While pregnant with your first baby, you probably imagined the first few months as a peaceful, blissful time where you bonded with your beautiful baby and experienced one of the most wonderful things life has to offer: being a mother.
At least that’s what I was imagining.
Then I had my baby and realized that the first months can be really, truly awful. And well-intentioned friends, family, medical practitioners, or total strangers would offer me these (essentially worthless) pieces of advice:
1. “Take Some Time for Yourself.”
I understand that it’s important to take some time for yourself so you don’t go crazy. My issue with this gem of advice is that it’s nearly impossible. If you breastfeed, the baby needs you to eat, which is about every 1.5 hours around the clock. Even if you pump ahead of time and leave a bottle for the baby, you still need the baby to eat every 1.5 hours (or pump) so your boobs don’t explode or give you mastitis. Also, babies are pretty demanding. They don’t just sit there and let you take a long relaxing bath, or paint your nails, or take a leisurely walk around the mall. They get bored, cranky, fussy, poopy, and hungry.
2. “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”
The first few months of parenthood are exhausting. And people will urge you to sleep any chance you get. Unfortunately they forget that you are supposed to be taking time for yourself. So if you spend nap time sleeping, you don’t get any time for yourself. Or you don’t get a shower. Or you don’t get to eat. Or go to the bathroom. Or do pretty much anything (refer back to #1).
3. “Get some exercise and eat a healthy diet.”
Good thing that my maternity leave left me with so much free time, I had LOADS of time to fix myself healthy lunches and regularly do that postpartum exercise video. Oh wait, no one has ever said that. Instead we all grab whatever is closest and easiest before the baby realizes you aren’t paying attention to them and starts crying. And physical activity? It’s pretty much limited to the exhausted walks around the neighborhood trying to get that fussy baby to sleep. Or walking around the house trying to get that fussy baby to sleep. Or driving in the car, trying to get that fussy baby to sleep. Not physical activity you say? Shoot.
4. “Cherish these moments, they pass too quickly.”
It’s very true that the newborn stage is short, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’re in the midst of it. And it’s impossible to love smelling like spit-up, having poop on your clothes, leaking breast milk all the time, and waking up every few hours at night. No one loves that. When your child is older you look back on that time fondly, because you are blocking out all of the nasty parts.
5. “Make sure you and your spouse have time for dates.”
First, see #1 again. Second, people forget to tell you that you are so exhausted you don’t really care if you ever go on a date again. And you don’t feel that attractive wearing your yoga pants (that’s all that fits) or your maternity pants (since you’re no longer pregnant, it just feels pathetic), so dressing up for a date sounds awful. And for your first baby, you don’t WANT to leave them behind. It sounds irrational since those early weeks are so hard (see all of the above), but leaving the baby behind with a — *gasp* — babysitter sounds way more scary than it did when you were pregnant. They can’t possibly take care of your baby the way you do!
6. “Have other family members and friends help with things like feedings, diaper changes, and cleaning.”
This is challenging for a breastfeeding mom. If you aren’t using bottles at other times, you still have to pump while the baby is eating from the bottle, so you really aren’t getting any help at all. And while people come over, none of them are exactly jumping up to change a poopy diaper. Or cleaning your nasty kitchen. And who will be comfortable asking a friend to do their dishes?
7. “Don’t stress out about schedules, routines, or milestones.”
Ha! Easier said than done. As a new mom you will probably stress out about most things. With my second baby I was able to not worry so much and really enjoy those early days, but as a new mom, you are so scared that you are going to do something wrong and screw up your kid, you worry about almost everything. Some people are more relaxed than others, but I have yet to meet someone who told me they were more stressed out with their second child versus the first (with the exception of course of difficult pregnancies, premature babies, and things like that).
8. “You know your baby best, go with your gut.”
Honestly, there are some things that a mother’s instinct just doesn’t know. Like whether that nasty cough is pneumonia or just a cold. And frankly, with your first, you don’t know a whole lot. Everyone kept telling me that I would start to understand what the different cries meant. My kid had one cry: full-blown, loud, the-world-is-ending crying. And my instincts with him consisted of feeding him every time he was upset. Because I had no idea what he wanted, and no instincts telling me what to do.
So if you are in the trenches right now with your new baby, take heart that over the next few years you will remember mostly good times from those early months with your baby. And if you are past that stage, try to refrain from giving those new moms some of this advice. Just offer to do their dishes.