That New Mom Life Podcast Episode 9: Find Your Rhythm

Dr. Ashurina Ream, known as @psychedmommy on Instagram, turns everything you think you know about scheduling on its head.

An image of a mother holding her newborn baby in the kitchen while making tea.
Photo: Getty Images.

In preparing for a newborn, your whole world revolves around the needs of a child. When to feed them, how to manage sleep schedules, and what to do with the time in between.

This week on That New Mom Life, Ashurina Ream, Psy.D., PMH-C, talks about why getting through the day should be about more than just the baby. It should have clear anchors for the parent.

She encourages new moms to think about filling buckets she calls "NESTS," or nutrition, exercise, sleep, time for self, and support.

"I'm not saying we're going to get them all full because that's just not a realistic expectation, but it's, 'I'm getting better at this as the days go on. I'm getting better at filling these buckets for myself,'" says Dr. Ream. "And that is the goal of setting up these anchors rather than focusing solely on the schedule of [the child], because [moms] can really get lost there."

And if you're worried that you won't be able to find time for you, five moms from the That New Mom Life community share their tips for creating a schedule and surviving the day with a newborn in tow.

Listen and subscribe to That New Mom Life on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PlayerFM, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. That New Mom Life will be back again next week with more postpartum insights.

Upcoming topics this season:

  • Sex and romance as new parents
  • Preparing for what's next

If you have a story to tell or want to learn more about That New Mom Life, email us at thatnewmomlife@meredith.com.

Listen to episode 9 right now:

Desiree: So when I came home with the triplets and with Cambria, both times, it just felt like pure survival mode. If I made it through the day, tears or no tears, it didn't matter. We survived. And that was a win.

Grace: I was desperate for a routine. I live by a to-do list, I craved a schedule just to give my day some predictability. Turns out my daughter had not inherited that trait!

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Desiree: Hi, I'm Desiree Fortin and let's face it, a newborn turns your world upside down! No wonder it's so hard to get into a rhythm that feels natural and satisfies both you and the baby.

Grace: Hi, I'm Grace Bastidas, and yes, life with a newborn can feel quite unpredictable! Thankfully, today we're going to hear from Dr. Ashurina Ream, a clinical psychologist who creates online resources to help moms let go of unrealistic expectations.

She'll talk about how routines can be overrated if they don't meet your needs—and how you can enjoy the day-to-day with a newborn. If you're like me and need structure, prepare to have an open mind!

Desiree: I can't wait! But first, let's hear how these moms found ways to survive the day.

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Mom 1: One of the things I did to survive early motherhood was set a bedtime routine with my daughter at the age of 2 weeks old. So as this tiny little baby, starting at the same time every night, we would give her a bath or wipe her down, bring her in, sit her in the same chair, feed her, read her Good Night Moon, and then change her diaper, swaddle her up, and put her to bed in her bassinet.

Very early on, I would just climb right into bed as soon as I was done with that, because I was not good at sleeping when the baby slept during the day. So I needed that sleep before she woke up three hours later to feed again. But I think that routine really helped us both know what was going to happen at a certain time every day and just calm us both down.

Mom 2: Those first few days of newborn life are hectic, insane. The thing that got me through it was definitely my coffee. And it wasn't the cup of coffee that kept me going. It was the fact that I was going to get up and have a minute to myself to make my coffee.

Once I had that cup of coffee, I would sit down with my son, as I was nursing him, drinking my cup of coffee. And I felt for a split second that everything was okay.

Mom 3: I found it really challenging to keep a daily routine because my newborn was changing so fast from 6 weeks to 10 weeks, to 3 months old. Their rhythms would keep shifting. So I just tried to hang on to like a weekly schedule where every Tuesday we might go to Target, and Wednesday was Mommy and Me yoga, and Thursday we'd go see my friend a couple of streets over.

If I instituted a sort of a weekly plan, then that would give me some flexibility when their sleeping and waking times were changing or their feeding times were changing.

Mom 4: I remember when my first son was born, it was so important for me to keep to schedule. To make sure that he was fed on time every single time, make sure his diaper was changed every two hours or every time he wet himself. And, you know, just trying to keep to this rigorous schedule because that's what the book said.

