It seems fitting and perhaps cliché that my first blog as I emerge from the great hibernation that is parental leave is about Lean and Agile parenting.
Ha! Irony! No sleep was part of it!
But it makes sense: I love Lean and Agile and I am now part of the parent cult. That makes two cults! Plus, what is a better test of these methods than some real life situations? Some would argue it is one of the most important life situations ever.
My goal for this article is to share four methods to start you off, that I used as a new parent to not lose my mind [read as: to not completely lose my mind]. This is inspired by my professional experience of 10 years using the Agile and Lean mindset and methodologies and will hopefully help spare you some of the learning curve.
Quick Intro to Agile and Lean for the N00bs (or skip to next section)
It is not necessary to understand the A-Z of Agile nor Lean to implement them. In fact, that is more fitting with their spirit. But still an overview may help you.
Agile is a mindset and a methodology usually used in the production of software, where you iteratively build, test and adapt. There is a great emphasis on communication, autonomy and team empowerment. Here is the mother doctrine.
Lean, which is known for one of its most famous flavors, Lean Startup, is a methodology where proven business demand drives production. Simply put, we first provide an inexpensive carrot to see if the horse will even come before investing in the cart or the stable. Or, better yet, we make a fake carrot out of free trash laying around. Yum.
Like Agile, Lean favors iteration, feedback and adjustment, which is called validated learning. But, there is even more emphasis on austere methods and cutting waste: limiting money spent, automation and scaling before proven viability.
Lesson 1: Your baby and the parent in you are the great unknown so put away the crystal ball
Agile and Lean are great for complex situations and that is why they were developed. What could be more complex than bringing a new being into the world? It is the equivalent of the longest and most important blind date.
Your baby could be chill, a crier or love sports, despite them being primarily constructed of pizza while you were pregnant. Babies and family situations come in all forms. Forget your baby being the unknown… especially, if this is your first rodeo, you as a parent are the great unknown.
So taking a page from the Lean handbook:
Wait til you see the ‘demand’ until you invest.
No, I am not talking about deciding to throw the baby out if you do not like it (along with the bath water). Keep the child, that is one good sunken cost.
I suggest to buy the absolute minimum. Then wait and see what your baby’s personality is and how you emerge as a parent before investing in all that baby paraphernalia. Do no listen to those Facebook ads, even if they know all your personal desires.
Buy a couple test items or better yet, borrow them and then see how your baby reacts before you pull the purchase trigger. If it makes you feel better, you can bookmark items and keep them ready to buy once a proven need arises. Though be careful to not go overboard because what is hot now may not be a few months later. Hello, Nose Frida.
Learn from my mistake: Carried Away
We did pretty good at resisting filling the house pre-baby. I did though have four baby carriers… of all the types… for one baby. As surely my child would love being worn!
Four carriers, for my daughter, who came out 55cm (21.6 inches or 100th percentile) after 58 hours of labor. My mom only ever did seven hours max, so I was not expecting it. My back was destroyed. On top of it, my daughter was born during a heatwave.
My baby hated baby wearing. We tried our hardest for three months. Three of our carriers have gone unused. We now primarily use a stroller. The end.
How to apply this lesson
Golden rule: The bigger the investment (money or space) the more time you should wait to purchase, and if possible, find other ways to test the need.
For example, renting cloth diapers from a local service before investing in any one brand.
I suggest you make a list of must-haves in the final two months or four months, if at risk of premature birth. Buy these items and then stop searching for more until the baby is born. I suggest to wait until last trimester as you may have some indicators of your baby’s size.
Plus, let’s be honest, if you live in a city, you can run down to your local store or order on the internet and get almost anything within hours. The cost to store, move around and potentially overbuy rarely validates the savings of prebuying.
First start with a goal. Setting a goal can keep yourself in check and edit your list. Because afterall, who watches the Watchman?
Example Goal: Baby warm, safe and can be laid down to sleep and transported. Mama can recuperate asap.
- Five outfits in newborn size or one month size, depending on last sonogram
- 10 outfits and 5 pajamas in 0-3 months size – This, in my case, came into use pretty quickly due to her unexpected size
- A sleep solution. I chose a cosleeper.
