Baby bliss-land. Ahh…I remember those days.
I also remember how challenging those early days were with my first baby after my husband had gone back to work. Sometimes he’d arrive at home, and no sooner had he taken off his jacket, I’d hand our tiny son over to him so I could eat something and grab a shower.
“Why haven’t you eaten all day?” he’d ask.
It was hard to explain how the day just slipped by, nursing a baby who wanted to be on my breast all day ...
I’ve got four kids. And I’m a midwife. Being a new mom comes super-naturally for me.
But natural doesn’t mean easy. As a new mom, my days (and nights) were sometimes challenging. And they are for most moms.
Being a new mom requires us to make huge adjustments in our sense of self and what we can get done in a day, in our lifestyles and even in our self-care routines. Newborns don’t hold their heads up, so we need two arms just to hold them. That doesn’t leave many free hands for basic things like feeding yourself or taking a shower.
Some newborns cry often. In fact, the average new baby cries for up to four hours a day. And they don’t always sleep when you need to! Add to that possibly recovering from a cesarean (after all, 1 in 3 women will give birth that way) and possibly older kids to care for and wow!
O-V-E-R-W-H-E-L-M-I-N-G! At least at times.
And for some women (quite a few, actually) being a new mom is actually more than just transiently challenging. It’s desperately hard — there’s isolation, overwhelm, loneliness and sometimes even serious depression.
My passion as a medical doctor (yup, I’m a midwife and an MD) is taking care of women. And as a midwife, I have a special place in my heart for new moms. I’ve been there, too!
Here are 10 of my top tips for getting through those first three months after baby is born, with health, sanity, and joy:
1. Eat, drink, and take care of yourself.
This is the primo point. While we don’t actually need to eat for two during pregnancy (that’s a myth, we only need a few hundred more calories a day in the last trimester), we do need about 500 more calories a day when we breastfeed. It’s important to make time for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks in between to keep your blood sugar steady.
Not only will this help you build a healthy milk supply, balanced blood sugar will keep your mood and energy steady. Make sure each meal and snack includes high quality protein and fats (nut butters, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, etc.). These also keep your energy and mood steady, and help to prevent or offset postpartum depression. Taking a multivitamin and fish oil daily can be helpful, too!
2. Sleep when you can.
It’s so tempting to do everything but sleep when baby goes down for a nap, but it’s so important to get rest, especially if your little one is more of a night owl. Fatigue is a sure recipe for irritability, depression, anxiety, and dips in your immunity that make you more likely to get sick. Also, fatigue makes you binge on junk food, and makes it harder to lose the baby weight.
3. Set realistic expectations and go easy on yourself.
Ok, you’ve been Superwoman your whole adult life. And now, RRRRRRRR! (That’s the sound of a car coming to a screeching halt.) New baby arrives and you feel totally inadequate because you can’t even take a shower and get dinner on the table, let alone lead your corporate team, save the world with your non-profit, and teach five yoga classes this week.
What happened to you? Nothing! This is TOTALLY NORMAL! You’ve only got two arms and baby is taking up at least one of those. Set realistic expectations for yourself from the beginning.
Plan to do nothing but take care of yourself and baby for the first couple of weeks after you give birth, then if you want or need to, strategically and carefully add some tasks back in. You might enjoy doing some of your adult-world work, but go easy on yourself and accept temporary limitations on your time and energy. Not fighting it will actually give you MORE energy and you’ll enjoy the time with your little one more. It may be clichéd, but it’s true: they do grow up fast, and in the early months, they change quite a bit each day.
4. Plan ahead for help immediately after baby is born, but set boundaries for the kind of help you can live without.
Help after baby arrives is invaluable, whether it's a family member (or several of them), best friend, or a doula service you hire. This is especially true if you already have a toddler or older children and a new baby to take care of.
One of my favorite things to help new mommas do is organize a dinner tree because pre-made dinners with enough for leftovers is a huge load off! This is an awesome thing to ask your best friend or sister to organize. Simply put together a list of friends (including phone numbers and emails) who’ve committed to bring over a meal, list any food preferences you might have (i.e., vegan, gluten free) and send this to all of your pals on the list. Everyone then fills in what they are going to prepare and group emails it around.
When you have the baby, you contact the first person on the list, and then they contact the next person and so on … each brings a dinner on her/his/their designated night. When they drop off the food, they get a peek at baby!
Here’s where boundaries come in. Your friends are there to drop off the food for YOU, not to have dinner with you that you then have to clean up! Also, let friends know that visits need to be short, you might not want them to hold your baby, and to please not bring their own kids over if they are sick (yes, people will do this). Let visitors know that you will not be entertaining them — that you and baby are happy to say hello, but that you are preciously guarding your rest time.
