We’ve all heard it before: I wish children came with manuals.
There are plenty of books out there with information on how to raise a newborn, websites with troubleshooting tips, and professionals on the daily morning news cycles citing the latest studies on raising children. Each helps in their own way, but sometimes the noise can be a bit much for new parents, particularly sleep-deprived parents.
For myself, I appreciate looking to friends and family for their experience and advice. I kept my ears open when I was pregnant and filed the information away when I spent time with other mothers about what I would do once I became a mother.
What I Wish I Knew
I am not an expert at parenting, and I will never consider myself one, but I actually felt comfortable with how I would parent Jai in the first year. Beyond the newborn/baby stage? It would be one baby step at a time.
My main goal was to keep Jai fed, clothed, diapered, and entertained throughout the first year. I wanted to approach it with a relatively casual attitude, something I picked up from several other mothers, and just go with the flow.
There were a couple of approaches that I wanted to start almost immediately but scaled to Jai’s ability or development level:
- Frequent bathtime
- A bedtime routine
- Taking time to explain something or giving him a quiet moment when he needed a break. That way it would be a habit for me when I needed to discipline him as a toddler
My thought process was that if he was used to each of these concepts when it came time to actually enforce them he would also go with the flow and minimize everyone’s stress level.
Something I didn’t know about was shift-sleeping. I mentioned this in a previous post, but when I commented to an acquaintance about the emotional and physical strain from lack of sleep I was feeling, they pointed me in the direction of working out a sleep schedule with Ash.
The idea is this: each partner takes a 6-hour shift at night to watch the baby while the other one sleeps during that block of time. When the time comes, the partners switch so each partner gets 6-hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. This gives each partner a chance to catch up on the sleep deficit and handle caring for a newborn better.
When Ash and I adopted this method of sleeping, it forced me to place a lot of trust in Ash’s ability to handle Jai without me for 6 hours at a time. I believe it helped Ash and Jai bond faster because while Ash wasn’t Mommy, he was another capable caretaker like Mommy.
This method was one that required my milk to come in and have enough stored for Ash or use formula to supplement, but I wish we had known about shift-sleeping from the beginning. It would have saved Ash and myself several weeks of tension and frustration. Some of the negative feelings came from my postpartum hormones, but I found that once I started getting a solid night’s sleep I was able to manage my emotions better.
Shift-sleeping fits in perfectly with my desire to go with the flow and because it forced me to trust Ash’s abilities, we were able to co-parent from the beginning. Once Jai started sleeping in his crib, we used a bassinet in our bedroom for the first month, we were able to resume sleeping on the same schedule in the same room. I know not every parent has a partner or even a supportive partner, so I acknowledge that this advice won’t help everyone.
What others had to Say
I asked mothers and grandmothers about their experiences with newborns and what they wish they knew. They provided some thoughtful and interesting responses that never came up in my own situation or I had forgotten about.
Below are the questions I asked and their responses.
What were your initial thoughts and emotions postpartum?
I was exhausted and happy, but I was expecting to cry and didn’t because everything was so surreal at that point. – Sarah S.
I felt like I could conquer the world. I had gone through 13 hours of labor without any pain medication, exhausted the entire time and was vomiting for 4 hours of my labor. Once the endorphins kicked in after birth, I was recharged and even willing to do it all over again. – Anonymous
When B. was placed on my chest the first I said was “Does he look ok?” I remember thinking everyone thinks their babies are beautiful what if mine isn’t. I didn’t cry. I think the whole thing was surreal. There was this life laying on my chest that I created. I was so exhausted. I remember being in a trance watching everyone cone into the room to see the new baby and pick up B. and I just sat on the bed like an outsider. I wasn’t even engaging in conversation. I wasn’t thinking about being a mother at all. I think I imagined it would be this grand experience but it wasn’t. B. was here…he was beautiful…I was a mom…and even after classes and having a mom who dealt with babies and mom’s everyday, I was wondering what on earth I was going to do now. – Lara J.
I was totally high on endorphins. Everyone around me was concerned because our child had a limb difference, and I ended up angry with them. He was perfect, and we could do anything. – Anonymous
I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility. Becoming a mother can be surreal. I didn’t have friends or family support other than my husband. At first I was alone in my hospital room(it was a room for three moms) which was great for resting. The hospital kept the newborns in a nursery but allowed the baby with the mother during the daytime. When two other mothers were moved into the hospital room it was actually helpful. Both were second-time+ mothers so they understood how I felt. I remember one of them expressing my feelings perfectly when she said after her first was born she felt like she was the babysitter and kept wondering when the child’s mother would return to pick her up. – Michelle M.
Pretty much just straight-up exhausted. I wasn’t especially confident, but I wasn’t terrified, either. – Anonymous
How did it go once you settled in after the hospital?
Terrible. Awful. I had open wounds from breastfeeding, and our child wouldn’t take a bottle. We had to syringe and spoon feed. I was pumping around the clock to boost my supply. The easiest thing was…eating, I guess. Our church family brought us meals. – Anonymous
Settling in didn’t change our routine as much as I thought it would. Daytime was still daytime, nighttime was still nighttime. The most difficult part was how much she cried the first two weeks, and figuring out what she needed, and feeling inadequate when we couldn’t figure it out. Support from my spouse while exclusively breastfeeding was a HUGE help. He knew I would have to feed her every couple hours, and feeding was still painful, so in between feedings, he would care for her screaming face while I got to take care of myself by getting a chance to pee, shower, eat, or nap. – Sarah S.
Frankly, the first week was terrible. My husband was not granted any leave from his job which kept him away until very late at night. Three years later, I am still angry about it. Obviously, I still had support there, but I was largely alone for the first week and it was difficult for me. My mom had also planned to stay with us, but had gotten sick and couldn’t come right away. – Anonymous
Being home was when things start to get better. My husband is an early riser. So I would wake up and pump and feed B. until about 2:00am and then my husband would be up and take care of the baby until he went to work which gave me some solid hours of sleep. The hardest part was very little adult interaction. But in general B. was a good baby and I was a pretty relaxed mom in general so nothing phased me. – Lara J.
What were some of your original parenting plans (from book or studies) that you were going to absolutely stick to in an ideal situation?
I didn’t really have any hard-set parenting plans. I read a lot of information and made decisions as I went based on my family’s needs. – Anonymous
No parenting books. I winged it. For me this resulted is less stress. I didn’t worry about anything because I didn’t read anything that would get my mind going. I new I wanted things to be simple. Not a lot of stuff. – Lara J.
I read “Better Homes and Gardens New Baby Book”. It really did help to answer many of my questions. I was going to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months. Never use formula and add solids as recommended. Also, I was going to make my own baby food. – Michelle M.
We planned to breastfeed, and took classes and read books. We wanted to cloth diaper, but that didn’t last long. – Anonymous
I planned on not having a plan. My plan is to spoil her as much as I can while I still can while she still lets me. Snuggles!!! – Sarah S.
I was determined to breastfeed my baby. My body was designed to provide all she needed and I was going to give it to her. – Anonymous
What parenting plans did you end up keeping or changing once the baby was born?
We’ve been kind of winging it and discussing things as they come up. – Sarah S.
We did breastfeed—and Still do, three years later. Cloth diapering just became too much of a burden. – Anonymous
My baby started projectile vomiting after about two months immediately after breastfeeding. It was clear she was in pain. The doctor recommended I stop breastfeeding for three days, put her on a non-dairy formula to see how she did. Unfortunately for me but fortunately for her the difference was immediate: she went back to being the happy baby I had known the first few weeks. The doctor believed she had developed a lactose intolerance due to a virus and recommended that I stop breastfeeding. It broke my heart but I didn’t want her to suffer in pain. Her comfort was more important to me than my plans. Years later I realized her lactose intolerance might have been a reaction to what I was eating and had I been told to remove dairy from MY diet, I might have been able to continue breastfeeding. But again, as her mother, her happiness was more important to me. I didn’t want her to grow up with a disposition created because I was too proud to make a change. – Michelle M.
Due to her latching problems, I couldn’t breastfeed. We worked with 4 different lactation consultants, tried a supplemental nursing system, all of which were unsuccessful. I made the choice to exclusively pump-as long as I was producing milk, that’s what she would have. This was a very hard thing to do. Once returning to work, I would get 4 hours of sleep a night due to a very rigid pumping schedule. After picking her up from child care, I would have to pump before I could hold her. At 5 months, we were able to transition her back to the breast. The lactation consultant said this wouldn’t happen – boy am I glad I didn’t listen to her. – Anonymous
What was the best piece of off-handed advice you got from someone?
Placing a laundry basket in the shower to give your baby a bath since I didn’t have a bathtub. Pretty sure my husband came up with that. – Lara J.
BABYWEARING. I saw a stranger wearing her baby in the grocery store, and I asked her about it. She made it her business to convert me. As a result, I joined my local BWI chapter and now encourage other caregivers to babywear. – Anonymous
Don’t be bothered by how other people do things or how they think you should do things. This advice can be applied to the rest of my life! It’s been especially helpful getting over my self-consciousness of breastfeeding in public. – Sarah S.
A friend of mine told me that when she had her first child (a girl) she followed the “on-demand” feeding recommendation that was popular at the time. She said that neither she nor her baby were happy. She said with her second child (a boy) she put him on a schedule and that he was happier, and she felt, more secure because of it. She reasoned that her son, being an infant, learned that he could trust her because he didn’t have to cry and scream to get her attention. He was fed, changed, awake at regular intervals. I tried the same thing with my daughter and it worked for me. Considering she was my first baby, she was extremely easy-going and mellow. – Michelle M.
- Babies can’t fall off the floor.
- Put the baby in their carseat or whatever strap-in chair thing outside your shower where you can see them and still get a shower!
- Double layer the crib sheets with a rubber sheet in between, so when they spit up in the middle of the night you can pull off the top layer/sheet and the crib is dry and made underneath.
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. Good advice that I didn’t use enough.
- They won’t remember crying for a few minutes.
- Also, if you are all alive at the end of the first six weeks, you win. Nothing else matters – Theresa S.
What was the worst piece of advice you got from someone?
“Just let him cry it out.” Our baby never reached “out,” and those were the worst nights of our lives. – Anonymous
“Shouldn’t you get her used to drinking formula in case someone else has to take of her?” Dismissed it right away. – Sarah S.
A friend said that as soon as they put the baby in your arms you immediately fall in love! Love takes time. Exhaustion, feelings of responsibility and being overwhelmed are the first things that can flood into a mother’s mind, especially if she is doing it alone or with little help. Feelings of love do come and then you will wonder what your life was like before your baby arrived. – Michelle M.
I don’t think anyone gave horrible advice. However many people wanted to put their views of proper parenting out there. For example you have to breast feed, you should use cloth diapers, you should make your own food, and so on. They weren’t suggestions either. It was more you’re a bad mom if you don’t do this. – Lara J.
What was the best gift or hand-me-down you received for your baby?
Graco stroller car seat combo was necessary. – Lara J.
The noise machine, the Dohm. – Anonymous
The Boppy Lounger was amazing for the first couple months. It gave us somewhere to quickly put her down for a pee break or just to give our arms a rest. – Sarah S.
The nursing pillow. That thing was invaluable since my daughter was a slow nurser at first. Also the portable crib. It gave us a place to let her sleep downstairs or a safe place to leave her for a few minutes at a time. – Anonymous
A playpen that folded for easy transport. We used it like a Pack-n-Play. We could take her to the park for a picnic, to visit friends, etc and she always had a place to sleep that she was used to and felt comfortable in. – Michelle M.
A silicone placemat. We brought it with us when we went out to eat and she had a clean place to eat off of that would break. – Anonymous
Rubberized cotton sheets. The mirror for the car so you can see your baby while they are facing backwards. I also liked our cheap bottle warmer. – Theresa S.
What was the one item from your registry, or gift, that you never/barely used?
An inflatable flower meant to make sink baths easier. – Anonymous
A bottle warmer. Not needed at all. – Lara J.
Halo Swaddle sacks. Our little one just hated having her arms restricted. It wasn’t worth the extra money for us over just a simple zippy fleece sleep sack with arms. But I hear it is helpful for some parents. I guess I would suggest getting just one or two. We actually got about 4 SwaddleMe swaddle sacks from hand me downs anyway. – Sarah S.
The wipe warmer. All it did was dry out the wipes. – Anonymous
What final recommendations or words of comfort do you have for new mothers?
My best piece of personal advice is for every mother to trust her instincts. She knows what she wants for her baby. She has to advocate for herself so that she can be a good advocate for her baby. – Michelle M.
Visit a lactation consultant. Even if things seem normal. The support they give is amazing. – Anonymous
Facebook marketplace has had some AMAZING deals for all kinds of things. Secondhand for baby stuff is nice because they grow out of it so quickly. You know the previous owner hasn’t used it long and it’s not worth it for you to pay full price. Just check dates on things like car seats and car seat bases. Found a jogging stroller for half price. – Sarah S.
Do what you want. There is no correct way to parent. For me it was about making things easy. Don’t let people pressure you into doing things there way. Let other people give you a break. It’s ok to shut the door and let your baby cry for a little bit. Mom needs a moment to regroup sometimes. – Lara J.
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Featured image credit: Arlene Farms Art