Motherhood is the only thing in my life that I've really known for sure is something I wanted to do.
So here they are...
15 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me Before I Gave Birth
Maybe it's because I loved being pregnant so much but I wish I would have kept better track of all the little changes and feelings I went through. Not to mention all the special moments that my husband and I shared in our last 9 months as just husband and wife. I thought I'd remember more but apparently labor and the first few months of sleep deprivation obliterate your pre-baby memories. If it weren't for those great maternity photos we had taken, the stretch marks, and the baby asleep in my lap, I might think my pregnancy was just a dream I vaguely remember.
2. Leave As Many Baby Gifts In The Box As Possible and Keep All Receipts
This is a big one. Being first time parents we really didn't know what we "had to have" for the baby and what we could live without. I read a hundred blog posts aimed at giving the reader the perfect must have list. Each one was different of course, but there were some overlapping items too. Being that I was out of work for the majority of my pregnancy and money was tight I registered for everything I could think of... Including curtains for the nursery. After two showers we had received just over half of the things we had registered for, which was a staggering amount of baby stuff. We were very fortunate to have a large and very generous family. We were like kids at Christmas. No package was left unopened and everything was washed, arranged, and stored well before the first contraction. By the end of the first month we hadn't used even a third of all those "necessities". On the other hand we found out we needed a few things we had never anticipated needing. So here's some free advice. Keep everything in the box, or keep the box and the receipt. See what you use and what you don't, what your baby likes and what they don't and take the rest back. Save a few gift cards or use the money and credit from taking things back to buy those unexpected necessities or better yet, save them for 6 months down the road when you find yourself running out of clothes for your little one who is growing so fast you can practically see it in real time. I'll be posting my essential baby list, in case your interested, and it will be available here.
If you read my last post you know that I neglected possibly the most important subject while doing my pre-baby research. Let me tell you from experience it's better to read all this before hand when you can think clearly and you have time to read more than a paragraph at a time. You can find my recommended reading list here.
4. Build A Solid And Sizable Support Group
This is another thing I regret terribly. Unfortunately I do not have many friends that live close by, even fewer are mothers or have had children recently. I have several friends from college that I kept in touch with on Facebook but I didn't really connect with them until well after my son was born. I cannot stress enough the importance of female friendship and guidance and support, especially in those early months. I was fortunate to find a few lovely ladies while trying to get support for my breastfeeding issues that have given me support in all areas of my life. I have also reconnected with some of my old friends from college. They live out of state so I can't go meet them for a girl's day out, but they are just a phone call away when I need to vent or I need some advice. Your support group should also include a good lactation consultant or five (really), a supportive ob/gyn and pediatrician, and spouse/ parenting partner/ or whatever you kids are calling each other these days.
To some this may sound bad. I mean of course you'll love your baby, right?! You've been dreaming of this day for ages. You've spent the last 9 (really 10) months preparing and fantasizing about your sweet baby. You talk to your protruding stomach everyday and say "I love you little one," and on some level you do. What I didn't realize until after my son was born was that all those times I felt love for my unborn child, I was in love with the idea of him. I was in love with the feel of a new life wriggling inside me. After 33 hours of labor and my last big push, the doctor handed me a very slippery, pink, and dare I say it, kind of homely, baby (my husband disagrees). My immediate feelings were more along the lines of shock and relief than overwhelming joy and love. Don't get me wrong I was happy, happy it was over and happy to meet my new baby, but I was also exhausted and in pain. I didn't have long to contemplate my reaction because unfortunately my son was born with a fluid in his lungs and he was quickly whisked away so they could clear his air passages while I was tended to. After that I felt nothing but concern and pain for several agonizing minutes. Everything turned out okay, my son was given a clean bill of health, we had a wonderful solid hour plus of skin to skin contact and we initiated breastfeeding immediately. It took several days for me to wrap my head around what had just happened and to come to terms with the reality that our baby was actually here. Everyday my son got a little cuter and I fell in love with him in tiny imperceptible increments that are continuing to accumulate to this day. I love my son more than life itself. So it's okay if you don't find love at first sight with your baby, you are not a bad mother, you do not love your child any less than any other mother, you'll come to it in your own time. Not everyone gets the fairytale moments in life so don't fret and don't feel guilty, let your baby woo you.
By the way that look on my face... That's shock, and awe, a little bit of love.
