People often say that being a parent is one of the hardest—and best—things they’ve ever done. I didn’t know how true this statement was until I became one myself. A quick google search will give you an endless amount of information on how to prepare for this new adventure: “must have” items, remedies for morning sickness, baby shower ideas, maternity outfits, baby name finders...the list goes on. With all this information at my fingertips, why do I often find myself asking, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this?”
Most first-time parents expect to handle certain tasks, like midnight feedings and changing diapers, but what about the things no one talks about? What about situations you prepare for—by reading books and purchasing products, for example—but can’t really understand until you experience them firsthand? Below is a list I’ve compiled of several of these issues and some survival tips.
The sleep issue starts way before the baby is even born. Of course, not every pregnant woman’s experience is the same. Some expectant moms sleep easily straight through their third trimester, but for the rest of us, housing a rapidly growing human who’s doing parkour training against your bladder does not make for optimal sleeping conditions. In addition to physical discomfort, pre-baby anxiety and hormone changes can significantly impact sleep quantity and quality.1
Then comes baby. If your child actually does “sleep like a baby” from the get-go, consider yourself #blessed and get your sleep on! But, if you’re like most new parents, sleep happens in 2-3 hour increments interrupted by a jolting wail that means your infant is hungry, wet, hot, cold, gassy, or all these things. So, when you lack sleep but need energy to care for your new, small human, what do you do?
Sleep when baby sleeps. The dishes can wait and the laundry will get done eventually. Taking care of YOU must be a priority.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It really does take a village! Enlist people you trust—family, friends, neighbors, babysitters—for baby duty, to cover for you even for just an hour, so you can get in a quick snooze.
Take care of your body. Since you are not getting the amount of sleep your body is used to, be sure to do things that help you recover in order to remain healthy: stay hydrated, do some light exercise, eat enough fruits and veggies.
This doesn’t apply to everyone, and there’s absolutely no shame in bottle feeding, whether by choice or necessity, but for those who do opt for au naturel, it should be easy, right? After all, this is what breasts are made for. Again, you may be one of the lucky ones, but if you’re like many new moms...the Struggle. Is. Real.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed for at least the first 6 months, and the majority of new moms start out following this recommendation. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4 out of 5 new infants start out breastfeeding, but less than half continue past 3 months, and only one third are still breastfeeding by 12 months.2 Why?
Research identifies a number of different reasons, including problems with latching, breast or nipple pain, issues with milk production, and concerns about whether baby’s nutritional needs are being met.3 This doesn’t even address the fact that for 45 minutes every 2-3 hours (at least at first) your body is responsible for sustaining another person’s life! Here are some suggestions to help you with this.
Consult with a lactation specialist. You may get to talk with one in the hospital before taking your baby home, but often, issues don’t arise until after your milk comes in, which can take up to 5 days. Having professional help through those first few weeks can be a game changer. Many will even come to your house for an in-home assessment.
Talk with other mamas who’ve been there. Until I started sharing my own issues, I had no idea so many other women have gone through similar pains. It helps to know others have struggled too and that it does get easier.
Squash guilt. Your main goal is to get your baby fed. If that means pumping or switching to formula, you are still doing your job.
Remember when that friend of yours had a baby and seemed to drop off the face of the earth? There are valid reasons to slow down your social life when you have a baby. There’s the initial stage of not wanting to expose your as-yet unvaccinated newborn to germs, which can make you feel like you’re under house arrest for several weeks. Simple errands, such as running out to the grocery store, become logistical nightmares. Then, once you are able to go out with baby (toting an exorbitant amount of equipment), you find yourself limited by what a friend of mine calls “nap jail”: having to form all your plans around baby’s sleep cycle.
It can be difficult to adjust to this lifestyle change, especially for those who enjoyed an active social life pre-baby. A night out at the bars may be replaced by trips to the playground or “mommy and me” classes. You don’t have to give up everything; it just requires extra planning and an open mind (such as being prepared to leave somewhere early if a temper tantrum ensues). Some ideas:
Avoid cabin fever. Make a point to get out of the house every day, even if it’s just to grab a coffee or push the stroller around the neighborhood.
Plan outings around sleep schedules. And be flexible to roll with the changes, because nap times and bedtimes shift constantly as baby grows and develops.
