Sleep-deprived and struggling with caring for your baby? Here are tips on how to survive the newborn stage and make those first few months easier on you.
The newborn stage is the hardest for many moms, including me. Despite my preparation, the overnight change of caring for a baby became my biggest reality check.
I learned that I couldn’t stand the shrill cries of a newborn that would send me into a panic. The middle-of-the-night wake ups made me delirious. And the desperation of not knowing what to do when the baby wouldn’t stop fussing was enough to make me doubt whether I was cut out for this.
Not to mention that during all these emotions, I was also physically healing from childbirth. As much as my body needed to rest and recover, I still needed to care for someone more vulnerable than me.
As a first-time mom, I had no idea if this would get any better (it sure didn’t feel like it would). I was scared I’d be stuck feeling sleep-deprived and miserable for months or, heaven forbid, years down the line.
How to survive the newborn stage
Even with the hardships, I learned to apply certain techniques that made those months easier. To make the time go smoother and take the hardship down a notch. I found myself better able to manage and see the light at the end of the tunnel, despite how hard it first was.
Rather than scrambling and playing catch up, I felt more in control over what I was doing. I got the rest I desperately needed, even while caring for a newborn. And I even created a daily routine to make my days less overwhelming and more orderly.
There’s no getting around these challenges, but by following the tips below, you can make those first few months much more manageable. Here’s how:
Part of the challenges of the newborn stage is the feeling of always having to play catch up. You’re scrambling to find the nearest burp cloth because the baby spat up. Bathing a slippery, wet baby seems impossible, and trying to decide what to do next clutters your mind with even more tasks to do.
Instead, learn the art of staying organized and being one step ahead to feel less overwhelmed, starting with these tips:
1. Have everything ready ahead of time
It’s never easy scrambling with a baby in tow, especially with your arms tied. Instead, think about what you’ll need for the next activity.
For instance, pack the diaper bag the night before you plan to go to the pediatrician’s. Set your nursing pillow and burp cloth nearby, ready for middle-of-the-night feedings. Lay the baby’s diaper, pajamas, socks and diaper cream on your bed to make for easy dress up after baths.
While you don’t want to get too ahead of yourself, thinking of the one next step ahead will save you time and help you feel less frantic.
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2. Hang a list of your go-to strategies
I drove myself crazy doing the same thing over and over when soothing my baby. For instance, I’d keep bouncing on the yoga ball, determined to get him to stop crying. Except it didn’t always work, and I’d forget all the other strategies I could’ve been trying instead.
So, here’s what I suggest: Make a list of the different ways to soothe your baby and hang it on the wall. This “cheat sheet” will include all your soothing methods that have worked before, like offering a pacifier, or putting him in the swing.
The next time he fusses and seems inconsolable, don’t keep doing what you’re doing, and instead refer to your go-to strategies. You’ll save yourself the trouble or grief of feeling like nothing works when you can try different options.
3. Establish a routine
Routines help you and your baby have a better flow to your days. Without them, you’re wondering what to do next and in what order, while he lacks the reassuring predictability he needs.
Don’t go by the clock when deciding when to do these activities (for instance, he won’t always eat at 6am every morning). But you can establish a general flow to your days to make them predictable.
For instance, do the same things in the same order, like following a play, nap and feed cycle throughout the day. This helps you not have to think too hard about what to do next, and gives him a consistent routine to rely on.
Then, for each “event” in the day, you can follow “rituals” that signal the next activity. You might do bath, pajamas, story time and nursing right before bedtime—activities to let him know it’s time to sleep for the night.
4. Record your baby’s feeding and diaper changes
Right from the hospital, doctors and nurses encouraged me to record my baby’s feedings and diaper changes for the next few weeks and months. Even at home, knowing when he last nursed and from which breast was information I would later rely on.
I was also able to report types of bowel movements to his pediatrician so she can better monitor any problems he might’ve had.
Rather than keeping all this information in your head, track it on paper so you always have an accurate record to rely on. Plus, you’ll have a ready response to the pediatrician’s questions.
We only have so much energy before we feel depleted. Taking breaks—from small, five minute ones to overnight stays—can reset your energy level and mood. Yes, you’re still coming back to the madness of parenthood when you return, but you’re better off taking any kind of breaks than none.
Here are a few ways to survive the newborn stage by taking a break:
5. Sleep when the baby sleeps
I always had the urge to use the baby’s sleep time to be “productive,” cramming as much as I could into every minute.
While you want to be one step ahead, the key is to stick to one task—then leave the rest of nap time to rest yourself. Do one task per nap time, and once you’re finished, take a nap yourself. You won’t get the deep sleep your body needs, but every bit of rest adds up.
Because tasks will never stop. No matter how much you try to do during nap time, you’ll never get it all done.
6. Take turns or shifts with your partner
One of the best ways to get a break from baby care is to take turns with your partner. My husband and I would be awake at the same time, but some days, we needed to take turns to get much-needed breaks.
You can take turns with your partner by tending to the baby for an hour or two while the other takes an extended nap.
Another option is for one parent to take the baby out of the house so the other can have time alone at home. For instance, I would take the baby to my mom’s house for the morning, and my husband would do the same with his mom on another day.
