First Time Moms: Follow These Practical Rules (and Avoid Mistakes Others Have Made)

Are you pregnant and about to be a first-time mom? Read practical advice first time moms need to hear from other been-there, done-that 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:

Relax—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.

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 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.

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.

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!

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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Nina

Nina is a working mom to three boys—a five-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she's learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. She also covers topics like how kids learn and play, family life, being a working mom and life with twins. Download her free ebook, "Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom" for more tips.

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  1. Steph says

    My favorite bit of advice you gave was to limit awake time. I found that very helpful for making our household run smoothly with a newborn. My biggest advice would be not to worry if someone’s advice doesn’t work for you.

    • says

      This seems to be a common sentiment among here: do what works for you. Advice is great as a first step of action, but if it isn’t working, there’s no need or pressure to continue down this path.

      And yes, big time on the awake time. I feel bad looking bad at how miserable my newborn must have been being up all those hours! Ah well, live and learn!

  2. says

    Sleep when the baby sleeps is such a common piece of advice; however, not all moms choose to take it. Like me, for instance. I felt like I was behind on so many things (bathing, housework, catching up on correspondence, etc) that I used his nap time to complete tasks that I thought needed to be done. This clearly lead to exhaustion. How foolish of me…This piece of advice couldn’t be more imperative to follow!

    I was like you when I was pregnant: no deli meats, no caffeine and no stress! I’m so glad I did it though because I know if something would have gone wrong I would have blamed the above for any mishap (I guess I’m a lot like my mom in that sense).

    I do recommend the swaddling. Well, it worked for us at least for the first 6 -7 months, until he grew out of his swaddle. It took some days to adjust (longer than we hoped…about a week). Our pediatrician recommended that we place our son on our tummy. We did and he has been sleeping like an angel ever since.

    I agree with your biggest advice…you are learning on the job! We will forever be learning on the job!

    Good luck with your new website look and technical changes!

    • says

      We’re two out of three! I totally used nap times to do chores and was the paranoid pregnant lady haha.

      And thanks—I’m hoping to transfer to a self-hosted website. I actually bought the host and domain several months ago but was so clueless and things looked so strange that I gave up on it. I did more research so hopefully I know what I’m doing this time. Hopefully.

  3. says

    Great post! I am a first time mom with a six month old and I am the first one of my friends to have a child, so I entered this whole experience “flying blind”. You’re right about the fact that no matter how much advice you get beforehand, you cannot really wrap your head around it until you’re going through it. But I love your general tidbits that seem applicable for everyone..like “Life will be different” and whether a new mom heeds anyone’s advice is up to them. My biggest piece of advice is to try not to be so hard on yourself and remember you are learning on the job and the learning curve is HUGE. It’s important to take care of yourself as a new mom so that you can be present for your baby.
    Thanks for the post!

    • says

      Ugh, totally agree with taking care of yourself. I just responded to Ana’s comment about taking some me time, and it seems you would agree. I needed to do this more for myself. Like you, I am also the first of my friends to have kids, although not the first among siblings. It’s funny because I was telling my siblings with kids that I never noticed any baby stuff they were doing when they first gave birth, and how I wished I had paid more attention. Their response was, “Well you were young and had no kids; of course you wouldn’t be paying attention!” So it was definitely a learn on the job kind of thing for me too.

  4. says

    My advice for first time parents is to do whatever works best for you and your baby, and try not to let judgment phase you. My biggest regret is trying too hard to follow along with books instead of doing whatever worked best for us in our situation, and also for letting people’s judgments on me affect how I parented. :)

    The second child, so different from the first, was a much easier time for me, because I did whatever worked best instead of what seventeen different experts contradicted each other about.

    • says

      I’m with you on this one! When you’re in the trenches, you do what you need to do, I think more kids means more perspective on this. Our first was (and is) a kid who needed parenting rules to be broken. Sometimes I felt like it was my parenting but the fact is that every kid is different and has different needs. So often such things such as how well your child sleeps or eats or whether or not they use a pacifier is seen as a measure of how good a parent you are, which just isn’t the case. My son has been a high need sleeper since birth but has always refused a pacifier and eats like a champ. We’ve worked to improve the first and maintain the third, but I promise neither propensity is due to our parenting, its just who who is. Sometimes when I start questioning myself I re-read this post from a pediatrician: http://www.confessionsofadrmom.com/2010/07/accidental-co-sleeper/

      My second is a great sleeper by comparison and needs a pacifier because of my overabundant milk supply. It remains to be seen what kind of eater she is, but I’m quite sure it will have everything to do with her personality and very little to do with my parenting.

