Becoming a parent for the first time changes you. For many of us, it’s the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to us – eventually. But those first couple of months can be pure torture. It’s hard to fully appreciate how wonderful parenthood is when you’re exhausted and don’t have a moment to yourself. If you’re a stressed out new mom (or dad), it’s all you can do to put one foot in front of the other sometimes.
How do you survive? (And when will you get sleep again?)
You need these tips, from seasoned parents who’ve been there. They’ll help you get from stressed out new mom toward your new normal, as a proud and competent mama who’s got things under control.
Ready to get started?
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Your Stressed Out New Mom Survival Guide:
1. Give yourself a break
You’re going to need it! I remember the first few days after giving birth to Kimmie, I felt as if my body had been run over by a truck. Every part of me ached and felt groggy. And after being on bedrest for the last month-plus of my pregnancy, it was all I could do to move around; my stamina and energy were gone.
For my friends who had C-sections, things were even more complicated. (In case you haven’t figured it out yet, giving birth by Caesarean is, indeed, considered “major surgery.” Congrats, you’ve survived surgery!)
No, this is not how you’ll feel for the rest of your life! But it will take your body several weeks to get over the most immediate aftereffects of a vaginal delivery. For a C-section, think more like several months. You’re not going to bounce back right away, nor should you try to. (And yeah, just because you gained 40 lbs during your pregnancy doesn’t mean you’ll give birth and then go home 40 lbs lighter!)
Instead, you need to take it easy on yourself, as much as you can. Trying to do too much, too soon, will only make your recovery take longer. Your body needs rest if it’s going to heal.
2. Sleep as much as you can
Even if it’s not very much. Every little bit helps.
In addition to the physical toll that labor and delivery take on your body, you have to manage the effects of chronic sleep deprivation for the first month or two of your baby’s life. Being exhausted is one of the most common challenges for new parents, especially first-time parents.
The effects of chronic sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on everything from your appetite to your stress levels to your mood. Even your ability to think straight and remember simple things can suffer. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget to do basic things, like eat when you should or take a shower.
This is perfectly normal when you’re trying to function on almost no sleep. You shouldn’t expect to get by on only short stretches of sleep without feeling it. (And sleep deprivation will of course make it even harder for your body to heal from birth,)
As long as you have a co-parent or other helper at home with you, see if you can trade off on nighttime duty:
- If you’re breastfeeding, get yourself a breast pump anyway (insurance generally covers them now!), so you can pump enough to cover some bottle-feeding. Then have your partner take one of the nighttime feeds, so you can get more sleep.
- Or have your partner take turns on doing the bottle-feed if you’re using formula.
Also try to take naps during the daytime. When your baby naps, see if you can take a quick snooze too. Or have someone else cover the baby for a few hours in the afternoon, close your room-darkening curtains and shades, get out an eye mask and some earplugs, and have a nice long nap.
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Finally, now may be the time to splurge on some new super-soft sheets and/or a new comfy nightgown. Not only will being comfortable help you sleep better, but it’s a great way to show yourself a little extra love.
3. Cut yourself a LOT of slack
Even though you’re exhausted, you need to remember to be gentle with both yourself and those around you. It’s hard to avoid being short-tempered when you’re short on sleep, can’t remember when you last showered, and don’t have time to prepare healthy meals.
Don’t worry if your house is a wreck and you can’t see the laundry-room floor. Just do what you can each day, because that little person needs you and that is your #1 priority. You won’t feel as if you’re accomplishing much – but the work you’re doing is the most important job you’ll ever have.
So try not to be too hard on yourself. I promise, life will start to take on its new rhythm in a couple of months, and you’ll start to find new ways to get the important “adulting” tasks taken care of, like paying the bills and dealing with the mountain of dirty clothes in the laundry basket.
And while you’re trying to cut yourself a little slack, remember that chronic exhaustion can contribute to depression. This is why a little extra self-care is so important! If you feel like a failure as a new parent, burst into tears for no reason, have lost your appetite, or feel as if you just can’t cope, then chances are that tiredness and stress are already affecting you.
4. Make a list
Even if you’ve never been a list person before, consider giving this habit a go for the short term:
- There are so many things to take care of as a new parent – showing up for well-baby visits (preferably on time), getting insurance paperwork and a Social Security number for your new family member, etc.
- And whether you’re nursing or bottle-feeding, there’s no way you’re going to be able to remember when Baby’s last feed was, or for how long.
- Finally, if you notice anything that seems strange or unusual (is that diaper rash? And how come my diaper cream isn’t healing it up?), jotting down your questions will make it easier to remember them at your next pediatrician appointment/
Lists were my lifeline when I first had Kimmie. Besides helping me keep track of everything, I found that even being able to check off simple things like “eat x3” and “wash hair” gave me a sense of accomplishment – like I’d actually done something that day.
