I'm a mommy to four and have been at this parenting thing for over seven years, but that certainly doesn't make me an expert. I definitely don't have all the answers, and I am by no means a perfect mommy. But I have been a new mom for the first time -- and three times since then -- and through those experiences and time with my babies, I have developed some wisdom.
If I could talk to every new mom before they began their mommying journeys and give them any tiny bit of advice and encouragement, this is what I would tell them:
1. It will be overwhelming.
No matter which parenting choices you make -- breastfeeding, bottle feeding, co-sleeping, sleep training, staying at home, going back to work -- the magical mixture of new mom hormones, exhaustion, cultural pressure and self-doubt will at some point feel like too much to handle. It happens; it's normal; we all feel it, every time.
2. Nothing lasts forever (Part I).
At some point you'll struggle with some part of your parenting journey, or feel completely inadequate as a new mom. You'll doubt every decision you've ever made and you'll beat yourself up over it. You'll just want to run away from it, and you'll dream of the day when it's over. And that day will come. Eventually, every phase and hardship will pass.
3. Nothing lasts forever (Part II).
One day you'll look back and wonder where the time has gone. You'll long for those tiny little new baby snuggles. You'll wish your toddler would just sit still for one stinkin' minute! You'll dream of when your child might once again believe everything you tell him/her. It will seem like the days are flying by, and the kids are growing and changing before your eyes.
4. You'll feel so alone sometimes.
Even if you're constantly surrounded by family members or friends are delivering daily dinners, you'll have times when you feel 100 percent alone and like no one gets it. The burden of motherhood is one that falls completely on the mommy (imagine that!), and no matter how much help you have, you may still feel like you can or should be doing everything for your baby.
5. You need to take care of yourself.
It's so easy to get lost in the needs of your baby. It's easy to let their cries trump your needs. It's easy to downplay your basic needs or even forget them altogether when you're a new mom. But don't -- you need to take care of yourself. I'm not talking about getting regular pedicures or going to the gym; I'm talking basic survival. Eat regularly, use the bathroom when you need to and rest when you're tired. You're no good to your baby if you're weak, tired and miserable.
6. You'll doubt every decision.
You can read 1,000 parenting books and talk to your mom, sister, grandma, aunt and every mom you know, and you'll get a million different opinions and bits of advice. Your head will spin with wondering if you're doing the right thing, if you're making the right choices. You'll wonder if you're even cut out for this mommy thing at all and question how you got here in the first place.
7. Listen to your heart (and your baby).
No one will ever know your child like you do. You will know exactly what your little one needs. Don't let others sway your decisions or make you question your choices. Your baby will let you know what s/he needs if you just focus on him/her and forget the rest of the world.
8. It's OK to feel like you do.
You'll probably be having a lot of feelings -- exhaustion, elation, frustration, self-doubt, happiness, weepiness, a sense of overflowing love... -- and it's OK. Embrace whatever feelings you're having, because each is a part of the new mom journey. Don't get down on the bad days, and make sure you take the time to revel in the good.
9. You're doing a great job.
No matter the struggles you encounter or the doubts you have as a new mom, I promise you that you're doing a great job. Babies are amazingly resilient and so long as they're fed, rested, clean and loved, they will be happy. Your baby won't remember if s/he was breastfed or slept in his/her own crib. S/he won't care if you let him/her cry for too long that one time, or the horrible rash s/he got when you didn't notice his/her diaper was dirty. All s/he will know is that you gave him/her all the love you have.
10. Love is all you need.
That's it: Love is all you need. Everything else will fall into place if your heart is in the right place.