My son is four months old. He’s pretty much the cutest thing ever. He’s also the most challenging, time-consuming things I’ve ever experienced. Don’t get me wrong, he’s actually a pretty easy baby as far as babies go. I don’t get screamed at much, and when I do there’s usually something I can do to fix it within just a few minutes. But even the best baby (which he isn’t) is still demanding and time-consuming by nature.
But I’m surviving it. Not only am I surviving it, I’m enjoying it. To do so, I’ve had to learn some things, and learn them fast. You see, I barely even babysat, and never infants. I think the last diaper I changed before having my son was when I was fourteen. Under duress. And supervised. Seriously. Heck, I didn’t even want kids until I was about seventeen, when I finally realized that creating another person who is half of you and half of the person you love might actually be kinda amazing.
My mom was a bit worried about how well I’d handle motherhood, at least at the beginning, because of this. How well could a completely inexperienced person who had barely known what to do with a baby except support its head take to motherhood? Thankfully, I’m a listener, and I pay attention. I’ve got seven nieces and nephews thanks to marrying a man with said nieces and nephews, my own mom had plenty of tips, and I listened to other parents. Maybe I hadn’t changed a diaper on my own since I was fourteen, but I’d sure seen my sister-in-law do it a few dozen times, and the concept is easy enough.
Well, I’ve been doing fairly well, I think. My mom says so. I haven’t had to call anyone because I’m having a complete freak out or break down. I’m crazy about my son, and love time with him. I’m not saying this to brag; I’ve gotten tons of good advice, and I would have been lost if I hadn’t paid attention to it. So I want to share some of that advice — and what I’ve had to figure out — with other new moms.
1) Sleep when the baby sleeps.
I know many moms’ first reaction to this is, “When will I do anything else?” Well, a baby’s minimum sleep requirements is greater than your maximum, so if your little one gave you a few hours less sleep during the night than you need to function well, sleep during one or even two of their naps. You’re probably still going to have at least one of their nap times where you don’t need to sleep and can get other things done. I promise, you’re going to be a lot more functional and able to handle the baby — especially a colicky or cranky baby — if you’re not running off of too little sleep.
2) Don’t be afraid to baby-wear.
This recommendation isn’t just some granola it’s-good-for-you-and-baby thing. This can be extremely useful to your ability to get things done and be semi-normal even if your infant is being clingy. There are limitations to what you can do with a baby strapped to your chest, but there are a lot more things you can do than if you’re having to hold them. If your baby just won’t be comforted or entertained in a swing, on their back, or wherever else, strap them on and figure out what you can do with them on you.
3) Accept down-time.
There have been days when my son just needed to cuddle me while he slept. Even being next to me wasn’t enough; he needed to be sleeping on my chest or in my arms. Well, moms, we’re so quick to complain that we don’t have time to just sit and read a book anymore. So do that. Or watch a show. Whatever. I’ve had a number of times where I just propped myself up on some pillows and read a book, played on my iPad, or watched How I Met Your Mother while my baby napped on me. It’s okay. Your baby will give you opportunity to get something done later, or tomorrow, or sometime.
4) Forget perfection and quickness.
It took me a month to scrub my kitchen floor. Part of that was because I don’t think any previous tenants had done it in years, so the dirt had compacted into the lines in the linoleum to the point that I literally had to scrape it out with a screwdriver. Yeah, that’s as gross as it sounds. No way I was going to leave that undone knowing my son would be crawling on that floor in just a few months. But what would have taken a few very long days before I was a mom took me a month, because I was limited to a few hours a day and couldn’t get to it every day. That’s okay. It got done. Don’t get me wrong, I was sick of it and relieved when it was finished, but I don’t have to do it again and I won’ t be horrified when his little hands go from that floor to his mouth in a few months.
5) Smile when they cry.
