Most people who don’t see me on a daily basis (everyone except my mom and my husband and maybe my in-laws) think I have it pretty together for being a new mom with a one-month-old child. I mean, they see me when I’m put-together, not at my house, and looking well-rested because it’s church and makeup does wonders for sleep deprivation. Plus, when I’m out amongst people, I want to look… not frazzled. When I have people over, I make sure the house is relatively tidy and I’m presentable for visitors.
But I’ll be honest: today, even though I’ve washed a load of dishes and I got up at ten (which translates: six hours or so of sleep), it hasn’t been a very productive day. I am currently sitting on my bed in my bra and underwear, holding a sleeping baby in my lap, desperately needing a shower, and having no plans to put on real clothes until my husband gets home and we go out.
And that’s totally okay. Transitioning into life with a new baby is never going to be perfect or easy, and I foresee many, many days where I don’t get dressed and nothing gets done around the house. Because that’s just how it is.
So I wanted to share the things I’ve found that have helped me deal with this new phase of life, because I know there are new moms out there like me who might be losing it, who might need some encouragement, who might need to know that there are a lot of other new moms around who don’t have it all together, either.
1. Don’t expect things to “go back to normal”
Whether you want to face it or not, the life you knew before your baby is no longer “normal.” The life you have now, with this new little being; the days you have with a crying, fussy, happy, cooing, baby who seems to eat all the time and need his or her diaper changed constantly; this life where you don’t get out of bed until ten or noon, you stay in your sweat pants or pajamas or — let’s face it — just your bra and underwear most days; this life where everything you do now centers around a baby: this is your new normal. It will change from day to day as you learn how to live with your baby, as you fall into habits and learn to cope with less sleep.
So don’t expect that you will get back to normal, because you can’t. Your body will never be the same, your habits will have to change, and your normal is no longer normal. And the sooner you accept that, the easier it is to deal with the changes!
2. Cut yourself some slack
This has been an easy thing for me to do; I am not naturally an incredibly active or productive person, I’ll admit. So slowing my life down to include Asa has been easier for me than it might be for someone used to doing a million things in one day. And if you’re one of those people, and you’re getting frustrated because you can no longer get your to-do list done… don’t beat yourself up about it! You have a baby now; another human being completely and totally relies on you to do everything for it. You have to clean the baby, feed the baby, dress the baby, teach the baby everything from good sleep patterns to (eventually) walking and talking and knowing right from wrong. That’s a lot of stuff to do.
So if you’re feeling defeated because you have a long list that never gets done, don’t beat yourself up about it. Cut yourself some slack, adjust your list to something more manageable, and don’t feel bad. You’re doing a lot, even if you never manage to get dressed on any given day.
3. Remember it’s temporary
There will come a point where your happy baby breaks routine and starts to be unhappy. And you’ll have a few days of laying in bed in the middle of the night or sitting on the couch in the middle of the day with a child who is suddenly fussy over nothing, who is fed and dry and warm and being rocked, yet still won’t calm down… and it might seem like this will never end. You might break down several times with frustration or exhaustion or defeat. I know I did.
But it will end, as my husband reminded me. Nothing lasts forever, and eventually your baby will stop crying. I promise. Either you’ll figure out what’s making him cry, or he’ll sort it out himself and settle into being happy again.
4. Do something for yourself every day.
Whether it’s taking a five minute walk sans baby, putting on your makeup, getting dressed in an outfit you like, going to the store, or reading a chapter of your favorite book… do something for yourself, without the baby, every day. Or as often as you can. I know it feels selfish to take alone time from that precious little one who can’t really do anything for himself, but you need some space to keep you sane. So if it makes you feel better, really, you’re doing it for the baby and for your husband. If you never get time to yourself, you will probably go a little crazy and possibly be more prone to having midday breakdowns, and that’s not good for any of you.