- Aftercare items for mama
- If you decide to breastfeed: Breastfeeding bras, bra pads and a long pillow for breastfeeding. I used my maternity pillow so did not buy another. I also went naked the first week… so no bras necessary right away.
- Two swaddles or blankets
- One baby hat
- Three pairs of socks that can also be put on hands as mittens
- One baby carrier, stroller or way to transport baby
- Car seat for those with cars, to get back from hospital at minimum. You may also rent a taxi with a car seat or rent a car seat.
- Thermometer and infant fever/pain medicine in case of fever the first nights back home
- Optional: One bag of disposable diapers newborn size and wipes
Afterwards you will get most of what you need from the hospital [Sorry home birthers] and for those with family nearby or a partner, they can run out and supplement once you understand the baby: Diaper size, does breastfeeding work for you or do you now need a bottle and formula for home, etc.
Or perhaps, you will find you need to purchase a pacifier as the baby is not quite so happy to be on dry land.
Lesson 2: Scale only after proven need, just start iterating
This is similar to the last point but warrants its own mention.
OK, great you know more about your child and your needs… NOW it is time to buy ALL the things. Right?
Nope, nice try Captain Capitalism.
I suggest you encourage the mindset of lean and minimalism by:
Only advance down the rabbit hole, as you see that your demand deepens.
For example: OK, you now see that breastfeeding works for you. Still, you should resist buying a wardrobe for the next year, including that snazzy breastfeeding friendly ballgown for your work Christmas party. Instead, buy some tops to get you through the next month of current weather.
Start with a hypothesis of your needs evolving every month, and check back in later to see.
- Does [fill in blank ex: breastfeeding] still serve us?
- Do we have any unmet needs?
- What could the solutions be? Are there any solutions that do not require purchasing?
- Decide and Implement
- Repeat Cycle
For example, due to health issues I was not able to breastfeed longer than 5.5 months. Good thing I did not invest in a portable pump for work! Nor that ballgown… #postpartumWeight
Lesson 3: Data is queen: Create a measurable feedback loop
Trust me you will most likely have only two neurons to rub together after the birth.
So grab one of the many free apps and start tracking a couple things. Or use a notebook, but I found an app was good to synchronize easily with my husband. I used Baby Daybook. I started with a core set of categories, but then slowly started dropping those that no longer were needed. Accruing and maintaining information for no reason is not good either.
For example, when my daughter was newborn, we tracked:
- Feeding amounts and times
- Medication given to her or me and timing
- Diapers: timing, quantity and poop/pee/both
Then four months later my app looked like:
- Feeding amounts and times
- Pumping amounts and times
- Nap times and lengths
As time passed, my daughter’s digestion ability developed and her health stayed good so we were able to drop tracking medication and diapers. On the other hand, my milk supply was low, so I had to start tracking pumping. In addition, we started getting her on a schedule so sleep was key to track.
Now since she was seven months old, we track only her monthly measurements as now we are in the groove.
Note: There is a saying that: When the data is actually useful you often do not have it. So, you must project and starting accruing for “Future You”’s needs. That being said, luckily and unluckily for you, your baby will have very short cycles of change, so no worries, if you did not track exactly everything you need from the start.
See a need? Gather 2-3 days of data and you can usually make a pretty good hypothesis to advance.
Lesson Four: One hypothesis at a time
It will not always be possible to boil your mysterious bundle of joy into a scientific hypothesis. No matter how hard you try!
Sorry for the disturbing mental image of baby stew. Seriously, if not for your own sanity, I suggest to only change one thing at a time and wait a cycle before adapting.
In addition, I suggest if you co-parent to be on the same page as your partner on what you are testing/changing and why. This includes other caretakers.
“Oh, sorry honey I thought you meant I needed to eat the child not give her more to eat. Silly me.”
Yum, baby stew.
Enjoy the ride (it is a flume down a very high waterfall into river of tears… and rainbows!)
I have more to share but will leave it at that for now. Parenthood can be an extremely complex, emotional and primal experience. The more you can approach it in an methodological Lean and Agile way, yet stay open-minded, the better. This could save you some tears, energy and money. But there will still be tears, trust me.
Perhaps you can use that to measure your progress? +1 for less tears?
Until next time, drop me a comment if you enjoyed or hated this article. Please share with me your own learnings and experiments as a parent.