Buy cheap and not too many and just have a couple in the car for the day if you’re out.

Carters 4 Pack Receiving Blankets, $17 at Babies R Us (This is what comes up when you search for “receiving blankets” at Babies R Us, but these are both too lightweight and too small – 30×40″ – to really work for receiving much of anything, particularly a swaddle (unless Bertrand is a very small baby and stays that way). They are cute and very washable though and can wrap up a mess nicely. Or a baby in a pinch. A small baby.

Swaddling Options

January 27, 2012

Bottom Line: As a minimalist who does laundry frequently, you won’t need more than four of all of the swaddling options.

(I know laundry doesn’t sound fun, but you will only need these infant-stage items for a few months, so buying in bulk is not the way to spend baby dollars, even if it seems easier in the short run. If you’re urban and have to go out to do your laundry, even better: hey, baby outing!!)

Swaddling is back. First there was Jesus, now there’s your baby. Not bad company. Well, except for the outsized expectations.

I won’t bore you with too much why and wherefore: I will assume your OB or pediatrician or childbirth class instructor or every book you’ve read about infant care has already convinced you swaddling is the way to go. (My head tells me it’s a good idea – babies are all tight and squished and secure in the womb, so it makes sense the same environment would help them snuggle down and sleep out in the world. On the other hand, my claustrophobia freaks me out at the very idea of being all wrapped up in multiple layers of blankety stuff at night. Right: this isn’t about me. Sorry.)

Astrid, just home

There are a number of products on the market purporting to be the best swaddling solution out there, and every mom you know will recommend (or even give you, even though you didn’t register for it), the one that they like. The reality of it is that there is no best: there’s what works for your child.

Unfortunately, this means I’d recommend that you buy or register for a couple of different ones and see how it goes before you invest in the three or four you’ll need. Or – better yet – email your friends and see if you can borrow a selection. Then go deep on the one that works.

Tip: don’t be too put off by Junior being upset briefly at being swaddled. The experts say that that initial resistance (like, 5-10 minutes of faffing around) is just babies doing some boundary testing to make sure they are actually cozy and secure.

A blanket. The original swaddler. Your hospital/birthing center will probably hook you up with some generously-sized lightweight flannel blankets for swaddling. These work fine, especially if the blanket is big and you have tight swaddling skills. (If you have no swaddling skills, ask your nicest nurse while you’re in the hospital, or your doula, or tap YouTube for help. There are a number of different ways to do it, so don’t get discouraged if one of them doesn’t seem to work – just try the next one.)

In the early days or weeks, your infant will probably stay relatively still and won’t be able to break even a poorly done blanket swaddle. As time progresses though, you may find you have a fighter on your hands who can Houdini out of even your best folding job. In my experience, when you hit this stage, flannel blankets don’t have enough give to keep Junior in. I ended up preferring a heavier, jersey blanket which was both softer and a little stretchier, so when Astrid kicked, the blanket just stretched a bit rather rather than the swaddle coming completely undone.

For my recommendations on which blankets work best for swaddling, check out my overall blanket write-up. (If you buy all the different blankets a lot of books and sites suggest, you’ll end up better stocked than Target.)

The rest of the swaddling “blanket” market are pre-made swaddles: instead of relying on your strength and origami skills, these secure closed with Velcro, zippers or, in the case of the Miracle Blanket, more origami.

The Miracle Blanket. A friend gave us one at my shower. It looked complicated: there was an instruction sheet included. I put it at the back of Astrid’s drawer because a.) as a policy, I do not read instructions (this has not served me well and I have not learned from experience. Do NOT get me started on Ikea.) B.) I also received a stack of Velcro swaddlers that looked really easy to use.

This was my mistake. When it became clear that Astrid was not going to be an easy sleeper and she had an ant-like size-to-strength ratio and was therefore able to break out of all the other swaddlers, our postpartum doula asked if I had a Miracle Blanket. I pulled it out and lo and behold, our solution had been in my drawer all along. So yeah, for me, the Miracle Blanket is the product I try to push on other moms.

