When we had our first child in 2015, I struggled a lot in the beginning emotionally (more on that later) and somehow felt ill-prepared despite the years of planning and preparing I felt I had done…and I remember thinking “I wish someone had told me!” So I started making a list to share with friends who were due after me, so they wouldn’t feel like I did! Here it is, the running list I began more than 2 years ago, in no particular order:
- Babies are lazy. Do not put up with a bad latch!
Don’t do it! Train them well, and train them early. Tummy-to-tummy in a laid-back position was how I was able to get the best latch with my first: gravity helped her latch deeply and stay on!
- Skin to skin, skin to skin, skin to skin.
Fussy baby? Skin to skin. Bad latch? Skin to skin. Fever? Skin to skin. Cold? Skin to skin. Dad can participate too. Don’t be shy. Your baby doesn’t care what your postpartum tummy looks like, hello that was her first home! Not working? Stay calm. Try a bath together, and then skin to skin. The warm water reminds them of birth, and can trigger those initial tummy-on-Mommy-and-latch-on reflexes. I did this several times with my first out of desperation and each time wondered why I hadn’t tried it sooner. Its even effective with older babies!
- Get lactation support from the get-go, even if you think you won’t need it.
Seriously, get some help. Our first pediatrician didn’t have any IBCLCs (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants) on staff, and I didn’t know how badly I would regret that. I’d taken all the classes and read all the books, and my friend from church was a lactation consultant, so I was good, right? WRONG. Whew, humble pie indeed. We ended up changing pediatricians but not before a lot of headache, nipple ache, and heartache. I ended up nursing my daughter until after her second birthday, through my pregnancy with her sister and after she was born, which is a testament to the support groups I found and the IBCLCs I came across. I credit them all with our nursing success, but Holy Toledo, I could’ve made those first 6 weeks much more tolerable had I only sought out more help.
- You can never have too many burp cloths.
Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but my first barfed on me after every feeding, all the time, for a year. I couldn’t leave the house without multiple burp cloths and several outfits for us both. I have a picture of her at 6 months right after she got it in my hair, on my face, soaked through my clothes (into my undies!) and even got it on the curtain behind me. She was a happy spitter, but those 4 initial burp cloths I had barely lasted a day. (Disclaimer: we later figured out the problem for all her barf, which was an undiagnosed posterior tongue tie along with an overabundant supply of milk and an overactive letdown, and possibly reflux too. Diet changes helped a little, but I still had to change my shirt multiple times a day.)
- Wait until the 5th or 6th week to really buy new bras or new clothes.
Get 1-2 nursing tanks in a neutral size like medium from Target to hold you over. Your postpartum body is weird. I remember feeling thankful that I wasn’t pregnant anymore, but also super weirded out by my deflated balloon belly. I was strangely in between sizes of clothes for a month or so, between milk regulation up top, and the belly down below, and all of that. I stayed in some of my “too small” maternity clothes (you know, the ones that fit great for the first and second trimester, but by the time you’re a beached whale at the end of the third you’re like “pants? Forget pants. I’m a whale, whales don’t need pants.”) until at least the 5-6 week mark. My breasts were super uncomfortable in weirdly ill-fitting bras and tanktops til then, too, but the first time your body really regulates milk supply isn’t until around the 6th week (and again at 12), so anything I bought before then ended up not fitting, or not fitting well for how much I paid for them! Once I was in regular clothes again, I got measured at Destination Maternity and Nordstrom (NOT Victoria’s Secret: cute stuff, sure, but no selection for nursing mothers, and their sizing was all off if I tried to shop anywhere else). Then, since no one had my size in stock (literally NO one makes a 30F/G nursing bra in store, I challenge you to find one for me), I found www.biggerbras.com had a wonderful fit guide and explanation (did you know 80% of women wear the wrong size? I sure was!) They have a fabulous selection of nursing bras in ALL SIZES! Even better, some of the brands and styles were available on Amazon.com for cheaper, with Prime shipping and free returns. #win!
- You can never have too many nursing pads.
