First Baby? Your Basic Survival Guide to Avoid Losing Your Mind
I will never forget my first night at home after the birth of my oldest son. My then-husband worked nights, and had already taken two off for the birth. I was home alone, in a two bedroom apartment, with a screaming infant.
I’d done everything I knew to do. Twice. He was still screaming after a diaper change, a feeding, being rocked and being laid down in his bassinet. I hadn’t slept well in the hospital, so I was already exhausted.
“Why won’t you stop crying?” I said around eight.
He cried louder.
“Please stop crying,” I begged through tears around midnight.
Luckily for both of us, my neighbor had just had a baby herself a few months earlier. A first time mom herself, she heard me pleading with my newborn son through the thin walls.
She knocked on my door and smiled when I answered.
“Why don’t you let me take him while you take a shower?” she suggested.
I felt like a horrible mother as I almost eagerly shoved my son into her arms and took the promised shower. But by the time I got out of the shower, I felt better. It was an opportunity to think clearly without the squalls of a distressed baby.
When I went to get my son back, my neighbor and I discovered together that my son’s problem was a combination of two things: he had gas which needed gas drops, and he was feeding off of my stress. My stress made him stressed which made me more stressed.
Can you imagine how we all would have felt by morning?
That baby is now seventeen and learning to drive. And when I look back, there are five things that I wish someone would have told me about taking care of my new baby and still feel like not only a human being, but a good mother.
You Don’t Have to Know It All
There is a ton of pressure on new moms to instinctively know how to care for their babies. You’re expected to know how to change a diaper, help the baby get a proper latch for breastfeeding, care for an umbilical cord stump, put the baby to sleep, and know what all his cries mean.
One day, you will know how to do all this. And it won’t be some distant day years in the future, but within a few days or weeks of birth.
But those first couple of days? Cut yourself some slack. New babies have a huge learning curve, and you’re going to mess up more than once. As long as you aren’t actively putting the baby in dangerous situations, nothing you do is awful. It might not be perfect, it may not be correct, but it’s all with good intentions.
Good intentions counts for a lot with a new baby.
One thing you should know, though: If you have a baby boy, point that penis down when you change diapers. Trust me.
Ask for Help
Giving birth takes a toll on your body and your energy levels. Add to that how difficult it can be to sleep in a hospital, and how tiring caring for a newborn is, and it’s no wonder that you feel like crying all the time.
All your responsibilities from before baby was born, like laundry and dinner and dusting, are still there, too. Trying to do it all is just plain crazy.
Ask for help. It doesn’t matter if you call your mother or your sister-in-law, your best friend, your neighbor, or a professional service. Your life is in massive upheaval right now, and help will get you through it.
If your husband asks what he can do, take advantage of that. And if he doesn’t, tell him what you need him to do. You can ask him to pick up prescriptions, make you lunch, get you another glass of water, or do a load or two of laundry.
You can get help with household chores or errands, or you turn the baby over to someone else so you can take a shower or a nap or even just eat a meal. It all will help you keep your sanity and feel more equipped and ready to tackle new motherhood.
Your Stress Feeds the Baby’s Stress
As I told you about my first night home with my firstborn, babies can feed off of your stress. They’ve just come out of your body, where they felt your every emotion, every tension, and every relaxation. They’re still intimately connected to you and can sense how you feel. And now they’re out in the world, a big, scary place, so your stress indicates to them that they should also be stressed.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or freaked out, take a step back. If you’ve done all you can to stop the crying and nothing has worked, put the baby down in a safe place and walk away. Leaving the baby to cry may feel counterproductive and even wrong, but taking a moment for yourself may be what makes the difference.
Let the baby cry while you go to the kitchen and get a drink, or go to the bathroom and wash your hands. Take some deep breaths, and do what you can to relax.
If a few minutes isn’t enough, refer back to asking for help. Get someone to take the baby for a longer stretch, so you can take a nap. Lack of sleep can lead to difficulty regulating your emotions, and a nap might help you get back on track.
Take Care of Your Health
Your baby is incapable of doing anything for themselves, and this knowledge often leads to Mom forgetting to take care of herself. If you neglect your own health, your baby will eventually feel the effects.
If you’re breastfeeding, eating and drinking is vital to ensuring your baby gets enough to eat. But even if you’re not, to keep your energy levels up, you still need to make sure you eat and drink.
It’s also critical to follow up on any pregnancy diagnoses. Preeclampsia and gestational diabetes are helped by giving birth, but the conditions may not be completely gone the second the baby leaves your body. Keep all doctor’s appointments and make sure that you follow any instructions provided by your doctor.
Don’t Worry About a Routine Right Away
Lots of people are going to tell you that routines make things easier. They’ll also say that it’s better for the baby if you have a routine. They’re not wrong.
But they’re also not completely right.
A routine will be better for the baby and make things easier — after you’ve adjusted to having a new baby in the house. Until then, you’ll only be more stressed with your “routine” in place, because it will consistently get disrupted.
Wait until your baby is about two to four months old. You’ll better understand her cries and needs, and she’ll have settled into a more predictable pattern by then, which will make setting that routine much easier. It will also serve its purpose by making life less stressful and easier for you, and reassuring your baby with a consistent routine whether she’s in your hands, her father’s, or someone else.
New babies are wonderful, beautiful, exciting additions to our lives. But they can also be stressful, scary, and downright intimidating. It’s important that you’re not too hard on yourself in the first weeks of parenthood. One day, you’ll have it all down pat. In the meantime, try not to be too hard on yourself.