Newborn Life: Expectation vs Reality

Wondering what newborn life is REALLY like? Learn which surprising expectations about parenthood and caring for a baby are far from reality.

Newborn LifeLike 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 wet 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. I’d stroke his plump cheeks and sing songs during tummy time. 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 do yet another diaper change 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 for a newborn as much as we could.

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

Adjusting to Motherhood

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 your baby, but the reality is, it’s way more than five times a night. Here’s the kicker: when you wake up with her 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. She might decide she’s got plenty of energy when she wakes up. And once you soothe her to sleep in the crib, 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.

Free printable: Struggling with getting her to sleep? The problem might be the time she’s awake. Join my newsletter and get One Mistake You’re Making with Your Baby’s Awake Time. You’ll learn exactly how to use her awake time to help her take better naps. Grab it below—at no cost to you:

One Mistake You're Making with Your Baby's Awake Time

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 my baby 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 tried to get some fresh air. I hated seeing pitying looks and knowing smiles, 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. I even tried revisiting the same neighborhood, but his stroller slumber turned out to be a one-time fluke.

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: 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. Continue a bad latch and you end up with blisters, aching nipples, or even mastitis. You’ll be one miserable mama (and baby).

Even with a lactation consultant at the hospital who showed me the right latch, I still struggled with the constant feedings. Whenever I was ready to throw in the towel, I’d have to look up the benefits of breast milk 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). At any sign of hunger, I dreaded yet another feeding session.

I felt so much pressure knowing I was the only one who could do anything to nourish him.

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 baby 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 still be to care for a newborn baby. As parents, it’s all up to you. You’re who and what the 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.

Check out these 12 rules when visiting a new mom.

Visiting a New Mom

5. You can be productive with a baby

Before I gave birth, I thought I’d do some freelance work 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 you’re done, 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 anything else in.

Any chance for a break happens in sporadic five-minute chunks between cleaning poop and packing changes of clothes. 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.

Get tips on how to manage being alone with the baby.

How to Take Care of a Baby Alone

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 had postpartum 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, that one-minute conversation with my coworker was the only one that offered a glimpse of truth into the hardships of newborn life.

Bombarded with congratulations and smiles, baby toys, and car seat logistics, I felt excited and hopeful, ready to bond with my baby. 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.

Read 6 reasons motherhood is hard.

Motherhood Is Hard


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’re not 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.

When Do Newborns Get Easier?

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  1. This post is spot on! I’m a first time mom an my baby is now a month old! I thought I’d be able to get things done around the house while she sleeps, I didn’t think too much about the inconsistent sleep at night, and I thought I’d be happy all the time holding and caring for my newborn. This really did make me feel like all my emotions are normal. It’s a really big adjustment and it’s hard!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I’m glad the post reassured you that your emotions truly are normal, Jade! It can feel so isolating until you realize that others have felt the same as you. Hang in there, mama! You’ll pull through soon enough.

  2. B. McPhaul says:

    Well I’m the father of my soon to be born baby daughter..this is a nice article that I believe will help me understand what my wife may feel as we journey through this phase. It was a enjoyable read and lots to reflect on. Thanks

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Glad to hear that, and congrats on your soon-to-come baby girl!

  3. I’ve passed by your blog while searching the topic “life with a newborn” I’ve been feeling that I rushed my self into having a baby as much as I love children my pregnancy is such a rollercoaster journey but my baby is my source of strength yet I seem to have panic attacks and struggles knowing that I really have a low pain tolerance going through the difficulty of breastfeeding and delivery and just taking care of a baby I’m just too scared that I won’t be that perfect mom . Everyone keeps telling me that if I’m not baring the pains of pregnancy how will I bare dealing with birth and having a newborn and that seriously made a huge issue for me my self esteem/strength dropped to zero plus knowing the fact that I have to go back to college a week or two after birth makes me feel like I won’t be able to manage my grades and my baby it’s just too overwhelming I don’t feel ready to deal with contractions nor nipple soreness or bleeding nor the pain of postpartum I sincerely don’t know what to do

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Big hugs, mama! Your fears are normal, but exactly just that: fears. They’re not real, nor do they have to be. When I feel myself panicking like this about anything, I shift my focus to positive things about it. In your case, any time a scary or negative thought comes into your mind, replace and literally shift your attention to something positive about having the baby. We see more of what we focus our attention on, so the more you focus on the fears, the more likely you are to spot them, even if there are so many wonderful things about having a baby staring you in the face.

      And rest assured, I was also so afraid of the physical pains of child birth, but honestly, it went so much better than my imagination was telling me. Know that it will be all right in the end, that everything that happens in your life does so to help you grow and be better. Hang in there, hun!

  4. 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. I unfortunately dont have a supportive mom who can move in with us (she is mentally ill) but we do plan on moving into my parents basement for the first few months because then at least I can call on my dad or brother 3am in the morning or get other kinds of support. I will ask for my MIL to come stay with us for the weekends or to take 1 week off and stay with us. I am also cooking in batches and freezing meals to prepare. But your article really has helped me to be realistic. I thought I could work too, but reading your article is making me realize to take complete 6-8 months off of work and then see how things are at the time.

    Thank you again!


    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Love it, Nav! I’m so glad the article resonated with you. As life-changing and awesome parenthood is, I find that many moms struggle with unrealistic expectations (like feeling the pressure to work during maternity leave like you mentioned) and that it’s far better to roll with it and let the season pass. I know you’ll rock it, mama!

  5. Hey Nina, thanks so much for this particular blog – with a 4 month old and coming out ‘the other side’ of the newborn stage, I laughed and smiled to myself so much when reading it. I can relate to ALL OF IT (except the stroller part – my baby did sleep mostly in the pram, but perhaps because London streets are more cobbly…but there were also many times when she cried, usually once the pram stopped or if she then became hungry). Everything you describe was almost exactly my experience. I think it comes down to the experience of something being different to the knowledge of it, if that makes sense. So even though I knew I’d struggle with sleep deprivation, nothing could quite prepare me for how it really felt in the moment, when I could barely keep my eyes open whilst trying to feed the baby. And I laughed at the suggestions to sleep when the baby slept – that was the only opportunity to restore order in the house! And without order I felt even more out of control and emotional. The broken sleep also accumulates, and I find that even though I’m getting more sleep now, there is that residual fatigue engrained into my body now that doesn’t seem to go away, forget being refreshed for anything let alone work! Anyway thanks again for such amazing honesty and making me realise us humans have way more similarities than differences 🙂

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      You’re definitely not alone, Eve! And you’re totally right—no amount of “knowledge” can prepare you for the actual experience. It helps, and I think I would’ve been worse off without at least being prepared, but boy the experience is a whole other thing, isn’t it? Hopefully you get out of this stage soon enough and get that sleep you need!

  6. Thank you for this wonderful writeup. I’m reading it while I’m wearing my 6 weeks old baby. She’s finally sleeping. But baby wearing is not easy because one can’t relax or lie down with a sleeping baby hanging from them. Anyways, 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!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Sarah! I’m so glad the article resonated with you and even gave you a good laugh 😉 It’s too easy to feel like you’re the only one, but when you hear what others have gone through, you realize you’re not quite alone as you may have thought. Hang in there, mama!

  7. Colic rocked my world. It took me a minute but I finally asked for a helping hand. Even if it was as simple as getting my stepmom to watch her while I go to the gas station and buy a Gatorade (true story). Attitude-wise, I could have done a lot better. No one understood. All my friends have easy babies. I dwelled on this and isolated my self when I should have been thinking that this is not going to last forever.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Oh I can so relate, Jill! When I had my eldest, I remember going to the pharmacy to get gripe water all by myself at night, and it felt like a real break of not having to breastfeed or be at the baby’s beck and call. We only learn in hindsight that this isn’t forever, but while you’re in it, you seriously wonder if you’ll ever get out of it. It definitely does get better though!

  8. I have a ten day old baby and this week have been feeling extremely overwhelmed as things haven’t been as easy as I expected. In fact they’ve been absolutely nothing like I expected. I’ve found myself crying at the drop of a hat and wondering what I’m doing wrong and why my baby is unsettled and not sleeping. I’ve been hard on myself and my expectations of her have been way too high. I feel like I’m coming out the other side as I fill my thoughts and mind with positive and insightful things.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Oh Chelsey, big hugs!

      You are in the thick of the newborn days, so new to this stage of your life. You’re definitely not alone, mama. I struggled those first few days and weeks as well, so delirious with lack of sleep and adjusting to this sudden, overnight change.

      It helps to know that this is simply the season you’re in. I found that when I tried to “rush” things, I only ended up more frustrated, or like you said, your expectations unmet. It’s temporary, which helps us remember to accept it, not fight it. You’ll get through this, Chelsey!