I have no doubt that every mother will agree with me when I say that during pregnancy, the only thing worse than the stretch marks and bad gas are the hours of bad parenting advice you get from every source imaginable. Between the always-ready-to-share, been-there-done-that mothers, strangers in the grocery store checkout line, parenting books and online resources, the information available today for new mothers is overwhelming. What's more, you never know what to believe, since one book will contradict the next, and what one mother swears by, another mother will insist did not work for her baby. Weeding through all of the advice can be daunting, to say the least.
Looking back, I wish I was given more advice on how to deal with becoming a mother, and less on the three million different ways to rock a baby to sleep. I needed to know about the self-doubt and the failures that came along with motherhood, or that having a baby would take a huge toll on my marriage and personal life if I let it. After talking with numerous other mothers, I realized we all struggled with the same issues -- things it seemed no one bothered to warn us about in between lessons on feeding, changing and rocking our newborn to sleep. I've put together a list of the top six things we all agree are so important for new mothers to know. Things we wish we didn't have to learn the hard way.
1. Listen to your instincts, not Dr. Google. With so many online parenting resources and "how-to" books available today, most contradicting the next, don't get caught up thinking these resources know better than you do.
For example: If you know your baby is hungry, feed him. Who cares if it has only been two hours and the book says wait for three? Screw that! Feed your baby. There is no reason to let your baby get hysterical trying to follow the guidelines.
I cannot stress this enough: Trust what your gut and heart are telling you, because 9.5 times out of 10, they are spot-on right. Every minute you second-guess yourself, you and your baby will suffer. Go with your gut first. Always.
2. Listen to your baby's cues. While babies can only communicate through body language and crying, within the first week, you will begin to notice behaviors and different tones of crying that are clearly trying to tell you something. For example: Babies will give you cues for hunger WAY before crying, including things like REM, finger sucking and reaching with arms and legs. When you notice any or all of those cues, feed your baby pronto, or the blood-curdling screaming will be next! If your baby is tired, some of his cues might be pulling at his ears, yawning and/or quick, jerky movements.
Pay close attention to those different cues and within a week or so, you will easily be able to decipher what it is your baby is trying to tell you, and most likely before he even starts crying uncontrollably.
3. The decision between nursing or formula feeding should not become bigger than World War III. First of all, Breastfeeding is NOT "Plug and Chug!" Nursing is hard. Extremely hard. There is no plug in and feed feature to it. It takes time, a fair amount of discomfort and practice for both you and your baby to get the hang of it. (I mean weeks, not days.) Ask for help. Find a lactation consultant. Be prepared for a possible battle that will take all of your inner strength to make it through.
Second, BREASTFEEDING MAY NOT BE FOR YOU. THAT IS OK! You, or your baby, may have a medical condition keeping you from being able to nurse. You may hate it. It may just not be right for you. This is VERY common, do not think you are a failure.
Plain and simple: You will either nurse or you will not. Regardless of what you do, your baby will be beautiful and wonderful and smart and articulate. Do what is best for you and your child. Do not let anyone make you feel otherwise. You are NOT a failure. DO NOT LET THIS RUIN YOU.
4. Do not get caught up trying to be the perfect mother. There is no such thing. In order to be the best mother to your baby, all you have to do is try your best. Parenting is filled with both triumphs and failures. Do not be hard on yourself or get discouraged if you fail. Just like with everything else, practice makes perfect. If you fall down, stand up, dust yourself off and try something else.
Above all, do not be afraid to ask for help. If someone wants to bring over dinner, let them. If someone wants to come over while you take a nap and shower, let them. Graciously accept all the help you can get, because chances are, the person offering the help has been in your shoes before and knows a little help goes a long way during those first few months.
5. Don't forget to take time for your partner. It is so easy to lose sight of your relationship with your partner during those first few weeks and months of parenthood. Between the exhaustion from the sleepless nights, the demanding feeding schedule and your normal household or work activities, it can be hard to find quality time to spend with your partner. However, it is crucial that you MAKE time.
For example: Every single day during those first few weeks, make it a point to be affectionate, say "I love you," if possible eat a meal together and then during that meal, try talk about anything but your baby.
The key is not to build a new life around your baby, but to blend your baby into your existing life together.
6. Don't forget to take time for yourself. It is absolutely crucial that you take time for yourself on a daily basis. Every day you need to make it a point to take a shower, put on clean clothes and eat at least two wholesome meals. Then aim to leave the house for no less than 10 minutes, at least every other day. Even a walk around the block does wonders. Just get away from that baby to rejuvenate, or you will crash and burn.
If I have learned anything as a mother, it is that motherhood is a journey filled with ups and downs. Just when I think I have it figured out, the game changes, but even still, those six tips I keep in practice to this day. I listen to my instincts and child's needs, I take time for my husband and while I admit that it is still hard for me to take time away for myself, I do it because I know how important it is. Above all, rather than trying to be the perfect mother, I try to be the best mother, by giving my best.