      My only two general pieces of advice for new parents would be to trust your baby and trust yourself. Babies don’t manipulate, have hidden agendas, or come to disturb the peace. And for every bit of parenting advice out there, you will find the equal and opposite parenting advice touted with just as much enthusiasm. Which means that so long as you make your decisions with love, compassion, and respect for your child, there is no wrong parenting decision.

      • says

        Your last point is so ridiculously true! Just as I’m here spouting off not to swaddle and rock, there’s another person saying, “Yes, yes… swaddle and rock!” lol

        I’ve had this thought in my head for a long time after I read an article that I’m now too lazy to cite (it’s on my Facebook timeline though, I swear). The point of the article was that parenting philosophies don’t make or break kids. Attachment parenting, co-sleeping, formula-feeding, etc., all those things we bicker about and are so confused about… that isn’t nearly as important as the basic idea of raising your kids with love and being involved in their lives.

        So long as you’re even minutely worried or concerned about your child and even bother googling the topic on “parenting,” your kids will likely turn out all right.

    • says

      Love this advice. I read on mom-101’s guest post on Baby Center that by the time you hit kindergarten, no one’s going to wonder which other moms breastfed or formula fed, which one used a pacifier, which one co-slept, and all those other issues we totally blow up when our kids are younger. I love that sentiment because in the moment, you’re trying to do all these supposed things but in the bigger picture, they’re so fleeting.

  5. says

    I totally second you on the things you’ll have to wean them from and the rocking… which is really a tool you have to wean them from as well. I rocked Eli and held him for naps for his first 8 weeks, and then we spent the next 3 weeks teaching him how to nap in his crib. It was rough.

    We did, however, stop swaddling him at about 4 weeks. I don’t know if it contributed, but he’s always been a super sleeper… 8 hours at 8 weeks, 10 hours at 10 weeks, 12 hours by 14 weeks.

    The limited awake time is important, too… I didn’t know how long a newborn could effectively either. I think I read about it in a sleep book when Eli was about a month old and I was all, OH!! Maybe that’s why he’s not napping… he’s too tired!

    Great post!

    • says

      Holy cow, awesome sleeper you got there, Casey. Mine didn’t get to 11 hours until 6 months haha. That may be because of the rocking and all that, but who knows.

      Just the past three weeks, we finally weaned him off of the sound machine, a whole two years later!

  6. torijohnson5 says

    I am a big proponent of this one, “Limit methods that you plan to wean your baby off of.” We swaddled for maybe two weeks and I knew Luke was starting to get accustomed to it so I took it away. We also didn’t do pacifiers which I am SOOOOO happy about. A lot of moms would say to me, “Well I’d rather my baby suck a pacifier than their thumb.” But I’ve never had a problem with Luke trying to suck his thumb. I maybe saw him do it once or twice and gently slipped it out and he didn’t even notice. One other thing that worked well for us was I gradually began switching bottles to sippy cups (with formula) before he was one. By the time he actually turned one I only had to remove the final night bottle and switch to whole milk. Going cold turkey off the bottle terrified me!

    • says

      Oh we totally did cold turkey with the sippy cups, although he had already been drinking water from them. We dropped the bottles once I weaned him off of breastmilk, and once he was completely off, he got his regular milk in the sippy cups.

      My kiddo also didn’t take to pacifiers and I consider that a blessing in disguise. I wouldn’t mind if he actually sucked on his thumb; at least he knows where to find it and won’t lose it haha.

  7. Erika@YouJustDidWhat says

    My advice is BE FLEXIBLE. The minute you’ve finally got something figured out, things will all of a sudden change…sleep regression, eating habits, etc.
    Also, there’s always something to figure out. Babies change and grow rapidly!!
    My last piece of advice is that you don’t have to always enjoy it. Ha ha. I say this only because being a parent is hard work. While my daughter is my biggest blessing, I could have done without the newborn stage. I’m just saying that it’s ok to want time out away from the baby, I think we all need that!

    • says

      Erika, both awesome and enlightening pieces of advice. I think flexibility seems to be mandatory not just with newborn stages but every stage. Even disciplining, eating habits, you name it… you got one thing down one day and then the next you do it the way you said you’d never do it. Sigh…

      And yes, thank you for bringing up that parenting isn’t always the highlight of your day. This was huge for me because I expected myself to handle it MUCH better than I actually did. I felt bad that I didn’t fall head over heels with parenthood. Heck there are still days when I’m like, Really? I’m supposed to be fit for this job? I wish I could tell every first-time mom that you may not always like it, and even for a long time. Thanks again for reiterating this.

  8. Mommyhood: From the Heart says

    Great post as usual, Nina!

    One advice is to take some “me” time! Always to find time for yourself to feel refreshed and energized, even if it means to head to the nail salon for an hour. It’ll help. It doesn’t have to be all the time but once a week or once every two weeks will help. It’ll also help to get out of the house. But of course, my biggest advice is to do what’s best for you and your family.

