I recently attended a friend’s baby shower, and as she was about to be a first-time mom, the well-meaning party planners put up a well-meaning board where all guests could write “Parenting Advice”. As a mom of two young kids, I had to chuckle at the notes that were scrawled on the board: “Cherish every moment with your new baby,” “Have your husband help with diapers,” “Write everything down in a baby journal.” I decided not to write anything on the board.
I felt that my friend deserved better advice — some hard truths about what happens when your life is flipped upside down, becomes completely unrecognizable and you become a new mom. Below is the advice I gave her. Take it or leave it. It is by no means “expert” advice — just tidbits that I learned along the way of becoming a new mom myself.
- Trust yourself (and your partner) first and foremost. You’ll be bombarded with advice from family and friends (like this!), but only you and your partner know what’s best for your baby. You may even disagree with a doctor, nurse, midwife or lactation consultant. If so, get a second opinion. A mother’s instinct is wicked strong, so don’t ignore it.
- Your baby’s birth may or may not go as you planned. And honestly, having a pre-conceived birth plan can set you up for disappointment when things happen differently. I wanted a natural birth with my son, but had an emergency cesarean instead. I wasted weeks feeling guilty about it. But guess what? At my son’s birth, he was healthy and so was I. Enough said.
- Chances are you’ve just spent nine months being doted on. Doors opened for you, elder ladies rubbed your belly at the grocery store, you got to put your feet up in meetings and your hubby spoiled you rotten. So it’s a bit of a shock that once the baby arrives, there’s a new star in town. Yes, yes, you get it. On a rational level you totally understand that now it’s all supposed to be about the baby. But if you find yourself thinking, “Will everyone please stop looking at the baby! What about me?”, rest assured that you’re normal.
- Breastfeeding can be hard to do at first, and it can hurt at the beginning. However you choose to feed your baby will work, and your baby will be absolutely FINE on either breast milk or formula or both. I’m no doctor, but food is food. Oh, and there’s no guarantee that breastfeeding will help you lose the baby weight quickly. You will lose the weight naturally, as long as you don’t sit around and eat Twinkies all day long.
- Do whatever it takes to get your baby to sleep at night. Co-sleep, put her in a bassinette, in her crib, in her swing, in her car seat, swaddle, don’t swaddle, on her side, on her back, on your chest, literally do whatever works for your family. There is so much advice on this topic it will drive you mad if you try to listen to it all. I say ignore all the “experts” on sleep and do what works. One of my biggest mommy secrets is that I let both of my kids sleep on their tummies during naps (a huge no-no according to experts!) But it’s the only way they would happily sleep. So I’d set them down on their tummies in the Pack ’n Play and just keep an eye on them. It worked like a charm for us.
- If you find yourself inexplicably sad, crying, anxious or depressed, please talk to your doctor. Or call a friend. I had horrible postpartum depression with both of my kids, and it’s unbearable. A little weepiness is normal, but if it doesn’t pass, get help. I couldn’t do it alone.
- You may not instantly fall in love with your baby. On the other hand, maybe you will. My point is, if you don’t feel that instantaneous bond (as shown in all the diaper commercials), don’t freak out. It will come with time. You and your baby will get to know each other and figure out how to “work” together. Once you find that rhythm it will click.
- Having a baby changes your entire relationship with your partner. It’s really weird at first because nothing feels normal. I used to sit on the couch next to my husband and cry that I missed him. He would say, “But I’m right here” and I would say, “Yes, but not like before.” This too will pass. You’ll soon find your “new normal” with your family of three.
- Take pictures. Not just of the baby, but of you with the baby. You may feel fat and tired or hate the bags under your eyes, but you will want to look at those pictures in the years to come.
- Take a shower every day. Dry your hair. Shave your legs. You’ll feel like you don’t have time to do this, but you have to make time. It will keep you feeling like a human being, not just a milk-producing-machine.
- Take lots of walks. Alone, with your partner or with the baby. I think I was up to five walks per day at one point. It’s not only awesome exercise, but you also get happy endorphins flowing, feel the sun on your face and get see other people out and about. Walk, walk, walk.
- If it seems hard to be a new mom, you’re right. The best advice my sister gave me was, “Every day gets a little easier”. That was my mantra. I chanted it in my head every day. And she was right. After a while, things were easier. I knew my baby, our routines, felt confident as a mom and enjoyed motherhood. That’s my hope for you, too.
Kristen Podulka is a seasoned marketing professional, mother of two young children and founder of http://whatskpcooking.com/, a cooking website that offers recipes for real, fresh, fabulous food.