I get asked from time to time for my number one tip for new parents. My answer is always a single word.
Seriously. Get some earplugs. They don’t have to be fancy; the squishy yellow foam plugs you can get in a cardboard holder for a dollar work just fine. If you already have some fancier in-ear jobs for rock concerts or woodworking or whatever, those are good too.
Because as much as you love your new baby, and as much as you will work to keep them calm and happy, there will almost certainly be times when they are hurting or uncomfortable or just generally upset and unable to be soothed. No matter how much you cuddle and sing and swaddle, they will scream and cry. Some kids will do this rarely. Others will do it all the time. (A friend of ours tells how her eldest child screamed more or less non-stop from the day she was born until the day she walked.) I don’t honestly know which is harder to handle, but I do know that the screaming worked its way through my eardrums and into my brain to induce a panicked pseudo-flight-or-flight response. It was cumulatively, enormously stressful.
Earplugs do not shut out the cries completely. You will not be denying your baby’s distress or placing unwarranted distance between you and your child. Earplugs simply take the raw, serrated edge off their cry, giving you some mental space to cope with it and be a calmer and therefore better parent. It lets you hang in there longer, putting off the point where you have to put the baby in the crib and walk away for a few minutes. (And that’s okay too; the baby won’t die if you take five to regroup.) That means more direct contact with your baby, and possibly a shorter time to a calm baby due to longer, more continuous periods of parental contact.
So: earplugs. Probably the highest-ROI parental purchase I ever made.