It has separate little inner blanket flaps to secure the arms (which allows you to free up one arm later when Myrtle wants to access her thumb to suck) and a wrap-around scheme that looks complicated but takes doing it twice to master. In my opinion, it allows you to swaddle the baby tighter than the other one-size-fits-all solutions (see below). That said, this may only come into play for you if your little one is like Astrid and is awakened by too much ability to move in her swaddle. Or that ant strength thing.

Velcro Swaddles, like Kiddopotamus or Summer Infant SwaddleMe. These come in fleece or cotton (pick based on your climate and season) and are self-explanatory and the cheapest option, even less expensive than some straight-up blankets. Instead of wrapping the baby, you just insert his little legs and butt into the pouch at the bottom and secure the upper part with Velcro over his front (arms up or down). They’re super easy to put back on after a late-night diaper change since you can (theoretically) leave Baby’s upper body swaddled while doing the change.

The down side is that you can’t tighten up that bottom part, so Baby has room to kick inside the pouch even if you bought the smallest size she can fit into on the top. This may not be an issue for all babies, but it will be for some: the point of the swaddle is to restrict the baby’s reflexive arm and leg movement during sleep which can wake her up and the Kiddopotamus didn’t do that well enough for us. (Babies have almost zero motor control at birth, hence the hitting themselves in the face, kicking involuntarily, etc.)

The Woombie or the Summer Infant SwaddlePod. These are the newest of the swaddle products and the weirdest looking: it’s a cocoon of stretchy fabric that zips up the front. When you first wrestle Junior into it, it doesn’t look like he’ll fit, it’s that stretchy. It relies on the fabric’s own properties – rather than folding or Velcro-ing – to restrict movement. It’s bizarre watching a baby in it because you can see her every move. It’s like a hamster in bike shorts. Or an alien.

I tried one on Astrid and she was having none of it, again because it was too stretchy and didn’t restrict her enough, but our nanny’s other family’s baby was content in it and it is definitely the easiest one on the market. There’s a zipper. That’s it. Done.

__________________________________________

I’m sure I’ve missed a few other alternatives: do leave a comment if there’s one that you love that I didn’t mention – or why you love the one you do!

Also, if you want to get ahead of the curve, check out When To Stop Swaddling at Minimalist Mama.

Swaddling blankets, $4 – $40, see links to a lot of options in my post on blankets.

The Miracle Blanket, $25-$30 at Miracle Industries or $32 at Amazon

Kiddopotamus or Summer Infant SwaddleMe, about $11 each at Amazon

Summer Infant SwaddlePod, $11 on Amazon

The Woombie, $27 at The Woombie or Amazon

San Francisco: Toy Shops

January 17, 2012

Just a quick cross-reference to my round-up of San Francisco toy stores over at Minimalist Mama. You won’t be much in the market for a little while, but all my winners carry infant rattles and teethers in addition to their selections for toddlers and older kiddies, so if you’re feeling toy-hungry, head out to one of these places!

Just stop it. Really. You do NOT need to worry about where your unborn baby is going to go to preschool. Even if you live in New York or San Francisco, where getting into the “right” school is a blood sport for some parents, figuring this out while you’re still pregnant is not a priority. Most schools – rightly – do not accept applications from unborn children and, honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to send my child to a school that does!

Most of the true difficulties I’ve heard  about re: not being able to get a child into a preschool are because the family has relocated and are trying to find a space at the last minute. You may or may not be able to avoid that issue, depending on where you are in a few years, but you will handle it when you get there either way. I promise. There’s no solving that one right now, especially not by raising your blood pressure worrying about it this week!

If you’re really wigged out by all the comments from “helpful” co-workers and friends about how hard it is to get into your school of choice, sure, spend a couple of hours looking around to see which schools are close to your home or work* and make a list for later. If you’re really worked up, track down the application timelines and school fees and note them next to the address of the places on your list. Set a reminder in Outlook for when your baby is 6-12 months old to spend a nap time making a plan.** Then put your list in a drawer. You’re done for now.

*All the sane parents I know say that the #1 criterion for a good preschool is that it’s close to your home or your office. But keep in mind that you may not live or work where you do now by the time Alloycius is ready for preschool, so don’t get too attached to one place too early. 

