Congratulations! You're about to be a grandparent. Time to prepare for your new role.

By Sarah Wassner Flynn (

You just heard the news that your first grandchild is on the way. And you've exchanged hugs, shed tears, and cracked jokes about hoping the baby doesn't have your dad's nose. Now what? As you start the countdown to the baby's due date, here are four ways to start preparing for the child who will change your life.

Clear Your Calendar

First, devise your due-date plans, especially if being there for the parents the minute the baby arrives requires taking time off from work or buying plane tickets. Before you cement your itinerary, though, consult with the parents-to-be. If you're traveling a long distance, arriving right away may not be the best plan. "I planned my time to be there later, when my son-in-law went back to work," says Jacquelyn Duplantis, 59, a San Antonio grandmother of two. "That way, I could play with the baby and let my daughter get some sleep." Duplantis's daughter, Jennifer Milikien, 31, appreciated her mother's strategy: "She arrived just as the assistance from our friends and other family members started to drop off. My husband appreciated the fact the she respected our time together at home for the first few weeks - instead of 'intruding' as so many in-laws are accused of doing."

Get Gifting

You may be itching to start spoiling the newborn-to-be right away, but consult with the expectant parents before buying any big-ticket items. Sharon Couto, 55, an East Greenwich, R.I., grandmother of nine and cofounder (with her two daughters) of the parenting-product review site, learned this lesson a bit too late. When she first heard that her daughter, Audrey McClelland, was having a baby, she ran out and bought the coziest, safest stroller she could find. Unfortunately, McClelland was living in New York City at the time, and the stroller Couto bought turned out to be a behemoth compared with the compact strollers most moms used to get around the city's tight spaces. "After my grandson was born, we all went for a walk with the stroller, and a man looked at us and said, 'Where'd you get that tank?'" Couto says. "I'd purchased this big thing, when all my daughter wanted was a compact stroller. I wound up buying her another one the next day."

To avoid such missteps yourself, ask the parents-to-be about their specific needs before you shop. If you want to buy a crib, for example, ask them for the style and brand they prefer, or better yet, go to the store with them, let them choose the crib, and swipe your credit card at the register.

Cue the Nostalgia

With a new baby on the way, this is a great time to tap into your sentimental side. Dig out baby pictures of your son or daughter and pop them in a new album or scrapbook to share with the parents-to-be. The photos can get them thinking about the experiences they want their kids to have - plus you'll have evidence when you're ready to make the case that the new baby looks just like you. You can also present the couple with a family tree. Hidden among its branches, they just may find the perfect baby name.

Similarly, you can head to the attic and start dusting off long-stashed-away family heirlooms. Clean up or mend your child's old favorite toy or Christening outfit so it's ready when the baby arrives. "We have a very special bassinet that my mother-in-law purchased second-hand more than 62 years ago. Many generations have slept in it, and I pass it down to each of our grandchildren," Couto says. "I purchase new bedding and deliver it to the home of the expected baby with lots of love and lots of tradition behind it." (If you plan to hand down an old crib or cradle, make sure it meets current safety standards.)

Brush Up Your Babysitting

It may be decades since you've cared for a newborn, so get up-to-date on the latest child-care practices. You might even consider taking a course for new grandparents. "It's important to know that some things we tried with our own children are not always the best for our grandchildren," says grandmother of two Debbie Thompson, 52, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children's Medical Center in Dallas. For example, once-popular home remedies like dipping a pacifier in honey (or liquor) to sooth a colicky baby are known to be unsafe today. (The American Academy of Pediatrics has the answer to almost any question you might have.) Using the upcoming weeks and months to get as prepared as possible will make the great times ahead even grander.