Before I had my first baby, my friend who was one year ahead of me in motherhood sat me down and dished out everything about that first year. I didn’t really appreciate it as much as I should have because honestly, no amount of shopping or nesting could have prepped me like she did.
She quickly became my go-to for advice that first year and still is. My first year of motherhood would have been very different without getting that advice so here I am paying it forward.
Hopefully you will find a mom friend who can help you through that first year. In the meantime, here is all the good advice I got, everything I wish I had known, everything I learned the hard way, everything I got right and everything I’m so glad I did.
You will try to do too much
When your first baby arrives, you will do too much. You will try to have too many people over, try to clean too much. After a few days or after that first week you will realize it because you will start to feel the effect.
The reason you will do too much is that you don’t yet realize that you will not sleep for more than 2-3 hours in a row for months. Baby is a 24/7 job especially during that 4th trimester. You are up throughout the night feeding baby around every 2 hours, which is why sleeping and resting when baby does during the day is important. Your first big adjustment will be switching to baby time, which is short intervals all day.
They take short naps, nurse (whenever they are awake) and need a lot of diaper changes. I know you realize they need these things but what I am trying to say is it is so hard to realize how all consuming and tiring it all is.
Your only job is baby
Besides showering, resting when baby rests and eating, your only job is baby. Your only job needs to be baby and here’s why.
If everyone else is holding and soothing baby all day, then you will be up even MORE during the night with a very hungry baby. If baby is awake, then baby is hungry. For instance, you want to get in at least 12 nursing sessions a day. Take a moment to realize just how often you would have to nurse to complete this, at least every two hours.
And this is SO important because not nursing often enough in those first few weeks is the biggest reason for a bad milk supply. My favorite tip is when you start nursing, set a two-hour timer so you know when to start nursing again. Yes, if it’s day, then wake baby up to nurse again.
Put the house on a back burner
You need to put the house on a back burner. Please accept any and all help except help watching baby. Do not feel bad to ask people to help you with cleaning, throwing a load of laundry in or making a meal for you.
The first time around, I was busy cleaning the house and trying to be productive whenever baby was asleep. MISTAKE! A very big mistake. I should have used this time to recover or even just to enjoy my baby. You only have a newborn for like two weeks, cuddle and take as many pictures as you can.
You don’t realize yet that birth was the easy part and you just started a marathon. You also might not realize recovery really does take months especially since you can’t just focus on recovery since you now have a baby to care for. Babies are usually still in a sleepy newborn fog that first week (that changes) so you need to take advantage of that and rest.
Additionally, don’t jump into working out until at least 6 weeks postpartum. The biggest reasons for this is because you could do permanent damage to your bladder. You do not want pee problems. If you still don’t feel like you have complete control over your bladder at 6 weeks, then I highly recommend pelvic floor physical therapy.
Make meals easy for yourself
Healthy easy meals are so important. You also need to intake enough calories to breastfeed. A lot of women try to diet but this is not the time. I know you want to get back to your weight. However, if you are hungry and not eating, then your milk supply will suffer, and your body will hold onto its weight. Eat a lot but stick to healthy options and I promise the weight will fall off. I followed this rule and lost over 60 pounds both times and was under my original weight by 1 year without even trying. My babies were both exclusively breastfed and had no problem with weight gain. Just eat healthy and drink lots of water.
Make a list of easy healthy snacks and meals like a master grocery list that anyone could use so family or your other half can tackle shopping.
Breastfeeding by itself is a full-time job
When my first was born, I knew I wanted to nurse. What I didn’t realize was that I wasn’t nursing enough. Thankfully, the lactation consultant at the hospital was on top of me about this. Breastfeeding is a lot of work and if you don’t know a few things, you could be sabotaging your own efforts. The biggest thing I had to learn was if baby was awake, then baby was hungry and that holds true for the first 3 months.
Learn baby hunger cues
I had no idea that babies had hunger cues. In fact, they usually show they are hungry before they start to cry. Crying is actually a very late hunger sign. When they cry, you are supposed to soothe by shh-ing, holding and rocking. Then when baby is calm, latch and nurse. If baby is super hungry and very upset, you might even need to use a pump to get your milk flowing. At that point, baby won’t stay latched long enough to get the milk flowing because they are too upset and hungry. So, baby latches and pulls off crying in a few seconds.
So how to avoid this is to always feed baby immediately when they start to wake. You can also look for hunger signs such as rooting (turn towards your chest, opening their mouth). Turning their head side to side is a sign that they are searching for a boob. If you set them on their tummy, then they might even do a breastfeeding crawl, as in wiggle their body trying to reach a breast. A hand in the mouth is a sign of hunger and not exploration during those first few months.
A word of advice on visitors
If you have lots of people holding baby all day (which I don’t recommend), then check in with baby (as in hold baby). A lot of times, babies only root and cry with mom because they are trying to tell you they want to nurse.
