Being a mom is largely a self-confidence game. I know this firsthand; my new baby tested my wits constantly, just when I needed them most. But the more confident I became, the less stressed I felt, the calmer my daughter was, the better the nursing flowed ... and the smoother things went at home, the park, the store.
Remember, however, that being unsure isn't all bad. "If uncertain feelings are creeping in, you're taking your job as mom with a lot of responsibility," says Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles.
"By recognizing the paramount effect you have for shaping your child's personality, self-esteem and physical well-being, you're taking the first step to being a great mom."
Your baby already thinks you're top-notch. Our guide will help you believe it, too.
To be more self-confident, begin by acting like it. Your baby will feel safer, calmer and happier as a result, and soon assuredness won't be a guise as you get the hang of cleaning the umbilical cord, giving your baby a bath or maneuvering a wobbly little head through a shirt opening.
"Take a cue from kindergarten teachers," says Frances Xavier, M.D., a pediatrician at Gateway Medical Group in Anaheim, Calif. "Speak lower and slower to calm you both down."
"She needs cereal," my parents and in-laws said every time my newborn daughter fussed. By six weeks, I was so dazed from nighttime nursing and pressured by their certainty I was starving my daughter with breast milk that I almost gave her some rice cereal. But I decided to double-check with her pediatrician and, sure enough, their advice was 30 years outdated.
Don't relent when barraged with advice from people who act as if they know more than you do.
All moms feel inadequate at some point. "As Jonny was learning to sit up, I would sit with him constantly to make sure he didn't fall and hit his head," says Rebecca Zysk, 31, of Apopka, Fla. "One day I moved for one second to get a burp cloth, and down he went. I felt terrible."
When you feel the guilt coming on, follow these guidelines: First, put your offense in perspective. Did you lock him in the closet, leave him in a hot, parked car? Of course not. Second, remind your too-critical inner voice that all kids—even babies—get hurt sometimes. Third, make a change that will prevent the problem—and guilt—next time. (Propping your baby in a U-shaped nursing pillow may prevent future falls.) Finally, put the incident where it belongs: in the past.
RELATED: 5 New-Mom Guilt Cures
When your baby is hard to calm, find a place to work it out in private. Not only will this get your child out of a stimulating environment, but it will also protect you from unsolicited advice. If relatives try to follow you, go into the bathroom and shut the door. (Even the nosiest know-it-alls won't follow you there!) Then turn on the fan—the white noise may do the trick.
Tune into your gut feelings to make decisions quickly and confidently. Start small (regular or lavender baby wash?) and work up. Quickly "try on" your decision before finalizing.
"See how you feel—relieved or rubbed the wrong way—and listen to yourself," says Debra Condren, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York. Once you choose, move on without second-guessing. "Keep reminding yourself: I'm top-dog expert here."
You may know the answers to all the pediatrician's questions, from your baby's age to her highest temperature, before you walked into his office, but suddenly you can barely remember your child's name. Research shows that people under acute stress have difficulty retaining information in their short-term memories. So bring notes to every appointment with your pediatrician and jot down the doctor's instructions while you're there.
It's understandable to lose your calm after your baby has been on a crying jag for three hours or your toddler is throwing a tantrum. The surprise is, sometimes it's good for your baby to see you upset, as long as it's justified and doesn't happen too often. As she grows, your child will look to you to learn how to handle emotions. When she sees you sad, scared, mad or frustrated, say what you're thinking: "I was feeling sad, but I feel better now" or "That was scary. I'm glad we're safe."
"Your child is going to run that 'mommy tape' in her head the rest of her life whenever she's feeling emotional," says Kathryn Oden, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Carson-Tahoe Hospital in Carson City, Nev. "She's going to learn how to self-soothe from you." Just dial back the drama if your baby starts to cry or look frightened.
Not even your mother-in-law can make you doubt yourself as much as that friend whose child does everything first. My friend's daughter was walking when mine was still not crawling. The competitive friend is always doling out advice on how to get your baby to catch up and pointing out what you're doing wrong. The best response? "We're happy with Sam's development."
"Taking a mom's day, hour or 15 minutes is required for good parenting," psychologist Thomas says. "Parents need balance in their lives. If you don't have time to replenish your soul and rejuvenate yourself, you're not going to be at your best for your child. You're going to be impatient, frustrated and ill-tempered."
Recharge your batteries with a quick bubble bath, listen to soothing music, do an exercise video. You'll be a good role model for your child, showing her that taking care of yourself is a priority.
Spend as much undistracted time as you can with your baby, allowing yourself to be in the moment. Seeing your little one conquer a new milestone will remind you of the good job you're doing.