Practical advice we never give to couples expecting their first child.
Everyone will tell you that having a child is amazing and that it’s a blessing. They’re right. It is amazing and those around you will feel the same too. At your baby shower or before your baby is ever born, family and friends will not be able to help themselves and purchase a ton of cute baby clothes or bibs with funny sayings as gifts for your baby. You’ll receive so many gifts that’ll make your heart melt—everything tiny and adorable. And you’ll perhaps be warned of the sleep deprivation but also your worries will be eased with sayings like, “but it’s worth it” or “I’d have it no other way.” And so, you’ll gather your haul of gifts and positive advice, and think “I got this!” And although I never want to tell someone that you don’t have this at all, there are a lot of things we don’t prepare new parents for, and here’s my list.
1. “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” isn’t as easy as it sounds.
I had no idea that this simple advice given to all new parents, which seems so practical, would actually be extremely complicated or difficult to follow through on. No one told us that babies sleep often but not always for long durations. They can take short naps lasting only minutes. Sometimes, just as I was about to fall asleep or when I have only been sleeping for a few minutes my daughter would wake up. Needless to say, I didn’t feel refreshed, in fact I felt worse. Even if you’re lucky and your baby takes longer naps, it’s very likely that during that time you’ll have something to do like clean or cook. Or perhaps while they’re napping it’s your only time to grab something to eat or have a quick shower.
2. Consider your mental and emotional “snap back”.
Most women are focused on “snapping back” physically and some dads indulge when their partners are pregnant and want to get fit, too. But no one told us that our mental health would need extra attention and would take a lot of work and time to get back on track. For me, it was my hormones, the sleep deprivation, and the lack of self-care that threw me over the edge. For my husband, it was the lack of sleep and lack of a proper diet and exercise routine. We were at our worst, more mentally than physically. No one warns new parents of the emotional toll that having a newborn takes on both parents. Although you’re happy to have your child, becoming a parent is more complicated than we let on and affects your mental health.
3. Your relationship will be tested.
Your relationship will be tested every single day, but there’s nothing like having children that will test your relationship the most. For one, both of you will be wrapped up in taking care of a newborn—-diaper changes, feedings, errands, laundry, dishes, and busy with visitors. There’s always something to do and never enough hours in the day. You’ll be on edge because eventually the lack of sleep will catch up to you both and you’ll feel disconnected because life as you knew it will be vastly different. It’s likely that you’ll mostly discuss your baby whenever you have a moment to talk—discussing sleep training or how well your baby is feeding or not. You’ll feel overwhelmed with chores and making runs to the store, again! Date-nights will take a back seat and a lot of couples describe feeling like roommates more so than a couple during this transition.
4. You should put visitors to work.
Looking back, I wish I held off on visitors for the first few weeks. I just wanted to get comfortable in my own home and organize everything to my liking. And when visitors eventually arrived, I wish I put them to work instead of having them stare at my baby. Don’t get me wrong, I know family members are always excited to see the newest addition, but moms need more care and support than a newborn. Looking back, I would have asked for more help and I would have been more specific. Laundry needed to be folded and put away, dishes needed to be done, and I was drowning under it all.
5. There’s no “magic moment” when things just suddenly get easier.
Every parent I had spoken to had a different “magic moment” when things would get better. Somewhere between 3-6 months seemed to be the average age when I was told to expect more sleep and that things would progressively improve each and every day thereafter. It was probably the worst and the most misleading advice I received as a parent. It’s simply not true. All babies begin sleeping better with time but it differs vastly for all. And even when babies start sleeping better it’s usually temporary because teething, sleep regressions, and colds are likely on their way. Sleep was up and down then down, down, down then up. It was never consistent and even today although it has improved a lot, it’s still not perfect.
6. You might clash with your parents or in-laws.
Although you may love both your parents and in-laws and have a great relationships with them all, having a baby may complicate that. It’s likely that you’ll have a different opinion or different ideas on parenting styles. Also, as a new parent, unsolicited advice is something that will come up a lot! My husband and I felt like we had to explain a lot of what we were doing or trying to do as new parents and were judged for it. We had no idea just how different our methods would be from our parents or how much regulations and safety requirements had changed since we were babies.
7. Your baby registry is a joke.
I had fully expected to not need a thing for at least the first few weeks postpartum because I thought I was smart about my baby registry. But just hours after having our daughter my husband had to run to the store and within the first two weeks, he had made over a dozen trips to buy things that we didn’t realize we would need. I had been told that babies grow so quickly that buying too many newborn diapers would be a mistake but actually, I needed at least 5-6 jumbo boxes until I needed to go a size up. And I thought I would be breastfeeding and didn’t buy enough bottles. I ended up pumping for a year and needed more bottles than I ever could have imagined along with pumping supplies just to name a few. My advice? Ask parents what they wish they added or put more of on their registry.
8. Take all the help that you can get.
My husband took two weeks off of work and for whatever reason we thought that would be enough. It’s not. Not by a long shot. For whatever reason, we as a society think that a few weeks is all that is necessary to figure out life as new parents and it’s not. In fact, it was right after I got cleared at around 6 weeks postpartum to return to “normal” that things really hit the fan and my life was a sh*t show. That’s when the lack of sleep, eating unhealthy foods, not exercising, and overall just not taking care of myself started to have a negative affect on my entire life but it was also the same time that I was busier than ever. Again, I would have utilized family and visitors more and perhaps I would’ve came up with a schedule so that I would have been able to be cared for or care for myself more.
9. It takes a village.
You’ve probably heard this before but very little of us truly get this before we have children. It’s not enough to have someone visit or offer some help during the first few weeks. That first year, I needed the most help. Yes. I said the first year. And I’ll probably always need help. It would have been so helpful to have someone run errands, cook, clean, or be there for emotional support. You cannot and should not do this alone. Being direct and having open communication about the type of help you need is key. Although we had some help, I wish we would have set up a routine so we could have had more time to relax and put our needs first. I wish we were more focused on self-care for ourselves rather than worrying about making sure people were able to visit or making it to family gatherings. It’s important to have a supportive village that can actually help rather than simply give unsolicited advice.
10. Find time for yourself and each other.
About two months postpartum, I went to get my nails done. A mani and pedi wasn’t what I needed but I felt pressured to be humble about having an opportunity to do so. But it wasn’t relaxing or helpful. I returned with brightly polished nails but with a look of defeat on my face. Although I needed to feel like myself again, even if just for a little while, this wasn’t the way. I returned to more chores and felt more tired. Instead, I wish I found a way to spend more time with my husband one on one or even to have some time by myself. It’s so vital that as parents we find time to recharge and to focus on something other than our baby. I know it sounds horrible, but it’s true. Although it was impossible during the first few months, looking back, not setting up time for us or ourselves, ruined a lot of experiences for us as a family that should have been the best times of our lives. And it greatly affected my depression and anxiety.
What would you add to the list?