Since I had my baby, I could think of one phrase to best describe the process of labor and being a new parent:
The hardest and best thing you’ll ever do.
Your nest just became fuller by one (or more). This tiny bundle has been in your or your partner’s belly for 9 or more months and all you’ve had to do until now was eat, sleep, and occasionally talk to them or sing them songs. That was the extent of your responsibility. You’ve made decisions about what you are going to purchase, how you are going to parent, and how you will birth. Yet now they are here, and they are looking at you with boundless curiosity. They are completely dependent on you and your expertise as a parent. Except wait, you don’t have any.
If you’re into some form or attachment parenting like me, you may have told yourself that as long as you meet your baby’s needs and they stay sleep with you that you’ll get sleep and that your baby won’t cry much or be fussy. That’s what I told myself. Except, I didn’t leave room for a few important factors.
A baby’s cry is a prewired reflex to alarm the parent when something is wrong. Until they are older, babies function on a basic instinct to have their needs met. Babies don’t yet have their emotions worked out and they don’t have a full sense of their bodies. Their first experience or semblance of emotion is either ‘everything is ok’ or ‘something is wrong’. They don’t yet feel ‘happiness’ per se, or love, just a sense of ‘okayness’ or lack thereof. Even once babies start forming smiles, as cute as they are, they aren’t really yet a profession of any grand feelings. Their needs are either met, or they aren’t. More complex emotions will come down the line. A crying baby does not always know what they need, and you may not either. Because a baby does not yet know the difference between a specific need for hunger or a specific need for comfort, for example, it is sometimes hard to pinpoint why a baby is crying even if you have run down the basic list of eat/sleep/change, etc.
And though I’ve read books and prepared myself for the wonderful journey of birth and parenthood, I was so not prepared for what was to come in the first few months. Now that we are recently out of that neck of the woods, here are some tips and things to know to get you through those first few months:
1. Make arrangements for help.
I danced around the idea of having anyone over for a while, but wasn’t sure about whether or not I’d want people over so soon. Eventually we decided to take two full weeks after Liv’s birth to ourselves, and then to have our moms fly down to help. We ended up really happy with that decision because when you are entering into such a great unknown as parenting, it is good to have backup. And hey, you may get a baby that is totally content all the time, and that would be great, but unlikely. And so when your husband is rescuing you from 4 hours of rocking little Johnny to sleep, it’s great to have someone to make you dinner because you better be in bed the second that baby is asleep if you hope to get some shuteye. Our moms cleaned, cooked, and even calmed and got the baby down to sleep with magical wisdom that we did not yet have while I checked facebook for sanity or took a nap. One option I learned through my midwife is about postpartum doulas. If you don’t have family or friends that can make it out to help, it may be a worthwhile investment to hire a postpartum doula. These ladies will stop by your house when you need them and cook, clean, and hold the baby so that you can shower (a rare commodity). So if you’re on the fence about having anyone over to help during those first three months, my personal experience tells me to recommend it.
2. Make postpartum freezer meals in your last month of pregnancy.
This was one of the best ideas I had, and I’m so glad we took the time to do it. Sometime during my last month of pregnancy, we shopped for a couple weeks worth of meals that we then cooked at home. They were easy things like stews for the pressure cooker and 20-minute soups. They were loaded with nutrients that a breastfeeding mama (or otherwise) really needs, and were a huge hit. I’ll definitely repeat this with any future children.
When we ended up in the hospital with an emergency cesarean birth, my husband had to drive home and back to the hospital 3x a day to take care of our dogs, because we were new to Colorado and had no friends or family here. While he fed and took out the dogs, he threw one of the freezer meals into the crockpot and brought it to me at the hospital so that I can have good food (something most hospitals lack). I was so, so thankful that I didn’t have to eat and drink the chemical laden juices and soups with soy ingredients. I even stashed some coconut water, cold pressed juices, protein bars, and chia drinks for the big day, which my husband brought as well. I was so, so thankful for that food as my milk came in very quickly and I had a baby to feed.
