The hard truths about being a new mother that would have been nice to know beforehand
Becoming a mother for the first time is like no other experience – and each stage brings fresh challenges that are exciting, exhausting and even scary. Before motherhood arrives, you’ll probably hear loads of advice – some logical, some dubious and some downright silly. The problem with these helpful tips is that they won’t necessarily apply to you and your baby – even though they may have worked great for the advice-giver.
Each child is different. Each mother is different. All those generalisations go straight out the window when you haven’t slept for days, your baby is sick, the nappy bucket is overflowing and you don’t feel the way you expected to feel about motherhood.
it seems like one minute you’re holding your baby for the first time, and the next you’re lending her money to take driving lessons.
If you ask many mothers to look back through the years and remember what the first few weeks of their child’s life were like, they’ll probably say it was all a blur. And motherhood does go by faster than you think: it seems like one minute you’re holding your baby for the first time, and the next you’re lending her money to take driving lessons.
There will be times during the first months of motherhood when you’ll wish you had access to some home truths about the practicalities – a few hints that would make your life just that little bit easier.
Fear not: we have scoured the planet for the best advice on new motherhood available (sourced from new mums, of course), so you can make the transition more smoothly and know what to expect. We can’t guarantee there won’t be any sleepless nights (hey, this is the real world after all), but these tips should help!
New mum myths
Firstly, let’s dispel some of the myths surrounding having a first child. These ideas aren’t always completely wrong, but they’re often grossly exaggerated. Parenting books and lifestyle magazines love to perpetuate motherhood ‘truths’ that may leave you feeling anxious about getting everything just right. You’ve got enough on your plate – you really don’t need to be reading about some TV star’s ‘incredible post-baby body’ or a pop singer’s ‘perfect newborn’.
Here are the most common myths you might hear – and the real truth about them.
This myth assumes that the moment you set eyes on your baby, you’ll be overwhelmed with a sudden rush of powerful love. Sure, this happens, but a new mother might also be too sick, too anxious or too exhausted to register or accept these feelings. When you’re lying in the hospital bed with that brand new human resting against your chest, it’s okay if you’re not immediately bursting with love.
Your relationship with your child takes time to develop – let it flow at its natural pace.
Your relationship with your child takes time to develop – let it flow at its natural pace. Don’t stress about not feeling something that ‘the world’ expects you to feel. Give your body and your emotions time to recover from the efforts of labour before you get too caught up in what you should be feeling.
Your baby will cry all the time
Babies don’t cry all the time – just at the most inconvenient times. Babies cry to communicate their needs. Usually the cry will fall into one of the following categories: hungry, wet, tired, full of gas, sick, lonely, hurt or angry. The idea that you’ll be able to ‘tell what’s wrong from the cries’ is nonsense – you won’t have a clue (certainly in the beginning).
Dealing with your baby’s wailing is a simple process of going through the list until you find the cause. Often it will remain a mystery. In the case of prolonged and uncontrollable crying, your child may have colic or some other medical condition that warrants a call to the paediatrician.
Usually it sorts itself out once the baby is fed, burped, changed and cuddled. And it’s important to remember that babies, just like adults, have their own individual levels of general crankiness!
A baby will bring you and your partner closer
Having a child changes the dynamics of a relationship in ways that are not always easy to predict.
This is far from guaranteed, because there are so many variables to consider. Was it an unwanted pregnancy, or something you both planned for? Do you view yourselves as a team? Having a child changes the dynamics of a relationship in ways that are not always easy to predict.
If the two of you were having pre-baby relationship issues, a new addition to the household is unlikely to resolve them.
And all of that sleeplessness and rearranging of priorities doesn’t help if there are existing resentments. That aside, many new mothers are amazed at how parenthood creates a fresh sense of mutual commitment as well as renewed appreciation for their partner. Patience is the key to adjusting to the new circumstances – it’s a big step to go from ‘me’ and ‘us’ to ‘the three of us’.
There’s only one right way to parent
There are plenty of wrong ways to parent, but there is no clear right way. Perfection as a parent is unattainable. Give your children all the love you’ve got, keep them safe, meet their needs and be as good as you can be.
You’ll make mistakes – lots of them. You may look back years later and wish you’d done a few things differently. If you’re lucky, one day your offspring will thank you for all your efforts (of course, they may be 35 before this happens).
Everyone will give you their favourite advice about putting babies to sleep, breastfeeding, introducing solids, etc. Listen politely and then get on with doing things in whatever way works best for you and your child.
You’ll be stuck in the house for weeks
Not true. Some days it can be tricky to find the time to get out of the house, but it’s something you should make a real effort to do – and it’s not that difficult. As long as your newborn is protected from the sun, dressed appropriately for the weather and not taken out in any extreme temperatures, it’s all good.
Babies love the motion of a pram and you’ll get some easy exercise too. The fresh air and change of scenery will do you both good.
It’s important to realise that you don’t need to be with your baby 24 hours a day.
Trust your partner/mother/sister to look after the bub for a couple of hours while you go shopping, meet up with friends or take in a movie. It’s important to realise that you don’t need to be with your baby 24 hours a day.
Use your family support team to help you take a breather occasionally – even if it’s only a brief one.
Asking for help is okay
When you’re knee-deep in nappy buckets, breastfeeding isn’t going according to plan, your shoulder is plastered with regurgitated milk and your world seems to be a continuous loop of exhaustion, worry, doubt and confusion, it’s easy to feel alone. There is plenty of assistance available, however, when you have questions about anything related to coping with the new world of motherhood.
If the situation is more urgent, the helplines at Health Direct are available 24 hours a day, every day.
Websites like The Bub Hub, Mother and Baby and others can answer most of the questions that arise – from how to pick the right car seat to teething, immunisation and nutrition queries. If the situation is more urgent, the helplines at Health Direct are available 24 hours a day, every day.
If you want to get some peace of mind by getting a grasp of the future and the financial planning your beautiful bundle of joy requires, read our article on the cost of raising a child in Australia.
One of the most common suggestions for new mothers is to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Great in theory, but where do you fit in the rest of your daily routine: preparing meals, having a shower, paying bills, tidying the house, etc? Managing your time means making a chore list and finding more efficient ways to get through it.
When you’re cooking lasagne, spaghetti or soup, make three times the normal quantity and freeze the remainder. That way you give yourself a night off from cooking down the track (that extra 45 minutes can be mighty handy in the afternoon).
Concentrate on doing one thing at a time – multi-tasking overloads the brain and can result in a 40 percent loss of productivity.
Don’t be afraid to delegate. Never turn down an offer of help.
What we call multi-tasking is actually task-switching – and all that switching slows you down and increases the risk of mistakes. Our brains are wired to perform one cognitive job at a time. That’s why driving while texting, for example, is such a bad (and potentially fatal) idea. Multi-tasking is a bit like Bigfoot – it would be cool if it was real, but it’s just a hopeful myth.
Don’t be afraid to delegate. Never turn down an offer of help, whether it’s a friend doing your grocery shopping for you, your partner changing the nappies or bathing the baby on weekends, your mother playing with the bub while you snatch a quick nap, etc.
When you’re a new mum, it’s no time to be a perfectionist. Some things will have to be sacrificed because there’s simply not enough time. As the saying goes, sloppy success is better than perfect failure.
17 Things New Mums Should Know
1. You will always need extra rest, but have less time to get it.
Motherhood isn’t ‘the most natural thing in the world’ for everyone. It can seem strange, uncomfortable and confusing at times, too.
2. Motherhood isn’t ‘the most natural thing in the world’ for everyone. It can seem strange, uncomfortable and confusing at times, too.
3. Being a new mum can be repetitive and monotonous (once you’ve changed your 700th nappy, the thrill wears off).
4. Being a new mother is rewarding, but it’s a tough job – maybe the toughest job you’ll ever have.
5. It’s okay to not be happy all the time. Being a mother brings new pressures, exhaustion and anxiety – all of which is normal.
6. Breastfeeding is a lot easier for some mothers than others. The Australian Breastfeeding Association is a great resource if you need support.
It’s okay to not be happy all the time. Being a mother brings new pressures, exhaustion and anxiety – all of which is normal.
7. Your emotions will be all over the shop. Hormones, tiredness and worry can take their toll at times.
8. Newborns don’t stay newborns for long. Enjoy those precious first couple of months with your little bundle – that time passes quickly.
9. Your partner is there for you. They really want to help; make sure you let them. You can’t do it all yourself.
10. You will never have seen such huge piles of washing in your life. Practice the art of pegging undies on the line one-handed while holding your baby – it’s a useful skill.
11. Pack that hospital bag early. Babies can decide to arrive before you had planned. Being totally organised for your trip to the hospital helps everybody.
12. There will be all sorts of new questions that you never thought about before: What do I do about vaccinations? What happens on plane trips with my bub? Is my life insurance up to date now that I have a family? Where will I find a babysitter? What’s the best type of baby crib? Where can I find cheap infant clothing? And so on….
Being a mum isn’t easy, but it gets better. You’ll get through it – honest!
13. “This too shall pass”. Being a mum isn’t easy, but it gets better. You’ll get through it – honest!
14. You’ll never really know if your baby’s very first smile is the result of blissful adoration or spontaneous flatulence. New mums prefer to assume the former.
15. The love between a mother and her baby is like no other love on earth. Savour the feeling – it’s truly special.
16. Your house will be dirtier than ever before. If you need to hire a cleaner, do it.
17. Expect every day to be a lesson in humility. No matter how awesomely organised you think you’ll be as a new mother, you’ll quickly discover that ‘super-mum’ is a hilarious myth.