Photo Credit: RODNAE Productions/Pexels
It’s 2 a.m. and I’m writing this article on my phone as I feed my baby his second feeding of the night (so far). I gave birth to my son four months ago, and since the moment he emerged underwater and was placed onto my chest for our first face-to-face meeting, time has passed both quick as lightning and slow as molasses. As the saying goes, “The days are long but the years are short.” As I’ve learned, truer words have never been spoken.
Becoming a new mom has certainly had its learning curve. As the newborn phase is freshly in my rearview mirror, here are a few words of wisdom I have to offer:
1. Eat Well (Water, Too)
Feeding yourself can be a real challenge when you're learning how to care for your baby. I’m grateful to my husband for making it his personal mission to feed me, and to friends and family members who have cooked and delivered warm meals to keep me nourished, but eventually the help tapers off and you’re left to fend for yourself. This is not an easy task after your baby has woken up multiple times throughout the night and you’re still figuring out how to feed your child, let alone yourself.
I’ve learned to be quick and resourceful with my meal preparation. With just a little planning you can have a quick lunch on the sofa while your baby is somewhere in their sleep/eat/poop rotation. Here are a few of my go-to options to keep me sustained:
- Sandwich supplies: Turkey slices, cheese slices, pickle slices and sliced bread — go for options that require less cutting and cleanup. I still cut up some tomato slices and avocado, but the cleanup is quick and minimal.
- Overnight oats: Forget measuring out your oats into individual mason jars and flavoring them differently for each day of the week. No. You are tired and hungry and possibly (most likely) haven’t even brushed your teeth yet. Instead, grab a medium-size mixing bowl, throw in some oats, chia seeds for extra protein and a nutritional boost, a sprinkle of cinnamon, lots of milk, and voilà! You’re done! Pop that bowl in the fridge overnight, and in the morning you have breakfast to last you a few days. Just scoop some into a bowl, top with fruit and nut butter, and get back to cuddling your baby.
- Whole roasted chicken: A precooked chicken can be used in a variety of ways, like quick wraps, tacos, or if you’re really hangry, just pair it with some hummus and crackers and you'll be settled again in no time.
- Protein bars and granola bars: Aim for lower-sugar options, but make sure they’re also something that you’ll still enjoy eating.
- PBJ: A classic sandwich that never fails to satisfy. If you’re adventurous, try adding some tortilla chips in the middle for a crunchy, salty contrast.
- Meal kits: If your budget allows, try a meal delivery kit that requires minimal chopping and cooking, or even better, a food delivery service that comes with prepared meals. All you have to do is pull it out of the fridge and grab a fork.
2. Ask for Help
I was given this advice multiple times before having a baby, but for some reason I still found it difficult to ask for the help I needed. It’s a muscle I had to learn to flex, but once I did, I found that people were more than happy to oblige. Something as small as “Can you close the curtains?” or “Can you fill up my water bottle?” were seemingly trivial requests that could bring me so much comfort. And if anyone ever offers to bring a meal or walk the dog, say yes, mama. Always say yes.
3. Get Very Comfortable Hanging Out
In the first few weeks or months, you’ll most likely be spending a lot of time in bed or on the couch with your newborn. Here are some ideas to keep your mind occupied and yourself comfortable:
- Listen to audiobooks and podcasts: There are a plethora of wonderful resources for new parents available.
- Watch TV: I often kept up with shows in the middle of the night while my baby nursed. It was an entertaining way to stay awake and not risk falling asleep while holding my son.
- Wear pajamas: Meet your new uniform. I subconsciously had lofty ideas of being that put-together, athleisure-chic mom, but day after day found myself still in my pajamas at 4 p.m. The reality is that you are going to want to be as comfortable as possible as your body heals.
- Take a shower: Even if it's a quick body rinse, you will almost be as refreshed as if you had slept a full eight hours. Almost.
- Keep a basket of supplies: Place a basket kit of supplies next to your bed, couch, and rocking chair for late-night feeds. Keep snack bars, water bottles, a phone charger, lip balm, and a book in it at all times.
- Go to the restroom: Try to run to the bathroom before you start feeding. It's much harder to feed your child while doing the pee pee dance.
4. Take Naps
No other piece of advice could be more helpful or harder to do. It’s hard to resist the urge to get things done or scroll endlessly on your phone. It takes a lot of intention to pull off, but every precious minute of sleep you get is so worth it. So put down your phone, remind yourself that most things can almost always be done later, and sleep when the baby sleeps.
5. Treat Yourself to Little Luxuries
All of your focus is on your baby after you give birth, naturally. The introduction to motherhood is a whirlwind of feedings, diaper changes, cuddles, and navigating the new unknown. I found that having small gifts for myself served as self-care as I cared for my baby. This doesn’t have to be anything lavish or expensive. For me, adding a dash of maple syrup and oat milk turned my normal coffee into a celebratory, fancy latte. I also purchased a new headband that made me feel pretty cute in my pajama uniform while also keeping my hair out of my face. And, if I could manage it, stealing a few extra minutes in a hot shower was restorative and centering.
6. Trust Your Instincts
We live in an age of instant information and an overwhelming amount of it. There were nights when I would exhaust myself asking Google if my baby’s behavior was normal (it was) or how long it would last (who knows?). The reality is, there is a whole range of “normal” and there is a whole lot of guesswork with a brand-new baby.
Shut down Google and trust yourself.
And also know that It’s okay to not know the answer. You most likely will have to lean into the trial-and-error approach and figure it out as you go along. Remember that you are the best mother for your baby.
7. Be Mindful of Your Mental Health
Somewhere in my baby’s second month, the lack of sleep, combined with being cooped up in the house all day, began to wear on me. There was an undercurrent of sadness and overwhelm that inconspicuously began to pull me into the undertow despite how grateful I was to be a mom.
I began to incorporate some small and accessible adventures into my day, like going for walks outside, taking trips to my favorite ice cream shop, and lounging in the park. With the heaviness I felt and a new baby in tow, these outings felt like a big ordeal, but the more I made it a part of my day, the easier it became — and the better I felt.
I was also very intentional about having more skin-to-skin cuddles with my baby to release oxytocin, the “love” hormone, which promotes feelings of well-being and relaxation.
It’s not uncommon for new mothers to experience some level of sadness and anxiety in the initial postpartum months. For some women, the baby blues come early and leave quickly, but for others, feelings of depression can linger much longer. If you think you are experiencing postpartum depression, there are resources that can help, including Postpartum Support International. The sooner you seek support, the sooner you will feel better.
8. Make Mom Friends
Knowing where to make mom friends can be tricky, but it’s certainly possible. I’ve had luck with local Facebook groups of moms needing connection and community just like I do. They all come together to coordinate social events like stroller walks, coffee meetups, and hiking.
You can also find groups at your local mommy-and-me classes or family playspace. The most important thing is to say yes and show up. Sure, there is bound to be some awkwardness, but isn’t it worth it when you find someone else to talk about all things diapers and poop and teething?
9. Trust the Wisdom of Your Mom Friends
In my quest for answers and guidance as a brand-new mother, I would ask my seasoned mom friends how they raised their children. Surprisingly, most of them could only vaguely remember the sleepless nights and exhaustion. Instead of getting the play-by-play child-rearing techniques that I hoped for, I was told not to worry, it all goes by too fast. Instead, just enjoy my son while he’s this little.
Becoming a mother for the first time is nothing short of transformative, but the transition can look different for every new parent. Though it’s exciting, beautiful, and awe-inspiring, it can also be exhausting and frustrating. There is no shame in the gamut of emotions you can feel as you embark on your journey into parenthood. It’s important to hold space for all of the emotions without self-judgment, and to take care of yourself daily. If the going gets tough, remind yourself that this, too, shall pass, and in the blink of an eye, your little one will be taller than you are.
You’re doing amazing, mama!