After we came home from the hospital, boy were we glad to have soups and dinners that we could quickly and effortlessly pop into the pressure cooker or into a pot. There was no time to make food, let alone eat it. The nutritious food we prepared ahead of time was one of the most helpful tips I learned from other mama bloggers.
3. Mentally prepare for a long and exhausting haul.
Sure, you’ve heard babies are hard and you won’t sleep much. I thought, ‘I got this!’. And hey, I’m alive, but still sleep deprived even as I write these tips to you.
You may be a supermama and you may be an insomniac to begin with, that’s all fine. If things are smooth for you during those first 3 months, fantastic! But I really recommending having a good talk with yourself about those hard moments if they do come. It is easy to say you can handle something later when you have all the sleep and time in the world. But once that baby arrives, they are boss.
There will be many nights where you may not sleep more than an hour, months even. You will be cranky and tired and you may lose your patience when the baby won’t stop crying and you can’t figure out why. You may want to say mean things and throw stuff and be mad at your partner. You may question your decision to have children. You may not be able to leave the house for a while because your baby hates the car seat (or car seat, stroller, carrier, paci, and bassinet if you’re my child). Your baby may not do things according to your plans and you may have to bite the bullet on some things that you didn’t think you’d come to. Be ready mama, and be open to change, because you will feel the biggest sense of dread, sadness, loneliness, frustration, and exhaustion than you’ve ever felt before. And you will also be madly in love. I’ll be so delighted if this isn’t you, but if it is, it’s okay. You can feel all those things and still be a good mama. Being mentally prepared helps, a LOT!
4. Tag team.
It’s likely that at some point you and your partner will be exhausted, cranky, and on your last leg. What I’ve learned from other mothers, as well as our own, is that the best way to handle this situation is to take turns, if that’s possible. If you can, take turns rocking the baby and switch every half hour to an hour. Let your partner take a quick shower while you hold the baby, and switch. Switch up who makes dinner (yes, you will cook fresh food again) so that someone can hold the baby while the other gets a break to make food.
5. Go out.
Once you feel that baby is old enough, try to get out of the house at least once a week. Whether you’re going to the food store or to the park, getting out will make a difference in how you feel. We waited until Liv was 8 weeks until we felt like we could take her into outdoor public places. We took her to the outdoor farmers market, out for morning walks (earlier than 8 weeks), and eventually to the store. Changing up the scenery makes a big difference and feels like a breath of fresh air.
6. Take breaks.
Whenever you can, however you can, make it a habit to take some time for your sanity every day. Even if all you have is 5 minutes, or if you have the opportunity to take an hour, do it. Eventually you’ll be able to have more time for yourself, but whatever time you can spare, take it. Take a hot bath, or rest your head for a moment. Meditate, do yoga, go for a walk, dance to some music. Just get out of baby mode altogether. When you’re in the trenches all day, the best thing you can do is get a breath of fresh air and remind yourself that your body is still yours, your mind is still yours, and that you are still a person. I tend to forget that sometimes. Doing this daily is crucial to your parenting, because you can’t take good care of another human being if you don’t take care of yourself.
7. Remember that a few months is short.
One huge factor that’s helped me get through this rough time is knowing that in the grand scale of things, 3 months of sleeplessness is not that long. With the way time passes when you have a baby (what day is it?), this precious (and aggravating) time will be over before you know it. That’s not to take away from your struggle, because it is without a doubt a challenging time. However when I’m having trouble, I just remind myself that she will be this little for only such a short time, that I may one day look back and miss her being this small and giggly. Plus, when your baby smiles at you, game over. You can’t be mad anymore because baby smiles are the best thing ever.
