I collapsed on my bed with my new baby on my chest. Never in my life had I been someone who could fall asleep quickly or nap in the middle of the day. Having a baby changed all of that. I was constantly exhausted.
I’m sure if you’re expecting your first baby, you’ve heard all of the advice, especially about sleep. Get all the sleep you can now! I remember family members warning me. Along with everyone’s two cents on how to care for a baby or what items you have to have.
Nothing can really prepare you for the day that you become a mom (not even extra sleep). But this is the honest advice I wish I’d received as a first-time mom.
First-Time Mom Advice
1. You Are a Mom No Matter How Your Delivery/Pregnancy Went
You are a mom no matter how you gave birth.
It doesn’t matter if you had an epidural, a c-section, or if things just didn’t go as planned, you have just as much mom-credit as any other mom. You brought your baby into this world. Or, if you adopted, you gave your baby a home. You are a mom. Don’t let anyone make you feel like their experience was more valuable than yours because they had their baby naturally, birthed their baby at home, or had a super short labor that was totally due to how they ate and worked out during their pregnancy and not genetics.
I say this because I had preeclampsia and my deliveries both did not go as planned. My babies were born, via c-section at around 8 months (you can read more about my c-section experiences in my post on c-section essentials if you’re interested).
After my first, for a long time, I felt like I wasn’t actually a mom because I didn’t “birth” my baby. With my second, I had strong feelings of failure and disappointment in myself and my body for not being able to carry my baby to term. It took me a long time to realize that I couldn’t control those things and that they didn’t make me any less of a mom than anyone else.
No matter how you gave birth, all that really matters is that your baby made it out of your body and into this world. That’s not an easy task. And however you got your baby here, you are a mom. Nothing will ever change that.
2. Be Allies with the Hospital Staff
I hope you give birth to a healthy baby, but if your baby has to visit the NICU or be hospitalized soon after birth, trust the hospital staff. And even if they are healthy, trust the staff when they give you advice or suggestions.
The job of your nurses, pediatricians, lactation consultants, and midwives is to help your baby make it through the transition from your body to the outside world. The medical intervention that they offer is important for this. They want your baby to do well and they have the medical expertise to help make that happen.
When my first baby was born, I constantly felt like the hospital staff was overreacting and I was overwhelmed by the pressure they seemed to be putting on me. Umm…hello, I was in labor for days and then had my body cut open, give me a break, please. I knew so little about how dire those first few days of life were. They kept telling me things were wrong and I just didn’t understand the urgency.
In retrospect, I just needed to trust them and do what they were suggesting.
3. No One is Ever Going to Love Your Baby As Much As You Will
In the midst of all the hormones and emotions that come along after birth, you may feel like you are failing your baby. You aren’t. You are doing the best that you can. And remember that no one else will ever love this specific baby as much as you will.
Your baby may have loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a fantastic dad, but you are the only mom this baby will ever have. You are the closest and most important person in your baby’s life at this time. Even if you make mistakes, you are the only person who will ever offer them the fierce love of a mother.
4. Breastfeeding Can Be Hard
If you struggle with breastfeeding, sometimes it can cause you to doubt your body or your motherly instincts. Let me just say that breastfeeding can be hard. Do what you need to do. If you are determined to keep breastfeeding, see a lactation consultant and follow my tips for breastfeeding as a first-time mom. There are a lot of people and resources that are there to help support you during this journey (La Leche League International is a good place to start, along with the lactation consultants at your local hospital).
Personally, I am so grateful that I got to breastfeed my babies and I’m proud of myself for pushing through those difficult times. But, if it’s too hard and you’re overwhelmed, and all you really want to do is quit, that’s your decision to make. You’re the one doing it. Keep your baby fed and don’t feel like you have to justify not breastfeeding to anyone.
5. Babies Cry
My first-born son cried any time I wasn’t holding him. And sometimes he just cried for no reason that I could find (like every night from 11 pm-2 am). It made me feel like I was a failure as a mom. In reality, babies cry. Some do cry more than others (my secondborn rarely cried in comparison), but they all cry. And sometimes that’s ok.
If you need to use the bathroom, it’s ok to let your baby cry for a few minutes. If you need to take a quick shower, make sure your baby is fed and comfortable. And if he/she still cries, it’s ok. (Don’t take a 30-minute shower, but 10 minutes to make you feel more like a person is ok when you know nothing is wrong.) It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
This is a time in your life when you will probably need a lot of support. Be direct and ask people for exactly what you need. (You can return the favor later when you aren’t trying to meet 100% of a baby’s needs while also meeting 100% of your own needs at the same time.)
If you need your husband to feed the baby a bottle at 8 pm so you can go to bed at 6 pm and get more than two hours of sleep, ask him to do that specifically, tonight (and maybe every night).
Whatever you need, ask for it. If you need to hire someone to clean so your stress level can be lower, do it. Maybe you just want someone to hold your baby while you take a shower. Say that.
If you need professional help, get it. Don’t hesitate and don’t wait. If you feel like you need it, it’s better to get it early on than to wait until you feel like you can’t cope. (See the additional resources at the end of this post.)