Make time for your partner. It’s easy for relationships to get neglected when both of you are focused on this adorable (yet very needy) new person in your house. And with all the added stress, it’s a time when your relationship needs nurturing most, so consider this a priority. Plan a date night, make time to connect and check in with each other.
So, ladies, you get pregnant, pop out a baby, lose some (maybe even all) of the “baby weight,” and now your body is back to normal and you go on your merry way along the blissful path of motherhood, right? Not exactly. Your body has just created, housed, and grown a person over the past 9+ months! Your organs, muscles, and bones (pretty much everything) have shifted to accommodate the being growing inside you, and they don’t always snap back into place right away.
What a woman’s body is capable of doing is incredible. It’s understandable that there might be some collateral damage. Changing hormone levels and the physical stress of childbirth on your body can cause changes in your skin, joints, breasts, bone structure, hair, even shoe size.4,5 You’re faced with the sometimes difficult but always important process of learning to not only live with but embrace your new body. How do you do this?
Speak up. Don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor about any pain or discomfort you’re experiencing. Even if it’s “normal,” this doesn’t mean you need to suffer through it. There may be something more going on, or some treatment available (such as physical therapy) to help with your recovery.
Talk with other moms. You’ll be surprised to find out how many other women have had similar issues. They may have some good advice, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
Remind yourself of all the amazing things your body CAN do now. Like nourish, hold, and comfort your baby. It’s even capable, with skin-to-skin contact alone, of lowering your baby’s temperature when there’s fever. And wait until you see what you can do with one hand!
With all the changes and added stress, it’s easy to see why new parents are vulnerable to mental health issues. Dads are not immune, but postpartum moms are especially at risk due to the sudden and dramatic shifts in hormone levels following childbirth. In recent years, new light has been shed on the seriousness of postpartum depression; subsequently, more women are seeking help for this condition.
You don’t have to be suffering from a deep, dark depression to benefit from professional help during this period. Perhaps you’re experiencing the “baby blues,” which sounds cute and harmless but is nothing to joke about. The negative emotions you may experience during this time can be amplified by the unrealistic expectation that you’re supposed to feel only happy and grateful for this new addition to your life. And while you may indeed feel both those things, you might also feel sad, scared (terrified, really), frustrated, even angry. Know that these feelings do not mean you don’t love and appreciate your baby. It’s common to feel these things, but you don’t have to go through it alone. The “blues” will likely pass with time, but support from others, including mental health professionals, can help you weather the storm.
Know the signs and ask for help. Symptoms of postpartum depression range from mild sadness to severe depression or even psychosis (though rare).6 Talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing any symptoms, and let him or her know ahead of time, during pregnancy, if you have a history of anxiety or depression, which could put you at higher risk.
Utilize your resources. There’s lots of readily available written information on postpartum depression. This website is a good place to start: https://www.postpartum.net/
Make yourself a priority. Taking care of your baby requires taking care of you. Reach out to your support system and share the load when you can in order to give yourself some much needed “me time” and TLC.
Yes, having a baby is hard. So why do we do it? For the same reason we do anything that’s difficult: for the moments. Those indescribable, precious experiences that make you think, This feels right. So when you’re tired, sore, covered in spit-up, and haven’t showered in 3 days, remember those moments, and breathe.
1. National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Pregnancy and sleep. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/pregnancy-and-sleep
2. CDC Newsroom. (2018, August 20). CDC releases 2018 breastfeeding report card. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0820-breastfeeding-report-card.html
3. Li, R., Fein, S.B., Chen, J. & Grummer-Strawn, L.M. (2008). Why mothers stop breastfeeding: mothers’ self-reported reasons for stopping during the first year. Pediatrics, 122(supplement 2). doi:10.1542/peds.2008-1315i
4. March of Dimes. (2018, July). Your body after baby: the first 6 weeks. Retrieved from https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/your-body-after-baby-the-first-6-weeks.aspx
5. Segal, N.A., Boyer, E.R., Teran-Yengle, P., et. al. (2013). Pregnancy leads to lasting changes in foot structure. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 92(3), 232-240. doi: 10.1097/PHM.0b013e31827443a9
6. Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Postpartum depression. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617