5. It’s OK to ask for help
Now is not the time to be proud! In an ideal world, you’ll already have lined up a freezer full of casseroles, and some friends to come help with errands, bring you hot meals, or watch the baby so you can nap.
If not, see what resources are available in your area. My church has a new mom’s support network that will line up people to bring over hot meals several times a week; you can also ask for help with errands, grocery shopping, or laundry. Our area also has several mama groups who will arrange to shower new mamas with casseroles.
And don’t hesitate to seek out the advice of friends who are already parents. Besides giving you a supportive ear, they can also be your first go-to source of information on things that puzzle you as a newborn parent, like whether that stinging and stabbing means nipple thrush, a clogged milk duct, or what.
6. Ask the pros
When you have your first baby, you discover a whole new world. Indeed, caring for a newborn isn’t nearly as “natural” or second-nature as you might think. (This is especially true when it comes to breastfeeding.)
So don’t be afraid to lean on your baby’s pediatrician and your own OB/GYN or midwife whenever you have questions or medical concerns. Depending on what’s available where you live, you may also have access to baby weigh stations staffed by labor and delivery nurses, lactation consultants at the hospital where you gave birth, or other resources.
Use them. That’s what they’re there for. Write down all their phone numbers in the front cover of your little notebook where you keep your daily to-do lists, or program them into your cell phone’s speed dial. Don’t be afraid that your question will seem “silly” or unimportant. If not for the dedicated help of the lactation consultants at our local hospital, I would not have been able to breastfeed Kimmie. And Essie’s various rashes put our pediatrician to the test, as was the case for my rather stubborn case of nipple thrush.
Also remember that your baby has spent nine months in a relatively quiet, dark, sterile environment. Therefore, the outside world can expose them to all sorts of challenges as their immune system develops. Moreover, after feeding through their umbilical cord for months, drinking breastmilk or formula is a new experience. For some babies (including both of mine), their digestive systems suffer chronic reflux for the first several months of their lives, making them (and you) miserable. Your medical providers are your first go-to stop for help in handling all these new-parent challenges.
So don’t be afraid to ask for help; a nurse can answer many baby-related queries. Alternatively, if you’re struggling with dark thoughts, your doctor or midwife can also help; don’t be afraid to tell them what’s going on.
7. Yes, you’re hormonal and will make mistakes. But you’ll all survive.
You want everything to be perfect for your baby. But you have to accept that mistakes are unavoidable. You’re learning to be a parent, so there are tons of things you don’t know yet.
For instance, babies spit up and vomit a lot. Most of the time it’s normal (as is what comes out the other end), even if it doesn’t seem that way to you. Try to remember that panicking about every little thing will only create an anxiety-prone terrain for your child. Similarly, crying is a baby’s natural way of communicating. Don’t panic. It says nothing about you as a mother.
In addition, breastfeeding is not as easy or “natural” as you might think:
- While it’s amazing to think that your milk supply is keeping this tiny human alive, breastfeeding can be both physically and emotionally draining.
- And for some women, it simply is not an option, whether because of medical conditions on their end that complicate things, or challenges their newborns face when trying to feed.
Even with support from their family members, some women consider themselves failures or “bad mothers” if they don’t breastfeed their children. Listen carefully: that is your hormones talking. Your hormones are controlling your mood (though lack of sleep isn’t helping) and making you feel that way. Don’t let them have the last word.
Whether you breastfeed or not, whether you want to or not, never feel guilty about how you feed your baby. And more importantly, never let anyone else make you feel bad about your choices. Both systems have their advantages and drawbacks, and both are perfectly fine ways to feed your child.
The bottom line:
Being a mama is tough, especially in the early weeks and months. Hitting your parenting groove takes time. While you’re learning, you need to give yourself a break until things start to level off a bit.
- When I was a first-time new mama, someone told me the first two months were the hardest; I clung to those words throughout the first two months. And then I found I was able to get a little more sleep, and things weren’t so desperate.
- Then someone else told me the first four months were the next hardest. Sure enough, I remember that around the four-month mark, Kimmie started to learn to sleep better on her own – and suddenly things again shifted toward slightly easier.
- Then a third friend told me that the first year was the hardest. One day around Kimmie’s first birthday, I caught myself feeling rested enough that I was able to get up early and read/write for a bit, something I hadn’t done since I was pregnant. And then I realized that life was starting to feel more “back to normal” than it had since giving birth.
I promise you, there is a “new normal” out there waiting for you, and you WILL hit your mama stride eventually!
If you’re a parent, what things were most challenging for you when caring for a newborn? Let us know in the comments!
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