You just had a baby -- congratulations! Chances are that you're in the thick of the newborn days, learning how to adjust to life with your precious new child. But as amazing as first-time parenthood is, it does come with its own set of surprises and struggles. What should you know to make the transition easier for both you and your baby?
Here are some top tips for new moms from a few women who have been in your shoes.
1. If Possible, Plan Ahead
If you can plan for the practical aspects of life after having a baby while you're still pregnant, take advantage of that! Sit down with your partner or other people in your support network and create a plan for everything from home management to baby care. Consider who will handle what -- cooking, cleaning, etc. -- once the baby is born. Erin Coffey, a birth photographer, doula, and mother of two, advises thinking practically about the "fourth trimester." "Stock up on home essentials like toilet paper and wipes to avoid extra trips to the store," she says.
2. Remember That Your Baby Is Also New to This
Yes, humans have been taking care of babies for a long time. But your baby and his or her needs and personality are individual and still developing. Bianca Nova, an Oregon mom with a toddler, says, "Remember that your newborn is an alien on a strange new planet. Gravity is new to them. Be gentle and compassionate."
Keep this in mind when it comes to feeding, too, as some babies take time to learn how to breastfeed. "Breastfeeding can be challenging!" says Jennifer Chen. "I felt like the worst mom ever because my twins and I had trouble learning to nurse. We saw a lactation consultant who helped us, and now, they are champs at breastfeeding."
3. Be Flexible
New parents often have clear ideas about how parenting is going to go -- how and where the baby will sleep, what activities the family will do, and more. But adding some flexibility will help you feel happier, healthier, and more sane. "It took me a lot of frustration and tears to figure out that life with a baby was going to be really different," says Marice Hart, mother of two. "And just when I thought I mastered one domain (i.e., feeding, sleeping/naps), the cutie pie would go ahead and change everything. I had to learn to let go. I could still be structured, but I had to learn to be more flexible. Once I accepted that being flexible was not the same as being a failure, things got a lot better."
Similarly, one of Amy Robertson's top tips for new moms is to realize that you're probably doing it right. "If you are keeping your child alive, healthy, and feeling loved, you are doing a good job," she says. "There is no one right way to raise a child."
4. Accept Help
Although many other cultures have built-in postpartum support systems, American moms are often on their own when figuring out how to keep their babies happy, houses clean, families fed, and lives humming along. It doesn't have to be this way, though.
Dwenna Nelson, a doula in Albuquerque, NM, and mother of two children, says, "Don't be afraid to ask for support. Having friends or family help with household tasks, or with the baby, so you can sleep or take a shower can be pretty heavenly." A postpartum doula, who is trained in the care of the new family, is another option you can consider.
5. Don't Neglect Yourself
It's easy to focus only on the baby in the early days -- after all, they need so much! But you have to take care of yourself (and your body) too, so you're able to be a great parent. Megahn Perry, who has a 5-year-old, says that even doing something as simple as taking a shower or putting on makeup can make a huge difference. "Getting the sleep out of your eyes and washing the night sweats away will help you deal better," she says. "You've taken care of one human thing for yourself, and you can get back to momming it up for the next 24 hours. For me, that one act of self care made everything else doable."
While the first few months may feel overwhelming, remember that this stage is only one of many you'll experience as a parent. Uses this keeps and keep this advice from Rachael McRae, a mother of two, in mind: "My main advice would be to not be too hard on yourself. The beginning is hard, but it doesn't last forever."