Like any first-time pregnant mom, I daydreamed about newborn life.
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.)
But I pictured myself waking up in the middle of the night with a knowing smile and 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.
Newborn life 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 overwhelmed adjusting to motherhood, even if we’ve prepared as much as we could.
Newborn life: expectation vs reality
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 13 daily diapers!). I understood what was coming my way and wasn’t oblivious to the challenges I’d face.
Still, even for someone so prepared, the reality often slapped any expectation I had in the face. Sleep deprived, sore and strained—those first few weeks were 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 newborn life, 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 parents said about the article:
“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!” -Nav
“Thank you for this wonderful write-up. After going through severe depression and incessant crying (I just break down in tears when someone asks how I’m doing) this blog of yours made me laugh out loud so hard that my husband though I had lost it completely!” -Sarah
Expectation #1: You’ll patch in your eight hours of sleep
During the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I’d wake 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!
Reality: Yes, you wake up many 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 you do after a trip to the bathroom.
Nope! You’re awake feeding, rocking, burping and changing. He might decide he’s got plenty of energy when he wakes up. And once you soothe him to sleep, getting yourself back to sleep is surprisingly difficult, despite the sleep deprivation.
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 refreshed.
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Expectation #2: You’ll take leisurely strolls to run errands
Everyone—everyone!—I talked to said babies fall asleep 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.
Reality: 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.
I was so nervous about what other people thought when I ran errands and went on outings. I hated seeing pitying faces and knowing looks, while I tried to hide my stress.
Instead, I’d try to pull off a confident, “I got this” look, like I wasn’t fazed at all by his shrieking. (When really, I wanted to hide in the stroller and cry along with him.)
Stroller sleeping was so rare for me that I remember the one time he did sleep in one. I happened to push him through a neighborhood with cobbled streets, and he loved the vibration and 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 #3: Breastfeeding will come easily
I told myself breastfeeding will be easy enough. I figured, after all, women have been feeding their babies since the beginning of time. It should be easy and natural—our bodies are designed for breastfeeding, right?
Reality: Instead, breastfeeding turned out to be a battle of wills: mine against my body. I had to power through because it took a long time to get the hang of it.
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).
Whenever I was ready to throw in the towel, I’d look up the benefits of breastfeeding again to strengthen my resolve.
I even resented my baby for wanting to nurse so often. I’d dart dagger eyes at anyone who dared suggest “he must be 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 him.
Expectation #4: If you have family and friends, you’ll always have help
I’m lucky because both sides of our families live near us, here in Los Angeles. We had plenty of food, admiring visitors and volunteers to hold our baby while I dashed away for a quick shower. It was wonderful.
But, as helpful as other people can be when you bring your newborn home, sometimes it’s not enough.
Reality: It’s the least convenient times to call on another person that you actually need the most help. I couldn’t imagine calling my family or friends at 3am, begging them, “Could you come by? I’m struggling with 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, she also 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.
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 #5: You can be productive with a baby
Before I gave birth, I thought I’d do some freelance graphic design jobs to bring in extra income during maternity leave. I thought I could fit work in when my baby was sleeping and not doing much.
Reality: I was so wrong. Clearly, I knew nothing about what maternity leave looks like. Even though we spend time sitting, holding, nursing and caring for a baby, that time isn’t “free.” He’s 100% dependent on you for every waking moment and doesn’t leave time for much else.
If you want to take him somewhere, plan on spending so much time packing a diaper bag 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 productive work.
Expectation #6: You’ll love having a baby all the time
Right before I gave birth, a coworker who just had a baby of her own advised, “Don’t be surprised if you find yourself crying. Sometimes I’d hold my baby and cry right along with her.”
My first impression? 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.
Reality: Later, I realized while I was holding my baby and crying along with him, that she was spot-on right.
Throughout all those months of pregnancy, I read many books, took classes and talked to plenty of people. But I have to admit, my one-minute conversation with her was the only one that offered a glimpse of truth into the hardships of newborn life.
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 can also be hard, and the ensuing sadness and frustration that can happen.
It seems like anytime someone mentions the hardships or struggles of newborn life, we assume (like I did) that it won’t apply to our newborn experience.
We think we should only offer congratulations, joy and positivity to expecting moms, when we should offer some honesty as well.
Newborn life: Prepare for reality
I felt prepared for our new baby. I’d done my research and thought I knew what was to come. I’ll admit it now—I was surprised at just how much reality differed from my expectations. And I’ve learned that I’m not alone with feeling shocked at the realization.
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, imagining that we’ll love every minute with our babies.
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 see that you aren’t alone and you shouldn’t feel guilty for struggling with motherhood. That you feel reassured that the newborn stage does get easier.
Maybe you’ll be more prepared 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
- Clever Solutions to the Newborn Witching Hour
- The Ultimate Newborn Shopping List
- Newborn Tips and Tricks New Moms Need to Know
- Top 5 Reasons Your Newborn Wakes Up Screaming
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