**In San Francisco, there are a couple of good resources to get you started that can take the edge off your anxiety if it’s getting the better of you. Day One offers a Finding a Preschool class that provides a basic overview of philosophies and the process. Also, Parent’s Place hosts a Preschool Preview Night every fall, that’s like a college fair: tables for most SF schools with info and representatives from each.

When I attended the Day One class, it was taught by  Irene Byrne, the director of Phoebe A. Hearst preschool. Her approach was a little too competitive for me, but the info was still helpful, and her newly-published book sounds comprehensive and is obviously current, so if you feel you MUST start your search now, you might start with that resource. Let me know if it’s any good! 

Bath Thermometer

January 6, 2012

OK, so seriously: you do not need a bath thermometer. Unless, of course, your hands and arms are coated with asbestos from that incident at the power plant that one time, in which case, yes, go ahead and get a bath thermometer.

Yes, infant bath time is stressful. I’m with you. I put it off for a long time. An unnaturally long time, really. Like two weeks. And then I got help from our postpartum doula. And then I waited another ten days before the next bath, when it took, like twenty minutes of prep time and two adults to bathe a seven-pound infant. I get it.

The first thing on the anxiety list is scalding your new little baby in those terrible, dangerous waters. You know: the same ones that we all bathe ourselves in daily without incident.

I don’t mean to make light of this – you should absolutely be very careful about the water temperature in your baby’s bath – but this is one of those things where your fear should lead you towards the use of common sense and caution, not the purchase of an additional gadget. Especially ones that work as poorly as infant bath thermometers.

Here’s how the DIY, no-gadget bath extravaganza works:

Step 1: Run the bath.

Step 2: Stick your elbow in it to see if it’s too hot* (your hands’ skin is a little too weathered to read the temp for a baby’s new skin)

Step 3: Adjust the temperature as needed.

Step 4: Put your baby in toes first, to give her a chance to pull them out if it’s uncomfortable. (I used to yell, “Tootsies first!” every time I dipped Astrid’s toes in the tub. I sounded like a crazy person from the 1950’s, but the habit stuck and it works, so just be quiet.)

That’s it. You’re done.

Think of it this way: you’re just as likely to forget to put the thermometer in the tub to test the water as you are to forget to test it yourself, so there’s no savings to your memory bank. If you’re really worried you’ll forget to dip your elbow in before the baby, put a Post-It on the infant tub, your bathroom mirror and her towel to remind yourself. Or write it in Sharpie on Junior’s tummy.

Trust yourself. It’s going to be fine.

*”Too hot” = any level of discomfort for your elbow. I erred on the side of lukewarm for a long time even though our infant care class instructor said repeatedly that warm/hot is OK. Do what you’re comfortable with – but do make sure it’s not chilly: you don’t want to swing wide and give your baby a cold!

Having a baby can get in the way of establishing your rock-solid legacy as the next Steve Jobs or most-doughnuts-eaten-in-a-single-seating queen, but it is time to get serious about some of the more concrete logistics of your legacy, namely a will (and an accompanying trust, if you live in California) and some life insurance.

These are unpleasant subjects on a good day and, during the hormonal, nesting days of pregnancy, probably even more unwelcome. I had to stop watching Law & Order while I was pregnant because it was just too dark. I wasn’t about to take on a lengthy decision-making process related to my and Ramon’s mortality. But if you can stomach it, like moving, it’s easier to do before the baby arrives than afterwards. See if you can at least knock off one of the two at least before Little Darling makes an appearance. It’s a favor to your future self.

Life insurance is probably the easier of the two since it doesn’t involve making the difficult decisions about who will take your child in the event of…well, let’s leave it unsaid. There are two main decisions you’ll have to make. First, between term and permanent insurance. Term is for a specific period of time (usually 20 or 30 years), at which end point, the policy expires if it hasn’t been paid out. Permanent insurance is much more expensive but has no expiration, so it will pay out eventually, no matter what (hence the added expense). My only advice here is to relay our financial advisor’s note that she has never heard from any client who was glad to have invested in a permanent policy (you can borrow against it and essentially use it as an investment vehicle but the rate of return at least in your childbearing years is not better than other investments). That said, if you have piles of money lying around to get a permanent policy, great, do it.

