Life with a Newborn
Tips for new moms as they embark on the roller-coaster ride of motherhood
Congratulations! Your long-awaited precious baby is here, and the little bundle did not arrive with an instruction manual. You bravely enter a round-the-clock world of sleepless nights, swaddling and sanity-testing surprises — touched by sweet moments and cuddles galore.
No one says the first few months are easy. And banish the fantasy starring you as the fictitious mother in fairy tales or Vogue cover shots.
You have entered a glamour-free zone.
One of the biggest misconceptions for new mothers is that they can be the “Super Mom” that is glamourized on television and in magazines. “This idealized character does not exist, even though real moms do have exceptional interior strength,” says Pamela Berens, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School. “New moms should not compare themselves to those unrealistic glossy images.”
When new mothers see a stylishly skinny celebrity on the red carpet six weeks after giving birth, they feel like failures for not bouncing back right away and not immediately returning to their former shape. “Many women mistakenly believe if they have a regular delivery they will be fine two weeks later,” adds Berens. “Be patient. It took nine months to add the weight and it may take that long, or longer, to get your body back.”
New mom Jenna Taylor agrees. She recently welcomed her second child, a daughter, to join her 3-year-old son. “Don’t worry about your waistline,” she says. “It is a Hollywood-generated myth that you will be bikini-ready in six weeks.” Mothers should look to their friends as they transition, not to celebrities who have professional hair, make-up and Photoshop experts at their disposal.
The truth: a woman’s body is not the same after having a baby. “I remember being uncomfortable in my post-baby skin after my son was born, resenting my stretch marks a bit,” recalls Taylor. “But my husband reminded me that the marks were reminders of a miracle – our son’s birth – and I started to see them differently.”
Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
The most common advice given to new parents is simple: when a baby sleeps, you sleep. “It is essential to nap whenever your baby does, even if it is in broad daylight and your dirty dishes stare at you from the sink,” says Berens. “During the first six to eight weeks, give yourself permission to let this stuff slide. Not having family around to help makes life a little tougher, but a new mom should not be cooking or cleaning. Maternity leave is not a vacation,” Berens emphasizes. “All a new mom needs to do is recover and take care of the baby.”
Taylor remembers meeting a nurse in her birthing class, who told her that the mom’s only job during the first six weeks is to nurse the baby and sleep whenever possible. “That was the best lesson we learned. Stick to this plan even if company arrives.”
And when family and friends ask how they can help, “have your list ready,” Taylor advises. “Don’t feel shy about giving suggestions for how they can help. They won’t know how to take care of you if you don’t tell them.”
The secret to getting a baby to sleep more is that there is no secret. All babies eventually will sleep through the night, but each child learns at his or her own pace and develops his or her own sleep patterns. In the beginning, a good swaddle may help and a consistent bedtime routine can make all the difference.
More important than long sleep is safe sleep. Make sure the baby's sleeping space is free of loose blankets, pillows or soft toys so that nothing impedes the baby’s breathing. Bumpers should also be avoided and babies should always be put to sleep on their back. The American Academy of Pediatrics Parents’ Guide to Safe Sleep provides helpful information about ways to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
New moms and babies need breastfeeding 101.
Berens, an international board certified lactation consultant, advises that breastfeeding does take time to learn. Even when a baby is the second or third breast-fed infant to join the family, there’s still much for the baby to learn.
A new mom may worry something is wrong when breast milk does not come in immediately. It is normal for milk to take up to three days to come in and new moms should know that usually the baby will be fine during this waiting period.
“New moms are often surprised how much hard work breastfeeding is,” says Berens. “New babies may need enough milk for 8–12 feedings a day, and that takes a commitment.”
“Do I have enough milk” and “is my child eating long enough” are two of the top concerns for breastfeeding moms. As long as the baby is gaining weight well (weight loss the first week of life is normal and expected) and has adequate wet and dirty diapers, there is no cause for concern. Best advice from Berens to maintain a healthy milk supply: nurse often and keep the baby close.
Often suggested to new moms is to pump to see how much milk they are making, but pumping output isn’t a good indication of how much is being produced, since a baby is far more efficient than even the best of breast pumps. “Watch your baby, not the clock and not the pump,” suggests Taylor. “You will know if your baby is satisfied after a feeding. If you have concerns, call your pediatrician or lactation consultant – that’s what they’re for.”
If pumping becomes part of your regular routine, either to have a stash for outings or because you are returning to work, Berens advises following the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s protocol for milk expression and storage. Many moms find it helpful to rinse pump flanges and bottles after each session and store them in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator throughout the day. Pump parts should be washed daily and inspected for signs of wear and tear. If pumping hands-free is necessary, pumping bras are available on the market, or can be fashioned by making horizontal slits in a sports bra.
Post-baby blues are real.
“Post-partum blues” are common during the first one or two weeks after giving birth. It is normal not to feel like your usual self. “Up to 80 percent of women feel a little emotional and sad during this time, but this is temporary,” says Berens. “When these feelings linger, the new mother may be dealing with depression and this can be serious.”
Approximately 15 percent of new moms experience true clinical depression and these symptoms must be addressed with your doctor.
New mothers (and even seasoned mothers) need supportive friends and family to rely on, especially if they are feeling down. “Find your community, whether that is your partner, family, friends or online,” Taylor says. “Having supportive people around you can help boost your confidence and calm your fears. Asking for help can feel risky, but the rewards are great.”
Don’t forget your partner.
Taylor emphasizes how important it is to remember there are two parents transitioning into new roles. She and her husband, married for seven years, work together to find a routine that works for their family. “Make time for your partner,” she says. “We have learned how important it is to keep a good connection with each other. Stay-at-home date nights are doable, even if it is just enjoying a quiet evening together watching TV when the kids are asleep. Better yet, make an effort to go out on regular dates.”
Routine? What routine?
Berens explains that new moms are surprised how much a newborn dictates the schedule for the first several months. “Routines are difficult to establish for a newborn, making patience and flexibility important,” she says.
Taylor knew her second child would bring a different experience to the family but she was still surprised. Whether it is how a new baby nurses, sleeps, or exhibits her or his budding personality, each child adds a new dimension. “You start all over with each child and it can take a while to find your groove,” she says.
Setting some kind of goal each day is helpful, even if it is as basic as taking a shower. Don’t feel bad if there are times when that small routine is an impossible task. Don’t feel guilty if there are days you never make it out of your pajamas.
Mom’s magic touch
Taylor adds that with all of the advice bombarding a new mother, she has learned to trust her instincts. “You know your baby better than anyone does, so follow what works with you and yours. Do what feels right.”
Taylor also suggests that new moms “never judge themselves as failures or give up on their worst days. Whether you have issues with nursing or lack of sleep, there is always a better day ahead.”
“Welcoming a newborn is a beautiful and special time, but it is hard work,” adds Berens. “Just believe that life does get easier.”