First-Year Do-Overs

Hindsight really is 20/20. We asked new parents what they wished they'd known when they first brought Baby home. Read up for no regrets.

Family with baby Grace Huang

At my daughter's 4-month checkup, the pediatrician mentioned it would be a good time for sleep training -- helping the baby learn to soothe herself so that she (and we) could achieve more consecutive hours of zzz's. "We don't need it -- Cabot's a great sleeper," I explained breezily, not mentioning that I nursed her back to sleep whenever she woke up in the night and then gingerly placed her into the crib. The doctor gave me what I now understand to be a knowing smile and said, "Call me anytime."

Around 6 months, my infallible method crashed and burned, and I couldn't get Cabot back to sleep. By 8 months, she was spending the whole night in our bed, attached to my boob -- except when she preferred to babble, laugh, and romp (adorable...when you wouldn't rather be sleeping).

One desperate night, we decided to sleep train Cabot. When she awoke, we allowed her to cry for increasing lengths of time, returning to soothe her but not pick her up. Doing it with virtually zero planning made for a harried, emotionally draining ordeal. But when Cabot drifted off for the whole night three days later, I realized my mistake. By letting my fears rule me, I had unnecessarily deprived my child of months of good sleep. Whoops. A heads-up from a pal a few months further along than me in this parenthood thing would have helped. Check out these top mishaps new moms didn't see coming, so you can avoid them yourself.

"I wish I'd taken the time to have more fun with my baby."
When you're pregnant, you have warm, fuzzy, sepia-toned daydreams about nuzzling your baby's neck while she giggles. But the reality is that it can be hard to find time for unbridled joy once your vulnerable little being enters the world.

"Before I had my son, Noah, I was a creature of habit, schedule, and predictability," says Nicole Honnig, of Los Angeles. "To suddenly have someone in my life who was totally unpredictable was quite a shock." Honnig tried to cram pre-mom pastimes into her new, baby-driven routine: "I'd pride myself on making a nice dinner, but then I'd wish I had just played with Noah," she says. "By trying to do it all, I feel like I missed out on some good times together."

"Many, many women have a tough time letting go of control when they first have a baby," explains Jeannie Bertoli, Ph.D., a relationship expert in Los Angeles. That makes it more difficult to live in the moment.

How to not end up here
"Revisit your expectations of motherhood often," Dr. Bertoli says. Consciously thinking about your vision will help you to understand that, like all moms, you're learning as you go. "Maybe you'll say to yourself, 'Huh, I didn't realize that picking up messes is such a large part of parenthood,'" says Dr. Bertoli. "So then you set up a schedule, maybe ten minutes of cleaning twice a day, so that you don't feel overwhelmed."

"I wish I'd chosen a different name for my child."
Today's baby names come from an unlimited menu that includes invented ones such as Jaden, a combo of Jacob and Aiden, and last names like Maddox or Brady. It's important that the name feels unique too. "Parents end up second-guessing themselves more than they might have in the past," says Pamela Redmond Satran, creator of Nameberry.com. Perhaps the rare name they conjured now seems a bit too off-the-wall, or what they hoped would be distinctive (say, Madeline) is the most common name called out in the pediatrician's office.

Carrie Gilkerson, 33, of Kansas City, Missouri, regrets choosing "Ella" for her second child. In 2005, the name seemed like an uncommon throwback, but it ended up in the top ten that year. "I wish I'd gone with my initial instinct, Piper," Gilkerson says.

How to not end up here
Research, research, research. "Going into the decision informed and enlightened can lead to fewer regrets," says Satran, who suggests searching online and bouncing top contenders off a few confidantes, even if you're not publicly sharing the name. Think, too, about your future child -- unusual spellings and pronunciations might not be ideal for the long haul. And don't let a sister or a friend talk you into Lydia if you really want Lucy. "Being pressured into or out of a name is the number-one regret," Satran says.

    Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail

      "I wish I had followed my baby's lead with napping."

      "I was going to be the mom who perfected the nap process so we'd all be rested by the time I went back to work," says Erika Moore, of Sterling, Virginia. But her 7-week-old, Tucker, had little interest in the ideal nap routine she'd gleaned from the expert books.

