Joy, excitement, and unfathomable love? Those are the new-mom emotions you're prepared for. Identity crisis? Not so much. Here is some expert advice and it-worked-for-me wisdom for eight common new-mom stresses.
My Baby Won't Stop Crying
"Every time my baby cries (like 5,000 times a day!), my blood pressure goes through the roof."
Hey, it's natural to freak out when your newborn starts wailing! You'd have to have the nerves of a bomb-squad pro not to let it get to you. But with a little experience, that's just what you'll develop (or close to it). "As stressful as it is right now, you'll soon learn that your baby is not going to die from crying -- and that even if you can't respond right away, it's not going to hurt her," says pediatrician Jennifer Shu, MD, coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn (American Academy of Pediatrics). "That realization saved my sanity," says Dawn Raab, of Euclid, Ohio. "I worried that if I didn't pick up my son, David, right away, I would mess him up for life. But that meant I never had time to do anything. Finally, I put him in his swing just outside the bathroom so I could watch him while taking a shower. He wailed the whole time, but it was such a relief to know that he could wait a few minutes and be okay -- and still know that Mommy loves him."
Also, don't assume that your baby is crying because she's truly sad or distressed. "It's easy to feel this way because that's why we cry. However, infants do it to communicate all sorts of things -- that they're tired, cold, wet, bored, hungry, or overstimulated. Rather than worrying that something is really wrong, think of crying as her way of talking to you." As you develop a routine with your baby, you'll often be able to figure out what she needs just by the sound of her sobs.
What if she cries all...the...time, or you can't decide what the heck is wrong -- and you still find yourself at wits' end? Dr. Shu recommends leaving her in a safe place and taking some time to regain your composure. That's what worked for mom of two Anita Lavine, of Seattle: "There was one week when my daughter Faye screamed -- and I'm talking ear-piercing, uncontrollable screaming -- for hours on end. I would call my husband, crying, and hold the phone so he could hear what I was going through. By Friday I couldn't take it anymore. I put her in her crib and went into the kitchen to try to pull myself together. A few minutes later, she stopped! I realized that seeing me stressed and upset just fueled her fire. But when I left her alone -- and played it cool when I did go back to her -- she calmed down."
Mom Confessions: If I Could Spend a Day Without My Kids I Would...
Sometimes I Resent My Baby
"I know he's a cute, helpless newborn. Still, I sometimes feel resentful about having to cater to his every need -- nursing around the clock, constant diaper changes. And then I feel guilty for having these thoughts. Help!"
"First, take a deep breath and know that all of us have felt this way," says Patricia Hemby, a mom of two who lives in Amarillo, Texas. "It's so true," Dr. Saltz says. "Many women think that they should be filled only with love and joy for doing these things -- and then feel bad when they don't. But this is hard work we're talking about here! In reality, almost every mother feels some level of ambivalence toward [her all-consuming responsibilities]."
It also helps to look at the bigger picture, says Kimberly Harrington, of Burlington, Vermont, mom to Walker, 3, and Hawthorne, 15 months: "During one of my last childbirth classes, the instructor drew a big pie chart showing an 80-year life span and how much time we devote to school, marriage, work, and so on. Among the big wedges was a tiny sliver, colored red. This, she said, represented our child's first year. Her point: your baby is only a baby for 12 months, which is a very small piece of your life. That advice helped me put things in perspective when I felt overwhelmed after Walker was born -- and helped me not wish away the difficult moments. I would remind myself that the hard phases don't last, but neither do the good ones. As much as I wanted the sleepless nights, breastfeeding drama, and spitting up to end, I knew that when they did, all the wonderful stuff about having a newborn -- the fragileness and innocence -- would also go away."
I'm Sleep Deprived
"I'm strung out from too little sleep. But I have a hard time napping during the day. What can I do?"
Every baby book and pediatrician on the planet seems to say the same thing: sleep when the baby sleeps. Yeah, right. "As much as I needed the rest, when I'd put David down for a nap, I'd just think, Yes! I can finally do some laundry -- or, better yet, something for myself," Raab says. For other moms, the problem is that (hello!) it's daytime, and it's hard to wind down when the sun is beaming, no matter how bleary-eyed you are. "If you're just not a napper, that's okay -- there are plenty of other ways to get rest," says Meir Kryger, MD, director of research and education at Gaylord Sleep Medicine, in Wallingford, Connecticut.