    • says

      Ana this was something I could have done more of. Granted it’s hard with constant breast feeding, but my kid took the bottle after 3 weeks of pumped milk and that would have been a good opportunity for me to get out of the house for me time. And not just a trip to target (although those are okay too) but serious selfish, me time.

      • Mommyhood: From the Heart says

        Totally! I’m sure you’re getting more me time in, right? I probably took advantage of me time once a month the first few months. I always went to the nail salon for an hour but it was something!

        I just had serious mom guilt at first, so that’s probably why I didn’t take advantage of it as much. I still don’t take advantage as much as I should but I’ll squeeze it in from time to time.

        P.S. Target is also my store to getaway 😉

        • says

          If I were to do this again, I would totally do a whole lot more me time. I think I paid my dues with the mommy guilt 😉 Obviously it’s much easier now that I’m not breastfeeding every eight minutes or whatever it was lol!

          • Mommyhood: From the Heart says

            LOL! Yes, I breastfed too. I agree. I like this toddler stage. So much easier, I think 😉

  9. Teresa Cleveland Wendel says

    I’d advise all new moms to follow your advice unless, as you said, results proved that they needed to switch things up.

  10. says

    I would advise moms to develop thick skin. Your parents, friends, and complete strangers will accuse you of being a bad parent for a wide variety of reasons; as long as you’re keeping your child safe and healthy, tell ’em to shove it. What works for one family (or even one child in a family) doesn’t work for everyone. (And for heaven’s sake, not everyone needs to wear socks all the time!–not that that’s been a perpetual complaint I’ve had to deal with…)

    • says

      The socks! Oh my gosh, we totally got so much advice about bundling up. Okay granted they were probably right because it was pretty darn cold, but your comment made me smile thinking about those darn socks (and hat and mittens and ten receiving blankets).

      Okay, silliness aside… before I was a mom, I did a bit of mom-judging. I was at a party and one mom suggested to another mom, “Maybe you should take her coat off,” (speaking of a two year old because the room was hot). And the mom of the two year old declined, brushing it off as, “Oh but she looks cute in her coat.” And then I judged. I thought, “Man, she’s totally not even taking advice when she should have. It’s so hot in here!”

      Now that I’m a mom, I can totally see where the mom of the two year old came from. This is her daughter, and frankly she knows what’s best for her. I know my kid tends to get hot, so it might be weird to not bundle him up so much, but I know him, and I know he’s going to rash up or sweat like crazy, even if another kid would have bundled up more.

      Motherhood definitely thickens your skin.

  11. says

    Great post. Even with a high need baby where some of your tips ended up not working, I would always start out the way you suggest. And then adjust accordingly. You never know what will work and what will not.

    • says

      Yes, very similar sentiments with the other readers: sure, follow it if it sounds good, but if it’s not working, there’s no pressure or need to keep going. I know we’ve probably gone against the grain with a ton of parenting advice (swaddling!) that just didn’t work for my kid.

  12. says

    If I could give only one piece of advice to new moms, it would be the following: E.A.S.Y.
    This is the mantra I feel should be posted on the wall of every baby’s room, just above the changing area, so mom can see it and relax.: Eat – Activity – Sleep – You (meaning time for you) Doesn’t that sound easy?

    • says

      Yes, I wish I knew about the eat sleep awake right from the start. Doing that helped lessen the dependency on eating to fall asleep.

  13. says

    I would add how much having a baby changes all aspects of your life and relationships. Make sure you are cultivating the relationship with your spouse and not getting overly consumed with baby care. Yes, babies need a lot of care, but still carve out time for the other important people in your life. They need you too.

    • says

      Such a good reminder to do this. It’s so overwhelming taking care of a new baby that you forget you have other people to rely on and vent to.

      Thanks for stopping by; always good to hear from you!

  14. Kerry @ Made For Real says

    My best advice: be flexible and not so hard on yourself. Try not to over-structure, take the book advice with a grain of salt. Time flies. Enjoy every moment. Definitely relax, like you said… you’ll look back and wish you did more of this.

    • says

      I’m loving this flexible theme many of you have brought up. Even now with a toddler I need to be reminded of this! Thanks Kerry!

  15. Lynn says

    All great tips! I agree with the other commenters who suggest being flexible.

    I hope for myself the second time around to quit looking forward to the next phase so much. They’ll get there when they’re good and ready! And in the grand scheme of things, a few weeks is nothing.

  16. says

    My advice to add is not to panic everytime you think your baby is not meeting a milestone. When my first baby didn’t make eye contact with me, I worried he was delayed or showing signs of autism. The next day after panicking and calling friends, he looked right at me and has been ever since! I vowed that day not to over focus on the milestone dates. Every child is different!
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