I leaked all.the.time. with my first. Everyone recommended the reusable Bamboobies pads, or natural 100% cotton pads, but I soaked through them and couldn’t keep track of them in the laundry. Plus, I always felt like they were too small for my breast size and I’d end up feeling like Madonna or Wonder Woman (not in the good way) because of the weird shape my bra would take on. I hated being able to see the pads through my tops! I ended up liking the Lansinoh disposable pads best. I could find these on Amazon.com for pretty cheap. It’s hot and sweaty in NC in the summer, though, so I changed them OFTEN–every feeding, at least. If you’re prone to thrush, change them at least every hour or two or when they fill up. They trap moisture and aren’t as breathable, but the laundry hassle is gone (washing yeast out of cloth anything is a PITA that I never had the energy for). If you have to treat for yeast or anything else, I always liked that the disposable ones protected my clothing from the leaks AND any staining ointments or treatments. I stopped needing them regularly around 12-14 weeks.
- Take as much of the spray and pads and mesh panties from the hospital as you can carry.
And then take more. Seriously. Everyone told me this, and I didn’t believe them, or I didn’t believe how much I would need, or how much better they would all be compared to what I could find at Walgreens. You’re going to bleed, a lot, and possibly for a few weeks (yes, even after a C-section). With my second, I delivered at a birth center and expected to stuff my bags with all I could carry, but they assumed I had it all at home! Thank goodness my dear friend took more than she needed from her hospital delivery a few months prior, and gave me all her leftover goodies. Also, I accidentally learned that those mesh panties are TOTALLY reusable! I mistakenly washed and dried two pairs, and what do you know? Good as new!
- Trust your instincts. No one knows your baby better than you do.
I had always heard this, but I didn’t know to trust it. I remember before we changed pediatricians how they’d say “good job Mama, you’re doing the right thing,” and then say something that didn’t feel right or sit right with me. It took me longer than I am proud to admit before I could say to myself (and the naysayers!) “no, this is what my baby needs,” or just, in general, stand up for what my gut was telling me (her health, my parenting style, or anything else).
Yo, this was super weird to me. I’d heard of padsicles before (thank you Pinterest), but I didn’t see (or FEEL) the beauty in them til right after my second was born. I was getting ready to leave the birth center and a midwife came in and smacked a frozen pad in my panties and hiked up my drawers for me. I’m pretty sure I said something like, “OH MY WORD ITS FREEZ–oh, ohhhhhh that’s glorious, thank you Jesus.” Open whichever maternity/menstrual pad you fancy, spray it with some water/witch hazel/aloe (I just used water or the spray below), freeze for at least 30 minutes, and enjoy. Seriously, it helps with the swelling even if you don’t have any stitches. You’re welcome.
- Earth Mama Angel Baby New Mama Bottom Spray.
I discovered this magical elixir for my nether regions after my second. I’ve had two natural unmedicated vaginal deliveries: my first after 36 hours ended with vacuum extraction and a second degree tear, my second was a quick water birth with a midwife and one superficial external tear that barely required any stitching. Dermaplast was okay the first time around (the blue-bottle was harder to find, and the red one BURNS, don’t make that mistake), but this stuff just felt better as things healed (part of the healing process for stretching and stitching is itching…not ladylike at all). Even with no stitches, your perineal area is swollen for several days and can be quite sore. This spray was cooling, provided soothing relief from swelling, and it smells yummy.
- Mother Love Rhoid Balm.
If you’re one of the lucky ladies who didn’t struggle with hemorrhoids during pregnancy or after delivery, hats off to you. For the rest of us, there’s this ointment. Buy it; it does wonders, and I recommend it. Not pregnant/postpartum? I still recommend it. Actually, while we’re here, really anything from Mother Love is amazing, including (but not limited to) nipple butter, diaper rash, and thrush ointments. I’ve personally used all of these and can attest to their magical effectiveness on me or baby.
- Baby blues are real.
Days 6-34 are weird, so prepare to feel “off.” If you have any thoughts of self harm or harming the baby, seek help. Tell your partner, a friend you trust, or your doctor. To use the “light at the end of the tunnel analogy” — with my first, I remember distinctly feeling like I was in a tunnel facing the wrong direction. I was so prepared for her; I’d worked with babies for years and she was so wanted! I took all the classes and read all the books! But when she came, and we brought her home, I felt so overwhelmed by everything; I didn’t expect it. People told me about the baby blues, but I didn’t know what it would FEEL like for me. So when it hit me, I thought “okay, this is what they meant…” I set myself up with some parameters: sleep when I can, forget housework, talk openly about feelings with my husband, don’t be afraid to cry, try to shower every day and get at least 5 minutes of fresh air, and call the doctor ASAP if I ever have thoughts of harming the baby or myself. THANKFULLY, I just felt sad and overwhelmed, anxious but not depressed, and no thoughts of harming myself or anyone else (except maybe the occasional resentment of my husband’s ability to sleep through ANYTHING). There’s no shame if you do experience this postpartum anxiety/baby blues/or depression; it’s quite common, but you may need help. Many antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are safe while breastfeeding with no negative impact on supply, so please don’t let that deter you from talking to someone!