Jessica Darney-Buehler, of Elizabethtown, New York, mom to Oakley, 3, bumped up her bedtime by a few hours and found it really helped. "I was amazed at how my energy level shot up instantly," she says. Tina Levinson, of Burlington, Vermont, asked her husband to take over the morning shift and entertain daughter Sadie when she woke up at 6 a.m. He loved the alone time with her, and Levinson got two more solid hours of shut-eye. As for Raab: "Since I could never nap, my hubby and I took turns doing the middle-of-the-night feeding." (If you're nursing, you can pump and put the milk in a bottle.) One thing you should know about this bit of advice: "If your baby wakes up several times, it's best for one parent to do all of those feedings, then you can switch the next night," Dr. Kryger says. "If he takes the 1 a.m. and you take the 4 a.m., you'll both end up tired. It's best for one of you to get a continuous period of sleep."
If you want to nap but have trouble drifting off, turn off the ringer and make your bedroom as dark as possible. Earplugs can also cut out noises that might keep you up. And don't snooze for long periods of time. "If you nap for more than an hour or so, you'll enter what's called slow-wave sleep," Dr. Kryger explains. "When you wake up during this phase, you'll feel more tired and fuzzy than when you started." Limit your nap to one 30- to 45-minute session a day; that should be enough to help you feel more alert and refreshed.
I Want to Lose the Baby Weight
"I sooo want my body back. But I have no time to eat healthy and no energy to exercise."
"I can't tell you how often I hear this from new moms," says fitness expert Sue Fleming, author of Buff Moms (Villard). "But if you make a few small changes, I promise the pounds will come off pretty quickly." First, she says, don't worry about finding a 45-minute chunk of workout time. "Instead, divvy it up into several 10- to 15-minute segments throughout the day. It'll seem less overwhelming, and you'll be more likely to stick with it." Go for a brisk walk, pop in a Pilates DVD while the baby naps, or do strength-training exercises while she plays happily by herself. If you belong to a gym, check out the babysitting services (most clubs have them), or ask your partner to take over for a little while so you can go for a run or swim. "I blocked off several lunch hours a week in my work calendar and snuck out to a yoga class," Stephanie Wagle says. "Because the time was blocked off, I couldn't get scheduled for a meeting, and I had less excuse to cancel." The hardest part is just starting. "But once you do," Fleming says, "you'll be amazed at how much more energy you have -- and how much better you feel."
Need to eat healthier? It's all about planning ahead, Fleming says. Cook a big batch of veggie lasagna, grilled chicken breasts, or a stir-fry on the weekend so you'll have good stuff to eat all week. And always have a healthy snack on hand so you don't get stuck without decent options. Pop a baggie of dried fruit and nuts in your work bag, or stash an apple and a granola bar in your car. "Hey, you wouldn't leave the house without making sure your baby had food at the ready," Fleming adds. "The same should go for you!"
I Don't Trust My Instincts
"Everyone says to trust your instincts, but it's hard to do when you're so new at all this parenting stuff."
It's true: as a first-time parent, you have no idea what you're doing. Yet you desperately want to get it right. "As a result, I've seen a lot of moms hand their brains over to Dr. Expert, rather than listen to what they really believe to be right," says mom and parenting lecturer Julie Barnhill, author of One Tough Mother (Baker). "But you spend more time with your baby than anyone else does, so you really are the pro. Trust in this fact, and go with your gut. Try whatever you sense will work best, and if it doesn't work, then speed dial your doctor or friends."
Yes, it's a bit of a leap of faith, but you won't truly gain confidence as a mother until you take it. "As a newborn, my daughter Leah wanted to be held constantly -- she'd cry the instant she left my arms," says Tisha Crews Keller, of Tallahassee, Florida. "When my mother came to visit, she said, 'You'd better put that baby down. You're going to spoil her!' But I truly felt I was doing the right thing for Leah -- making her feel safe and loved. Leah grew out of that phase. And now, at 19 months, she's a very independent, unspoiled, and not at all clingy child. It took a lot for me to trust myself and stand up to my mother, but I'm glad I did. With every little success like this, the more you believe in your instincts as a mother."
What can also make you second-guess your instincts: a case of TMI (too much information). It's so easy these days to open a book, go online, or text your relatives whenever you have a baby-related question. Having all this advice at your fingertips is invaluable, but there comes a point of overload. "I totally fell into the TMI trap!" Levinson says. "I would read everything I could about, say, getting my daughter to nap -- and that's when I'd stress out and doubt my instincts the most. There'd be so much advice, a lot of it contradictory, that I'd end up even more uncertain about what to do. I've made it a rule to educate myself to a degree and then just go with what feels right."