6. Limit Hospital Visitors and Any Visitors For the First Week
This one surprised me. There was a lot of debate throughout my pregnancy on who would be at the hospital and when they would be notified. I was adamant from the start that I only wanted my husband and any necessary medical staff in the delivery room. I was okay with visitors coming after I had recovered a little and looked somewhat presentable. In all honesty I had imagined a steady stream of well wishers bearing gifts and flowers (and yes an edible arrangement). The reality was much different. My parents insisted on being at the hospital while I was in labor. My mother was so worried she wouldn't be the first one to see the baby she left the house before I even knew if I was going to be admitted to labor and delivery. This resulted in my parents spending close to 15 hours in a cold and uncomfortable hospital waiting room. They were the first to see the baby though and in the end I don't think they minded the wait. They left the hospital and returned later with dinner and flowers which were both greatly appreciated. We only had one other set of visitors while in the hospital. One of my husband's aunts and her two daughters came bearing gifts and showering compliments on the new baby and his exhausted mother. It was nice to have a few friendly faces, even if I was to tired to be much of a conversationalist. Then there was no one... At first I was disappointed by the lack of fanfare. This was by far the biggest and best thing that had ever happened to us. We had a few more visitors come in the days after we got home from the hospital and then everything died down. It wasn't until then that I realized our mistake. Those precious few days in the hospital should have been spent trying to catch up on sleep (I certainly hadn't slept much in the 33 hours of labor). Likewise the days following would have gone a little smoother had we relaxed and got acquainted with our baby instead of trying to entertain guests. If you want lots of visitors by all means invite the whole neighborhood, but if you need some time that's okay too. Shut off the phone, lock the door and put your husband on guard duty. That first week is best left for you to get to know your baby and for lots of skin to skin, which is hard to do with company. There will be plenty of time for your families to meet the new addition in the weeks to come.
This was a big shock to me. Everyone tells you how wonderful and rewarding becoming a mother is... but no one tells you how awful it can make you feel. Don't get me wrong I love being a mom and it is the best thing/job/decision I have ever done/had/made, but it's hard. Baby Blues are a temporary state of depression that can last between a few days and a few weeks postpartum and affects between 50-80% of all new mothers. That is a staggering statistic, and it's why I recommend planning on getting them. In my experience it is better to be aware and prepared for this type of thing than to be blindsided. Let me clarify that this is not necessarily a "bad" thing to get nor is it the same as postpartum depression which is much more serious and requires medical intervention. Please familiarize yourself with the signs of postpartum depression and seek medical help if you or someone you know is suffering from this. You can find out more here (See "What Is The Difference Between 'Baby Blues,' Postpartum Depression And Postpartum Psychosis). Baby blues can most simply be explained as the result of the rapid change in hormone levels following birth.
For me the baby blues manifested pretty simply as uncontrollable crying, sadness, feeling of being overwhelmed and generally inept. I was sad and most of the time I didn't even know why. I was happy to finally be a parent but I wasn't coping well with the changes. All pretty standard new mom stuff. The best thing to do is to tap into that support group you built during your pregnancy and ride it out. Mine lasted just exactly two weeks. I am somewhat convinced that men can experience a form of this too. The whole new parent experience is packed full of emotions and self-doubt and I don't know a man alive that deals well with either of those two things. Take refuge in each other and know that there is nothing wrong with you and you are most certainly not alone.
8. Get Serious and Honest With Your Spouse About After Baby Expectations
This one is HUGE and also terribly hard to put into practice. All of the Dr Sears books listed in the recommended reading section above have great advice on how to navigate this transition period with your spouse, including sections geared towards mom's needs and dad's. They cover issues common to new parents, like sex after baby, division of household chores and advice on how dad's can best support new moms. It is easy to get overwhelmed, frustrated, angry and resentful when you feel your needs aren't being met or even understood. Be respectful of each other, remember you are both new at this and only human, and try to work together. You will both have needs that go unmet for a while, that's okay, that's parenthood. This is by far my biggest regret in those early days. Fathers aren't mothers. They can't possibly understand what you are going through, how you feel physically and mentally so try to communicate those things to your partner. Men are men and they want sex, but if you aren't up to it yet or you feel too much pressure, tell him. He's a big boy and this might just be a need he has to fulfill for himself for now. It does not make you a bad wife or mother for not being able to do everything for everyone. These things take time regardless of whether you delivered vaginally or via c section.