- Say “no” to visitors if it makes you anxious or uncomfortable.
Don’t worry about their feelings, only yours right now. I felt pressure (internal) to invite my small group over to see the baby when we had our first, and I didn’t know how to say I wasn’t ready for visitors. I was uncomfortable, struggling to make it through each nursing session, tired, and “sad for no reason” despite my unspeakable joy at having her (see above). I wish I’d waited another week and just spoken up. I know they would have understood, but even if they didn’t, the mother’s recovery is important. Don’t do anything you’re not ready for.
- Accept help (laundry, shower, nap, food, etc) wherever you can.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. This one was hard for me. Part wounded pride, part distance from family, part boredom and loneliness, part stubbornness. I think when I look back on why I didn’t ask for help, it’s because I was afraid it made me a bad mother to just want twenty minutes to take a quiet shower or an hour nap. Despite being several states away from either of our families, I’m certain had I asked my friends and small group from church for these things, they would have obliged. At one point, what I really wanted was for someone to hug me while I ugly cried about how weird the whole adjustment was. I eventually found that in a support group an acquaintance invited me to, and I’ll be forever grateful. Those nursing mamas became my army! Long story short: accept any and all help, however small, and don’t be afraid to ask those closest to you for help.
- Don’t compare yourself to any other mom.
Don’t compare your baby to any other baby. One of my favorite phrases is “comparison is the thief of joy.” Babies reach their developmental milestones at different stages sometimes, and it can be hard not to compare. Your baby is perfect the way God made her, and she will do the big things when she is good and ready! You are the perfect mother for her, so you might do things differently, and that’s okay.
- Get The Wonder Weeks app and read the book.
Like ACTUALLY read it. Here is the pitch from their website (in case you’re not already a huge fan): All babies go though the same changes in the mental development at the same time. This is called a mental leap. With each leap, your baby is given the possibility to learn new things. And every baby wants to learn, much less master, these new skills, as learning these makes him master that ‘puzzle’ or ‘chaos’ that is in his brain since the leap. Learning new things helps him to get through the fussy phase and is good for his development for the rest of his life. I got both the paperback and the Kindle version, as well as the app, and I just read whatever chapter corresponded to the week we were in. It’s GOOD information based on years of RESEARCH and helped me immensely with my first. It’s based on due date, there are differences between boys and girls, and while the app is SO good, the book gives a much more in depth (but easy to read!) explanation into the science behind it all. The app was great for the timing of things and helpful hints and reminders about each leap. Mark the leaps on your calendar!
- Breastfeeding can get lonely.
Join a support group ASAP. La Leche League, a local hospital support group, a free group at the pediatrician or local birth center office, a Facebook support group, something. My husband was incredibly supportive and willing to do whatever I asked, but even still there were times I felt incredibly lonely being the only one to feed her (before you say “just feed her a bottle!” please remember that this choice is a personal one and isn’t right for everyone. Also please remember that waking to pump to fill a bottle for my husband to feed her is twice the work than me just nursing her). The length of each feeding and the amount of time I spent wondering if I was doing it right was exhausting.
- BREASTFEEDING SHOULD NOT HURT!
If it hurts, something is WRONG and you need lactation support from an IBCLC stat. You’re not a wimp. You don’t need to “toughen up.” Don’t take no for an answer. Our first pediatrician told me “well, if you can’t take the pain, that’s why they make bottles.” Not helpful, but thanks lady. Tongue ties are are a real and common thing, and sometimes it takes multiple opinions to find them. I learned this lesson the hard way the first time around. Please, trust me when I say it shouldn’t hurt. Pain is an indicator that something isn’t right!
- Mom guilt is real and sometimes unavoidable.
