Last week, I participated in my first ever Tweet chat. My friend Jennifer is a news anchor in Seattle and eight months pregnant with her first baby, so her station hosted a Twitter chat discussing the dos and don’ts of new motherhood. The conversation led me to consider how my own entrance into motherhood transpired and what advice I would give myself that actually worked. This is what I would say to first time moms:
According to Brain Rules for Baby by biologist and author John Medina, one of the best practices pregnant women can do for their unborn child is to relax. So don’t stress, particularly during the first trimester. I heeded this advice most of the time and fortunately didn’t succumb to chronic stress.
Sleep. Yes, even when the baby is asleep.
Most moms bemoan the common advice of “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I get that. After all, when else are you able to get anything done when the rest of your time your arms are occupied holding a baby? I hardly napped when my baby did, which led to some serious sleep deprivation. Granted, I probably clocked in a full eight hours at night, but because my sleep was always interrupted and I didn’t have much deep sleep, the eight hours felt more like four. Any opportunity to sleep would have helped.
Life will be different.
Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome was accepting that life would be different with a baby, including household maintenance and self-care standards. Silly of me to realize this long after the fact—especially since everyone tells you how different life would be—but I didn’t know just how much (or maybe wasn’t prepared to make those sacrifices so suddenly). For some insane reason I thought I could still keep up with my weekly chores and take my time getting ready. I had to learn to put those needs aside and trust others when they said I would eventually have more time—just not right now.
Keep your baby’s awake time to a minimum.
While you don’t have to stick to a strict schedule, having some sort of rhythm and flow is helpful. Looking back, I probably kept my baby awake way too long, contributing to his fussiness. I only learned much later that babies don’t stay awake for longer than an hour to an hour and a half at a time. If your baby has been up five hours entertaining guests, it’s time to prioritize her sleep and have her rest. You’ll also be able to create some sort of schedule and routine by reminding yourself to put her down frequently.
Follow the eat-awake-sleep rhythm.
I nursed my baby to sleep but soon ran into a major problem: like swaddling and rocking, nursing was yet another sleeping aid that he relied on. I then learned the eat-awake-sleep rhythm and decided to try it: rather than nursing my baby to sleep, I would nurse him when he woke up. After eating, he would begin his play time with plenty of energy. Then once he had enough play time (not too long!), we would put him down to sleep. And once he woke up, then we would begin the cycle and nurse once again.
Don’t freak out when your baby doesn’t meet milestones.
Now with three kids, I can attest that each one developed differently. For instance, one walked at 10 months, the other at a year and still another at about 14 months. The same goes for other milestones, like talking, rolling over or jumping. Your child’s doctor will let you know if you have a problem. Otherwise, keep in mind that all kids develop at different rates.
Enjoy the moment.
One huge difference between my first-born and my subsequent twins is how much I wanted to move on to the next milestone. With my first, I kept rushing to see if or when he’s hit certain milestones. With the twins, I wasn’t in so much of a rush. Don’t worry about trying to get to the next phase. They’ll only be little for a brief time!
Carve out time for your other relationships.
Nearly every mom has thrown herself head first into caring for her child. But remember you have other relationships as well, including with yourself, your partner and your family and friends. Don’t be too consumed with child care that you don’t take care of yourself and your relationships.
My biggest advice:
Whether Jennifer heeds my words (or any of the other bazillion pieces of advice she has probably heard by now) is up to her and her family. They don’t kid when they say every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another.
To Jen and other first-time moms to be, perhaps my biggest advice to you is to remind yourself that you are learning on the job. I read a ton of parenting books long before my baby was born, but even that was nothing compared to caring for an actual newborn baby. We continue to learn as we go along and make many mistakes as we do. With that, realize that things won’t always be perfect, and that while weeks and months seem eons away, your days will get better. You’ll adjust to motherhood, and your newborn won’t be so new anymore.
And you’ll find that you’re getting the hang of this mom business, sleep-deprived and everything.
Get more useful tips for new moms:
- The Ultimate Mom to Be Guide: Everything I Wish Someone Had Told Me when I Was Pregnant
- 8 Common Myths First-Time Moms Believe about Parenthood
- 9 Things to Do Before Baby Is Born
- Come Prepared: Your Hospital Bag Essentials with a Free Printable!
- Preparing for Baby: How to Avoid the Clutter
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