Me actually in labor with Blythe, in the maternal assessment center at Fairview Southdale Hospital.
I had only changed one diaper before I had a baby (and it was when I was pregnant!) I never babysat little ones; I really knew nothing at all about taking care of a baby. So when I was about five months pregnant, I called in my experts: my friends, co-workers, book club friends, and cousins with kids — and sent them a long list of baby advice questions covering everything I could think of. And it was AMAZING – I used their advice to build my registry lists. I read it again a couple of months after Beatrice was born with fresh eyes and realized, “Oh, they warned me about some of these things but I didn’t get it!” And I just reread it again and realized I was just discovering some of their truths for myself.
On the first few months
OK, here’s the deal. It’s cool, wonderful and amazing – but the first few months are really the hardest thing you’ll ever do. The thing to keep in mind, that you can only understand when you live it yourself, is that this too shall pass. Everything is just a phase, and phases with first babies seem endless and frightening – but they aren’t unending and you’ll get through it. Stronger, better, and you’ll never, ever be that scared again.
You’ve heard it before, but they ain’t lyin — sleep when the baby does. Every time baby sleeps, lay down!! You will not believe how tired you will be. Clean bathrooms/homes/whatever are overrated and for the non sleep deprived.
We adopted the “tag team” rule very quickly. When one parent is burned out or whatever we say tag team and the other one knows it’s time to step up and take over.
The first three months are survival mode, and anything goes – you can’t mess up the baby at this stage. Hold the baby as much as you want. Disregard all advice about schedules or teaching the baby anything. This is the time for cocooning just the three of you and it goes so fast (though it doesn’t feel that way at the time). If you want to hold baby for naps, do it. You won’t do any damage and when they are older they’ll sleep just fine!
The first day you get a shower, dressed, hair done, and lunch will feel like a major success!
Join a new mom group – everyone I know who did said it was a lifesaver. Very few people can truly remember what the first three months are like, and talking to people with other newborns will help you realize how normal yours is. Amma Maternity has great new mom groups in the Twin Cities.
How to elevate your feet to reduce ghastly post-labor swelling while taking care of a newborn!
Nursing is the hardest thing to figure out right after the baby arrives. Give yourself time, ask other moms who’ve succeeded and don’t get onto the crazy lactation ladies train. Find what works for you.
If you plan to breastfeed, give it a good 6 weeks. Breastfeeding can be challenging, especially for first-time moms, but 6 weeks seems to be the magic time at which things seem to settle down. But it is so rewarding. However, if things don’t work out and you can’t breastfeed for whatever reason, don’t be hard on yourself.
Program the number of a breastfeeding resource center (available through most local hospitals; you don’t have to have given birth at that hospital to call them) in your phone (my favorite are the ladies at Methodist Hospital — they were lifesavers for me with Beatrice!). Call them all the time with any little question or concern. If you are getting frustrated or scared, make an appointment, pack up baby, and go get help. Do this as much as you need to. No one really tells you that learning to breastfeed is hard (literally the hardest thing I’ve done in my life), and so you feel like a failure because you can’t do something “so natural.” Lactation nurses are the best nurses in the world – I love them so much!
Do what’s best for you and your baby
Allow yourself to be flexible. Things don’t always work out the way you plan (i.e. with breastfeeding or your birth plan). You need to do what’s best for yourself and your baby no matter what the books, internet, and other people say and if everything doesn’t go according to plan, that’s OK. For example, I was determined to have a natural birth. But when I went into labor I found I wasn’t able to manage the pain and ended up having an epidural. I was so disappointed with myself but have since then realized that it doesn’t matter, what was more important was that the baby was healthy. I had an epidural with my second without blinking an eye (and have the utmost admiration for people who can do it naturally!).
Say yes to help
Take help offered without hesitation. Say yes. You will need help. People will want to help you. It makes no sense at all to tough it out on your own. This is a lesson I learned when literally brought to my knees with my son’s birth. Before that I never knew what it meant to need and accept help. It was an amazing lesson. But also listen to you on what truly will be helpful, and don’t feel obligated to let others do something for you if it only makes you stressed out.
Use the babyline that’s provided by your insurance provider. I think I called, for both girls, at least twice a week. You don’t know what’s right sometimes, nor should you. They’re there to help – don’t feel embarrassed about calling. They will be nice to you and not condescend about any little fear or question.
On memory keeping
You can never, ever take too many pictures or videos. They’re absolutely priceless, especially when they’re eight and sassing you. FYI, sometimes you need a reminder why you liked them and decided to have them. Videos of cute, big eyed babies will reaffirm your decisions and remind you that your kid is awesome.
Write down the funny stuff they say and do – it’s better than the milestones.
I was terrible about writing things down with both boys, and both still do not have baby books! I have all the stuff randomly tossed in plastic bins for someday. Get a notebook to write stuff down in – you think you’ll never forget, but you will!
Take this all with a grain of salt
While we mean well, people like me, who have opinions and have done this, can actually be more of a hindrance than a help. Take all this advice with a grain of salt.
It’s going to be amazing!
You’re going to be totally awesome, I just know it. You might not feel like it, but you really will be an expert on this baby – and being his/her mom will be the best new job you could ever ask for – seriously. It is honestly that fun, hard and rewarding.
Right next to finding the love of your life, it is the most amazing experience we will probably ever have in our lifetime.
Also, know that if you decide to have more than one kid it’s going to be MUCH easier next time. Me with Blythe, two weeks after she’s born, actually leaving the house. So. much. easier.
The Rookie Moms Handbook by Heather Gibbs Flett and Whitney Moss
Parents Need to Eat, Too by Debbie Koening
How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between) by Mei-Ling Hopgood
The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins