A year ago, my sister had a baby. After talking with her on a more difficult day, I wrote down some of my best advice for survival as a mother of a newborn. Now that I've had my turn to experience it again, I've tried to remind myself of my own advice and follow it. And in an effort to remember these things and to help any new mothers out there, here it is:
- Get Sleep Whenever You Can. My mom always says, "sleep when the baby is sleeping." So often, an exhausted mom can get re-energized as she beings to finally get some other things done around the home. But some rest, the exhaustion will return even worse, and may lead to an emotional breakdown later on. So I've learned to take a nap every day. Honestly, I take daily naps even when I don't have a newborn. When my napping child naps, the others have a "quiet time" with a show, my phone goes on silent, and I nap. And now with a newborn, since we are getting less sleep at night, my naps have been long! But that seems to give me the energy I need for "part 2" of my day.
- Get A Support Group. Accept help when it's offered, and ask for help when you don't have it. With my sister living on the other side of the country, I wanted so badly to help her with her newborn, but couldn't. I needed other "sister" figures in her life to reach out and help in a way that I would if I could. She felt the same toward me, and begged me this time around to accept any help that was offered. I agreed that I would. I was blessed to have extra help with carpooling, playdates, meals, etc. that made all the difference in staying afloat. There is no way I could have survived that time without all the help I received. And I even hired my dear cleaning friend once to spend a couple hours cleaning our home. That was nice!
- Throw Out Your To-Do List. This isn't the time for high expectations of yourself. My daily to-do list had only 1 or 2 items at the most, but on most days, it was non-existent. I didn't commit to much or plan on doing much. I didn't look at our calendar. I didn't respond to most emails, or even worry about returning phone calls. I wouldn't have been able to keep up. I gave myself permission to give "thank you" cards in the form of a text or email, so that I didn't feel overwhelmed by a long list of cards to write. And I think this overall feeling of low expectations of myself prevented me from getting overwhelmed by what I thought I should be doing.
- Do the Crucial Things for YOU. Decide what you need, personally, in order to be happy. Then make sure to do those basic things each day. For me, those things include personal prayer, scripture study, a shower and getting dressed (and this can feel like a big accomplishment on those hard days), a conversation with a close relative or friend, etc. Exercise would be on the list if it wasn't impossible to do just after having a baby. So to replace that, I would say that just getting outside to get some fresh air is good. I remember being at our house for an entire week, without going anywhere. Some of those days, I didn't even make it outside. I would have done better if I had gotten some fresh air at least. Some days I just wanted to paint my nails or wash my hair, so that became a high priority for the day. And somehow little things like that made me feel "normal" again.
- Be Prepared for Baby Blues and/or Postpartum Depression. If you delivered a baby, it's going to happen to some degree. The hormone changes are real, and at some point, you'll probably need to have a good cry! Even if you don't know why you are crying. For me, it seems to be linked with the lack of sleep as well, so if I can get more sleep, my sadness can be greatly reduced. I've spent a lot of time researching online the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression. Postpartum is more prolonged and may require help to overcome it. And women who have postpartum tend to get it a little more with each child. I had postpartum with my third baby, so I expected it with this one, and tried to do all I could to prevent it (which I think has worked out). It's so important to be aware and to get help if it's needed, so that you can be at your best to care for your little ones. I've decided to be open about my more difficult and "weepy" days so that I don't fall in to a lonely trap of depression. That has helped.
I know my list is incomplete, but it covers the main things that have helped me.
What else have you other mothers found helpful during those challenging weeks with a newborn? (I should have asked this before I went through it!)