A baby has only a few simple needs, and you’re capable of handling all of them, which means that you don’t need to stress or freak out when your baby is letting you know they have a need. Are they hungry? Need to burp? Need a clean diaper? Tired? Want to be held? If they’re older, do they need to be put down to play? Be engaged or allowed to look around? Are they teething? And sometimes, a baby just needs to cry. That can be tiring, but it’s okay. You’ve got this, and they aren’t going to cry forever.
Keeping more or less positive when they cry is probably harder with some babies than others. I know my little man has a pretty easy-to-handle cry. It’s not shrill or annoying. He’s also got the most ridiculously cute pout. Not all babies are like that. So if you’re at a point where your kiddo won’t stop crying and you just can’t handle it anymore, it’s okay to set them down somewhere safe or hand them off to someone trusted and take a break for five or ten minutes.
6) Take a walk.
My son loves when I go on walks, whether he’s in the stroller or the Moby wrap. Most babies love the outdoors and taking in new sights. My kiddo often falls asleep, or is ready to do so by the time I get home. More than once, he’s been fighting sleep or being cranky, so I’ll load him up in the stroller or strap him on in the wrap and head out. Sometimes I just walk a couple of blocks to the coffee stand for a chai tea and come back home. It’s my plot to get him to sleep while getting myself a pick-me-up, and it’s usually successful. Walking is also very good for you for a number of reasons, such as exercise and endorphins (which can help combat any baby blues), so make it happen. If the weather isn’t great, just bundle up yourself and your baby, but short of it raining too heavily, go anyways.
7) Think of them as an extension of you.
Breaks are good, but you can only get them so often, so when it’s just you and baby, just take it as a matter of fact. Checking that you have an extra outfit and enough diapers and wipes in the diaper bag, loading them up in the car seat, and getting them, their stuff, and your stuff out to the car is your new routine. Accept it. It doesn’t have to excite you, but don’t get grumpy over it either. I know life is way different with a kid, and nothing is quite as simple, but it will be a lot easier on you emotionally if you accept that instead of living in a constant state of annoyance or negativity over it. Finding tools to make this as easy as a possible is helpful, of course. Swings, bouncers, boppy pillows, Bumbo seats, floor gyms, a wrap or carrier, a good jogging stroller…whatever you need.
8) Cherish (and ask for) breaks.
I’ve loved the couple of date nights my hubby and I have had child-free, thanks to my mom babysitting, and I love handing my little mister off to people I trust when I’m around them so that I get small breaks. Even five minutes of him not being attached to me is a blessing. I know that most of the time I exist in number seven, so number eight is very helpful for staying sane. If you have to, ask for a break. See if a family member, trusted friend, or your spouse can give you time to nap, or run to the store baby-free, or entertain the baby long enough for you to shower and do the dishes.
I remember a couple of days after we got home from the hospital and I was rather short on sleep. It was bad enough that I felt somewhat disconnected from my baby, which is not a good feeling. My mom came over, and I handed off the baby and took an hour long nap. It was magical. There was a night and day difference in how I felt after that.
Take breaks, and make the most of them.
9) Prioritize your time.
When your kiddo is sleeping or entertained, sometimes your first instinct is to scrub your house from top to bottom. I get it. But when your baby gives you time, sometimes you need to put off the dishes in favor of a shower, or vacuuming in favor of a big meal. You can’t take care of your baby well if you don’t take care of you well. When your greatest needs have been handled, then move on to your house. It may not be as perfect as you’d like it, but I promise you’ll find enough time to make sure that monsters aren’t growing out of your toilet.
10) This will end someday.
There’s two sides to this one.
The first is that they’re not going to be helpless forever, or teething forever, or unable to communicate forever. The colic will pass. Waking up every couple of hours through the night will pass. Just get through this, because it will end someday.
The second part is that this is the only time they’re going to be this tiny, this in need of you. Someday they’ll no longer curl up in your arms with a precious little hand on your skin as they nurse. Someday they’ll be starting school. Someday they won’t want to be held. Someday they’ll learn to tell you “no.” Cherish this time for what it is, because it will end someday.