      From about 6 weeks to 12 months babies usually take two naps a day: late morning and early afternoon, with a possible pre-dinner catnap that disappears by about 6 months. But every child's sleep needs are different, says Dennis Rosen, M.D., author of Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids. Figuring out what those needs are and how to meet them, while also doing laundry and grocery shopping, can be stressful.

      How to not end up here
      Figure out the best schedule for your baby. If he's up every morning at 6 a.m., he'll be ready to nap at 9 a.m., but if he wakes to nurse around 4 a.m. and then goes back to sleep until 8 a.m., the first nap may be closer to noon, Dr. Rosen explains. Moore started tracking Tucker's natural patterns. Though he did take that typical mid- to late-morning snooze, his second nap didn't come until 4 p.m. "You have to let go of preconceived ideas and adjust to meet his schedule," Moore notes. By doing that, she knew roughly what to expect each day, which helped her regain a sense of control.

      "I wish I'd gotten out of the house more with my baby."
      Maybe you're low on energy or haven't showered, or your baby just spit up on her third outfit -- and it's only 10 a.m. These are all hurdles that can be enough to keep a get-up-and-go gal on house arrest, Dr. Bertoli says.

      That was the case for Chicago mom Beth O'Keefe, whose little boy, Freddy, went on a "nursing strike," a sudden refusal to take to the breast. "I was pumping every two hours to maintain my milk supply and giving him frequent skin-to-skin time," O'Keefe notes. "He also wasn't sleeping well, and all the books said, 'Don't let him sleep in a car seat,' so I felt like I couldn't leave." O'Keefe wound up feeling sad, isolated, and exhausted.

      How to not end up here
      Let family and friends help you. True, you're the only one who can pump that breast milk, Dr. Bertoli says, but you can have someone else wash the bottles and the pump parts. She also suggests repeating a mantra like this one: "All is well. There is nothing unusual about this." Mantras can normalize the chaos of early parenthood, she says. And if you feel calmer, packing up to get to that mommy-and-me music class you enjoy will seem doable.

      "I wish I'd gotten help with breastfeeding sooner."
      Three weeks into new motherhood, Catherine Ryan Gregory, of Portland, Oregon, was still experiencing intense pain every time her daughter, Edie, latched on to nurse. "I figured, This is just how it's supposed to feel," says Ryan Gregory. In fact, her baby had tongue tie -- a band of tissue that tethers the bottom of the tongue's tip to the floor of the mouth. (Your pediatrician can fix tongue tie by clipping the tissue in the office.) "The lactation consultant said I had 'nipple trauma,' so much damage had been done," Ryan Gregory says.

      In the week after birth, 92 percent of first-time moms experience one or more concerns about nursing, ranging from nipple pain to poor milk supply, a Cincinnati Children's Hospital study found. And these moms in distress are ten times more likely to give up nursing before the 2-month mark.

      How to not end up here
      Don't try to just "tough it out." Get help from a lactation consultant or another breastfeeding mom as soon as you need it. Doing so can decrease the toll on your milk supply, your body, and your psyche.

      "I wish I'd been more of a team player with my partner."

      "I had trouble letting go and saying, 'Even if he doesn't do it my way, it's okay,' " says Julianna Harrington, of Jackson Heights, New York. "My husband would try to take charge of the bedtime routine. Then I would shadow him and tell him when to give our daughter a bottle. Or he would get up to comfort the baby at night, and I would step in and offer to nurse her."

      "Women have a difficult time accepting help, and yet we want it," Dr. Bertoli says. "You're a scary mother bear, and if you say 'mine,' he's not going to fight to get in there." Shutting down your partner's offers can create a serious chasm in your relationship, a common postpartum theme. A study in the Journal of Family Psychology that tracked couples over the course of six years found that close to 70 percent experience a decrease in marital satisfaction after having a baby.

      How to not end up here
      Recognize that taking care of a baby will be hard and create a plan for it, suggests Dr. Bertoli. "Say to your partner, 'I'll be hormonal and snappy, so if I push you away, please push back.'" Find ways to tag team: "I feed the baby, you change the diaper; I get the baby dressed while you pack the bag for day care." You'll take the pressure off yourself and get your partner involved.

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