What do happy moms know that you don't? For starters, how to slow down and really savor that first year of motherhood.

By Denise Schipani
November 12, 2014
Happy woman
Credit: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Your baby is the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. Now if only you could spend your day gazing at his expressive little face, instead of your messy sink and grungy floors. If only you could finish up those thank-you notes and find a few minutes to write in the baby book about the day you brought your little one home.

Well here's a surprise: Those "if onlys" may be the only thing standing in your way of being the happier, go-with-the-flow mom you imagined you'd be.

No, you can't just ignore everything, but you can learn to soak up the present more fully and worry about the future less. "Your first step should be to embrace the crazy," says Karen Maezen Miller, of Sierra Madre, California, author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood. "When you let go and allow the first year to be a shock, you're likely to appreciate it more." That's because when you're trying too hard to fix things (Baby's feeding schedule or the overflowing dishes in the sink), you miss out on the joy of a fleeting moment, like when your munchkin's eyelashes flutter on his cheeks as he falls asleep in your arms. Our top ten slow-down tips to try:

1. Let lemons be lemons.

Nursing isn't going well. You're exhausted. An entire day has somehow evaporated, and you haven't even left the house. Why not just, you know, admit that it's a bad day and leave it at that? "Saying, 'Wow, I'm overwhelmed!' gives you the instant reward of relief," says Miller. Try to view negative times as discrete moments and avoid making blanket statements. Say, "Gosh, this morning was horrible!" instead of, "I obviously am awful at this mommy stuff!"

2. Breathe deeply.

Whenever you get a chance to sit down (for a feeding or when the baby's sleeping), pay attention to your breath. "Inhale deeply through your nose, fill your lungs, then exhale in a soft sigh through your mouth," recommends yoga instructor and Nashville mom of two Jennifer Derryberry Mann. This "meditation lite" -- just a few deliberate inhales and exhales -- is physically as well as mentally helpful. "Deep breathing actually changes your physiology," says Derryberry Mann. "It cues your body that you're not in that fight-or-flight situation." Plus, it brings you fully into the moment; you're not thinking of what happened before (such as how early you got up today), or what will happen after (will you get another painful plugged duct?).

3. Forget the baby book.

"Let go of the idea that you can somehow hang on to every milestone and memory," says Meagan Francis, mom of five in St. Joseph, Michigan, and author of The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood. "Just try to notice things as they happen." That advice certainly made me feel better. I have no clue what my younger son James's first word was, but it's now family legend that he used to call car windshield wipers "hoop-de-hypers." I didn't try to remember that, but it stuck. As Francis points out, even if you know you won't remember all the details, you're not likely to forget an overall sense of enjoyment of your baby's early months. So fill in the book if and when it moves you, or write down things you think you want to recall in a diary or on a computer, but don't sweat it if you neglect the job.

4. As best you can, don't flip out over the crying.

It's not that you should ignore your little one's needs, but when it comes to endless-seeming crying for no discernible reason (you've already fed, changed, rocked, and soothed), you can just let it happen. "Crying is what babies do," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta and coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn. Trying over and over to stop it can make you frantic, anxious, desperate, and, over time, dejected. The next time your baby is inconsolable, put her down some place safe, like in her crib, and give yourself a short break for five minutes to make a cup of tea, massage your shoulders, or just go to the bathroom. It's okay to simply hold your baby too, if you can remain calm, notes Derryberry Mann. Your relaxed demeanor might be transmitted to her and improve her mood sooner.

5. Quit trying to do it all.

The best of your pre-baby intentions (I'll nurse exclusively for a full year; I'll use only cloth diapers; I'll schedule something educational each day) can derail you if you insist on doing them even when they make you unhappy. Philadelphia mom Caroline Tiger dutifully bought a baby-food maker and a shelf full of cookbooks so she could prepare fresh purees for her daughter, Eliza. "That lasted about a month before I realized that while I don't hate cooking, I've never loved it," Tiger recalls. Plus, when Eliza rejected her carefully crafted purees, she felt even worse. All that chopping and steaming and freezing of little cubes might make some moms happy, but what made Tiger happy: replacing her recipe books with jarred baby food.

6. Check your phone at the nursery door.

How many things in your home beep and blip at you? Is the laptop lurking on the coffee table, waiting for you to update a work memo? Are you getting Instagram updates on your phone while playing peekaboo? Even "silent" distractions like that basket of unfolded laundry or the book you just started reading can compete for your attention. To zero in on the fleeting moments of pure mom-and-baby time, designate one spot, such as the baby's room, as a distraction-free zone. An American Baby Facebook fan told us that she spends quality morning time with her son in his nursery: "We play in his room for the hour between when he wakes up and when I go to work, away from TV and dishes. I pack my lunch and his diaper bag at night, so I can cherish that hour with him."

7. Make peace with mess.

Each of us has her own tolerance for dirt and disorder: Toys on the floor all day long? Fine. Unmade beds? Ick. Shoes everywhere? No biggie. Once you know yours, you've found the sweet spot for at-home happiness. The same goes for decorating. "I used to sigh over mommy blogs that showed photos of homes filled with beautiful items, while every child-reachable spot in my house is bare," says Gretchen Roberts, a mom of three in Knoxville, Tennessee. "How could they keep precious books and picture frames around? Then I learned how quickly the curious-baby phase passes." In other words, it won't be long before you can put breakables back out, and your tissues won't be plucked one by one out of the box.

8. Find fun in the monotony.

When you're at home with a newborn, most of your time is spent doing the same things -- feeding, changing, soothing -- over and over again. Meagan Francis, the mom of five, knows this all too well, and she decided early on not to let it get the best of her. "Any repetitive activity can become almost meditative when you make up your mind to find pleasure in it, rather than rushing through or resenting it," she says. "I remember once having an epiphany when folding my newborn son's clothes -- that considering how fast he grew, this might be the very last time I folded this particular sleeper."

9. Stay still.

We all feel antsy about getting to the next -- seemingly better -- stage with Baby, like when he's sleeping through the night or ready for finger foods. But Kate Hanley, a mom of two in Providence, Rhode Island, and author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide recommends that you stop mentally rushing forward. There's value in knowing that your little one will soon outgrow, say, resting in your arms. Just remind yourself that one day he'll be toddling away, and take advantage of the cuddles while you can, even if it's 3 a.m.

10. Embrace unpredictability.

You woke up this morning thinking, "After the 10 a.m. feeding, we'll have exactly three hours to take a walk, pick up groceries, and chop up the vegetables for dinner." Then an up-the-back poop explosion delays your errands. Cut yourself slack by planning less, not more. Or at least, plan more loosely, says Francis. "I make to-do lists not for the day, but for the week. That way if something doesn't get done on Monday, I can try again on Tuesday without feeling like I've failed." That's a smart strategy for parenting, in general. The more you can take parenthood's unexpected events in stride, the happier you'll be as a mom.

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American Baby