Keeping Your Sanity as A New Mom
Ahhh ... those blissful early days of motherhood. My boobs looked large enough to feed half of Detroit. Flaps of fat swung around my belly like leftover gefilte fish. I was afraid to look down below; a simple trip to the potty required an inflatable donut, a sitz bottle of warm water, and endless courage. I cried like a wild animal when dusk fell. I screamed at my husband when he brought me a fax from work. A glance at the baby's umbilical cord brought me to tears.
And then there was the Village, who days before had treated me like the Pregnancy Goddess of the Planet. My mother-in-law admonished us, after three days, that she didn't feel "involved" in her grandson's life. My excited younger sister drove six hours to meet her nephew -- but she had Strep throat so I wouldn't let her into the house. Hordes of eager visitors stormed our house with advice on every decision I made. They wanted to hold the baby (oh, the germs!) and take endless pictures, the flash startling (and I feared, permanently blinding) our newborn.
And I had an easy baby who slept 20 hours a day and nursed the other four.
I sure could have used your advice back then. So here, for all you new moms, is the collective wisdom from On Balance readers.
Top 10 Tips for Surviving Early Motherhood With Your Sanity Intact
1. Be as organized as possible before the baby comes home. Don't wait until you are nine months pregnant to buy diapers and wipes, install the car seat, put together the bassinet/crib, have some clothes washed and ready, etc. The last thing you want to do when you arrive home from the hospital is have to go shopping or assemble furniture. Ditto for child care: visit places or interview caregivers as far in advance as possible. You don't want the stress of doing this with a newborn, and many places have long wait lists.
2. Go easy on yourself, and expect the first few weeks after giving birth to be exhausting. The baby may need to feed every two hours. You won't be sleeping much. You will be tired all the time. Plan for this. It takes at least six weeks to master any aspect of parenting. You would never expect to walk into a new job and instantly know how to work the equipment, navigate the politics and know exactly who to go to for all the answers. Parenting is about learning on the job, making mistakes, forgiving yourself, and moving on to the next phase.
3. Nothing is more important than developing a relationship with and understanding of your new baby. Not visitors, not housework, not the drive to breastfeed, nothing. All of these may be things you planned to do, but follow your instincts as you get to know who this new little person really is.
4. Accept help in any form! One of the most important things is to encourage your husband to be as involved as possible, including taking paternity leave. You will need the support, and he will need the time to bond with your baby. If relatives or friends want to come stay with you to help out, arrange for them to come help you after your spouse goes back to work, not right when the baby arrives. When family or friends ask what they can do, take them up on it in ways that you find helpful (which is sometimes different than what they want to do). Have mother or MIL bring over precooked meals, do laundry, or watch the baby for a couple of hours while you nap. And if have any inkling that you need professional help, due to postpartum depression, a clogged milk duct, bleeding, insomnia or any other medical reason, ask for help -- immediately.
5. Don't worry if the house is a mess. You'll get back to normal eventually (in 20 years).
6. Figure out how many people you want around during the first few weeks, and under what circumstances. Your family and friends will want to be there, but they should be willing to give you space as well. Make your rules clear: no one arrives before breakfast, or everyone leaves before dinner, etc. Provide a list of convenient hotels, if you would rather have the house (and the baby) to yourself. It's OK to tell people you don't want visitors.
7. Fill the freezer with easy-to-make meals. You will forget to eat, so when you do remember, make eating nutritiously easy on yourself. Fill-the-freezer is a great shower theme, too.
8. Every day: Take a shower, brush your teeth, put on clean clothes, and go outside for a few minutes. Sounds simple, but these steps may save your sanity. At the same time, forget about your body for a while. Make sure you have some clothes to wear at first. Maternity clothes will be too big but your regular clothes will be too small. Yoga pants and big, button-down shirts are your friend. You have bigger priorities than the size of your butt.
9. Divide and conquer. It is silly for you, your spouse, your sister and your mom to do everything for the baby together. If the baby is sleeping, try to sleep; let someone else take the next shift. If you are nursing, have your spouse sleep while you feed the baby, so he can be rested when you need a break. If you are formula or bottle feeding, take turns.
10. Surrender to your lack of control, and try to enjoy the first weeks, which seem grueling and terrifying, but can be sweet (and brief). You have no idea how you will recover from labor, the problems facing your baby, etc. You can read all you want and still not be prepared for every possibility, for the postpartum hormones raging through your body, or for your mixed emotions upon becoming a mother. Maybe for the first time in your life, you just have to go where life takes you. When you are up in the wee hours of the morning with a tiny baby, let yourself feel the sweetness and wonder of that little person who depends on you for everything. Listen to her breathe and enjoy the beauty of your new life together.
Next week: Is it better to return to work when your kids are infants, teenagers, out of the house, or never? Send me your pros and cons for going back to work at different stages of parenthood so I can include them in next Monday's Top 10 Tips.
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