Now, I wasn’t naïve—I knew there would be days when I’d be sleep deprived, and I expected to change a lot of diapers. (Although, hearing it might be up to 13 diapers a day did make me raise an eyebrow.) I expected challenges.
But I pictured myself waking up in the middle of the night with a knowing smile. I envisioned myself patiently cooing at my little darling. Sure, caring for an infant would involve sleepless nights, but nothing I couldn’t handle, right?
Turns out, I don’t think I smiled once when I had to get up in the middle of the night. Dragging myself out of bed to nurse or change another diaper wasn’t the adorable scenario I’d imagined.
Life with a newborn is an initiation to parenthood. Just when you thought all the struggles of pregnancy were finally over, you face a whole new set of challenges. Tending to a newborn baby’s needs is much more difficult than dealing with pregnancy cravings or pelvic bone pain.
It’s no wonder moms—especially first-time moms—feel completely overwhelmed adjusting to life with a newborn, even if we think we’re prepared.
Life with a newborn
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You see, I “knew” what to expect. I read all the baby books I could get my hands on and eagerly took pregnancy, childbirth and parenting classes (where I learned about those darn 13 daily diapers!).
I understood what was coming my way, and I certainly wasn’t oblivious to the challenges I might face.
Still, even for someone as prepared as I thought I was, the reality often trumped any expectation I had. Sleep deprived, sore and strained—those first few weeks were really difficult. Looking back, I can see how my expectations weren’t as realistic as I’d believed.
So, let’s compare! Take a look at a few of my expectations for life with a newborn baby, versus how they stacked up against reality. I hope it gives you an idea of what to expect, and temper any pressure or guilt you may have when those days get hard.
As SSBE reader Nav said:
“Honest to god I have read so many blogs and yours is the only one that feels realistic. THANK YOU for writing this article as we are expecting a newborn in under a month. Your article really has helped me to be realistic. Thank you again!”
Expectation: You’ll take leisurely strolls to run errands
Reality: Everyone—everyone!—I talked to said babies fall asleep quickly in strollers. They told me “all” I needed to do to soothe him to sleep was tuck him into the stroller and run a few errands. They promised he’d conk out right away, while I’d even squeeze in some exercise.
Well unfortunately, my baby didn’t get the memo about the sleep-inducing power of stroller rides. Instead, he couldn’t stand his stroller! He’d stay wide awake, shrieking the entire time.
When I ran errands with my fussy baby, I was so nervous about what other people thought. I hated seeing pitying faces and knowing looks, while I tried to hide my stress.
I’d try to pull off a confident, together look—like I wasn’t fazed at all by his crying. Like, “I got this.” (When really, I wanted to hide in the stroller and cry along with him.)
In fact, I clearly remember the one time he slept in a stroller (because it only happened once). I happened to push him through a neighborhood with cobbled streets. Apparently, he loved the vibration and it was exactly what he needed to fall asleep.
Of course, it only lasted for 20 minutes and never happened again. We even tried revisiting the same neighborhood, but his stroller slumber turned out to be a one-time fluke.
Expectation: Breastfeeding will come easily
Reality: So, let me tell you…breastfeeding can be tough! Turns out, there are right and wrong ways to latch a hungry baby. Make one wrong move and you end up with blisters, aching nipples or even mastitis. You’ll be one miserable mama (and baby).
I told myself it should be simple. I figured, after all, women have been feeding their babies since the beginning of time. Of course, it should be easy and natural. Our bodies are designed for breastfeeding, right?
Instead, breastfeeding turned out to be a battle of wills: mine against the will of my body. I had to stubbornly power through because it took a long time to get the hang of it.
Whenever I was ready to throw in the towel, I’d look up the benefits of breastfeeding again, simply to strengthen my resolve.
I’ll be honest, I even resented my baby for wanting to nurse so darn much. I shot daggers at anyone who dared suggest my baby was “hungry” every time he fussed (although in hindsight, they were probably right).
I felt so much pressure knowing I was the only one who could do anything to nourish and comfort my baby.
Expectation: If you have family and friends, you’ll always have help
Reality: I’m lucky because both sides of family live near us, here in Los Angeles. We had plenty of food, admiring visitors and volunteers to hold our baby while I ducked in for a quick shower. It was wonderful.
But, as helpful as other people can be when you bring home your newborn, sometimes it’s not enough.
It’s the times when it’s least convenient for you to call on another person that you need the most help. I couldn’t imagine calling my family or friends at 3am, begging them, “Could you come by? I’m really struggling putting the baby to sleep.”
As grateful as I was for everyone who did come by to visit and help, I didn’t realize how isolating it can be to care for a newborn baby. As parents, it’s all up to you—YOU are who and what your baby needs most in those first few weeks.
But thank goodness for my mom, though. She slept over for those first few weeks and it was so helpful!
Not only did she actually wake up for many of those 3am calls, but she had our routine down pat. She understood my style, so I didn’t have to re-explain how to bathe or burp the baby during each visit.
So as helpful as visitors might be, try to get someone to come live with you for a few days or weeks—that’s the kind of visit you’ll find most helpful.
Expectation: You’ll patch in your eight hours of sleep
Reality: During the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I honestly woke up about five times a night to pee. I remember thinking, “Oh this must be nature’s way of preparing me for waking up with the baby!”
Yes, you wake up multiple times in the night with a baby, but the reality is, it’s way more than five times a night. Here’s the kicker: when you wake up with your baby in the middle of the night, you can’t simply fall back to sleep like after a trip to the bathroom.
Nope! You’re awake feeding, rocking, burping and changing. Your baby might decide he’s got plenty of energy when he wakes up. Once you finally soothe your baby to sleep, getting back to sleep is surprisingly difficult, despite all the sleep deprivation you feel.
Even though some days I was able to patch together eight hours of sleep by taking naps and sleeping whenever my baby slept, I was still exhausted. I realized it’s because I needed a long stretch of uninterrupted deep sleep to feel fully refreshed.
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Expectation: You can be productive with an infant
Reality: So, before I gave birth, I believed I could work freelance graphic design jobs to generate income during maternity leave. I thought I could fit work in when my baby was sleeping and not doing much.
I was so wrong. Even though we spend time sitting, holding, nursing and caring for a baby, that time isn’t “free.” When you have an infant, he’s 100% dependent on you every waking moment. He doesn’t leave time for much else.
If you want to take your baby somewhere, plan on spending so much time packing a diaper bag (while juggling your baby), that once it’s packed, you’d rather not leave. Your activities are planned around uncertain and ever-changing sleeping and eating schedules.
When you do have a routine in place, you’re often so committed to it, you wouldn’t dream of messing it up to fit in work or a meeting.
Any chance for a break or work time happens in sporadic five-minute chunks. It’s not exactly ideal for focused work that requires concentration and accuracy. With sleep deprivation, you can barely complete basic tasks, let alone actual work.
Expectation: You’ll love having a baby all the time
Reality: Right before I gave birth, a coworker who just had a baby of her own said, “Don’t be surprised if you find yourself crying. Sometimes I would just hold my baby and cry right along with her.”
My first impression? Honestly, I thought she must have had some issues or that she was prone to depression. I thought to myself, that won’t be me. I’m not a “sad” person.
Later, I realized when I was holding my baby, crying, that she was spot-on right. I wished I had known more about the other side of life with a newborn.
Throughout all those months of pregnancy—the books, the classes and the conversations—I have to admit, my one-minute conversation with her was the only one that offered a glimpse of truth into the hardships of life with a newborn.
Bombarded with congratulations and smiles, baby registry items and car seat logistics, I felt excited and hopeful. Turns out, I overlooked that having a newborn is so hard, and the ensuing sadness and frustration that can happen.
It seems like anytime someone mentions the hardships or struggles of life with a newborn baby, we assume (like I did) that it won’t apply to our newborn experience.
We think we should offer only congratulations, joy and positivity to expecting moms, when perhaps we should offer some honesty as well.
Life with a newborn: Prepare for reality
For someone who’s a realist, I really, really felt prepared for our new baby. I’d done my research and I thought I knew what was to come. I’ll admit it now—I was incredibly surprised at just how much reality differed from my expectations.
We imagine we’ll have plenty of time to run errands, pick up extra work and catch up on our sleep. We believe we’ll never feel isolated or helpless because we’re surrounded by helpful family and friends.
And we think breastfeeding and infant care will be easy, or we imagine we’ll love every minute with our infant.
But even those who long for a baby and look forward to having a little bundle of joy feel overwhelmed in the first months of motherhood. It’s natural and normal to struggle. Reality can look different from the expectations we set going into parenthood.
Hopefully in sharing my story, I’ve helped you realize you aren’t alone and you shouldn’t feel guilty for struggling with motherhood. That the newborn stage does get easier.
Maybe you’ll be a little more prepared than I was when you welcome your newborn baby to the world with realistic optimism, an open heart and the expectation that you’ll be changing 13—yup, 13!—diapers a day.
Get more tips:
- Preparing for Life with a New Baby
- How to Get Used to Life with a Baby
- Baby Items that Make Life Easier
- Newborn Tips and Tricks New Moms Need to Know
Tell me in the comments: What was the biggest adjustment you had to life with a newborn?
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