When I had my second son, I quickly realized that that level of perfection that I was trying to reach was unattainable in that moment. And I had to learn to give myself grace. I had to learn that it was okay to be late for some of these things that, you know, no se va morir (he is not going to die) if he doesn't get his bottle right then and there.

Mom 5: When I had my daughter, I was coping with a lot of changes. I was adjusting to becoming a family of four, my older son dropped his nap, and I was also unemployed. The joy of having a newborn was also coupled with anxious thoughts, loneliness, and anxiety.

My longtime therapist suggested coming up with a daily ritual that would make me feel calm and in control. I decided to add family walks into our weekly routine.

I strapped on my comfy mom's shoes, and with the stroller in hand, started strolling. I felt an instant mood boost, and my senses were also heightened. It didn't matter the destination or thing we had going on that day, I was caring for myself. And at that moment, it was all my soul needed to feel in the groove again.

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Desiree: Now let's check in with our guest, Dr. Ashurina Ream, known as Psyched Mommy to her many followers on Instagram. She specializes in moms' mental health and is known for helping women shift the focus back to themselves—even when it comes to creating a family routine.

Grace: Dr. Ream, thanks for joining us today. We're talking about routines today. Do we start them? Do we not?

The first few weeks with a baby can feel really chaotic, so, is it necessary to have a routine at the start?

Dr. Ream: You know, the idea of routine sounds great, but I think that when we talk about using and utilizing routines, especially in those first few weeks postpartum, I think it can bring up a lot of unnecessary anxiety and stress for new parents.

A lot of the routine that we do have is regarding the baby's schedule. So I personally, if this was like, give me your best personal advice, I would say that no, in the first few weeks, a routine is not necessary because we are in an adjustment period where we're just trying to really get a hold of what's happening. It's a really big transition.

Grace: Is it normal to feel out of control? Like we can just worry about every single thing that we're doing wrong.

Dr. Ream: Yes. When new parents come to me, especially like in those first three months, it's almost like they come into me and they say, "What just happened? What just happened in these first few months? It feels like whiplash. Like I don't remember much. I wasn't prepared for this."

So yes, it can feel very overwhelming. It can feel like you're just grasping and trying to get some semblance of rhythm. And I guess that's a good way of looking at it: like finding your rhythm in those first few months.

Grace: So aside from feeling out of control, as we find our rhythm, we can also feel bored and frustrated. Are those feelings to be expected?

Dr. Ream: 100 percent, this is something that comes up in probably almost all of my sessions.

This is something I experienced personally myself, and I did not expect the boredom. And you're thinking like, "Okay, well what's next?"

We go from the lives that we had pre-motherhood, pre-parenthood, and they had spontaneity, they had just a lot of different things happening, right? Every day brought something new and some of it was exciting, some of it was challenging, it was exhilarating, and maybe even intellectually stimulating.

And then now we're doing a lot of the same things, day in and day out, with very little stimulation and very little attention on ourselves. And it becomes really boring and monotonous.

And I remember that feeling and thinking like, "Well, what's next?" You know? What can I do now? Someone please tell me.

Grace: Yes, that is so true. But you know, at one point we all become like these baby detectives. Trying to read their cues, trying to figure out if there's some sort of a method to the madness.

Dr. Ream: Once we really transition, and we're like, "Okay, I'm starting to, I guess you'd say, understand my baby a little bit better, and I'm feeling a little more confident in my own skills as a new parent," then it's time to like, think about, "Okay, well, what's next," right? How do I make this manageable? How do I enjoy the day to day?

And I'm going to say something that most people might not say, because what we're usually taught is that we create a schedule based on our child's needs. So we know that everything we did in the preparation for motherhood and parenthood was based on how to feed a child, how to manage sleep schedules. What you do when your baby is interested in feeding.

So everything that we learn is focused on this child's development. My whole work is creating these anchors in the day for new parents where moms and new parents can check in with themselves and say, "Am I getting my nutrition? Am I getting exercise or movement? Am I getting adequate sleep? Or time for myself? Or tangible support? Or emotional support?" These buckets that we want to fill out.

I'm not saying we're going to get them all full because that's just not a realistic expectation, but it's, "I'm getting better at this as the days go on. I'm getting better at filling these buckets for myself." And that is the goal of setting up these anchors or this rhythm rather than focus solely on the schedule of my child and their needs, because we can really get lost there.

