I was pregnant for eight whole months and all anybody told me was, in retrospect… NOTHING. People told me do prenatal yoga, drink lots of water and get an epidural but nobody thought to warn me (in detail) about the things that would actually compromise my sanity after bringing home my LO.
Here’s basically all that people tell you about being a new mom:
- Breast is best!
- But if you must formula feed, I guess that’ OK. Nobody should judge you (oh, but they will)!
- You’re not gonna get any sleep, so preemptively make up for it while you’re pregnant. “Sleep credit” is a thing! And you’re definitely going to think back on the days you slept for 10 hours and be glad you did it because it’s totally making a difference now as you breastfeed bloodshot at 4 in the morning!
- You’re always going to be late to things once you have a newborn in tow!
Uhh, this shit isn’t helpful. Let’s talk about the real challenges.
Every time I ran into each of the below challenges, I instantly Googled it and learned there are plenty of other parents enduring the same things. And nobody was warned. So here’s my heads-up to you.
1. Your baby might sound like a screeching owl–juicy pug hybrid while he’s sleeping.
Let me just tell you: the first week with your newborn is cake compared to the following weeks. The first few weeks, your newborn will probably sleep soundly, only waking up to feed. You’ll think having to feed him every two to three hours is inconvenient hell, but trust me. Relish these moments. I’m already looking back fondly at the first week when my husband and I were having dinner, at the dining table like civilized beings, while our baby snoozed away right beside us.
I am legit resentful to all the authors of all the baby books I read who didn’t tell me to possibly expect the noisiness of my sleeping baby. Not only is it nerve-wracking the first 15 times it happens, but once you figure out that’s just what some babies do, it doesn’t end for… well I wouldn’t know because my baby is still doing it.
Oh, and add thrashing about and flailing everywhere on top of it. WHILE HE’S SLEEPING.
Turns out that newborns have shorter sleep-wake cycles and they cry in between them. Some cry peeps while other babies yelp out war cries. Either way, you’re not supposed to wake them up during these noisy phases if you want them to connect these sleep cycles on their own and eventually grow up to be good sleepers (i.e. sleep through the night). I learned this in the book Bringing Up Bebe. The act of not immediately running over to your baby every time he makes a noise is called “The Pause.” Sadly, “The Pause” is very hard to implement when your baby sounds like he’s fighting a bunch of cats, but you’re left with the ultimate dilemma: soothe my baby and don’t sleep for the next 10 years or cower behind your sheets as you stressfully wait for him to quiet down?
The good news is that your baby likely won’t act like this forever, and he won’t act like this during all sleep sessions. My baby sleeps like a normal human during the day. He just morphs at nighttime when he’s in his bassinet. Which leads me to…
2. Your baby might hate sleeping in all the locations considered safe by the AAP.
My baby sleeps like an angel, like a dream! When he’s nestled inside my baby carrier or on my chest. And anytime he’s near his DockATot or Boppy lounger, he desperately tries to sleep in it.
The one place he seemingly detests is his bassinet, and of course aside from his yet-to-be-used crib, it’s the one place the American Academy of Pediatrics says is safe for him to sleep. The problem is the bassinet is the farthest thing that feels like my womb, which is what newborns want. The bassinet is spacious, hard/flat and doesn’t sound like amniotic fluid.
I’ve asked at least 50 moms for alternative solutions and an overwhelming amount of them swear by things like the Rock ‘n’ Play. I’m so tempted to try it out myself but of course I’ve read some horror stories online about how dangerous they can be for sleeping babies. So, unless you’re not a Type A worry wart like me, say good-bye to getting your baby to sleep anywhere besides a place that’s probably the adult equivalent of sleeping on a large wooden dining table.
3. Your baby might hate swaddles.
Swaddling makes so much sense. It keeps babies secure and warm and prevents their arms from flailing about and making them feel like they’re falling (poor things!).
Naturally, my husband and I swaddled our newborn from the get-go. We first used a traditional muslin cloth before realizing we SUCK at swaddling. So we used a foolproof Halo SleepSack complete with zippers and velcro.
I learned very quickly my baby hates being swaddled. If he isn’t wailing while in the Halo sack, he is Houdini-ing his arms out which is impressive and massively discouraging at the same time. I felt insecure about this discovery until I learned I’m not alone. Other babies hate swaddling too! I mean, it looks pretty damn uncomfortable. It’s basically a straitjacket. Not all babies think so, but mine does.
4. Motherhood is 50% buying all the swaddles on the market and returning all the ones your baby hates and 50% waiting for/getting excited about poops and farts.
If your baby is a good sleeper from the get-go and has accepted his swaddle with open arms (or rather, restricted arms, har har), then you’re one of the lucky ones. The rest of us? We’re desperately trying to find “the one” — the swaddle our baby can’t break out of or detests. If your baby hates swaddling you’ve probably tried the Halo, Woombie, Miracle Blanket, Nested Bean, Love to Dream and muslin cloths. And when they’re big enough, the ZipadeeZip and Merlin Magic Suit. Good luck!