"Also realize that even if your instinct turns out to be wrong, it's not going to have a disastrous effect on your child," Barnhill says. You'll try another approach. "What's nice is that you learn together. That's part of what builds the relationship between you and your child and makes you a stronger mother."
I Need a Breastfeeding Break
"My baby depends so much on me -- after all, I'm breastfeeding. Plus, I'm the one on maternity leave. But I would kill to get a break every now and then."
Then, honey, you need to take one! "I explained to my husband that however much he'd love to stay home all day and play with our son, Casey, he had the easier job going to work because his day was predictable and he had only himself to take care of," says Kristy McCarthy Weight, of Annapolis, Maryland. "After that, he became very good at reading me. He knew almost before I did when I needed time to myself. If I looked exhausted, he'd suggest having his mother come over so I could get some rest. Or if I was frazzled, he'd offer to take Casey while I got a manicure." Wagle started a weekly time-swap ritual: "Wednesday is my night. My husband will watch Jack, and I'll have drinks or dinner with friends or go shopping. Then I'll return the favor for him on Thursday."
And don't feel guilty! You deserve it, and you'll be a better mom because of it. "Oh my God, I feel 10 times better when I get home from my night out," Wagle says. "Getting a little distance helps me see Jack in a whole new light. I have so much more patience and energy, and I really appreciate him." Plus, Barnhill adds, babies are brilliant at picking up on our emotions. If you're feeling good, it's going to rub off on her as well. And, ultimately, that's what we all want: a happy, confident kid.
My House Is a Mess
"My house looks like a baby bomb went off -- it's a mess. But I haven't had a second to clean!"
The nearly unanimous solution for moms I spoke to: hire someone to clean your house. "I hated spending the money," says Wagle, "but it was so worth it in terms of my stress level and sanity." It doesn't have to be a weekly deal (every other week is fine), and it doesn't have to cost a fortune. "Rather than seeing it as a selfish splurge, think of it as an investment in your child, because the time you would've spent dusting and vacuuming you'll now be able to spend with her," says Barnhill.
If hiring a pro is out, try doing a little at a time. "I cleaned in 15-minute bursts whenever my son napped," says Liz Campbell, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, mom to 11-month-old Xavier. "And I decided to focus only on the most visible areas of the house." Adds Barnhill: "If you don't have the energy, don't worry about it. Does it really matter if there are binkies and board books all over the floor? No. Very few people are going to see them. And if they do? I've found that it can actually create a nice trickle-down effect with other moms. When they see that your house isn't perfect, it helps them relax and feel like they don't need to be mini Martha Stewarts either."
I'm Worried About My Marriage
"What about my marriage? I'm worried we'll turn into sex-starved zombies who never discuss anything but the baby."
"Babies have a tendency to be wonderful, joyful, big old sex killers," Dr. Saltz admits. "So this one you really do have to fight." But, she adds, you can -- and should! -- carve out time for your relationship. Before my son was even born, my husband and I vowed to have regular Saturday date nights. We also made it a rule (this is key) to talk about baby stuff as little as possible. Sometimes days go by where you feel like you haven't said two words to each other, and that can quickly chip away at your closeness. Not ready to leave your baby yet? Then have a date chez vous. Order a nice dinner after baby goes to bed, bust open a bottle of wine, and chat by candlelight. "Whatever you decide to do, remember that it needs to be a regular deal," Dr. Saltz advises. "It's hard to keep a relationship strong on a couple of hours a month."
As for sex, well...that can be a tougher issue. Hey, you're exhausted! The only thing you likely want to do in bed is sleep. "And if your baby is literally on you most of the day, cuddling and nursing," Dr. Saltz says, "by nighttime you may be 'touched out.'" Her suggestion: Ask your hubby to take some of the physical load (giving the baby a bottle, holding him when he's fussy) so you don't get burned out. And, as unromantic as it sounds, "pick a night when, darn it, you're going to have sex no matter what," Dr. Saltz adds. "Even if you have zero interest, the desire will follow once you start. Many new parents find that once they get their sex life back on track, it becomes a haven, something they seek out because it's just about the two of them."
Originally published in the July 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.
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