Practical advice for first-time moms

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:

brainRelax—you’re pregnant.
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.

However I did take pregnancy paranoia to a whole new level. I didn’t drink any tea—even decaf—for fear that a single drop would harm the baby. Same with any deli meats, even if they were heated or not. I also stayed away from all canned tuna and peanut butter, didn’t cook with any alcohol, nor traveled anywhere even though my due date loomed far in advance.

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 hardly reached deep sleep, the eight hours felt more like four. Any opportunity to sleep would have surely helped.

Life will differ—accept it.
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.

Try not to get the baby used to rocking to go to sleep
When SSBE reader Mommy’s Organics asked me what I would do differently if I could go back in time, I answered with, “Not rock my baby to sleep.” We do what we have to do, but in my particular circumstance, I felt like I could have given him more of a chance to lie down on a blanket or his crib more than I did. The constant rocking led him to quickly rely on motion to sleep, which led to a long path of insanity that eventually ended in sleep training.

If I could do this again, I would try putting the baby down to sleep and give him the chance to fall asleep on his own first before assuming that he needed to be rocked. I particularly liked SSBE reader Rashida’s advice to set up a blanket or activity area and lay your baby on her back with a few toys nearby. The baby will enjoy watching her surroundings while getting used to laying flat on her back.

Limit methods that you plan to wean your baby off
During the chat, many moms recommended swaddling, and of course I had to be the black sheep of the group that actually didn’t recommend swaddling my friend’s baby. At least not the ridiculously tight ones. Along with excessive swaddling and rocking, I also wouldn’t recommend white noise and any other sleep aid that you plan to wean your baby from.

I understand desperate times call for desperate measures (and believe me, my husband and I were pretty desperate), but I also feel like we jumped in too soon with these tactics instead of allowing my kid to sleep unaided first. So sure, swaddle, but maybe a loose one to see if he’ll fall asleep that way before applying the strait-jacket method.

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 proves extremely 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 really 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 read about 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.

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. Given my personal experiences though, I would follow my own advice again until results prove that I need to switch things up a bit (maybe babies really do need that darn swaddle!).

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 actually experiencing caring for a newborn. We all 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 really will get better. You’ll adjust to motherhood, and your newborn won’t be so new anymore.

And you’ll find that you’re actually getting the hang of this mom business, sleep-deprived and everything.

What advice would you give first-time moms, based on what worked and didn’t work for you? Let us know in the comments below!

State of the blog: new things are brewing

Starting tonight, I’m going to attempt to make some changes around here that I’m hoping will benefit everyone. What does that mean for you? For one, this place might look different from what you’re used to, if not downright quirky as I gradually update the design. Another issue is that I may have to ask WordPress followers to receive their email updates via Feedburner instead of via WordPress.

Otherwise, the web address stays the same, and I’ll continue to churn out posts. Hopefully my shenanigans turn out all right and I’ll be able to move on with these upgrades and have a nice, new look over the next few days and weeks. If however things look the same then you’ll know I probably spent the night wishing I was more tech-savvy when it comes to blogging and deciding to give up in the meantime.

But here’s hoping I’ll get this tech stuff all right.

Note: I wish I could re-write this post and include the wealth of advice you ladies offered in the comments section; you guys are amazing. If you haven’t already read through what others have said, please do—these have been some of the most insightful comments I have yet to read here.
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