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Some advice to my younger self about being a new mother

December 14, 2015

My husband and I are having another baby- a little boy- due in February. Our firstborn son is 10 years old, so our boys will be a decade apart. I often think about going through this for a second time, 10 years older than before. Knowing what I know now, I wish I could tell my younger self a few things.

If I could go back in time, these are the things I would tell myself as a new mother:

It’s all temporary

The sleepless nights, the tantrums, the picky eating, the diapers- all of those baby and toddler challenges will end. Well maybe not the picky eating, at least not at our house. I remember feeling overwhelmed and wondering if my baby was EVER going to stop crying. I wondered if he would EVER sleep through the night. The time passes slowly and quickly, and one day it’s just over and you’ve moved on to the next stage. Whatever the issues are, they are probably not worth worrying about too much. Keep working through it, you’ll get to the other side eventually.

Your baby thinks you’re awesome

There are a lot of pressures on Moms. Some of it is societal, some of it is self-imposed, but none of it is necessary. Every mom is different, but I’ve never met a mother who didn’t love her baby. I have also never seen a baby that didn’t love their mom. Whether you are crafty, sporty, adventurous, or none of the above, there is one thing that’s always true: your little gal or guy is crazy about you. You don’t have to be anything you’re not. Just love your baby.

Minimize the stress

Other than health, safety, and happiness, I just can’t think of anything else worth worrying about. One of the nice things about having a second baby is that I’ve done this before. Sure, Baby #2 could be very different than Baby #1, but at least this time, I’m not completely in unfamiliar territory. I learned there are things that just aren’t worth stressing over- sleep schedules, getting back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, planning get-togethers with friends and family so that they can come see the baby. For me, taking care of a new baby and trying to balance other tasks is just too much. It’s okay to let some things go and focus on health, rest, and recovery, for you and for the new little one. Everything else and everyone else can wait.

Plan for the right kind of help

One thing I didn’t do right the first time around was arrange for the right type of help and support. I didn’t really get this before, but “helpful help” to a new Mom or Dad is really more about helping them get stuff done, rather than taking care of the baby for them. It’s okay to ask well-meaning friends and relatives to do certain favors for you. Whether they do them or not is up to them, so don’t bother to take it personally if they tell you that’s not what they had in mind or why they came to see you.

True helpfulness is doing some laundry for mom and dad or running to the grocery store for them. It’s picking up their other kids from school or taking them out to a movie and ice cream. It’s taking the car to get an oil change or walking the dog. The help that new moms and dads need isn’t usually about the baby. It’s usually about trying to get through all the other tasks that still need time and attention.

For moms especially, no one knows how you feel but you. Be proactive and reach out to others if you start to feel depressed in the weeks after the birth. You will probably be told by people to sleep as much as possible and to let things like laundry sit. You may not want to because you feel better when “everything is done.” The truth is, you need rest more than you need a clean house. Let it go and ask someone to do it for you; if no one wants to do it, just leave it. It will get done eventually.

Don’t do things simply because others think you should

Whether it’s cloth or disposable diapers, breast feeding or bottle feeding, finding out the gender or being surprised, you don’t have to do anything anyone else’s way but your way. It’s alright to say no and it’s also alright not to answer every question that people may ask about how you wish to raise your baby. People are not usually trying to be nosy, they’re just curious, but if it bothers you just take a deep breath and remember that you don’t owe anybody anything, including an explanation as to why you are using disposable diapers.

Remember what they tell you to do on an airplane

When traveling by plane, the flight attendants give a speech that covers what you are supposed to do if there is a drop in cabin pressure. “Your overhead compartment will open and oxygen masks will appear…” The flight attendants always tell adults to put on their own mask before they put masks on their children. That idea seems counterintuitive, but it really isn’t. We can’t take care of anyone effectively if we are not taking care of ourselves first.

Now, fast forward to when you have a screaming newborn in your arms, it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and you haven’t even brushed your teeth yet. Those early weeks and months with a little baby are kind of a blur for everyone, and don’t worry about it. Remember my first point- It’s all temporary. Just get you and your baby’s most basic needs met and slowly, you will find that you have time to brush your teeth again.

Smile and nod politely, if you can

There’s something about having a baby that causes many people, often ones you don’t even know, to think that their advice and suggestions are not only needed but wanted. It’s not uncommon to feel like you might lose your cool when someone tells you, while holding your fussy, drooling baby, the magical cure for teething which directly goes against what your pediatrician has told you or whatever carefully laid out plan you and your family have developed. If you can, smile and nod politely, and move on with your life.

Having a baby is a lot of work. It starts from the moment you learn you are pregnant and ends, well, never really. It is a life-changing and exhilarating time, with a lot of juggling and learning to do. Go easy on yourself. If you start to cry because you ran out of toothpaste, that’s okay.

Keep your baby fed, changed, warm, and safe, and try your best to do the same for yourself. Keep your expectations realistic and you and your little one will be alright!