Grace: So you talk about creating anchors or NESTS, which stands for Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep, Time for Self, and Support. Do these things help us stay grounded and create some predictability in the day?

Dr. Ream: Absolutely. Yes. And it's something to look forward to. Because if all we're looking forward to are the needs of our child, we've lost our sense of self. The NESTS are our basic needs, and we can do more than focus on these items.

But the biggest thing that moms come to me and say is, "I don't know who I am anymore. I'm not filling my needs anymore. Who am I?"

And this is this existential question that we get, and it's because nothing is revolving around us as beings. It's so much on others. The biggest thing that we can do in this transition is focus on those needs, but also incorporate day-to-day, "What makes me feel connected to me?"

Grace: What does that look like? I've forgotten. Tell me.

Dr. Ream: You know, it's really a lot of trial and error because the one thing that does come up in sessions is that parents will say, "I don't know what I like anymore."

That's like such a common piece that comes up in therapy sessions. And it's a lot about trial and error, and it's not going to be like you get a whole lot of time to explore these things in new parenthood.

So part of it is like, "How often am I listening to some of my favorite music or being creative, creating something that I like?"

"How often am I connecting with the people that are, you know, soul-filling for me? Like I can connect with them. I can talk to them. And I feel like I'm getting some adult contact?"

"Or, am I moving my body in a way that feels good or makes me feel like the person that I know that I am?"

Like I remember telling my husband, "I want to feel like an athlete again."

I used to really be interested in that stuff. And motherhood came and then my athleticism was like, you know, playing on the floor, playing at the park. And I wanted to feel just a little bit of adrenaline or a little bit of something that made me feel like myself.

And it didn't happen instantly. It was the baby steps. I would start off with the stroller walks, and then I would go to the mountain with my son, and I would walk the trail around. And it's just building yourself to this place where you feel more connected with the things that make you feel alive or like yourself.

Grace: How do we balance that with the needs of a baby? And they're very needy.

Dr. Ream: They are. The biggest thing I can tell new parents is to be flexible. That's why the rigidity of schedules can be really overwhelming because if we start to create these expectations of what that looks like, and then something comes up, we're going to feel really let down. And it's going to be disappointing, and we're going to feel irritability and anger.

So part of that is finding small ways to add who we are into our daily routine. And that's why I think NEST is such a good foundation, but more than that, it's figuring out like, "What does tomorrow me need?"

And I can't give everybody a playbook for what that looks like because we're all so unique and our needs are so different. Some parents will tell me that they want alone time and other parents will tell me that they want to connect with other people because they feel so lonely.

So it's truly about trial and error. And when you do this kind of stuff, when you're really practicing, you'll find a lot of stuff doesn't feel good. Like, okay, I took an hour, and I went, and I ran an errand. That didn't feel good for me. So it's noting. How did I feel after?

We know what I was feeling before I did said activity, how did I feel after? And if it didn't really change my feelings, or if it didn't really fuel me in any way, then let's move on to something else. Let's try something new.

Grace: Do you recommend writing this down?

Dr. Ream: Yes, The clients I work with will do like a catalog of things. They'll map out some of the enjoyable activities that they have done in the past and things that they will consider for the future that they might have interest in.

They write them down and then they note next to them, like, "Okay, tried this out. It was a fail. It didn't feel so good."

Or then they'll write down something else and they'll find like, "Okay, this actually, when I was done moving my body, I felt like my anxiety went from, you know, an eight to a three."

So everyone is so different and noting that and keeping track of that is a good indicator and a good, um, a plan to go from.

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Grace: Let's go back to looking for the patterns that your baby's starting to create. You know, we talked about writing down some of the things that you personally need.

Should we be writing down when patterns start forming? Because I am myself, I'm a very structured person, so I was of the mindset of like, "If I'm in some sort of rhythm and everything feels consistent, then I am a much better, nicer, person."

But when we're looking at our baby and trying to figure them out and understand our baby, should we be jotting down this information as well, those little patterns that start forming.

Dr. Ream: I wouldn't say it's necessary. Because I think it lends to this rigidness and perfectionism in us as parents. And I think the whole piece is that kids, children really, really derail that predictability of life. [laughs]

Grace: Yeah, even years later, they're still derailing us.

