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What I Wish I Had Known When Expecting a Baby
I have several friends who are expecting a baby and are glowing their way through pregnancy.
Seeing their cute growing bellies, talking with them about the wonderment and magic of getting to meet their babies for the first time, helping them draw up a list of names, seeing their pinterest-worthy nurseries…it’s almost enough to make me want another baby! Almost.
We’ve all heard an experienced parent offer to a mother-to-be the comment that parenting is the:
“…Hardest but most amazing thing you’ll ever do.”
I heard it loads when I was pregnant.
That, and “get your sleep now, while you can!”
I’m the type of person that loves input from others, so all the advice–even unsolicited–was music to my ears.
But, I often felt that the advice fell short. And I didn’t realize what it was lacking until I became a mother myself.
In reflection, the advice was quite general, as well as, dare I say it, canned.
You all have heard the same sort of pregnancy input as well, possibly verbatim. It’s as if everyone has received the same rolodex of pregnancy pointers to share with all expectant friends and strangers.
So what knowledge or tips would actually be helpful for a new mother?
Ones that show the true potential ups and downs of early parenthood.
This information is to help prepare you by painting a more comprehensive picture of what motherhood can be like.
With this knowledge in hand, may you tread more steadily through these first few months than myself and other moms have done.
When You’re Expecting a Baby, It is Helpful to Know Just How Motherhood is “Hard”:
When people say parenting is hard, more specifics are needed. What does that mean exactly?
For me and many moms I have spoken to, parenting a newborn is hard because the dependency of a newborn can feel constant, and heavy, and permanent.
In the early months of my daughter’s life I was incredibly overwhelmed by being needed. so. much.
What I wish I had known about the relentlessness of a newborn, is that it is not permanent.
When you’re in it, it can feel pervasive and everlasting. So if you are in that place, please, believe me when I say that caring for a newborn gets easier.
You and your baby will learn each other, he or she will begin to need you a little less, and your confidence in being able to meet your baby’s needs will grow.
Get Appreciate and cherish your sleep while you can:
The phrase “get your sleep now while you can” is thrown around a lot.
It is lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, and unfortunately, not the slightest bit helpful.
Seeing as we cannot save up our sleep stores to use in the early months of parenting, what you can do instead is be mindful and appreciative of the rest and sleep that you are having pre-kids.
While you’re expecting your baby, enjoy the ability to be able to nap or rest when you need.
Once newborn-induced sleep-deprivation kicks in, you really start to pine for those days of sleeping according to your own schedule.
Notice, appreciate, heck even cherish, the rests and sleep you have now.
Nursing can take what feels like forever, and sleeplessness feels like torture, BUT it eases over time:
I have always been a big fan of sleeping.
In college, my roommates would tease me for adhering to a self-imposed reasonable bedtime. I would choose to sleep over many things. So it comes as no surprise that having a newborn was hard on me.
But what did come as a surprise was that the feeds in those early days could take an hour or more.
This meant that if the baby went to bed at 11pm (our daughter didn’t know about my early bedtime rule), and woke every two hours to feed for an hour (including a diaper change), and the sun woke up at 6am, I slept for a grand total of 5 broken hours of super light, non REM sleep.
This was debilitating, and it was full body.
I felt like I would never sleep again. But I did. And you will too.
It may take months to get a significant amount of sleep in one go, but it will happen. You will sleep again.
What to do when your baby cries:
We know it: babies cry. Sometimes they cry a lot.
And we know to run through the list of potential causes. Hungry? Tired? Dirty diaper? Rogue hair stuck around a toe? That last one gave me anxiety for ages!
But what do you do when you’ve done all you can do, and your baby is still crying?
You continue to show them you care. You rock them and sing to them and love on them.
Think of it like being with a friend who is upset about something you cannot fix; you are an emotional support and the simple act of just being with them and expressing care means the world.
The same is true of your sweet, won’t-settle-down baby.
Just give them love.
Disclaimer: That said, if you are worn down and at your wits end, it is okay and even recommended to take a break. Give your baby to another caregiver or lay your baby down in a safe place, and gather yourself to try again.
While You’re Expecting a Baby, it’s Time to Meal Prep, Meal Prep, Meal Prep:
I say this with no word of a lie, after my daughter was born, making toast seemed like an insurmountable task — for approximately two months.
While I was still expecting my baby, I had prepared a couple frozen meals with the idea that it would be handy, but I had no idea how much of a lifesaver having ready to eat food would be.
Luckily I have wise friends and family who had also prepared meals for us ahead of time. Thank goodness, otherwise we would have starved.
I recommend stocking up on as much as your freezer can hold.
Additionally, seeing as sometimes babies can be sensitive to traces of mama’s food in breastmilk it can be a good idea for these freezer meals to be simple. Think: low spice, low gas-inducing foods, and possibly low dairy.
Appreciate your Coupleness Before Baby is Here:
When you are expecting your baby it can be so exciting to imagine your growing family. It IS exciting! But, remember before your baby makes their grand entrance to soak up the solitude (or would it be duotude) with your partner.
Breathe in the quality time, and immerse yourself in conversation, and outings, and dates.
When baby arrives, the focus is naturally and appropriately diverted away from the couple for a little while, so do those things you’ve been wanting to now.
Take a staycation. Or go on a full blown “babymoon”.
This is the time!
You may find yourself annoyed at your partner in ways you never knew possible:
Remember the point above about appreciating your coupleness and your partner? That’s important because once baby is here, you may find yourself being irritated by the other parent.
It could be the hormones, it could be the sleeplessness, or it could be that everything they do is wrong.
Note: the first two will tell you it’s the last, whether or not they’re right.
I don’t have much advice to give here other than this annoyance seems pretty universal, so know that you are not alone.
And check out the point below.
Communication is key:
I have never been one to be short of words or to give hints; if I need something from my husband, I tell him point blank in full detail.
But there was something about using all my waking energies to keep a little human alive that gave me limited power in the express-what-I-need department.
This naturally led to misunderstandings and disappointments.
I urge you to find the strength to speak up about what you need and how you need it.
Your partner might not understand how thirsty nursing can make you and that you’d really like a glass of water, unless you tell them.
They might not know that you fold the diaper down under the baby’s umbilical cord stump just so and that you would like them to do the same when they do changes, unless you tell them.
Give yourself time just the three of you, but also don’t become a hermit:
When you bring your baby home, it is so special.
You and your partner have your precious, perfect gift and you should enjoy some time as a new little family.
But know that the weight of being a new mom can be anxiety-provoking, and this often leads to hunkering down.
The irony is that isolation leads to more anxiety.
Even if it feels scary, sometimes the best thing you can do is the opposite of what seems best. Confusing right?
Put simply, my recommendation is to get out. Go on a walk around the neighborhood. Go to a grandparent’s or friends house. Go to the grocery store.
You can do it!
And you’ll feel quite proud afterwards.
What’s more is it will give you confidence in your ability to live life with a baby, outings and all.
You will learn soon enough the immense joys of parenthood, as well as you may encounter some of the struggles listed above.
I wish for you a smooth “fourth trimester” with your new little love.
Although (to quote many a parent before) being a new parent is “hard”, it really is
‘The most amazing thing you’ll ever do.”
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Christina is the writer behind the blog Real Life Mama. She is a mom two littles, a 4-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. Christina and her family live in San Diego, where she is a full-time mama, part-time mental health therapist (LPCC), and round-the-clock blogger, writer, and author. If she ever gets a moment to herself, she can be found singing at the top of her lungs, cooking, and crafting. Thanks for reading!