Finally, let family members who come to stay and help know that you need them to help with house, shopping and preparing food, and watching older children. It's not necessarily helpful if they hold the new baby so you can do the housework and shopping! You might, however, want to share new baby now and then to read a book or play with a toddler or older child so your other kids get needed momma time!
5. Plan for help when the newborn glow is gone and everyone has gone back to their business.
Everyone wants to come give that new baby a squeeze and congratulate you. Your partner had some time off from work. You’ve had great help for two weeks after baby’s birth. And now BAM! Everyone’s gone back to their own lives, your partner is back at work, and you’re trying to figure it out on your own.
This is where smart planning can prevent you from feeling stranded. Stagger your help ahead of time. Tell mom or your best friend not to come and help until after your partner has returned to work. If you’re a single parent, stagger your visitors so that you have help for that first month, at least for a few hours a day after the first week. And there’s no shame in hiring one of the many great postpartum doulas out there eager to help new moms!
6. Make time for YOU! Taking time for you is not selfish. It’s smart.
There’s nothing too glamorous about being a new mom — breast milk spit up on your shirt, poopy diaper changes several times/day, and potentially sleepless nights. Glamming it up can make you feel more energetic and vital. So get a massage, have a salon appointment, or some other special treats set up ahead of time for when baby is a couple of weeks old.
Even an hour of YOU time away can refresh your energy, spirits, and keep your perspective high on being in the momma-hood. Also, you don’t have to “go out” to carve out “you time.” Get some hands on deck to help with baby for a couple of hours once or twice a week and give yourself a “spa-at-home” time. Take a bath, do your nails, read a book ... whatever rocks your personal world.
7. Have an experienced mom to turn to — one who tells the truth!
There’s nothing like a truth-telling experienced mom to keep you sane and laughing when you’re in the throes of new momma-hood. While being a parent is glorious and joyous, it’s not always fun and easy. But too many natural momma blogs gloss over the moments of hair pulling boredom of being a smart woman at home with a new baby, the absolute bottomed-out feelings of fatigue that can arise if you have a baby that doesn’t sleep, the anxiety caused by the crying of a colicky baby, and the list goes on.
If all of your friends (real and virtual) are extolling the beauty of new momma-hood and that’s not what you’re experiencing (and heck, they might not REALLY be either!) then you can feel pretty darn’d cray-cray pretty darn’d fast.
So let me tell you right now so you can remember this the next time you feel like you’re the only one who’s overwhelmed and hating the moment: You’re OK and you’re not alone in your feelings and you’re still an awesome mom.
True confession from a truth-telling experienced mom: One time I had a toddler who’d eaten chocolate cake at grandma’s right before bedtime, and a colicky 3 month old. I was trying to sleep and both kids kept fussing (in our family bed). I sat up and told my husband that he better take the baby before I threw her against the wall. (THAT’S SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU LAUGH.) OK, for real I wouldn’t have done that. But the feeling of exhaustion and overwhelm was so great that those were the words that tumbled right out of my mouth!
8. Get outdoors.
Fresh air and movement are salve for the mind and soul, and hey, exercise is good for your new momma body. If your baby is fussy, walks are the best way to get your little one to drop off for a nap. Use a front pack, rebozo, or stroller — whatever you prefer — and take a gentle stroll.
If it’s cold but still reasonable enough to be out, bundle baby and go. Going to a park can be a plus. Other mommas will want to chat it up with you when they see you have a newborn or young baby and you’ll get some needed adult chat time as a bonus.
9. Express your needs.
OK, I don’t mean to relegate partners to the bottom of the list here. But the reality is, while partners go through their own challenges, whoever gave birth is the one who’s got the hormones going on, the blood sugar that’s gonna’ drop if not nourished, and the physical demands on them.
So the birth momma needs to be able to call the shots of what she’s needing for help. But to do that we’ve got to be able to ask for what we need — something many of us aren’t too great at doing. Our partners (if involved) have their own challenges with a new baby, so they might not read our minds, especially if we’re fronting about how we can do it all.
10. Get mental health support if you think you need it — there is not shame in it!
Postpartum depression is no joke. It can have serious consequences for your health and safety, as well as baby’s. If you’re feeling more than a little sad, anxious, depressed, or unhappy, get help from a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in caring for new mothers ASAP. Also make sure to have some basic labs run for anemia and thyroid problems, both of which can cause postpartum depression and are easily treatable.
I hope that your early days as a new mom are joyous and easy-breezy. Following these 10 practical tips will certainly move you toward the more-likely-to-be-smooth end of the spectrum.
But if you have bumpy times, remember that you are not the only one, you are not alone, you can recalibrate by making sure you integrate the above steps, and that there is no shame in getting help! Most of us need a hand in one way or another when starting the road to momma-hood!