Baby’s First Year, 11 Survival Tips for a New Mom
As a new mom, life is filled with love and excitement! It truly is a wonderful and fulfilling experience. Words cannot describe the powerful feeling that overcomes a mother when she holds her baby in her arms. This undoubtedly amazing experience also comes with it’s share of challenges. In this post, I focus on the obstacles I encountered during my baby’s first year.
Women must be programmed to forget about their baby’s first year, because I don’t remember anyone warning me about what was coming! On the other hand, maybe I just wasn’t listening. Either way, I felt rather unprepared. My baby’s first year was quite the trip! I’m going to write about my experiences in the form of advice. While you read this, I’m hoping you will take away something valuable, reminisce about your baby’s first year, or at least have a little laugh at my expense.
While navigating through year one, I have to say that I learned a ton. For example, I now know that “sleeping like a baby” is the most ABSURD phrase in the universe! My lack of sleep was by far the biggest obstacle I faced (you’ll see it’s a theme in this post). Sure, I was aware that new moms don’t get much sleep, but I didn’t realize how little sleep this could be, and how the effects can add up! Somehow, I managed to fumble my way through the year as a hazy tornado zombie.
If you have a little one on the way, consider yourself warned. Good luck. It can be really hard at first, but it’s also very do-able and so insanely worth it.
Baby’s First Year
Lesson 1: It gets better!
While I was pregnant, I dreamed of my life with a newborn as being filled with smiles, happiness, unbounded love, and overwhelming fulfillment. While all of this came true, the intensity of these feelings was suppressed by the sudden appearance of various obstacles. After birth, life quickly became very challenging, and I found myself struggling more than I ever anticipated. Sore nipples, hormone fluctuations, baby colic, and sleepless nights piled on. I felt exhausted and emotional. This new mom thing was really hard!
Worst of all, I felt guilty for wishing things were easier, wishing for sleep, and wishing for my daughter to be “just a little bit older”. I knew the baby days were limited, and I wanted so bad to ENJOY them. But I was soooooo tired, running on pure survival mode. Beyond taking care of baby girl and the daily necessities, there was little energy or time to sit and relish in the joy of our new family addition.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover that with every passing month, life with my daughter got exponentially better. It is truly amazing how much change happens in that first year. Not only did she start to cry less, but she began smiling, giggling, interacting, playing, and even mobilizing. I just loved watching all the new things she was able to do. My mommy heart melted when my baby first started to snuggle. Later, her first “mama” threw me into a whirlwind of happy sobbing. The intensity of all those happy feelings at birth continued to grow with time (and sleep). I don’t know how it’s even possible, but I still grow more in love with my little girl every day.
If you are a new mama living in a haze, struggling through the day, and running on survival mode, just know that it gets so much better!
Lesson 2: Take it one day at a time.
In all seriousness, making it through an entire day with a newborn is a huge accomplishment! So, give yourself some credit for just surviving in your new mama role. It’s all about positive self-talk. I found it easier to take everything one day at a time:
Day 1: All you have to do is make it through day one. … OKAY! You did it! Great Job!
Day 2: Now, on to day two. You can totally do this! … Hey – You did it again! You’re rocking this motherhood thing!
Day 3: Now that you’ve done 2 days, I know you can do the third! C’mon Mama – dig into that reserve tank. … What?! You Crushed it! You’re so awesome! Best Mom Ever!
You get the picture. In the beginning, each day feels like an eternity. But, once enough days pass by, you will wonder where the time went.
In addition to your own positive self-talk, feel free to give your mama friends a little positive reinforcement, as well! A hug, a card, a congrats, a small award, or a “you’re a great mom” can go a long way. Every mom deserves some praise and recognition!
Lesson 3: Sleep training
Sleep training? Screw sleep training. When my daughter was an infant, I read several different sleep training theories. I was convinced that I could just follow some instructions and – Voila – our baby would start sleeping. In reality, this was far from the truth. After struggling through a sleep-deprived year, I’ve drawn a few conclusions. First of all, there’s no one-approach-fits-all, and different things work for different babies. Some babies just cry more/sleep less than other babies. I’m also pretty sure that parents with babies who actually sleep just get lucky. Finally, because not all babies respond to the same techniques, you have to do what feels right for you, your baby, and your family.
Food for thought: Be wary of sleep training advice for a newborn. According to some sources, babies don’t physiologically have all the resources they need to learn how to sleep on their own until at least 3 months of age.
My daughter didn’t sleep much. In fact, as a newborn, 5-10 minute stretches of sleep were very common. She slowly grew able to sleep for longer stretches, but only averaged about 2 hours of sleep at a time throughout the first year. It wasn’t for lack of effort on our part, as we tried multiple approaches to help her sleep longer: eating solid foods right before bed, sending daddy in instead of mommy, bedtime routines, noise machines, swaddles, black-out curtains, calming essential oils, bassinets, cribs, co-sleeping, separate rooms, rocking to sleep, not picking her up, no-cry methods, Ferber method, etc etc.
The number one recommendation I got from others was to let her “cry it out”. The extinction method. It’s supposed to be the fastest way to sleep train a baby. We tried this for a bit out of pure exhaustion, but those stories of babies crying to sleep and then staying asleep for 10 hours never held up. Instead, our daughter would usually wake up within an hour and start crying again. I hated going in and finding her in a blubbery snotty mess with tears streaming down her little wet cheeks. Poor girl can’t communicate in any way except crying, and I’m supposed to ignore it?! No thanks. I would often give her about 10 minutes to work it out, but if she hadn’t fallen back asleep by then, I’d go to her. It was an exhausting year.
What finally worked? For whatever reason, my daughter started sleeping the day she started walking. I never read that in a sleep book! As any parent would, we caught on quickly and started taking evening walks before bed!
If my story sounds familiar, I have words of encouragement: your child WILL learn to sleep! Every kid’s sleeping routine develops differently. Do what feels best for you and your family. If you don’t agree with someone’s recommendation, you don’t have to follow it.
Lesson 4: Dealing with the lack of sleep
For me, just learning to accept that I wasn’t going to get sleep somehow made it easier. I thought of it as a phase I had to go through. Somehow, I managed to function (just enough) to survive. You can do it, too!
Rule of thumb: Sleep when your baby sleeps. I know you’ve heard it a million times, but it is so true! There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Your health and happiness rely on sleep! Even though baby’s naps are the easiest time to catch up on chores, it is also the only time for you to get a refreshing cat-nap so that you can function when your baby is awake. Here are some things that can help reduce your burden, hopefully giving you more time to nap:
- Accept that the house will be messy. Seriously, who cares. If you are struggling with this, consider hiring a housekeeper for an occasional deep clean. Another option is to ask your partner, a friend, or a family member to take out the garbage, wash some dishes, move the laundry, etc. Most people are happy to pick up small, simple, directed tasks like these.
- Pre-make frozen meals, or cook giant batches of food so you can eat leftovers for a few days.
- Use grocery pick-up or delivery services.
- Invite a friend or family member over to watch your baby while you take a nap.
Lesson 5: Don’t worry about entertaining anybody.
When my daughter was first born, I found it extremely difficult to entertain or even carry on a conversation with others. My mind was so focused on my daughter. Any part of my brain reserved for communicating was foggy, mushy, and sleep-deprived. I’m certain I walked around with a blank stare and absent look on my face. There were several times after visitors left that I asked my husband if I came off as rude (he rightfully said “not at all” even if it weren’t true). A few months went by, and I still had a hard time following conversations. My mind just wouldn’t engage, even though my body was physically present.
If you are a new mom, you might find yourself feeling distracted, inattentive, and forgetful in your interactions with others. Don’t feel bad! You are doing what you are supposed to, which is using all of your energy to care for your baby. Thankfully, it gets easier. My daughter is now just over a year old, and I finally feel like my brain is returning. I can engage meaningfully in conversations again! Ha! Yes, it took me a whole year. Maybe your brain will return sooner 🙂
Lesson 6: Baby will get enough to eat.
This one can really stress a mama out. It can be very worrisome when your baby is refusing to eat/drink. Babies go on food strike for various reasons. Before you start to panic, take a deep breath and record/track your baby’s height and weight. Chances are extremely high that your child WILL eat when they are hungry. A smart and healthy baby will not starve themselves! Rest assured if your child’s measurements stay on track. Of course, if you have any concerns, you can always reach out to your doctor.
I spent the entire month before my return-to-work exhaustively trying to get my exclusively breastfed daughter to take a bottle. Nope. She wanted nothing to do with it. I tried SO many approaches. (I actually wrote an entire blog post about all the ways to get your breastfed baby to take a bottle). After failing miserably, I went to work convinced that I was leaving my daughter to starve. It took 3 incredibly stressful days of my absence, but she finally started to drink from a bottle. I should have known – she’s a smart (and stubborn) girl. Her weight and height growth exceeded expectations. I wish I would have had the insight to chill the F out. But you know, that’s hard for a sleep deprived new mama to do!
Lesson 7: Going back to work – it gets easier.
I absolutely dreaded going back to work! As a full-time working mom, I was very anxious about the amount of time I was away from my baby. For at least the first week and a half, I cried on my way to work, as well as randomly throughout my work days. Working part-time wasn’t an option for our family, since we needed the finances. I know many moms are in the same boat. Just know, that it reaaaally sucks at first, but it does get easier. Once your baby becomes more interactive, it is a real treat coming home to their glowing face (the excitement that ensues when mom pulls up is heart-warming to say the least!)