Just remember to give yourself some grace. The silliest, smallest, dumbest things can cause you to spiral out of control with guilt — at least that’s how it was for me. Guilt about the paci. Guilt about no paci. Guilt about nursing and not pumping. Guilt about pumping too much. Guilt about the crib. Guilt about what kind of carrier. Oh my word, the list is endless. Grace and mercy — we need a lot of it as moms, to extend to our husbands and children, but also for ourselves. If something made you feel guilty, acknowledge it, vow to try harder to do better next time, forgive yourself, and then move on. Mothering is hard enough without making more work for ourselves by wallowing.
- Sex after baby is weird.
I don’t know how else to put it. Be patient. Coconut oil is your friend. Also, see below.
- Pelvic floor physical therapy.
Do it. Don’t wait. (If you need more convincing, please read this article). Thankfully, I never had any incontinence but I have friends who have been wearing Poise pads for years! THIS IS NOT NORMAL. Sex is better when your pelvic floor is where it’s supposed to be, too–just saying. (Also, if you’re planning on having more kids, I HIGHLY recommend you look into a birth center or midwife model of care. I’m not knocking doctors or modern medicine here, but midwives do a much better job of maintaining the integrity of your lady parts by helping you labor and deliver in positions that are physiologically normal and more effective than on-the-back-feet-in-the-air pushing. I’ve experienced both, and I’m here to tell you the midwives know what they’re doing.)
- DON’T KNOCK IT TIL YOU TRY IT!
This applies to a lot in life, but I found it especially true as a first time mother. Take all the advice people have given you and store it in a mental filing cabinet to refer back to later. Don’t be afraid to try different things. Yes, you know your baby best, but do consider that it takes a village to raise a child and that many mothers who have gone before you have done the trial-and-error thing. Learn from our mistakes and successes, and don’t knock it til you try it!
- Sometimes YOU getting sleep is priority #1.
…even if that means cosleeping for a night when you didn’t plan to, or introducing a bottle at week 2, or offering a pacifier when you were opposed to them initially. I didn’t play around when it came to sleep. I never sleep-trained because it wasn’t my parenting style, but I definitely was a slave to my daughter’s sleep schedule and routine. Bath every night, at the same time, swaddled, nurse, repeat. No ifs ands or buts. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I found a (safe) routine that worked and didn’t deviate from that unless I had to. During certain leaps or sleep regressions (or teething…ugh, teething) I would sleep with my daughter in the guest room once she woke if she didn’t settle back down, but after those leaps/regressions were over, as she stopped waking or started settling easier, I’d leave her in the crib or take her back in. I could have listened to her cry all night, or I could bring her in bed with me where we could both sleep. I needed sleep to be a good mother and a good wife, so I did whatever I could to get the sleep I needed to function. It might look differently for you, but that’s what worked for me.
- People will make comments on what they did or didn’t do.
Because, like me, people love to talk about their stories and their kids. Take them at face value for your advice file and ignore the rest. You don’t have time or energy to feel judgment and I’m sure they didn’t mean it. You’ll “get” what they meant soon enough. Try not to be offended when well-meaning people give their advice. If it’s not your style, just thank them and change the subject.
- Use a scheduling app for nursing, diapers, naps, bottles, etc.
You’ll be so glad you did. Mommy brain is real and sleep deprivation makes you VERY forgetful. I liked Baby Nursing by SevenLogics (sleep tracker, diapers, nursing, pumping, bottles, meds, doctor appts, and solid foods), but there are a ton of others out there.
- You can’t spoil a baby.
Hold her. Rock her to sleep. Sing to her. Read to her whenever she wants. Let her nurse for comfort. Be her pacifier. You CAN NOT spoil a baby. Before you know it, she will be a walking talking toddler! Now that she’s so independent at 2 1/2, I rarely get to snuggle her to sleep or wear her for long because she wants to be off doing her own thing. The sleepless tired exhausted only-wants-to-be-held phase is ultimately so short lived. I did so much better when I just embraced it!
- The days (or nights) are long, but the years are short.
This sage advice came from the leader of the breastfeeding group I attended for 14 months. It got me through the hardest days to remember that everything is a phase, and “this too shall pass.” If that doesn’t do it for you, try this one: “take it one feeding at a time.” Sometimes one day at a time is too overwhelming. Taking things “one feeding at a time” helped me manage the next immediate task, and I found encouragement when I wasn’t overwhelmed. As the mom of two, this advice is even more true. It goes SO much faster after your first. Cherish every single moment.
What do you think? What helpful advice did you receive as a new mom? What do you wish someone had told you?
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