Dr. Ream: This is messing with my plans! No, I'm kidding, but I think that it's not necessary because so much of the day-to-day is changing. And I think that sometimes even when we get into that rhythm where we feel like we are mastering this season, something new comes up, and the biggest piece is how flexible and adaptable am I going to be?

You know my expectations, I can set them, but I have to be willing to change. So I mean, if it provides value to write it down, more power to you. Is it necessary? Not really.

Grace: I think I could have used you about eight years ago. Cause I was like, I am not flexible. I am not adaptable. Things must function a certain way.

And I just had to learn the hard way that you do have to go with the flow sometimes.

Dr. Ream: It's hard. And I think that, even what researchers have found is that parents who were, you know, before having children, goal-seeking and goal-oriented, driven, perfectionistic, and really liked that predictability, struggled with that transition because you have little control over what comes up postpartum.

And that was a very hard piece for me. I expected that my son was going to be a great sleeper. We did not have that. And I was like banking on naps and sleep, and it didn't happen.

And when we set that expectation, and we stick to that rigidity, sometimes it can be a setback for us, and it can be a really hard piece to adjust to.

Grace: Yes. I completely agree. I think a lot of that came from the books that I read. All those baby books that told me I needed to create a routine with my daughter.

Dr. Ream: There is an abundance of information out there. And you know, like I said, when we prepare, we're preparing for this baby. We are trying to hear from the experts, we're gathering so much information, and at some point we get information overload.

And then we start to question ourselves and our instincts. And the biggest piece is reminding ourselves, like "I'm the expert on my baby. No expert out there as the expert on my baby, other than me."

And I tell every single parent I meet with, "It's okay to change your mind." Today this might work for you, and tomorrow it might not. So just be ready to change your mind. Cause that's kind of what parenthood will do to you.

Grace: So, I've heard that you describe new motherhood as being out in the middle of the ocean, on a boat with holes in it, with no oars in sight.

Dr. Ream: Did I say that? I think I did!

Grace: Explain yourself, please!

Dr. Ream: That transition can really, really rock new parents, new motherhood. This is what almost every single mom comes to me and feels like, "I was not prepared."

I mean, it's crazy. People will tell you all the things, you'll read all the books, you'll go to all the workshops, and the classes, and then overnight our whole lives are disrupted. And I think that many of us know or have heard, the transition of motherhood is overwhelming. And people have identified this period as matrescence and everything is changing physically, emotionally hormonally, our relationships. And we are seeking and searching for who we are, like our identity, and who we are, and what our purpose is.

And that's what I mean when it feels like you are left. It's just like, there's no help in sight. You are given a baby without a handbook, and you're like, "I'm going to take care of it? Are you sure?"

You know, I saw a funny meme the other day, and I know this is like not my professional wheelhouse, but it was so funny, but it was so true to me. It was like, "Here, you know, the nurse at the hospital is giving you over this baby and you're like, 'Are you sure? I seriously pull the macaroni and cheese box out of the garbage can to remember the steps again, like you're, you're trusting me with a baby?'"

And that's what it feels like.

You're like, "I'm ill-equipped. No, can you come home with me? I don't know what I'm doing, please help me."

And I think that it's such a big shock to our system, to what we're used to, what we know, that we are striving and searching. And sometimes the tension that we're creating in new motherhood is so big that it's resulting in burnout and stress rather than just going with the flow of motherhood.

Grace: So, what's your best tip for a new mom in this situation? On the boat, in the middle of the ocean, no oars. What would you say to me if I came to you saying like, "Must get into a routine. I don't know what I'm doing. These nurses handed me this baby."

Dr. Ream: I'd say, "Grace, you know what? None of us knew what we were doing when we first started. And we learned every single day, we learn something new about ourselves and our baby. And it is not up to us to try to find the perfect of anything, the perfect schedule, the perfect routine, or, the perfect ways."

"We just have to figure out what works for us. So what works for you today and what works for your baby today? If you made it today and it felt okay doing what you know how to do, then that was a great day."

Grace: Thank you so much Dr. Ream for such a great conversation.

Dr. Ream: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me.

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Desiree: Well that was a great interview with Dr. Ream. So many wonderful things to take in.

I have always felt I have got to get outside, and that's always been my anchor for me, and I think my kids, we had to get sunshine, we had to get fresh air. It was important for me to see friends and not be stuck at home because I think that being at home really did affect my mental health, especially with the triplets, and that kind of set a little bit of a tone for postpartum depression for me, so getting outside was necessary.