I hate to sound like a broken record but here's another important lesson. I anticipated having a difficult time breastfeeding. I have fibrocystic breast disease, like many women, which has always left my breasts very tender and sensitive. I had always planned on giving my child breast milk but I didn't actually plan on breastfeeding until after I found out I was pregnant. It was always my intention to exclusively pump and bottle feed. When I found out we were pregnant that immediately changed and I was determined to at least try to breast feed. I read several books on the subject. The best was probably The Womanly Art of Breast Feeding by The La Leche League. I also took a breastfeeding class at the hospital where I delivered. Although by the time I read that book and researched on my own I could have taught that class. It didn't give me any new information nor did it prepare me in anyway for breastfeeding as it turned out. I have had so many issues breastfeeding from poor latch to oversupply and just about everything in between. I'll post my full breastfeeding journey soon and provide the link here. The best advice I can give you is to trust your body. At some point every mom thinks she isn't making enough milk, which is the very rare exception not the rule. Get yourself a good lactation consultant or five... Really I have 5. Each brings a new perspective, technique and each has had personal experience with an issue I was struggling with either personally or they helped someone else through it. Search Facebook, contact your local LLL leaders, or your local WIC office for resources in your area. It's important to do your research and prepare yourself ahead of time but don't be discouraged if you still struggle at first. It's hard sometimes but it does get easier. You owe it to your baby to try your absolute hardest, and in the end if it doesn't work out for you that's okay too. There are even great resources available that help you receive donor milk if you want to give your baby the benefits of breast milk but are unable to breastfeed yourself. Where there is a will, there is a way and there is no greater force on earth than a mother determined to do what's best for her child.
10. Sometimes Breastfeeding Isn't Beautiful
I kind of touch on this above but it bears repeating that your breastfeeding relationship may fall short of your expectations. Not only is breastfeeding difficult for many new moms and babies to get the hang of it, but it rarely looks or feels the way people tell you it will. In all of my research I read story after story about new and seasoned moms alike sharing this incredible closeness and bond through their beautiful breastfeeding relationship. There was story after story about gazing lovingly into your nurslings eyes and having them look back seemingly into your very soul. There was personal accounts of breastfeeding sessions that sounded a lot more like a transcendental experience than simply providing nourishment fro your growing child. Challenges and difficulties aside many women do not reach this level of nirvana while breastfeeding. In fact most women have a love hate or a hate hate relationship with breastfeeding, at least in the beginning... I certainly did. For the first several weeks I hated it. I cringed every time my son cried because I knew I had to sit back down and nurse him... again. This triggered another fresh wave of mommy guilt. I hated that I didn't enjoy it and that I wanted to quit. Pure stubbornness and an unwavering sense of determination to give my son the best start possible kept me going. To top it all off, I also had the unfortunate luck of having DMER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, click for more info) which causes you to have sad or unpleasant feelings just prior to each letdown. Not only was I not enjoying my "bonding" experience but it was quite literally making me feel terrible. The good news is that this condition along with many of my other breastfeeding issues subsided over time. Now almost 5 months in we are still going strong and I can honestly say that I can enjoy the many moments I spend nursing my son. I have also experienced the undiluted pleasure of having several nursing sessions that did indeed touch me to my core and make every trial and tribulations, every pain, crack, and tear shed worth it. As with most things that are difficult, if you stick with it long enough you will reap unimaginable rewards. My full Breastfeeding account will be available here soon. In the meantime, if you have any breastfeeding questions these websites are invaluable resources and can walk you through pretty much any situation and answer any question or concern.
There is a lot of misinformation out there and an equal number of well intentioned and misinformed people full of bad advice. Do your homework, just because someone breastfed their babies does not make them an expert. Just an FYI, you do not, and more importantly should not "toughen up your nipples" prior to breastfeeding and there really is no pain if you have a proper latch. Proper latch may be difficult to achieve but you do not have to nor should you suffer with painful, cracked, or bleeding nipples... Ever.
I had to be told this one over and over until it finally sunk in to my thick, sleep deprived skull. To put it quite simply, parents have schedules babies do not. For starters you should not worry about how long it's been since your baby last ate, unless it has been more than 3-4 hours. When we brought my son home I could not wrap my head around the fact that he fed for 45 minutes to an hour at each nursing session and was hungry approximately 15-30 minutes later. It boggled the mind. I was convinced I didn't have enough milk, or he was a poor sucker, or there was something terribly wrong. There wasn't... He was simply a normal, healthy breast fed baby. I was miserable and so was he until I got that into my thick head. We don't need someone to tell us we are hungry and we don't magically want to eat at convenient two hour intervals so why do we expect our babies to eat that way. Especially when you consider the size of their tiny little tummies. I've heard story after story on online forums and Facebook pages about these insatiable babies that are hungry all the time and their poor mothers can't keep up. The hard truth is... That's what babies do... they're hungry, you're tired... And they don't care. It's okay to be tired and frustrated but your baby needs you. Your baby is not freakishly hungry, you don't need supplements or formula or to give your baby with rice cereal before 4-6 months of age (no matter what your pediatrician says). Your pediatrician's word is not the end all be all, and that rice cereal advice is not only out dated, it's dangerous to your baby's fragile digestive system. Google virgin gut, better yet... click here. The evidence is overwhelming. The good news is that this phase really does pass and soon you will be able to go hours without having to nurse your baby. Hell if you're lucky they may even start sleeping more than 3 hours at a time, but don't count on it. Which leads me to my next point... Get rid of the clocks in the bedroom too. Looking at the clock every time the baby wakes up or stirs does not give you any more sleep or make you feel more rested when you see he slept two hours instead of one. Just STOP. You will only drive yourself crazy. You're welcome.