When my first was born, my husband was so excited and was so ready to help. Every time our little one woke at the hospital, he was right there soothing her back to sleep. The only problem was that I should have been nursing her instead. Thankfully, we figured this out fast.
For our second baby, he would pick up baby and bring her to me to nurse. We had learned a thing or two.
Milk supply is based on frequency
I think it is so funny that I had no idea how the “milk system” worked. Once I understood it, it helped me understand how to nurse better. Your body produces hormones that tell it to make milk. Your body makes milk constantly and continuously stores milk. When a baby latches and start to suck, it triggers a let-down. This basically means that your breasts release some of the stored milk. First, mainly water (foremilk) and then mainly fat (hindmilk).
Therefore, it is important to keep baby on long enough to get both. You will know when they get a let-down because they will start to swallow instead of just suck. When sucking and swallowing slow down, baby is probably onto the hindmilk now. After a while, the milk will stop flowing. If baby stays on long enough, then the whole process starts over again with another let-down.
The more often you trigger a let-down, the more milk is made. Therefore, it is most advantageous for baby to get as many let-downs as possible. So, they might stay on and wait for another let-down or want to nurse again very soon to cause another let-down.
You need to feed baby as much as possible (day and night) during those first few months to tell your body to meet baby’s demands. Nurse whenever baby will latch or shows any hunger signs. Your goal should be every two hours which means from the beginning of one feed to the beginning of the next.
Babies suck on pacifiers because they are hungry. They assume they are going to get milk. They spend all their energy and fall asleep. They wake up even more hungry and fussy. It is hard to get a fussy baby to latch. Since you can’t get them to latch, you think they might not be hungry and you use that pacifier again.
Soon, you will have a weight gain issue and milk supply issues. This is known as the vicious pacifier cycle. Avoid pacifiers at least for the first 3 months until your supply is well established.
Expect them to cluster feed
Cluster feeding is what babies do to increase your supply. Since supply is based on how frequent they nurse, babies will want to nurse more often to increase it. It will feel like baby is on the boob all day. They might nurse for a bit and 10 minutes later want to nurse again.
Let them because they are the only ones who can tell you if they are hungry. And because they know what they are doing. They are increasing your supply. Babies who are cluster feeding are known as Velcro babies, as in attached to your boob. Babies usually go through fussy cluster feeding marathons during growth spurts. The first one happens around the 10-14 days.
Babies also love to nurse at night (and need to) because your milk hormones replenish at night. This means that nursing a lot during the night increases your supply and baby gets more milk during night feedings than during day feedings.
Additionally, learning how to nurse in bed (day or night) was game changing. I finally got to rest and be super comfortable while baby nursed, not to mention the fantastic cuddles. At night, I used a dimmable nightlight so I could easily find and latch baby. During the day, I would still nurse in bed. It helped since I didn’t have to hold her. We would both lay on our sides facing each other. It might be a few weeks before baby can figure out how to latch in this position but keep trying, it’s so worth it!
Learning how to sleep is a year long process
Getting your baby to sleep is something you will have to work at. You can’t touch the subject of babies without someone’s opinion on baby sleep coming up. People are so opinionated about it because it can be so tough. And it’s tough because it is so hard on you physically (sleep deprivation) and emotionally.
I am not going to tell you all my opinions on the subject because that never helped me and just made me feel guilty no matter what I did. Instead, I am going to give you the biggest lesson that I had to learn about sleep that helped me a lot.
It is all about reps
The biggest mistakes I have made myself and see all new parents making is that they don’t realize this is a skill. I was under this stupid assumption that once my baby slept “through the night” then they would know how to.
Instead, there were all these little skills my baby had to learn and accomplish to sleep better. It is similar to how all of the little skills (tummy time, crawling, standing) they learned that first year led to walking. And to learn any of these skills, you put in the time and effort to do reps. You didn’t just try tummy time once and decide she couldn’t hold her head up. You valued progress even if it was little.
Now, this is what you want to do with sleep and the best way to explain it is through a car seat analogy.
Car seat sleepers
So many babies love to fall asleep in the car. You might assume because they are in that cozy car seat with motion and the sound of the engine. However, what I have found is that most babies as newborns hate the car.
In fact, my babies both hated the car and after a while would both fall asleep in the car all the time. After I understood baby sleep better, I had realized that I had accidentally followed all of that sleep advice when it came to the car.
The car was familiar. We drove every day. There was nothing to fear, I even added a fun mobile. I never placed my baby in the crib for play or awake time to familiarize her to it.
There was a routine. I would buckle her into the car and turn on her car mobile. The engine would start and then we would drive. I didn’t always do a sleep routine and often changed it up.
I kept my emotions in check. I wasn’t frustrated with baby and I didn’t act scared. Instead, I would smile and say time to go shopping or wherever. When I placed her in her crib, I would worry about if she was okay and if she would sleep. I’m sure this didn’t help make my baby feel safe.
I was consistent. We went driving every day. I needed to put my kid in the crib every day. Even when they are happy and awake. I didn’t have to leave her in the car seat crying for hours on end. I just did reps which allowed them to learn how fall asleep without me there simply by giving them time in the car.
