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Advice for New Parents vs. Parenting Realities

No matter how exhausted you are, especially in the middle of the day, when baby finally drifts off to sleep AND lets you put him/her down, the last thing you think about is napping.
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Ask anyone and they will surely have a tip or two for new and expecting parents. A lot of it comes from a well-meaning place. But there are a lot of pearls of wisdom that sound really nice, but in my experience (three kids and part of pregnancy later), are not realistic.

So, what is the reality of parenthood versus the classic new parent advice?

1. "Sleep as much as you can before baby comes."

Reality: If you can, go for it, but near the end of most pregnancies, mommy is too uncomfortable to sleep well and often, the "nesting" instinct and sudden energy boost interferes with naps.

MY Advice: Sleep if you're tired (and are able to), but don't worry about "stocking up" before baby comes. Our bodies are amazingly resilient and built for life with a new baby (our natural hormone cocktails throughout pregnancy and early motherhood are pretty amazing at making sure mommy gets what she needs!)

2. "Cook meals before baby arrives and freeze them."

Reality: Totally great idea... if you have a large freezer (and aren't planning to hoard breast milk like I do). And if you have the energy to cook large meals before baby arrives. Before my babies came, I never had more energy than it took to make the meals we needed to survive. I THOUGHT about cooking ahead, but never did.

MY advice: Stock up on the things you like to cook and that you can prepare quickly and easily. Also collect takeout menus and don't feel guilty about spending the money/calories to eat out a bit more than usual at the beginning.

3. "Sleep when the baby sleeps."

Reality: No matter how exhausted you are, especially in the middle of the day, when baby finally drifts off to sleep AND lets you put him/her down, the last thing you think about is napping. You automatically thinks of all the other things you could do, like shower, go to the bathroom, do the critical laundry, eat -- you know, all the things you miss out on.

MY Advice: Hop in the shower, make a good poop, do a necessary chore. THEN sit down on the couch or in your favorite chair and turn on the TV or the computer and relax until baby is up and needs you again. But once dinner is done and it's dark, definitely sleep when baby sleeps and stay in bed as long as you possibly can in the morning (let dad do the work in the morning!)

4. "Accept help from others."

Reality: This one I really agree with, but the reality is, most people want to help with the baby, because somehow even a dirty diaper is insanely cute when it involves a brand new little squish. People want to hold the baby, feed him/her (if you're not nursing), take him/her so you can rest, etc. For me, I never really wanted or needed help with baby tasks. Feeding the baby, holding him/her and even changing diapers were what I felt I was SUPPOSED to be doing as a mommy with a new baby.

MY advice: ASK people to do all the things that need to be done that don't involve the baby -- grocery shopping, folding laundry, cooking dinner, cleaning. All the stuff that needs to be done some time is stuff that family and close friends can do to really help you out while you focus on baby's needs and there will be plenty of baby cuddles to go around after they help with another small task!

5. Drink while you nurse

Reality: Yes, all mommies need plenty of water, especially nursing mommies. But personally, I was never good at remembering to get a glass of water before I sat down to feed a hysterical baby. Plus, in the early days, nursing can be a two-handed activity (one on baby's head, one on the boob in order to keep everything lined up properly) and even if you can get a hand free, the last thing my baby ever wants is a cup of ice water hovering/dripping all over him!

MY advice: Keep a large water bottle handy and filled up at all times. Fill it before you leave the house (and anywhere you go before you head home) and drink at red lights. Fill it up every time you go past the sink. You'd be amazed at home much you manage to drink when it's always there.

6. "Take time for yourself."

Reality: Of course taking care of yourself is super important, but it is not always possible to get away without the baby, especially if you are nursing or your spouse works long hours and/or you don't have family nearby.

MY Advice: Don't focus on getting away without the baby, just focus on getting out and doing things you enjoy. Babies, especially newborns, travel well. They will sleep most anywhere (either in a buggy/car seat or sling/carrier) and can eat anywhere. Don't ever feel like you can't go somewhere because the baby has to come along; I've always taken my babies everywhere with me and have run into few problems so long as I am aware of their needs and respectful of the environment I'm in (for example, I nurse a baby who probably isn't really hungry more often in nice restaurants just to keep them happy and quiet).

7. "Go on dates with your partner."

Reality: You need to stay connected to your partner and spend time together. But, again, if you're nursing or don't have family around, going on "dates" can be impossible and/or way more stress and trouble than they're worth.

MY Advice: Go out as much as you did before, just take baby with you. When babies are little, they don't really interfere in conversation for more than a few seconds while you get them what they need and, again, the more you take babies out when they're little (and include in other daily tasks like family dinners at home), the better they'll be with behaving during these tasks as they grow older. Plus, I'm a big believer that when you choose to have children, you have chosen to be that family and you will never really be a "couple" again (and truthfully, even when you do get out on a "date," just the two of you, you'll still spend most of the time talking about the kids!)

8. "Never wake a sleeping baby."

Reality: It's going to happen. As much as I agree with this advice, life happens and babies get woken up.

MY Advice: Let babies sleep as much as possible and whenever they want. If you have to move baby after he/she is asleep, do your best to help baby stay asleep, but don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work. Young babies sleep when they are tired so even if you wake a baby before s/he is ready, s/he will fall back asleep when they are ready.

9. "Baby shouldn't go out of the house before six weeks old."

Reality: Mommies have a life and have things to do. We no longer live in a world where grandparents live next door and can do things for us. You're going to need to go out, and it's OK for baby to go out to. (Heck, my second daughter moved half way across the world when she was only 5 weeks old!)

MY advice: Wear baby when they are small. You can discourage strangers with germs from touching the baby more easily than if they are in a buggy/car seat. I always touched my baby's head/face in the sling whenever I felt like someone else might try, which usually discouraged the stranger from touching. I'm not mean enough to say "Don't touch my baby!" or demand people wash their hands.

10. "You can never hold a baby too much."

Reality: In my experience, it's the opposite -- you can never hold your baby enough. I'm not an avid baby wearer, especially when at home. I like having my hands and body free to quickly and easily get tasks done. Sometimes this means listening to baby cry for a few seconds or minutes while I finish up my task so I can then give him/her my undivided attention.

MY Advice: Hold your baby whenever you feel like it. If you just want to hold baby and snuggle him/her for an hour, do it. But likewise, don't feel guilty about putting baby down for a little while. If you need to do something not immediately involving baby or just need a few seconds of "bubble" time (i.e.: don't touch me!), take it! You can always snuggle baby for hours afterwards if you feel guilty about it later.