12. Trust Your Instincts
This one is pretty self explanatory but you need to heed this advice in all areas of your new life. Trust your body to make enough milk; trust your baby to show you when he/she is hungry, tired, wants to be held, etc.; and trust yourself to know when something is truly wrong. First off, pay attention to your baby, learn the cues for hunger and fatigue and in a few days when they change, learn them again. Here is a great resource for helping you do just that created by the California Dept of WIC (video). The book by Mayim Bialik called Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way is also a great book to help you tap into your instincts as a parent. If you hear or read parenting advice that seems to go against your very fiber of being... Don't do it.
Secondly pay attention to your body. Don't rush into any activity postpartum and if you feel like something is wrong go get it checked. I had some pretty extensive tearing from my vaginal delivery and the stitches became infected. I had mentioned the pain and tightness and other unpleasantness to the nurses and doctors caring for me even before I left the hospital but I was assured and reassured (often with a little tsk or eye roll) that that was all perfectly normal considering I had just given birth to a just over 8 pound baby. By the time I got home I was having severe pain, cold shills, nausea, and several other classic symptoms of a serious infection. I called the hospital on several occasions only to be placated and told that postpartum depression is a real thing and that if I am feeling like I am going to hurt my baby I should seek help immediately. Good advice but I'm not sure how my symptoms translated into that diagnosis but I digress. After several days of tearful phone calls to the hospital in an effort to get someone, anyone to see me, they obliged. I was unable to see my normal OB and instead saw a very nice Russian lady... I tell you this solely so you can get the full effect. I had a long and tear filled appointment in which I recounted my symptoms in between sobs. The kind doctor looked right and me and said "You seem to have lot of tears. I think maybe more is going on, it's hard for me to tell since you are not normally my patient." (this is my favorite part) "I don't know, maybe you are a sensitive lady. You have hard time with this new motherhood." Well yes as a matter of fact I was having a hard time. I tried fruitlessly to relay to her that I was not in fact depressed, I was sick... I just knew it. After a thorough exam she concluded I did in fact have an infection, much to her chagrin. I was not depressed so she promptly prescribed antibiotics and sent me on my way. Within days my "depression" lifted and my symptoms vanished... amazing. That being said if you are experiencing signs of postpartum depression get help immediately. There is a link to more information and the warning signs about in the baby blues section. Trust your instincts.
This might seem a little controversial until you start talking to veteran parents. In those first few weeks everyone lets their baby sleep on their chest. It's where the baby likes to be and it's often the only place the baby will sleep. Period. There should be no shame and no guilt in this... It's okay. If you want to read more about how I came to this level of acceptance or want more information on safely sharing sleep, check out my blog post Accidentally Attached.
14. Stay Away From Online Forums That Are Not Monitored By A Reputable Source
This may seem harmless but trust me, don't waste your time. In the vein of bad breastfeeding advice, you have to be mindful of where your information is coming from. These forums are often a jumble of bad advice and misinformation from people equally as clueless as yourself. Some of the things I've seen people tell others on these sites are down right dangerous. Here again, trust your instincts. If it sounds like crap it probably is.
This might be the most important of them all. You will make mistakes, you will feel like a failure, and you will lose your cool but you'll do better tomorrow. Cut yourself some slack, you're new at this. It takes time. Just remember babies don't remember the bumps in the road or the bumps to their little noggins when you get too close to the door casings. They are more durable than they look and most upsets can be solved with a nursing session and a little snuggle. Take time for yourself too whenever possible. Sometimes a trip to get milk is all you need to recharge your batteries and make you long for more of that spit covered, milky smile.
Being a mother means that your heart is no longer yours; it wanders wherever your children do.