Now that my son is nearly four months old, I can officially say that I’m through the “newborn phase” of being a new parent. My body is recovering, I’m working out again, my son goes to bed at a consistent time, sleeps for longer stretches, we’re in a routine that works for us.
While reflecting on these first few months of mom life, I felt inspired to put together some advice I would give to myself if I were to do this again. Parenting is the world’s steepest learning curve, and the early days especially are a total whirlwind. I know there is a ton of advice out there, but I hope to offer some realistic tips that might help out a fellow new parent.
1. Practice patience
While this is way easier said than done, it is nonetheless very important. Bringing home a new baby is a major life change, it’s important to practice patience with your baby, your partner, family members, and most importantly, yourself.
There will be moments when you’re trying to soothe a crying baby and feel like you’re at your wits’ end. It happens to everyone. When I feel myself getting wound up when my son is in a bad mood, I take a deep breath, look toward the ceiling and say, “patience” to myself, repeating it two or three times. I think this mantra would have been great in the early days to calm my nerves and remind myself that this too shall pass.
2. REST when the baby sleeps
Sleep is the hottest topic for new parents. Everyone loses sleeps with a new baby, it’s unavoidable, but you still need to try to get some rest here and there. Our son slept for two hour or longer stretches in the early days which was glorious. However I was running on so much adrenaline that I had a really hard time letting myself fall asleep when he would. We would place our sleeping son in the bassinet and then have an overwhelming sense of urgency to get as much sleep as possible. This led to me lying awake in bed or waking up every five minutes. When you know your sleep will get interrupted it can be very hard to rest. It’s like having the Sunday Scaries 24/7.
The advice I would give to myself now? Don’t worry about sleeping. Just REST when the baby sleeps. Lie in bed, close your eyes, and know that it’s ok if you don’t fall asleep. The distinction between saying “rest when the baby sleeps” vs. “sleep when the baby sleeps” can be enormous. It takes the pressure off napping and reminds you to just relax when you can.
3. Ask for specific help
Everyone will tell you to enlist as much help as you can when you have a new baby, and you’ll likely have friends and family members who are more than eager to help out. However, this can lead to you having several people coming and going from your home all the time which can be nearly as overwhelming as bringing home the baby! Of course don’t feel pressured to host them in any way, but also don’t be afraid to be specific about your needs.
We needed a ton of help in the early days. As I was recovering from a C-section I needed help getting dressed, help getting in an out of bed, and so on. Not to mention other day-to-day tasks around the house. My husband and I found great success in asking for help with specific tasks, which made everything easier. My mom would help me get dressed, my friends would put away laundry, my mother-in-law would unload the dishwasher, my dad would take out the recycling. If we asked for specific help and delegated tasks, people were happy to jump in. It’s helpful for everyone if you’re specific about the tasks that are on your mind, rather than asking them to guess what needs to be done. Don’t be shy!
4. Make plans and change plans
I couldn’t stand being housebound during my recovery, so as soon as I was more mobile I signed up for two mom groups, mom and baby fitness classes, and booked a hair appointment. I couldn’t wait to get out of the house. However, I had to remind myself that I’m not obliged to do anything specific while on mat leave except take care of my son. I went from having no schedule to over-scheduling my days (a classic habit of mine). Since then, I’ve found a lot of freedom in changing my mind about what I’m going to do with my day at the last minute. Leaving the house with a baby is a production, and as fun as it can be to go on stroller walks and wear your baby to the coffee shop, it can also be tiring. It’s liberating to know I have the flexibility to choose how each day is going to go.
If the weather sucks, I can stay in and hang out with my kid, watch everything on Disney+ and drink endless coffee. If it’s a nice day, maybe we go out for lunch. My mom groups meet weekly, but I’m not obliged to go to the weekly meetings – the meetings are there if I feel like doing something that day. So make plans to leave the house, yes, but know that you can absolutely choose to stay home just because you feel like it – most of us aren’t used to that much freedom, enjoy it!
5. Remember we’ve done this for centuries
You will get bombarded with advice as a new parent (including blog posts like this one). If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, remind yourself that humans have been successfully parenting tiny humans for generations. This perspective is surprisingly something that can be lost when you’re in the weeds. I so often hear moms say things like “I know it’s so bad but I still nurse him to sleep…” or “I couldn’t stand breastfeeding so she’s on formula which I know is awful but…” NO! you are feeding your child, you are helping them sleep, you have to find what works for you. Go easy on yourself. We’ve been doing this for centuries, and you’re doing great.