Becoming a mom for the first time is one of those rare, blessed events that will forever change you—but just because it’s bound to be one of the greatest moments in your life doesn’t mean it’s going to be the easiest (or even come naturally). For many of you, mommyhood is still a distant idea, but chances are you have friends and family who are beginning this new adventure and having an understanding for what they’re experiencing is important. For others, the idea of starting a family is a bit closer on the horizon—perhaps even with an impending due date!—and you’re scouring the internet for as much information as you can dig up.
The fact is, motherhood is not for the faint of heart—especially those first few months. For many of us, we’ve spent most of our adult lives calling the shots. We’ve been able to make spur of the moment dinner plans, spend a lazy Sunday in bed, blow-dry our hair when necessary, and even pee in privacy, which happens to be one of life’s most unappreciated luxuries. (To this day, my toddler, Tallulah, routinely opens the door to our bathroom, walks in, points at me and says “Mama,” and walks back out. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.)
Honestly, I could probably offer a hundred different things I think a new mama should know, but each experience is so different and each child is so unique, that even a list that long wouldn’t cover it all. With that in mind, I put together what I feel to be the 10 most important things every new mom (and partner, and grandparent, and aunt, and BFF) should know.
1. Things May Not Go to Plan
This can be a pretty soul-crushing realization for new moms. You spend all this time preparing, but as soon as your little one arrives everything goes right out the window. For me, I have a tendency to be a little obsessive (read: borderline crazy). When my daughter was born, I equipped my husband with her recommended weekly feeding and sleeping schedule—complete with clipboard and check boxes! Needless to say, we didn’t even make it through a single day. My daughter arrived and had her own ideas of what life would be like…for all of us.
Infant care classes often recommend that new parents create a birth plan and creating one can be a great resource for your medical team (not to mention, give you and your partner peace of mind), but remember that just because you plan for your delivery to go a certain way, doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will. I had one obstetrician share with me that more than 80% of deliveries do not align with the intended birth plan.
That being said, if feeling prepared helps to calm your nerves, keep doing what you’re doing. But if the wheels fall off the train (and they usually do), go easy on yourself. If you’re having trouble with milk production or can’t get your baby to fall asleep, don’t beat yourself up (I read NINE sleeping books and still couldn’t get my daughter to fall asleep). You love this little human so much and want to do everything perfect for him or her… but please remind yourself that just because things aren’t going to plan, doesn’t mean you’re not doing a good job.
2. Bonding with Baby May Take Time
We’ve all heard the stories about how the moment a child is born there is this heavenly euphoria that washes over the new mother…but that’s not always the case. To be fair, it happened to me the moment I laid eyes on my daughter, but I attribute that in large part to the morphine (I had a caesarean section, which is a whole other story).
Many new parents won’t feel that instant, heart-exploding connection for days, weeks and sometimes even months, and listen closely: THAT’S OK! When your five-week-old has spent the last four hours screaming at the top of his or her little lungs for no apparent reason, you might find yourself cursing that fresh-face new mama on Instagram who posted a gushing selfie about how much she’s enjoying every moment of motherhood (she probably had the audacity to have brushed her hair and put on lip gloss too). And the guilt you feel might even cause you to question “what’s wrong with me?”
The answer? Nothing. That overwhelming, tear-inducing, can’t-live-without-you-love for your little person will come, I promise, but don’t panic if it’s not there right away. You’re in good company, I swear.
3. Just Say Yes
This is not the time to be shy. If a friend asks to bring you dinner, say yes. If your mother-in-law wants to hold the baby for an hour so you can go for a walk, say yes. If the lady sitting next to you on the plane offers to hold your baby so you can use the bathroom, say yes. (Ok, so entrusting your newborn with a perfect stranger might be a stretch…but you’re on a plane, where are they going to go?). I was reluctant to leave my newborn with my mom for an hour so I could go to the grocery store with my husband, but it’s to this day the best date I’ve ever been on.
4. Breastfeeding is Hard
You’re going to hear a lot about the importance of breastfeeding—and you maybe be surprised at how passionate some people can be. While I had always planned to breastfeed my daughter, I wasn’t one of those diehard advocates. If it didn’t work for us, we’d switch to formula. My plan was to breastfeed for six months, and, when possible, begin to pump and freeze enough so that she’d be on breast milk her first year. I took the classes, bought the gear, and even invested in a deep freezer for storage. After two disastrous bouts of mastitis (an infection in the breast tissue) and weeks of wincing through feedings, my supply was next to depleted. The more stressed I became, the less I was able to produce. After two and a half months, I was done and absolutely devastated—and the deep freezer ended up being used for frozen meals (refer back to #1).
No one knows your journey, so no one should be passing judgment. If breastfeeding isn’t the best option for your family, that’s totally okay. You can still be a wonderful parent and have a happy, healthy baby if you choose to formula feed. And if you do decide to breastfeed, that’s great too and a wonderful way to bond with baby, but go easy on yourself. It’s often a bumpy start and for some moms can take real work. In the end, just do what you feel is best—and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.
5. Find Support
Your sister may have three kids under five-years-old and your best friend might be due four months before you, but it’s not going to be as helpful as you might think. The first few months are such a rollercoaster that the only people who can sympathize with you are those going through the same thing, at the same time. I suggest that all new mamas join a parenting group. Most classes will group together families whose babies are within a few weeks of one another, so everyone is pretty much dealing with similar issues at the same time. It’s an amazing resource—and often a much needed outlet.
6. Your Relationship will be Tested
For those of you fortunate enough to begin this journey with a dutiful partner by your side, it’s important to know that you may grow to temporarily dislike that person. Don’t freak out…it’s totally normal. My husband is the most supportive, compassionate partner I could have asked for, but I couldn’t help but hate him. I was at home all day with a small human attached to my boob and he had returned to work (with the ability to walk to a coffee shop or to check Facebook in silence). I started to resent the freedom he had to return to his life. And when he was selfish enough to get the flu when our daughter was seven-weeks-old, I actually threw a shoe at him.
The good news is that when your new life begins to find its rhythm, things between you and your partner will smooth out. Starting a family is the most extraordinary experience you could ever share with someone, so there are bound to be ups and downs. I remember watching my husband rock back and forth in a glider for two hours with our baby girl sleeping across his chest and thinking, “I’ve never loved him more.” Later that same week I told him I couldn’t stand him because there wasn’t a single salted caramel macaroon in the box he brought me. (I still think that was a huge oversight on his part.)
7. Give Yourself Six Months
After your baby is born, do not expect to snap right back into your pre-pregnancy brain—or clothes! For most women, it takes about six months for your body and hormones to begin to normalize. We live in a culture where women are expected to wiggle into their skinny jeans before leaving the hospital, but that’s absurd. Certainly there are those rare few for whom the weight just falls off, but for 99.9% of us, it’ll take some time.
To be honest, the great weight struggle is just one of the many things new moms are going to experience. After you deliver, whether naturally or via C-section, you’re going to need time to recover. It’s mother nature’s biggest prank: just when you need rest and sleep the most, your baby will pretty much prevent you from getting either. For the first few weeks, your hormones do a complete nosedive. Just accept now that you’ll spend hours sobbing irrationally and be forced to wear Titanic-sized sanitary pads. The silver lining is that it’s all temporary. You’ll get back to being your old self soon enough, which is around the time your hair starts to break or fall out, but I think I’ve said enough on the matter for now.
8. It’s OK to Feel Sorry for Yourself
Being a new mom is tough and sometimes throwing yourself a good, old-fashioned pity party is just what the doctor ordered.
Fun fact: most newborns are nocturnal. While in the womb, babies are bounced to sleep all day by active mamas-to-be and therefore spend most nights rolling around. It takes a while for little ones to adjust and every baby will figure it out, but, in the meantime, new moms need to go easy on themselves. There’s no lonelier hour than 3 a.m. when your new little human needs you most and you haven’t slept in days. Your little one is fussy, cranky and confused, and all you can do is rock, shush and pray that he or she will fall back asleep.
If all else fails… cry. Sometimes all you can do is cry right along with them. It won’t necessarily help your baby fall back asleep, but now and then a new mama deserves a good cry. Things always seem much harder in the middle of night, so it’s totally appropriate to feel sorry for yourself. Just remember that you’re doing your best!
(One piece of practical advice: swaddle. Many new moms will say “my baby doesn’t like the swaddle,” but if that’s the case, you just need to swaddle him or her tighter. There’s science behind it, but it’s easier to just take my word for it.)
9. Stop Comparing
Yourself. Your partner. Your baby. Stop.
Many roads lead to Rome, so don’t expect your journey to be identical to anyone else’s. If your little human isn’t crawling the exact week that Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week tells you he or she should be, it’s totally fine. There’s nothing wrong with your baby, and there’s nothing wrong with your parenting. Those guidelines are just that…guides. Don’t be shackled to them. And on that note, do not look over the fence into someone else’s yard. Just because your BFF’s husband is home every night for bath time, doesn’t mean your partner has dropped the ball. The grass isn’t always greener and no situation is perfect. Not even for Beyoncé (that actually might be a lie).
10. Listen to Your Mom Instincts
Even if you don’t think they’ve evolved yet…trust yourself. With all the opinions you’ll hear and the countless books thrown your way, a new mama should do what works for her and her baby. Don’t feel guilted or pressured into anything that isn’t working for your family.
Above all, the only thing I can tell a new parent with absolute certainty is… this too shall pass. In the beginning, everything is a phase or a stage, and those things that keep you up at night now will become second nature in time or no longer be an issue.
A few bonus pieces of advice:
- Don’t invest in newborn clothes. They’ll be in a diaper and a swaddle most of the time, and will outgrow everything in a week.
- Clean out the hospital room: blankets, hats, diapers, ice diapers (for you, not the baby), thermometers…anything that’s not nailed down.
- Uglier is better. Chic and minimalist gear that looks great with your family room aesthetic is not going to hold the attention of a baby. I fought the Fischer Price swing…and the Fischer price swing won.
Finally, to all the mamas and soon-to-be mamas, you’re doing a great job and your little person is very lucky to have YOU as a mama. XO
What other words of advice would you share with new mamas?
I’d love to hear your own thoughts below.