The environment was sleep friendly. The engine of the car along with the cozy seat and motion. In your nursery, make sure you have a dimmable nightlight, black out curtains, a noise machine, 72 degrees (F), swaddles, and sleep sacks.
Don’t start too early
The thing is babies learn how to fall asleep based on what you do. The reason it becomes tricky at the beginning is because they need to nurse so much.
Remember breastfeeding enough is so critical in the beginning that you want that to be your focus. So, keep this in the back of your mind and start to work on it when you are ready and when you have breastfeeding figured out. A hungry baby will never be a good sleeper.
Lastly, don’t compare to other moms because everyone is so sleep deprived, they’re never accurate and many also lie to look like a better mom.
Postpartum depression presents in weird ways
I had no idea I had postpartum depression my first time around. I didn’t feel depressed instead I was anxious about everything. I just assumed it was because I was a new mom and wanted to get everything right.
However, I was terrified of carrying my baby down the stairs for fear of dropping her. In fact, it would keep me up at nights. I never wanted to leave her. I didn’t even want to shower if it meant being away from her. I wanted to do nothing but care for my baby. I couldn’t take care of myself. Now, I know this is a form of postpartum depression and sometimes it’s even called postpartum anxiety.
If you think you have this, then talk to your doctor. For me, just going to a baby mom group really helped me through this. I wish I had done it sooner but honestly, I had no idea it wasn’t normal. My life had changed so much since birth that I didn’t know what was normal and I just didn’t prioritize it since I was so busy learning how to care for my first baby.
Your relationship will change, here’s why and how
You added a new member to the family. Instead of two, there are now three of you. Dynamics will change as you both learn how this new little one fits in your life. Here are the biggest relationships things I wish I was aware of in the beginning.
You both are going to be tired (very tired) so you will bicker more often. If you find yourself doing this, then try to stop and pick the conversation back up after a nap or at least some food and a big cup of coffee.
This will be the first time that what the other person does with their time directly affects you. My favorite example is if your other half goes out all night drinking, then he can’t help you with the baby in the morning. So from now on, try to remember how your actions and decisions affect the other person in terms of baby.
You are both new at this and both trying to problem solve and learn how to care for baby. This can be taxing and cause fighting. Try to remember you are both on the same team. Identify the problem and then both work on providing solutions.
You are going to have a lot of emotions those first few weeks and that is okay. Prep your other half for that and let them know it is normal. It was helpful for my husband to know he didn’t need to “fix” them but that I just really needed someone to listen to me.
You need mom friends and mom friendly places to go
I don’t think I could have fathomed how much kids were going to change my life. I mean part of your heart is literally outside of your body now. You are also now continuously learning as you go. It isn’t easy and no one should have to do it alone.
The best thing for me was mom friends, especially ones who were at the same stage or a little further along than me in motherhood. Sleep deprivation makes everyone forget what it’s like to be in it. You need people who are in the thick of it like you.
However, because I was a new mom, I didn’t yet know where moms hung out with babies. For starters, ask pediatricians and midwives for baby and mom groups. I went to a baby and mom group and a breastfeeding group every week, which were so amazing because it got me out of the house. Use the site macaroni kids which shows you free kid events geographically. My other favorite place was the library since they usually have a baby event once a week.
Read parent books now
I always thought I would do this after I got through the baby phase. What I didn’t know is that once you are through the baby phase, you won’t have time. You will have a toddler and so on. Basically, the best time to read any and all parenting books is now before that baby.
My three favorite books and really the only three I ever needed because they are that good are:
- The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Daniel Siegel
- Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina
- Siblings without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
In fact, reading these books during that first year would have still been easier than trying to get through them with a toddler and now a second baby. Keep one near you while you nurse.
Decide how you will organize all of those photos
People take pictures of what they love and this couldn’t be any truer for me. I would take around 20 pictures a day of my baby. You can imagine how many pictured I had in only a few months. You definitely want to be proactive about organizing photos.
I had a huge mess which took me a long time to organize. When I finally organized them, I made and printed a photobook for each year. I use Mixbook and really like them. It also made it easier when I would make presents for people, such as grandparents.
Another thing we decided to invest in once baby arrived was a nice camera of our own. It cost about as much as one professional photoshoot. To us, it was worth it so we could take really nice candid photos at home, on birthdays and on our trips. We got two lenses. One lens is good for everything and the other is a portrait lens so it will blur the background and give you that awesome professional look.
Pursue your baby Today
I am so excited for you! That first year with baby was hard but wonderful. I know you are going to love it.
Love watching your little one grow. Take lots of pictures and organize them. Work hard on breastfeeding at the beginning to have a good supply. Sleep will come, it takes time and work in terms of repetition on your part. Your 10-minute bedtime routine and consistency aren’t in vain.
Get as much support as you can and remember you and your other half are a team.
Read parenting books while you still have the time, so you are ready to go when they find their feet ready to take on the world.