Lesson 8: Surviving the cluster feeds
Have you heard of the witching hour? I was so confused by this term as a new mom. What is this hour they speak of? My daughter lived in this fussy state for at least the first 6 weeks. She was quite literally attached to me (nursing) for 90% of her waking hours. Breastfeeding was the only way I could successfully calm her down. Maybe it was a 6 week cluster feed? If there is such a thing. Nonetheless, I developed some strategies on how to deal with constant feeding. Here is my advice:
Like most things, your mindset is essential. Think of it as a phase. It won’t last forever, and your child really needs you during these times. The frequent feedings help with baby’s comfort and nutrition, and they also do wonders for your milk supply. Instead of trying to detach yourself, try to figure out how you can live with your baby attached. Here are some approaches I took:
1. Make a “survival station”. Our survival station was in the living room, which was the only room in our house with AC during a very hot summer. Before my husband left for work, he would help me get set up on the couch. Here’s a list of some things I kept near-by:
- A giant water bottle.
- Food and snacks.
- Phone and charger. (use a long charging cable or a portable battery)
- Diapering supplies. (diapers, cream, wipes, etc)
- Change of baby clothes, swaddles, blankets.
- Burp rags (Tip: Use cheap prefold diapers as burp rags. They are very durable and absorbent!)
- Breastfeeding supplies (Nipple cream, nipple shields, breast pads)
- We quite literally moved into the living room due to the heat. So, I had a couch, rocking chair, bassinet, and a bed mattress all within an arms reach!
2. Sleeping: I was always struggling to stay awake while I was breastfeeding. The sidelying breastfeeding position helped me a TON. It’s way better than sleeping in a chair! When I finally got over my fear of co-sleeping, I started being able to snooze with baby between re-latches. You Tube is a great resource for learning how to position yourself/baby for the sidelying feed.
3. Use a Baby Carrier! When I figured out how to nurse my baby while wearing her, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I could walk into the kitchen, wash some clothes, get out for a stroll, and even grocery shop! I used the Moby Wrap. It was wonderful!
4. Of course, you shouldn’t take my advice TOO literally. Yes, I think it’s great to be able to nurse often during these times, but it is OK to set your baby down (even if they are crying) so you can pee, brush your teeth, refill your water bottle, etc.
Lesson 9: Don’t forget to love your partner.
As a new parent, we have a lot to juggle in our busy lives, and we often loose focus on our partner. We get lost in a merry-go-round of activities related to making money, keeping the house afloat, and taking care of our beloved baby. Even though we are busy, we have to remember to love, appreciate, and communicate with our significant other.
For us, my husband and I worked opposite days, so we rarely had time together. Every day, one of us was at our job, and the other was at home with our daughter. I am extremely happy we could shift our schedules in order to stay home with our baby, but the lack of time together sometimes taxed our relationship.
Personally, I was frustrated at work, because I wanted to be home with my family. Then, I was frustrated at home, because there was always a never ending list of chores to do. Chores take longer with a baby. Just doing the dishes was often an all-day job and a monumental accomplishment.
In the evenings, when my husband and I were both home, we exhaustedly struggled to finish whatever daily chores were left before eating dinner and putting baby through her bedtime routine. The goal was always to get to sleep when she did, because we could count on her being up half the night. (Note when I say “chores”, I’m talking about the bare-bones essential chores – dishes, cooking, diaper laundry, washing bottles/pump supplies, etc. We rarely got around to the dusting and scrubbing floors kind of chores. Yup, our house was always a mess – sleeping was the priority.)
We were in a survival mode, focused on doing the minimum of what needed to be done so we could get a bit of shut-eye before doing it again the next day. It would have been easy for us both to fall apart. But, life remained manageable because we worked as a team. We intentionally greeted each other with a smile, communicated about our days, listened to each others frustrations, praised each other for our hard work, and reminded one another that we are loved and appreciated.
So, my recommendation to all of you is to recognize your partner for all that they do. Going to work, taking care of the baby, and doing the daily chores – it’s all hard but essential work! I know your tired (neh, exhausted), but take a few moments to acknowledge what your partner is doing to help your family. Surviving that first year is much easier if you feel loved, supported, and appreciated.
Lesson 10: Do something you enjoy!
When you are feeling overwhelmed, do something you used to enjoy before baby was born. Go for a jog, go to the movies, do a half hour of yoga, meditate, ride your bike, go out to dinner, etc. Whatever floats your boat. Whether you call in a babysitter or take your baby with you, you’d be surprised what good it can do.
For me, anything outdoors was helpful in resetting my soul. When my daughter was about 2 months old, I was going nutty from staring at the same 4 walls in our home. My husband and I packed up and drove to the middle of the desert, where we camped for the night. It was so great to breathe some fresh air and spend time with my family! We came back the next morning, and despite the continued lack of sleep, I felt refreshed and renewed. From then on, I made a point to get out more with my daughter, even if all we did was a short walk throughout the neighborhood.
Lesson 11: Someday you will look back.
Regardless of how hard it is at times, there is some guarantee that you will look back fondly on the memories of your baby’s first year. Yes, chances are high that you will actually miss this sleep-deprived stage. It’s just how the universe works.
So, next time you muster the energy to get out of bed and rock your baby in a sleepy fog, try to soak it in – the smells, the weight of their tiny body, their cute little face, their breathing sounds once they finally fall back asleep, the loving bond you feel, etc. Savor what you can while your teeny baby is still tiny. After all, they are nothing short of a miracle.