The first six weeks of my daughter’s life were the hardest weeks of my life. I went into motherhood pretty blind. I barely knew how to change a diaper, much less how to bathe, soothe, or breastfeed my baby. I knew nothing about baby sleep. Frankly, I didn’t know there was anything special I should know about baby sleep. I spent those first few weeks healing from birth, physically and emotionally drained, sleep deprived, and feeling like a completely inadequate mother and wife. Here are the most important lessons I learned and things I wish I would have known before bringing my bundle of joy home.
1. Let Other People Help You
Moms these days face a lot of guilt and ridiculous expectations. We all end up feeling that we have to do everything and do it with a full face of makeup, heels, and a smile on our face. Mama, having a newborn is one of the hardest things you will ever do. Yes, there will be countless precious moments where your heart will swell bigger than your chest and you will wonder how you ever lived without this tiny human. But, there will be many other moments when you are deliriously exhausted, unwashed, starving, and feel like locking yourself in the bathroom to cry it out for a few minutes. Both of these experiences are part of the dynamic journey of motherhood. It is okay to lock yourself in a bathroom to cry it out, but it’s also okay (and important) to ask for help in those moments. There is nothing shameful in admitting that you can’t do this alone. Nobody should mother alone. It has become somewhat of a cliché at this point, but raising a baby takes a village. Whether you lean on your partner, your parents, or your friends, make sure you have somebody (or ideally several people) to lean on. It’s okay to let someone watch the baby while you get a few hours of much-needed rest. It’s okay to let your mother-in-law clean your house. It’s okay to let your friends and family bring you dinner. It’s okay, mama.
It’s also okay to want some alone time to bond with your baby. I experienced a lot of anxiety during the newborn stage because we had so many house guests. It’s okay to ask friends and family to wait a few weeks before visiting so that you can have time to bond with your baby if that’s what you want. It’s also okay to let your mother stay over for the first month if that makes you feel more comfortable. Make the right decision for you and don’t feel guilty for telling other people what you want. Babies don’t keep and you’ll never get this time back.
2. Do Your Research
It’s best to do your research ahead of time so that you know what to expect and you aren’t forced to read baby sleep books during nap time like I was. Now, if your baby is already home and you realize that you don’t have the information you need, it isn’t too late. It will just be easier for you to absorb and retain information if you’ve had more than 3 collective hours of sleep that day. So, go to that breastfeeding class before the baby arrives and see a lactation consultant once baby is here. Unlike what your mother might tell you, it really isn’t all that intuitive and a LOT of things can go wrong. Without the proper information and support, breastfeeding can be a nightmare. It can also be a beautiful bonding experience. Your knowledge on the subject will play a major role in which experience you have. Additionally, I would recommend following one of the popular sleep programs that are now widely available. Understanding the way that your baby sleeps and the challenges that they will face will help you guide them to better sleeping from the start. Keep in mind that I’m not referring to the “Cry-It-Out” method that your parents probably used with you. We know now that newborns should never be left to cry for any reason. There are much more effective and gentle sleep methods based around putting your baby on an eating and sleeping schedule which helps them learn to fall asleep on their own without any crying at all.
3. Sleep When They Sleep
Mama, your sleep matters. It matters more than your laundry or your dirty kitchen. It matters more than running those errands. I used to hate napping, but I learned to really appreciate it when I had a newborn at home. During those first few weeks, you may find that your baby sleeps a lot more soundly during the day than they do at night. Take advantage of this time and catch up on some zzz’s. It will really help your sanity and allow you to make it through the next night. During those first 6 weeks, you just take it one day and one night at a time.
4. Don’t Forget to Eat
We pretty much survived off of frozen veggie burritos during the first few months of my daughter’s life. Make sure you stock up on lots of meals that are easy to prepare or pre-made. Smoothies are a great way to get lots of nutritious content quickly and easily. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll find that you are constantly hungry. Eat lots of protein throughout the day and oatmeal in the morning to support a good milk supply. It’s also a great idea to set up a meal train that you can send out to friends and family. It’s a great way for people to help you out and meet the baby. It’s also amazing to not have to worry about preparing dinner on the evenings when friends and family bring you food!
5. Gripe Water
Gripe water was a lifesaver for us. My daughter had difficulty sleeping at night in the beginning. She would moan and groan in her swaddle, even when she was sleeping. Some of this is normal sleeping behavior, but she was obviously very uncomfortable. We realized that she was having tummy issues. Gas and other tummy problems are very common in newborns because of their immature digestive systems. Gripe Water works wonders on a gassy baby and helps them sleep a lot easier at night. If your baby’s tummy issues persist beyond the first month or two, it may be time to take a look at their diet (and yours if you are breastfeeding) to see if there might be an allergy or sensitivity issue that is causing baby’s discomfort.
6. Do What Works – And Don’t Feel Guilty
In the beginning, surviving the newborn phase is all about doing what works. Don’t worry about spoiling your baby or giving them too much comfort. At this age, there is no possible way that you could do that. Your baby is learning how to live outside of the womb and it’s a scary new place full of all kinds of uncomfortable new sensations. This is your time to bond with, love, and reassure your baby. This means that you don’t have to feel bad about giving them a pacifier. If your baby likes to nap in their swing, let them nap in the swing. If they like to nap in your arms, let them nap in your arms – just don’t fall asleep with them! You can also wear your baby in a K’tan Wrap if you have things to do that prevent you from holding him or her 24/7. If your baby sleeps better with you at night, don’t feel guilty about co-sleeping – I would just recommend that you find a way to co-sleep safely with the use of a Dock-a-tot or Halo Bassinet. Aside from that, just focus on loving your baby and stop worrying so much about what everyone else thinks is best. As long as you’re being safe and making your baby feel loved, you’re doing this parent thing right.