5. Go out on dates with your husband ASAP.
Yes, your baby needs you, but you know who else needs you? Your spouse. And what’s more, you need him. You both need some time together alone, just as you both need time to yourselves. Yes, you both love this child you’ve made, but the focus of your lives will not always be the baby; the baby is going to grow up and leave you someday. But (I should hope) you two will be together for as long as you live, and if you don’t take time to just be together and strengthen your relationship, you’re going to wear out really fast! And the sooner you start going out on dates and leaving the baby with a trusted babysitter or doting grandparents, the easier it will get to leave him behind so that you and your husband can have some quality bonding time.
And eventually, your kids will see you going out and putting each other first and they will learn that a) their parents love each other deeply, which gives them security, and b) the world does not revolve around them. Which teaches them selflessness. Not to mention they’ll learn good relationship skills from you.
6. Know that it’s okay to soothe your baby… or let him cry
It is completely okay to pick up your crying baby and soothe him to sleep. It is also completely okay to let your exhausted baby cry himself to sleep. Neither one is a wrong option. If it hurts your heart to let him cry, then pick him up and rock him. If he’s full and clean and warm and comfortable but so tired he’s crying, it’s also okay to let him cry himself to sleep. You are not spoiling him by picking him up, and you are not a bad mother for letting him cry.
You cannot spoil newborns. And sometimes the only solution is crying. Hey, sometimes your only solution is to cry, too. So don’t feel bad.
7. Set routines
There are a lot of different parenting techniques out there. The cry-it-out method, the on-demand feeding, the never-cry method… who knows what else. But personally, I think setting up some sort of feeding and sleeping routine will greatly improve your life, decrease bouts of crying-for-no-reason baby, and help you both to feel better during the day and sleep better at night. Scheduling feeding and awake times will help your baby learn to be awake more during the day, and fall asleep better at night. Generally, I feed Asa every three hours and keep him awake for around 1-1/2-2 hours at a time during the day. Sometimes he’s awake completely from one feeding to the next, sometimes he naps. And at night, the routine is simple: I let him wake himself up to eat (or feed him every four hours), I burp him, I change him, I swaddle him, I rock him if he seems a little too awake, and I put him right back to bed. No time to be awake and active.
This way, he learns that daylight means awake, and darkness means asleep. Routine is a lifesaver!
That being said, however…
8. Break routines
Sometimes, he just doesn’t eat as much as he needs to during his regular feeding times; he gets distracted, too sleepy, or uninterested in eating. So then an hour later, when he is hungry, I feed him regardless of the fact that it’s not scheduled. And sometimes, he’s just too sleepy to stay awake during the day, so I let him snooze. If your baby is so tired you can’t keep him awake… he needs to sleep. And if he’s been fed but he still seems hungry and it’s not feeding time… feed him! Routines and schedules are good, but don’t stick to them so strictly you’re driving both of you insane because he’s crying his lungs out but the clock says it’s not time for food yet. Your gut and your baby know better what he needs than the clock does. So break routine if you feel like you need to.
That’s okay, too.
9. Nourish your body
This one is simple. What you eat, your baby eats. The nutrients in your body go to him. Plus, if you’re not eating well, you’re going to be more exhausted and out-of-sorts. So eat well, eat a lot, drink lots of water, and do what you can to make healthy choices (I’m not very good at this right now, but I’m doing my best!) Your body needs it, your sanity needs it, your baby needs it.
… but once in a while, have some chocolate, too. For sanity’s sake. 😉
10. Remember that it’s a learning process… for both of you.
It didn’t really occur to me until I was close to having Asa that it’s not only a learning process for me to adjust to motherhood and figure out what he needs… he’s also learning… everything. Babies come out knowing nothing. They have instincts — to breathe and eat and cry — but even eating is a learning process. You both have to learn how to latch the baby on properly; you both have to learn how to function in this world. He has to learn when to sleep, how to tell you what he wants; you have to learn how to sleep through his sleep-noises, and how to decipher his cries.
Teaching your kids doesn’t just start once they can respond to you. It starts at birth. So don’t forget that; your baby doesn’t know how to do anything either.
Somehow, that makes it easier for me to deal with him and feel better about myself when we have bad days.
There are always other things that help me throughout the days with this little baby, but I think those are the top ten that you don’t hear as often as other advice.
What helps you get through the day with your newborn?