Regarding gas: for babies and their tiny digestive systems it makes them arch their backs and kick their legs in pain. It makes us mommies so sad. So every time they poop or fart, it’s a VICTORY. Rejoice!
5. Learning your baby’s “different cries” is confusing as hell.
“Soon enough, you’ll learn your newborn’s ‘hungry cry,’ ‘diaper change cry,’ and his ‘I just need to be held cry!'” declared dozens of websites.
Such is not the case.
Not only do my baby’s cries pretty much all sound the same to me, but he also flails, sticks his tongue out and puts his hands on his face whether he’s hungry, cranky, overstimulated, tired, needs a diaper change, wants a cradle session or has gas. Your baby’s cues aren’t that straightforward! Why do websites make it seem like your baby comes with a manual or straight-up says “YO mom I need milk!” mid-cry?! You have to find the exact permutation of behavioral cues to figure out what your baby wants. And if you remember from math class, there are a LOT of permutations.
Sometimes, you just have to take your best guess and go through ALL the options before figuring out what he’s asking for (or crying in the bathroom by yourself).
6. Baby carriers are a bitch to put on.
When I was pregnant I was so excited by the prospect of wearing my baby. I browsed the picturesque Instagrams of Tula, Solly and Ergobaby while daydreaming about the day when my baby would lie angelically on my chest. Look at how happy those moms are shopping at the farmer’s market with their babies nestled into a cute little ball on their torsos! Look how fit that mom looks hiking with her baby on her back!
It looks amazing (and once you get it in correctly, it feels amazing too), but the learning curve is HIGH. Wraps are about 18 yards long and require lots of threading and looping, which also need to be perfectly tight and not too loose. If you put it on too tight or too loose you often have to start over. Not exactly pleasant when your baby is screaming at you. Structured carriers like Tula appear much easier, but they require you to secure buckles on your back and tighten/loosen various components that you can’t remember to tighten or loosen.
Granted I just suck at this type of thing, but even if I didn’t, getting the baby actually inside the carrier/wrap is a whole other story. Don’t trust the YouTube tutorial videos that feature happy, calm babies. Because your baby will probably give you the “WTF IS THIS” flail and possibly undo all your hard work and make you second-guess why you thought carriers were such a good idea in the first place. At least for the first 15 times. At least for me.
7. Your baby will act cranky for no reason and the Internet has many suggestions that will confuse the sh!t out of you.
P.U.R.P.L.E. crying, Wonder Weeks developmental leap, the “witching hour,” growth spurts, teething and sleep regressions. Which one is your baby going through? Are some of these the same thing? What if your baby isn’t going through one of these and you’re just clueless and missing a cue (see above)? Does this mean your baby is always going through something that will make them fussy to no end?????? Is your baby ever going to be happy?????
8. Your partner will astonish you.
For better or for worse.
Some of my Internet friends have terrible husbands. They don’t help out during nights or they don’t help at all. They blame the mother for the baby’s cries or leave town altogether for weeks at a time for terrible non-work-related reasons.
I’m lucky. I’ve always known my husband would be an extraordinary father but what I didn’t know is he’d become my personal lactation consultant and breast-milk organizer/gatekeeper. You should see our fridge. SO ORGANIZED.
The point is, you’ll never know how truly great (or horrendous) your partner is until you have a newborn.
9. Your baby is smarter than you.
Parenting books and websites make it seem like newborns are mere brain stems that have no idea what the fuck they’re doing. That’s bullshit!
Newborns are smart. Everything they do — including all the crying and flailing that scares the crap out of you at first — is for their survival.
For example, my baby coaches me as I feed him. At first I thought he hated my milk because he would take his free arm and push my boob away as he was feeding, but I learned he’s been trying to tell me to RELAX and stop squeezing and shoving my nipple into his mouth (a skill I learned at the hospital when a consultant told me I had to in order for him to latch well). Now I don’t compress milk into his face and breastfeeding sessions have become so much more pleasant.
10. The most important skill as a mother is not freaking out.
Your baby isn’t freaking out.
Even when your baby is crying, he isn’t freaking out.
My doula had to tell me this at least 1,000 times. I’m the only one who’s freaking out. My baby is fine.
He is not bothered by the semi-awkward position he’s in while he’s breastfeeding. I’m bothered. He pants like a puppy because that’s how newborns breathe sometimes. He doesn’t care. When my baby hiccups for 15 minutes, he barely even notices. I’m the one who notices and stresses out.
At first it’s super hard to keep your cool when your baby cries and flails, but remember crying is the only way he knows how to communicate. He know you will take care of him. If something awkward, weird or unpleasant happens, he will forget about it the second he feels secure in your arms.
All that freaking out? It’s on you to control it. As my doula says, “It’s not him… it’s you.”
You’re doing a great job! Don’t you forget it.