Grace: Well, I had winter babies in New York City, so I couldn't always get outside, but my secret weapon for starting the day was taking a shower, Desiree! That 10 minutes in the shower was my reset. No matter how the day before had gone or what was ahead of me, I felt like, "Okay, I've showered. I'm good. Let's get on with it."

I told Dr. Ream that I was really into my routine and my schedule and getting on it as quickly as possible. Was that the same for you? Or were you more of a chill mom, more of a relaxed mom?

Desiree: Oh gosh. You know, I feel like I'm very much like you, and I like structure and when we brought the triplets home from the NICU, they were actually already on a three-hour feeding routine. So there was already some structure in that.

And so coming home with Cambria, it was a little bit different because I was just feeding her whenever she wanted to be fed. And so her routine started probably a little bit later, and I had to learn a little bit more about her needs and what that structure looked like. But I too thrive on structure.

Grace: Well, I'm a type A personality. "Surprise, surprise!" And a textbook Libra, so I crave balance, and I tried to get my daughter on a schedule right away. I wouldn't have guests over because they were going to disrupt nap time, forget about going out for any meals.

My husband actually says that I was militant. He's very harsh! He didn't understand my need for structure. I'd say, "Okay, let's get the baby in for her nap."

Meanwhile, she's gurgling away happily, and he's looking at me like "What?" And initially my daughter could really care less about my need to control the chaos. She'd skip naps, maybe nurse non-stop, poop just as we were leaving the house. I would get so flustered, but I think she eventually met me halfway.

She fell into a routine, and I learned that you have to be a little—and emphasis on the "little"—more flexible.

But I will tell you that when she was about 3 months, we took her to England to meet my husband's family. And at that point, I had established a schedule and what the heck was I doing? We were going into a different time zone, staying at someone else's house. You can't have this level of neurosis in somebody else's home.

So the naps and the feeds, everything turned upside down. And that was my biggest lesson in really going with the flow and just learning that it was okay, we would eventually get on another routine.

Desiree: That was a huge step in flexibility for you, Grace! I mean, it wasn't just like, "Oh, we're just going to skip nap today." No, "We're going to go to England."

Grace: Yes. I was going to test out the schedule darn it!

You know, I would feel a little bit jealous when I saw other moms at restaurants, and they're just having their brunch and breastfeeding their kid at the same time, because I just didn't feel like I could pull it off because I was so regimented and so into my ideas.

I had read all these books, and they told me, "Get the kid on a schedule," so I said, "Okay!" And I did have friends who would say, "Oh yeah, we can get together. Oh just bring your baby."

And I would think, "Are you for real? Are you seriously messing with my routine here, lady?!"

Desiree: I can relate to that. I feel like with Cambria, it has required me to be more flexible with her having older kids. I mean, I've got to get them outside to play.

So I've had to be more flexible in allowing Cambria to take a nap on the go instead of in her crib or breastfeed while my kids are just playing, and I'm talking to someone doing all the things at one time.

Grace, you know what's also just, I think a lot for us new mamas is when our spouse goes back to work. And for me, that was…ugh, I cried and cried and cried. Both with the triplets and with Cambria because I was terrified. How am I going to do this by myself? What am I going to do all day? How are we going to get through the day? Will I survive?

So many things and it was, it was a lot. And I think for me, I wasn't alone. I mean, I have all these babies around me, I definitely wasn't alone, but in many ways I felt really alone. It felt really isolating.

Grace: You know, it is really isolating. You just want to survive the day, and you know, before, you know it, the days are just going by.

You know, that saying that, "The days are long, but the years are short," and it does hit you when you see this little baby chunking up, and eventually getting on a nap schedule. They get on a nap schedule and you do realize all this worry, all this stress and look how fast it just goes by.

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Grace: Thanks so much for listening to another episode of That New Mom Life. Please share with all your mom friends.

Desiree: Yes, we'd love to have them along—you can find out more at Parents.com/newmompodcast.

Grace : Thanks to all the moms who told us their stories and of course to Dr. Ashurina Ream for her fantastic advice and to our production team, Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, and Sam Walker. I'm Grace Bastidas.

Desiree: And I'm Desiree Fortin. Hang in there mom, you're doing great!

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