9. No one skips the hard parts, no matter how happy they seem.
Moms (me included) love to share pictures of their smiling, happy babies on instagram and facebook and other social media. As a new mom, it can feel isolating. I would sometimes find myself thinking, am I the only one who feels this frustrated, tired, and pissed sometimes? Are everybody elses’ babies somehow magically skipping these stages? Is my child the only one who just needed 5 hours of rocking for a half an hour nap? Why does everyone seem so ‘dressed’ and well rested, their babies happy? You have to remember that we don’t share images of our babies screaming for an hour, or the bags under our eyes after being up all night. We don’t share pictures of ourselves when we have a bird’s nest on our head first thing in the morning or when our baby just had a massive poop explosion that called for a clothing change for the whole family and a bath for the dogs. We like to capture and share moments that make us happy, that make the hard parts worth it. Life is real, it’s messy, and that’s normal. Remember that.
The first few months can feel so isolating as new parents and sometimes you feel like you’re alone and in the thick of it 24/7. We recently moved out to Colorado and between moving and my pregnancy, and Liv’s birth, we haven’t had much of a chance to mingle. So if you have friends and family surrounding you, great! If you don’t, online forums can be a wonderful way to check in and rant to other moms on places like babyandbump and reddit. That’s pretty much what I’m doing. Make arrangements for someone to come over, see people, let them hold the baby. Talk to people. You’ll be surprised how effective something so simple can be for stir crazy, sleep deprived parents. Even if you have to bounce your baby to sleep on a birthing ball for two hours, do so while you have a chat with a friend. Or, get online and post about your latest frustrations, and chat with some supportive parents that are going through or have gone through the same thing.
11. Ask for help.
Shamelessly take all the help you can get, and ask for more. This is one time in your life when people will understand and will offer a hand as much as they can. Some people would even be overjoyed to hold and play with your baby while you take a 15 minute shower. Have someone bring you dinner, order out, call a friend and vent, get a hug, splurge on a cleaning lady. Whatever it takes to get you through this, just do it. It takes a village, you are only two people (and in some cases, one).
12. No parent is perfect.
You will get mad at your baby, I guarantee it. I just rocked you for two hours, why are you awake? You just don’t want me to sleep! You’re tired, hungry, and slightly insane. No shame, mama or papa. It happens. You have a human to keep alive and it’s tough work! Sometimes you will get frustrated, say a curse word at your child in your mind or even out loud, or think that your baby is out to suck the life out of you. I’ve been there. It’s ok to get frustrated, so you will have to forgive yourself. That’s where all these other tips come in. Take a break, get some support, switch with your partner. Keep in mind that babies are so new to all of this, they don’t know how to do it on their own or they would. They’re not out to ruin your life, even though it may sometimes seem that way. They need a LOT of comfort, and they have a lot to learn. They need endless support and constant teaching. It’s tough being a baby! Gently reminding myself of all these things helps to soften my heart when I feel so mad that my baby won’t do what I want her to (this coming from my lack of sleep altogether last night as I write this).
13. It’s most likely normal.
Your kiddo is sleeping more than is recommended online or by your doctor, or they are doing some developmental things ahead of time and some take a little more time; they’re eating more or a bit less or they are fussier than other babies you know. They’re doing something new and weird this week with their sleep schedule. Are they teething early? Are they breathing? Why do they wake up the second I put them down?! Is my baby supposed to do that? A LOT of thoughts and questions are about to invade your brain and it’s likely that you won’t have the answer to 99% of them. You’re likely to google things a lot and get averages and recommendations. Keep in mind that every baby is completely different and unique. Babies learn and grow at different rates than other babies, they will have personalities and needs that are different than other babies, and a majority of the time this is completely normal. My daughter started her 4 month sleep regression at 3 months. Go figure! We’re still in it (and are very exhausted) but this is normal. Don’t fret. Only you know your baby, their needs, and their likes and dislikes. And if you don’t yet, you will learn, I promise. Only you will know what is normal for your child. Trust your instincts!
Most importantly, remember: You’re doing very important work, and you’re doing a great job!
Were your first 3 months a nightmare or a breeze? Was it different with each child? I would love to hear your story in the comments below!