One of the perks of having a baby is the glorious three months of time off. Oh yes, time to spend relaxing with your new little one, catching up on reading, tackling projects around the house, and becoming supermom to your new tenant.
If you've been there before, then you know as well as I do that it can quickly turn into endless days in your sweats, sleep deprivation, and cabin fever. You can't remember the last time you brushed your hair or teeth (much less took a shower... what's that?) and there doesn't seem to be an end to the emotional roller coaster ride you're on. Family and friends are dropping by (or staying with you) and even though you love the company, you're hoping they don't notice the messy house or the fact that you may or may not have poop on your shirt. Plus, you kind of wish they'd just leave so you can attempt to take a nap.
Well guess what, friends? You're not alone! While I don't have a perfect plan that works for everyone, here is the advice that I wish I would have received before the little bambino arrived:
#1 - Throw the rule book out the window
Demand feeding vs. scheduled feeding. Am I holding my baby too much? Swaddling vs. not swaddling. Breastfeeding vs. Bottle feeding. Is it okay that my baby sleeps better on his belly?
EVERY baby is different. If you spend all of your time frantically worrying about whether or not you're doing it "right," you're going to be one stressed out mess! While it's great to talk to other mommy friends, keep in mind that there is no perfect formula. If breastfeeding is making you miserable, try a bottle and see if that helps! Sure there are great nutrients in breast milk, but formula is rich with vitamins and nutrients, too! If you make your decisions based on YOUR instincts and YOUR baby's preferences (which you will figure out before anyone else) then you're going to enjoy those first few months a lot more.
#2 - Accept Help
I was terrible at this! I had family staying with us to help take care of Jake, the house, etc., but I insisted on doing everything myself. My theory was that I would have to do it all eventually, so I might as well get used to it. Yes, you are going to have to do it all eventually, so give yourself a break while you can! If you have family staying with you, don't be afraid to delegate a little either. Your mother-in-law probably won't mind throwing in a load of laundry if you need her to. And trust me, the baby will be in great hands while you take yourself a little nap.
#3 - If you're about to snap, you need a nap!
Okay, I didn't even mean to rhyme! Sleep deprivation is a horrible thing... that's why it's used as a war tactic to torture prisoners. If you start noticing that you're getting snippy or even angry at those around you (and your child in particular for not giving you any "me-time"), a little snooze will probably do you some good. If I ended up in tears, it was usually a red flag that I needed an hour or two away from my bundle of joy... and that's perfectly okay and you're a better mom for it!
#4 - Accept the emotional roller coaster
There is nothing that will prepare you for the waves of emotion that will sweep over you after childbirth. and the weeks that follow. In fact, as soon as I stepped foot into our house with Jake and he was handed off to one of the waiting grandparents I went up to my room and sobbed. Like ugly-crying sobbed. It was awful. And my reason? I didn't want to "share" him with anyone, which is silly I know. I also had this crazy resentment toward Josh's dad for those first few weeks because I felt like he was "hogging the baby" which he was by no means doing! I've actually apologized to him for my crazy behavior and now I could not imagine my life without him being nearby! Everyday I would literally cry tears of joy as I would rock and sing Jake to sleep and then I'd be crying tears of frustration five minutes later. It's normal... and it's okay. I do think it's important though to talk to someone about what you're going through. I know of two good friends now that went through postpartum depression, but never knew it until much later. If you're angry at your child for being born, or if you feel like you don't like him or her at all, these are signs and there are probably people right under your nose who can help you through it. Don't bottle it in for the fear that someone might think you're crazy.
#5 - Take a break before finding "normal"
I think the first couple of weeks are the most special weeks of a new parent's life. Even though you're never dressed or don't have any make-up on, you just get to cuddle and love on your newborn. You will never get that time back, so allow yourself to have it. After a week or two, however, face the real world again. Getting "out there" with or without your child is so important and will do wonders for your sanity. And if you need gas or a gallon of milk, volunteer to go without your child just to get out of the house by yourself for a few. It will clear your head and make you realize how much you love your child based on how much you miss your child!
#6 - Make "To-Do" lists
Once you're past the two week mark, make short-term and long-term "To-Do" lists. Not having any sort of schedule at all will result in lots of time watching HGTV (trust me, I know!). I would record TV shows and allow myself only to watch them while nursing, even if it meant that I could not get through a full program before I was finished... that was just my rule to avoid becoming a couch potato. Sometimes my daily to-do list would only have one or two things on it, like "go for a walk" or "visit Josh at work" but it made me become intentional about getting up, getting dressed, and getting out of the house. It also made sure that my house did not turn into a pig-stye! As for long-term projects, pick one or two things that you've been putting off and take baby steps toward accomplishing the task. You'll find that projects will progress much more slowly now, so you might as well get used to it!
#7 - Give your body a break
Do you realize that you just had a baby? Do you understand how amazing your body is??? One of the best things that ever happened to my confidence was childbirth. I realize that I may never look like I did at 20, but I love the way I look now more than I ever did. And I care about what goes into my body and how I take care of it more than I ever did. Even though I'm a bit squishier, I care about my body so much more than I used to. So wait at least three weeks before looking in a mirror and give yourself some time to just let it be. And while you try to get the baby weight off, cut yourself some slack and appreciate the fact that God gave you such beautiful gift.
#8 - Know that it will get easier
I can still remember riding in the car with Josh on the way home from church. Jake was about 12 weeks old and all of the sudden I looked up and felt my head clear. I looked at Josh and told him that I felt like I as coming out of a cloud... like I had been living in a weird fog and I could finally see again. I don't think this happens quite so literally for everyone, but understand that you will be so scatterbrained, confused, doubtful, and overwhelmed for a little while, and it's okay. Eventually your baby will get over his or her colic. Eventually your baby will sleep through the night. Eventually you will understand what his or her cry means. Keep in mind that this won't last forever.
#9 - Show that baby off!
It will happen. You will walk into a room and suddenly disappear. For nine months it was all about you, but now it's going to be "Oh hi, baby!" before they even see you. Instead of letting that bother you, soak it up! This is something YOU created... how amazing is that? Great job, mama!
#10 - Believe it when they say that they grow up too fast
I hated this expression before I had kids. I was always like "yeah, yeah... whatever." And now Jake is two! There is a reason people say this... it's so true! So instead of always wishing for the next thing (I can't wait until he can hold his own bottle, I can't wait until she sleeps through the night, my life will be easier one he can talk, etc.) live IN every phase that you're at. One day you'll blink and that baby will be a toddler, then a big kid, then a teenager, then off on his or her own.
I don't think I set out to write ten of these and I probably could write ten more, but again, I wish I had someone who told me this stuff before Jake was born. If you have advice on how to get the most out of your maternity leave time, I'd love for you to link up with me and share!