The birth of a baby is life-changing. It’s amazing how a little human being will need and demand so much attention in the first year of life. Motherhood is an exciting, exhausting and an ever-evolving journey, especially after the birth of a baby, whether you just had your first or fifth baby, becoming a mother is profound, every time.
I became a mother thirteen years ago after the birth to my fraternal twin girls, born six weeks premature. Thankfully my girls were born relatively healthy, needing two weeks of care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My husband and I felt elated to be parents and frightened to care for our tiny babies after they had required specialized medical care. Those first days of caring for our babies at home were by far the most joyful and overwhelming time in our lives. I still recall my husband going back to work two days after they came home, tearful with panic racing through my mind, I thought, “How am I going to take care of two babies by myself?”
That first day alone with my twins was an amazing learning experience for us all. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, and my confidence soared being able to take care of the girls alone. It wasn’t the smoothest or stress-free day, rather, there was a and there was a lot of crying, but we all got through it.
One surprising element about becoming a mother for me experiencing how little time I had for myself. The smallest tasks seemed monumental; taking a shower, getting enough sleep, changing my clothes, and nourishing and hydrating myself enough so I could maintain nursing two babies. Forget having conversations with friends or family; all took a lot of effort and planning and happened after the babies needs were taken care of.
The first year of motherhood was a balancing act; taking care of my twins, taking care of myself, and keeping up with any relationships I had prior to becoming a mom. Since those early days of being a mom to twins, we’ve added two more children to our family. In total, I have four beautiful, funny, smart and amazing daughters in their own right; twins age twelve, a seven-year-old and four-year-old.
One thing I have learned about motherhood; each time I had another baby, I went through a shift of balancing everyone’s needs I was responsible for, including my own.
I would encourage any new mom in the first year of her baby’s life to be mindful of the following:
1. Let go of having to “do it all.” To think your life will resume immediately after a baby is born, sets up mothers for failure and let’s face it, it’s an unrealistic expectation. I encourage women to consider the first year of the babies life as a journey of adjustment. Being kind to ourselves by being realistic about we can, and can’t do is so important for maternal mental health and well-being.
2. Stop “should be” thinking. Let go of thinking things “should be” a certain way when it isn’t. Accept how things are in the moment. Taking care of a baby can feel unpredictable most days, especially in the first few months when a baby’s feeding and sleeping times are inconsistent and all over the place. If you feel feelings of frustration or aren’t enjoying time with your baby, take a deep breath. Many moms I’ve worked with think they “should” enjoy their baby every moment. Let me reframe it a little for you, you can love your baby and feel so grateful for him/her AND feel tired and frustrated and not enjoy some moments of mothering. Also, in the first year, thinking “should” thoughts such as, “I should be cleaning” or “ I should be more productive during the day” or “I should be back in my pre-pregnancy clothes by now” all add stress. Be compassionate and gentle with yourself, let go of the “should” and accept what you can do.
3. Let go of feeling guilty. Many new moms have feelings of guilt. Perhaps you did not have the delivery you planned, or nursing isn’t going the way you hoped, or you feel irritable and need time away from your baby. Guilt can be a damaging emotion to a new mom’s self confidence. When you notice a feeling of guilt, ask yourself, what is this really about? Is there something I can do about this to address the feelings of guilt to feel better? No mom is “perfect”, so to hold yourself to high and unrealistic expectations can be damaging to your self-confidence and takes away from enjoying time with your baby. Work to accept the different scenarios in your life without judgement.
4. Please don’t judge yourself. The first year of a new baby is all about getting to know your newest family member and caring for his/her needs. Be flexible with the way you approach situations. You will make mistakes, and that’s ok. Sometimes the best learning happens after we’ve made a mistake. Instead of judging yourself or feeling horrible, try to learn from it and make changes for the next time.
5. Do reach out to supportive people in your life. It is critical for new moms to have supportive people in her life. Moms need other people with whom we can talk with, share ideas, ask for advice and share our wisdom. When we do, we are more connected and feel better. Continue to reach out and talk to those who are kind, nonjudgmental and understand you as a person.
6. Do not compare yourself to anyone. Comparing yourself to others can be negative for new moms. Every person has a different way of doing things and showing up in the world. Some women have no problem nursing and can also have a freezer of expressed milk for their baby, and others may barely have a shelf full of breastmilk and struggle with nursing. Some new moms look put together as ever, and barely look as if they’ve had a baby. In contrast, other moms wear maternity jeans and yoga pants and haven’t showered in a day, maybe two. Some women have babies who sleep through the night at six weeks old while others have babies who are eight months old and still getting up during the night. We all have different strengths and challenges. Please don’t’ compare yourself in a negative way to other women, we are all doing the best we can.
7. Find your village. Create connection with moms in the area who have children around the same age as your children. One of the most important aspects about becoming a mom is creating supportive friendships with other moms. Whether you join a new mom’s group, a lactation support group or create a group of moms in your neighborhood, reach out and make connections with other women who you relate to and feel supportive of one another.
8. Take fifteen for yourself. It may sound impossible to take fifteen minutes for yourself a day but it so important for moms. Taking just a small amount of time every day to care for yourself is critical. Everyone needs time to rest and restore. In the first months of mothering, rest instead of being overly productive when the baby is sleeping. Meditate, take a nap, read a book, journal, make a phone call, do something to replenish yourself, whatever that means to you. I would strongly encourage you not to watch television, surf the internet, or play games on your smart devices. These are fine activities to do in moderation. However, they are not the self-care behaviors that will leave you restored and replenish.
9. Talk to your sweetheart about what you need. All roles shift when a baby is born. Be realistic about you can and can’t do. Re-evaluate the division of tasks. If you are on maternity leave or have decided to stay at home, be aware that caring for a new baby is demanding and all consuming. Household tasks, chores and activities you once could do with ease can be more challenging to do. Partners and spouses can also provide support to listen and let moms vent, share fears, thoughts and successes. Remember, no one can read your mind, so it’s important to reach out and tell your sweetheart what you need.
10. Change of scenery once a day is critical. If possible leave the house once a day. Take a walk in your neighborhood, sit outside, run a quick errand. Getting out of the house with a new baby can be time-consuming and require some planning and preparation. A change of scenery and fresh air often helps mom and baby.
11. Eat healthily and hydrate. Nutrition and taking care of your body is so important when caring for a newborn. It can be hard to prep meals and take care of your physical needs, but it’s so important for new moms, especially if you are nursing. Keep on hand healthy nourishing food and make sure to drink plenty of water. Limit caffeine intake as it provides an artificial jolt of energy and can make you feel jittery and anxious. Keep caffeine limited to two cups of coffee and tea a day.
12. Rest when the baby sleeps. When the baby is sleeping, take time to rest yourself. It can be tempting to want to be productive, but its equally important to restore your energy. Meditation, a quick nap, reading a book, or engaging in an activity which restores your energy can be the boost you need to get through a long day with a baby.
The first year of a baby’s life is an intense time full of joy, anticipation, awe, exhaustion, worry and change. Try to make yourself a priority by taking care of yourself. Moms who focus on prioritizing self-care for themselves, often feel more balanced, happy and feel as though they can cope with stress more effectively. Remember, motherhood isn’t an event, its a journey, so be good to yourself.
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