8. The Real Deal About Sleep
Before I had my son, I read On Becoming Babywise, which claims that your baby will be sleeping through the night sometime between 8 and 12 weeks if you follow the author’s advice.
After reading the book, I felt like I had the formula for getting my baby to sleep through the night. I secretly scoffed at any references to babies not sleeping well. My baby would be a great sleeper.
Well, I was wrong. My son did not consistently sleep through the night until he was 1. Not only that, but he woke up three or more times a night until he was 5 months old (and I started intervening), even though I was following the plan in the book.
This was so damaging for me as a first-time mom. It was honestly the worst advice I could have received at the time. (I still think the book has good advice, but just don’t expect your baby to sleep all night at 2 months old.)
If I had come into motherhood with the expectation that my baby wouldn’t sleep through the night until around 6 months, I would have had an easier time. Instead, I spent so much needless time stressing about what I was doing wrong.
You can try to improve sleep. I used the Huckleberry app to do this with my second baby and highly recommend it. But know that you may not get great sleep for the first year. Make plans that will allow you to get more–like napping and going to bed early. (More on this in my tips below.)
9. But Don’t Forget
I know it’s hard when you’re exhausted and you just feel like you want a few hours to yourself, but your baby is growing and changing every day. Before you know it, you’ll be looking at your 1-year-old toddling around and wondering what happened to your tiny baby. Enjoy this time.
Alongside that, if you have a demanding job, try to set it on the back burner for now. Don’t go back to work before you have to. Spend as much time with your baby as you can. Remember that you are the most important person in your baby’s life. Your boss would hire someone new within a few weeks if something happened to you, but your baby’s life would forever be changed.
10. Just When You Thought it Was All Bad
I know all of this can be overwhelming, but it really does get easier. With my first baby, I remember a huge change at 3 months. That was mainly because this was when I finally got him to take naps without being held (you can read about how I did that in my post on co-sleeping to crib), freeing up so much more of my time. But also around 6 months and 1 year.
At six months, you can set them down (which sounds weird, but when you’ve been doing things one-handed for months, this is a huge help).
Around one, sleep becomes less of an issue and routines and schedules start to become a lot more consistent. They also start walking and eating more solid foods around this time, which makes them less dependent on only you (if you’re breastfeeding).
First-Time Mom Advice: Tips to Help Make Things Easier
1. Prioritize Just One or Two Things Every Day
This can be something like showering, sitting down for one meal, getting dressed for the day, taking a walk, etc. You want it to be something simple. I know it sounds like so little when we’re used to doing so much more, but giving yourself a little win every day is what can help you build up to bigger wins later on.
2. Find a Way to Get Some Sleep
I know this is a joke in first-time mom advice, but sleep makes such a big difference in how we react to stress. Some ideas for this are just sleeping in with your baby.
During the time when my baby was crying from 11 pm-2 am, I’d sleep in with him every day until around noon. This wasn’t ideal because I was only getting about 3 hours of sleep max at a time, but it helped significantly.
The best suggestion I’ve heard is to have your significant other take either the first feeding of the night or the first feeding in the morning. This allows you to sleep through one of the night feedings.
For example, you might feed your baby at 7 pm and then go to bed. When your baby wakes up at 10 pm, Dad would feed the baby a bottle. You’d take the next feeding at around 1 am. This would give you a stretch of about 5 hours of sleep. And, trust me, a 5 hour stretch of sleep can feel like a whole night’s sleep when you have a baby!
Similarly, if your significant other gets up early, they could take the 4/5 am feeding while you sleep until 7 am. (If you’re breastfeeding, both my doctor and lactation consultant suggested this. They assured me that missing one feeding will not affect your milk supply.)
3. Get Out of the House
Leaving the house with a newborn can feel overwhelming. If you’re breastfeeding, you may have some anxiety about feeding your baby in public. I’m not suggesting you take your baby out for hours at a time or to places you don’t feel comfortable. But staying in the house all the time can start to make you feel trapped.
I used a baby carrier (like this one*), to take walks with my baby in the beginning. It was helpful both to get me out of the house, and get some exercise. It was also a great way to get him to sleep.
Newborns typically love these because they keep Baby close to you, which is where they want to be all the time. I remember venturing out to run a few errands with my baby after a few months. I’d go to a shopping center, strap him to me, and as long as I was walking, he was sleeping. It made me feel so accomplished to get a few things done with a content baby.
Though being a mom can be challenging, there isn’t one day that goes by when I don’t know that it’s worth it. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything (not even more sleep in those first few weeks). But I do wish that I’d been more prepared as a first-time mom. I hope this advice helps you and it’s just more unsolicited advice (we get enough of that).
Supporting first-time moms is so important to me. If you’re a first-time mom, don’t forget to subscribe for more mom tips and tricks.
Check out These Other Posts for First-time Moms
Additional Helpful Resources
Get help. Postpartum Support International (PSI). (2022, September 9). Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.postpartum.net/get-help/
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, May 24). Postpartum depression. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20376623
Postpartum depression and the baby blues. (2022, September 15). HelpGuide.org. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/postpartum-depression-and-the-baby-blues.htm
The Postpartum Stress Center, LLC. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://postpartumstress.com/get-help-2/where-can-i-get-help/