And finally, consider taking shifts with your partner. Many parents relied on taking shifts at night so each one could get a long stretch of uninterrupted sleep.
For instance, from 9pm-3am, you can sleep while your partner tends to the baby’s needs. Then from 3am-6pm, you’re up with the baby so he can then sleep. With that schedule, each parent would have the opportunity to sleep for many hours straight.
7. Check in to a hotel
If family or friends live nearby, ask them if they can care for your baby one night so you can check in to a hotel. You can enjoy a whole night without waking up to piercing cries and dirty diapers.
If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll still have to wake yourself up to pump so you don’t deplete your milk supply. But at least you’re only doing that and can go right back to sleep without needing to burp or put your baby to sleep as well.
An extra tip? Make sure the hotel has a refrigerator where you can store your pumped breast milk to take home.
I didn’t have cable or even a Netflix account when I had my first baby. I remember visiting my mom, sitting on her couch, binge-watching on trash television. This coming from someone who hardly watched TV at home.
I wondered why I was so “comforted” by watching shows and realized I had been feeling isolated. Usually, I was holed up in a dark room, trying to put a baby to sleep or feeding him practically every hour. I hardly talked to anyone or knew what was going in the “real world.”
Once I had my twins, I found how much of a difference entertainment can help us survive the newborn stage. Here are my top tips on finding entertainment during this time:
8. Use your smart phone
It wasn’t until I had my twins when I finally converted to a smart phone (I was one of the late comers). What a difference it made, especially for middle-of-the-night feeding sessions. I used the phone to watch movies, play games, check my email, listen to podcasts, and hop on social media.
I didn’t use my phone during the day and focused on engaging with my twins. But at night, with my babies sleepy and subdued, it helped me stay awake and offered simple entertainment.
9. Take the baby for a walk
The newborn stage is odd: On one hand, we have no time compared to what we used to have. On the other, we find ourselves with nothing to do to fill those empty spaces.
One of the best ways I kept busy was to take my babies for a walk. Most babies will even sleep in the stroller or a baby carrier. I’d walk to the mall, the park, or around the neighborhood for a guaranteed nap.
To top it off, exercise and fresh air raise your happiness levels right when you need it. Once you’re ready and able, take the baby for a walk and make it a part of your daily routine.
10. Watch funny movies and shows
Funny movies and shows became my go-to strategy when I felt myself feeling down. I borrowed movies from the library or watched them on Netflix to remind myself of life outside of caring for a baby.
From TV comedies to stand up skits to hilarious movies, stock up on funny things to watch. As different as they may be from your current life, it’s that difference that can put these challenges in perspective.
Better yet? Watch them with your partner so you can both share something funny together.
Resetting your expectations
Most of my struggle with caring for a newborn had to do with my own expectations. Parenthood hit me hard. As difficult as I knew being a mom would be, I kept wishing for easier times and getting down on myself when life continued to be challenging.
I then learned that to survive the newborn stage, included shifting my mindset. Here are a few things you can do to reset your expectations:
11. Make chores a lower priority
Your home may have been organized and neat before the baby, but now it’s cluttered with toys and sticky from grime. Remind yourself that this is the season you’re in. Ignore your non-vacuumed floor and toy-cluttered play area and stick to only the most important daily tasks, like:
- Washing dishes
- Doing laundry
- Wiping kitchen counters
Everyone will understand why your home is a mess. Accept that this isn’t permanent, but rather a temporary situation that will go back to normal.
12. Stay home for a month to rest
With my older son’s birth, the shock of not being able to do simple things like go to the grocery store drove me crazy. I got down on myself because I couldn’t run errands, feeling trapped in my own home (and tied to the baby).
When I had the twins, I decided to embrace the idea of staying home for a month to rest. As a second-time mom, I knew that being house-bound wouldn’t last forever, and that it was actually good for me to rest at home as much as possible.
13. Rethink your meals
I thought I could get away with cooking during the newborn days so long as the recipes were quick. Sometimes I was able to pull it off, but most days we were better off with an alternative.
That meant having one or two recipes a week, if that. I also relied on quick meals like pasta and a jar of marinara sauce or tortillas and cheese for a simple quesadilla.
Cooking and the cleanup take time. Unless this is your escape, leave it for later when the baby doesn’t need as much of your attention.
The newborn stage is difficult for most parents, whether you’re a first-time or seasoned mom. The abrupt change to your lifestyle, the sleep deprivation and the demands of a baby make these weeks and months one of the hardest for any parent.
But we get through it. We organize our days and take much-needed breaks. We find laughter and joy in simple moments. And we reset our expectations, accepting the challenges for what they are—a temporary season in our lives.
Adjusting to a new baby isn’t going to happen overnight the way the baby’s arrival had been. But this stage will pass, as all seasons do—shrill cries and middle-of-the-night wake-ups included.
Get more tips:
- 5 Useful Tips for New Dads in the Newborn Stage
- Newborn Life: Expectation vs Reality
- When Does a Newborn Get Easier?
- How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Being Held
- Taking Care of Baby When Your Partner Goes Back to Work
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and get my handout—at no cost to you—and discover one mistake you may be making with your baby’s awake time: