As a first-time mom, each day seems to bring a new surprise. This doesn’t really come as a shock since having a baby does pretty much turn your world upside down. Even though I’m enjoying blindly wading through my new role as Mom, there are a few things I wish I’d known before embarking on this journey. These are the things that no one tells you and yet — somehow — everyone expects you to know. Knowing these tidbits before having a baby would certainly have made the transition much easier!
1. Breastfeeding is not all or nothing.
After two grueling weeks of attempting to breastfeed my newborn every 2 hours around the clock (resulting in both of us sobbing every 2 hours), our pediatrician suggested I begin “supplementing.” This meant I would offer the baby some formula in a bottle after breastfeeding him as long as I could.
I realized that I could actually have the best of both worlds this way — I got to provide the comfort and boosted health benefits from breastfeeding, plus I got the convenience of formula. Had I known this was an option from the beginning, I may not have felt like such a failure for being unable to feed my baby solely through breastfeeding.
2. The hospital stay will be the worst part.
I’d always thought that the hospital would be my safe-haven. I was comforted by the idea of having medical professionals around me 24/7, watching my baby and me like a hawk to ensure we both remained in perfect health. Sounds like a dream for a nervous first-time mom!
But in reality, being in the hospital was exhausting. After such a life-changing event and putting your body through a huge amount of stress and pain, it sucks not being able to be in your own home or sleeping in your own bed. You’re at your most vulnerable, and yet you don’t really have anything around you to comfort you (save of course your partner and new baby). Plus, even though they were super sweet and helpful, there’s no way you’re getting any rest with doctors and nurses popping in your door what feels like every five minutes.
3. Visitors are not always helpful.
After you have a baby, people just come crawling out of the woodwork wanting to come meet your bundle of joy. What’s annoying is that everyone disguises this by saying, “hey, let me come over and give you guys a hand!”
I heard a lot of “what can I do?”s and “how can I help?”s and as someone who really just likes to get things done for herself and not rely on others, as well as feeling like we actually had a pretty awesome handle on the whole “new baby/household management” thing, there was little left for people to do except hang out on my couch. Company can be great, too, but I actually really needed a lot more time alone with my husband and baby than I took, so I think for the next baby I would hold off on visitors until I’m really ready to be social and engaged or have a concrete job for someone to do.
4. Your life won’t be over.
I had this lingering anxiety throughout my whole pregnancy that reminded me that everything in my life was about to change. It echoed in my head because I heard it from literally everyone. “Don’t get too used to sleeping in! Once that baby comes you can’t stay up late anymore!” “Better give up those hobbies, you won’t have time for any of that once the baby comes!” Well, at 7 weeks, the baby has pretty much adapted to our existing schedule and we stay up late and sleep in late, and I’m writing this right now as my baby naps, so I haven’t had to give up the things I love.
I’m not sure if people say this to you because they, themselves, feel like they had to give up everything and they’re just bitter or if they’re actually trying to help, but you really don’t have to pay much attention to it. I’m a big believer in attempting to help a new baby fit into your existing life as much is as appropriate. There’s no need to do a complete 180 on how you live your life unless that’s something you want and plan to do.
5. You might feel resentful towards your partner (but it will pass).
It’s not a joke that having a new baby puts a lot of strain on your relationship, no matter how strong it is. It’s tough when you’re the only one going through all the physical pain and changes, and I’m sure it’s tough for partners to have to helplessly watch you go through it. After the baby is born, you’re tired, irritable, underfed, and you do all of this alongside someone who likely reacts to and handles those things vastly differently than you. It can be hard to remember you’re both working toward the same goal.
I have to remind myself that my husband and I are a team. At the end of the day, that’s what ultimately matters. How we contribute to the goal of raising a baby is not important, just that we both do it in our own ways. Sure, I do most of the baby care, but he does most of the household management. It’s easy to fall into a trap of competing for who is doing more, but just remember that treating each other with love and respect is at least 90% of the battle. Even when you need to express frustration, doing it with sensitivity and kindness can prevent a lot of huge blowouts over stress.
6. You’ll be scared of your own vagina for weeks.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what the state of my lady parts would be after a vaginal birth. The tropes about it being stretched out, never to return to normal, horrified me.
The truth is, after a few months, you likely won’t be able to tell the difference between your pre and post-baby vagina if everything went according to plan during birth. Save maybe a few new spots of scar tissue if you needed stitches, it will probably look and feel the same. However, the absolute terror that came over me after I witnessed a baby come out of there, with the knowledge there were stitches (somewhere… I didn’t bother to get an exact location on where), made me think of my vagina as a separate, wounded entity. I didn’t want to go near it, and I couldn’t imagine it ever feeling sexual or part of me again (spoiler alert: that didn’t last forever).
7. Nip advice in the butt; if you need it, you’ll ask.
Much like the many Negative Nancies that tell you how terrible life will be after you have the baby, everyone you know will make sure to offer up their best and most helpful baby advice unsolicited.
I used to just kind of let my eyes glaze over and nod politely as people droned on and on with baby advice. “Make sure you…” “Definitely don’t ever…” “Well, you know you simply have to…” Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I’ve started changing the subject or politely letting people know I appreciate it, but we’re actually doing great so far with whatever thing they’re trying to school me on.
When you do need help, it’s great to have support around who you can turn to for this, but if you’re smooth sailing, I find it’s best to trust your gut and don’t be afraid to tell someone if you’re happy with the way things are going!
8. The full-body swelling will linger.
I knew I wouldn’t leave the hospital with my pre-baby body, but I absolutely hoped I would drop quite a bit of weight as soon as the baby was born — especially water weight from all the pregnancy swelling.
By the time I had the baby, I could hardly squat down anymore because my calves were so huge and swollen it made them feel like they were going to burst. I definitely got the signature pregnancy cankles. And it wasn’t just that the swelling made me feel unattractive, it was straight up painful sometimes.
It was starting to get better when I left the hospital, but due to the IV I was on for 12 hours or so, the swelling got worse before it got better. Coupled with the sedentary first couple weeks home, I still looked moon-faced and water-logged for quite awhile.
9. It gets so much easier once that baby comes out.
Physically, the tail-end of pregnancy is brutal. As terrifying as labor seemed, and as nervous as I was for all the pain, I still saw it as my light at the end of the tunnel. Carrying around all the extra weight was exhausting, and my baby had wedged himself so low that walking around felt like having a bowling ball between my legs. I had teeth-clenching pelvic pain anytime I moved.
Despite the tenderness of vaginally delivering a baby, I felt light-years better after giving birth. I, of course, was having my own issues getting around afterward, but it was nothing compared to being 9 months pregnant and being unable to move. Coming home to our 3rd-floor walk-up had me dragging myself up the stairs with joy, thrilled to have my body back.
10. Modesty will go out the window.
My biggest concern when arriving at the hospital (other than wanting a healthy baby), was whether or not I would poop on the delivery table (some people do!), and what my vagina looked like after so many months without grooming. I was panicked at the thought of the doctor being all up in there during delivery.
Let’s just say I got comfortable real quick! I had to. From the moment you arrive, you’re stripping down, and soon after, someone’s hands are heading straight to your lady parts to check your dilation. By the time I left the hospital, approximately 384 nurses had been up close and personal with every inch of my body. Modesty and vulnerability went right out the window!
11. Babies really do sleep a lot.
I assumed that I would never be able to relax again after having a baby. I imagined my social media accounts going unchecked for weeks, my hair having days’ worth of unwashed grease, wasting away to nothing as I dreamt of having just 5 minutes to eat something.
Now, there are days where those things are absolutely true. But also, during the newborn phase, babies are exhausted! If they’re not eating, they’re sleeping. They do need to eat every 2-3 hours for the first couple weeks, which is why “sleep when the baby sleeps” can be really tricky (more on that later). But while your baby is just passing out between feeds, it’s so nice to have a couple hours to get in a shower, eat a hot meal, and maybe get in a nap.
12. Taking care of yourself is actually harder than taking care of your baby.
I downloaded three different apps to track my baby’s needs and behaviors. I logged when he slept, what his diapers were like, and which boob he fed off of. What I didn’t track was how often I was eating or sleeping or going to the bathroom.
When your focus is 100% on the baby, you quickly put your basic needs on the back burner. But it’s like the emergency instructional video you watch on airplanes — you have to put on your own air mask before assisting others. It’s the same thing as a new parent — if you haven’t slept in days and are surviving off of Hostess cupcakes (oops), you aren’t in a great place to take care of your baby.
I had to set alarms on my phone to remind me to drink water. It’s laughable, but it was really helpful! The better I got at taking care of me, the easier Momming became.
13. You won’t need 90% of what you pack in your hospital bag.
There are lists all over the internet on what to pack in your hospital bag. I feel like I read all of them. And I followed them to a T. I wrote checklist upon checklist for me, husband, and baby to make sure we had absolutely everything we needed. And you know what happened? Most of our bags remained untouched.
I had so many different outfits packed. I packed a special robe and nightgown combo for after giving birth, lots of different pajama options, and a cute outfit for going home. Personally, I barely felt up to going to the bathroom, let alone doing any costume changes. I managed to shower 20 hours after birth, and when getting dressed I discovered the only thing that was truly comfortable was a pair of my husband’s pajama pants and a nursing bra. I could’ve done without all those extra clothes. Your comfiest sweatpants and hoodie, and something that makes your boobs accessible should you choose to breastfeed are all you need in that department.
I didn’t use my makeup, computer, anything more than a onesie for the baby, and my husband went home to shower and nap, so his bag was completely useless. I’ll definitely pack lighter next time!
14. Every emotion on earth will make you cry.
No, really, all of them. The hormones are insane! I’d heard this a lot during pregnancy, and I certainly had my fair experiences with hormones over the past 9 months. But I didn’t expect to feel quite so emotionally fragile after birth.
Some days I felt like a baby myself. Being hungry made me cry. Being asked what I wanted for dinner made me have a meltdown. My husband bringing me coffee in the wrong mug made me tear up. Getting up from yet another 20-minute nap had me bursting into tears. I was crying from happiness and then from exhaustion. Sometimes from anger. If I was awake, I was crying in some capacity.
I know now this is super normal, and not even necessarily a sign of Postpartum Depression (though that’s always something to stay aware of). Sometimes we just need to cry after such a big life event!
15. Nothing you own will fit.
I thought women were crazy when they said nothing fit after having the baby. I had plenty of maternity clothes, which were obviously big and roomy enough to accommodate my 9-month baby belly. Well, I didn’t think about the fact that when I was pregnant, I enjoyed showing off my belly. After birth, now that it was squishy like bread dough? Not so much.
My pre-pregnancy stuff had no hope of fitting, and my maternity stuff was so awkward. I thought hoodies and leggings would be my saviors, but even those fit super weird and made me uncomfortable. I’m 8 weeks out, and I still haven’t figured out how to dress myself. Thank God I work from home these days!
16. That whole ‘Sleep being non-existent’ thing is not an exaggeration.
You’ll find the time to meet almost all your basic needs… except for sleep. When the baby is still eating every 2-3 hours, time is of the essence. Everyone tells you to sleep when the baby sleeps, but that’s not very sustainable in the early days. Naps are great, but sometimes they can be even more disorienting. And if you’re always climbing into bed every time you set the baby in the crib, you’re not leaving yourself any time to meet the rest of your needs.
It’s true, you can leave the dirty dishes in the sink and skip wiping down the bathroom for a few weeks and nothing terrible will happen. There are plenty of things that can take a back seat to sleeping, and sleep should absolutely be #1 on the priority list. But there always seems to be something that just seems more important, and it’s a constant battle.