The other decision is for how much you’ll insure yourself and your partner. Ten times your annual income is the industry guideline, but in reality, parents buy as much insurance as they can afford. The younger you are, the cheaper it will be (and those rates will be fixed for the length of the policy), so if you’re under 35 and in good health, get as much as you can reasonably afford now and thank your lucky stars you got in early! I got my policy pre-40 and it’s a fraction of Ramon’s, who is over 40. Think about how much your lost income will be needed until baby is 18 or 22, realize that that is an impossible number to fit into your monthly budget, and shoot for what will let you and your partner sleep at night.

Wills and trusts are harder, mostly because you’ll need to choose someone to take care of your child and, unless one of you has wonderful and young parents whom you both adore, this is going to be a tough one and possibly a source of arguments between you and your partner. I suggest having a brief, time-limited conversation in which you both throw out the names of people you’re considering. Don’t respond. Just put them out there for both of you to think about. Come back to it in a couple of weeks.

Something to consider: your life insurance money will go with your child, so the financial status of your child’s potential guardians aren’t the #1 priority. That said, I was wisely advised to consider how difficult  it might be  for financially-challenged guardians to raise a child with more money in the bank than they have themselves, especially if they have their own kids on that separate budget too.

Also consider what you think of prospective guardians’ kids (if they have them). If their kiddos are hellions, even if you love the parents and their parenting philosophy, do you want your child growing up with siblings who are trigger-happy with the squirt gun or, worse, bullies? Loving your child is a must for a prospective guardian, but these more pragmatic questions may help you decide among your frontrunners.

Oh – and make sure you ask your prospective guardians before writing it all up in ink. They may not be up for it and that’s fine. Just keep the conversation quiet, private and give them an easy way to say ‘no’ without affecting your friendship. After all, taking on another child is a big deal and you want them to want to do it.

In California, all wills automatically go into probate unless there is an attached trust. Your state might be similar: check around. All you need to know about probate is that it takes a while and costs your estate money, so skip it and do a trust at the same time as you do a will. You don’t need to know all the ins and outs before meeting with a lawyer: they will help you sort it out. You can get both in place for a few hundred dollars if you have pretty cookie-cutter needs. If you have substantial property or a complex landscape financially, do hire an individual lawyer but be prepared to pay in the $5-10K range.

Even though they’re inexpensive, be careful about using online forms for serious legal documents. I don’t know a lot about this, but I’ve heard mixed reviews about how iron-clad DIY wills/trusts should there be, God forbid, challenges to it later. You might check with a lawyer friend, if you have one, about your own state’s restrictions and requirements.

First Steps

These are emotionally difficult questions to consider and not many friends or family want to discuss financial matters openly, so direct advice can be hard to come by.  Go easy on yourself and start with small educational steps. My first foray was great: I went to a seminar overview offered by my mom’s group center. It was run by someone who knew quite a bit about all of the above and had been in the life insurance market. Parents’ or community centers often offer these seminars for a relatively small fee.

On the life insurance question, set up a meeting with your existing insurance agent (car, home, etc.) about life insurance (coverage with the same company can yield discounts) and be up front that you want a clear overview, quotes for a number of levels (length of time + amounts of coverage) all within reasonable health categories (not Bionic Man level rates, which they often offer first – most companies call it “Super Preferred”), and that you won’t be buying a policy at that first meeting. If it goes badly or if you just want a second opinion, meet with another agent elsewhere. Big companies may charge a little more, but unknown, cheaper ones may go under – remember, you’ll need them to be around for the next 20-30 years! For wills and trusts, ask for reputable legal references from your local parents’ boards or, again, at new parents’ centers.

Unfortunately, addressing these issues won’t get any easier by delaying them and, at least for the life insurance, it may well get more expensive. As well as riskier and, as such, detrimental to your peace of mind, so bite the bullet and get it done as soon as you can. You need these things in place to safeguard your new little one: it’s the financial equivalent of putting up safety gates at the top of your stairs and locking up the bleach.

I’m thinking about you and wishing you well! Good luck!

In San Francisco, Day One offers overview seminars periodically. 

In San Francisco, for a will/trust package, try Amy Shelf who hosts seminars at Recess.

(disclaimer: I have not attended one of Amy’s seminars yet)