The following is a guest post from Lamaze International professional team member, Amanda O'Kane, who is pregnant with her second baby.
Considering I literally asked out loud, “Why is there a baby crying in the other room?” the day I brought my first-born home, I’m hoping to be more prepared as I look forward to welcoming baby number two in a few months.
Becoming a mother was such an incredible learning experience for me, and changed my outlook as I plan for my second baby. To say that I grasped a ton the first time would be an understatement, and I wanted to share a few things I’ll be sure to remember going into the first weeks with a newborn the second time.
1. Expect a Few Surprises
Washing newborn sleepers, packing my hospital bag, and installing the infant car seat are must-dos on my list, but I’ve learned that I can only prepare so much. Checking these things off does not mean that I will be fully ready for the first weeks of feeding, changing diapers, and settling a newborn to sleep.
Giving in to my nesting urge helps me feel more prepared, but I also give myself mercy knowing that there are always surprises that shock even the most experienced mother, especially in the newborn stage.
I think this is why women often say, “Welcome to the club,” to new mothers. Even in those first few weeks, I learned some of the highest joys and unspoken secrets that all of my mom friends had made such a big deal about. It was as if I had to experience it myself to fully understand, since I could never be so excited for someone else’s baby to sleep a four hour stretch and establish good feeding habits or if my friend fit into her pre-pregnancy jeans once again.
2. Keep My Expectations Low (Lower, Lower, There You Go!)
Our culture tends to downplay the difficulty of the early weeks with a new baby. The reality is that the postpartum period is a mix of exciting and frustrating moments. If I have high expectations, I know I will be easily disappointed. According to a study done at University College London, happier people have lower expectations. This does not mean settling, but think of it as being realistic.
With my first baby, I tried to intentionally keep my expectations low since I didn’t know what would be required. While there were still difficult moments, I remember thinking at various points through the first months with my baby that it was never as challenging with a newborn as others had made it out to be. I credit this fully to remaining reasonable in what I expected.
We live in a social-media obsessed culture, and comparison is risky when you look at your full life and someone else’s best self (i.e. only what they show on social media). We see that women are losing all of the baby weight, taking international flights, and enjoying regular date nights within weeks of giving birth. Those goals aren’t usually realistic unless you have full time help and are willing to participate while sleep deprived with a hungry baby! I admire Chrissy Teigen for opening up about her battle with postpartum depression, and remind myself that I don’t know what others are dealing with by looking at their Instagram feeds.
3. Aim to Shower and Go for a Walk (Preferably Outside) Every Day
Did you realize how low those expectations should be that I referenced above? One of the doctors gave me this advice while I was still in the hospital, and it was the best I received for the first two weeks.
Simply accomplishing these two tasks made me feel so much better, and more like my old self versus only taking care of the baby. Honestly, there were days that I didn’t have capacity to do anything further (since I was also keeping my new little human alive!).
4. Accept Help
This is one of the most popular tips for new mothers, and for good reason. I LOVE trying new recipes, and between my mom, takeout, friends, and a few meals I had frozen in advance, I did not cook a single meal for the first six weeks. Not one. How fortunate was I to have so many people in my village! They say it takes one to raise a child, and if someone offered assistance, my response was yes.
Whether a friend suggested she watch our baby for an hour so my husband and I could grab a quick meal together, or a colleague stopped by and asked to hold the baby, I always accepted. Someone gave me a tip to keep a list of all of the people who said to let them know if there was anything they could do to help before the baby was born, and then reference the list once the baby was here. A few years later, I still keep this list for emergencies!
5. Know That Other People Will Always Have Different Opinions (and it is okay!)
I asked for a lot of advice when I was expecting my first baby, and then at some point I realized that I wouldn’t be able to simultaneously give my baby a pacifier to reduce the chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and withhold a pacifier in order to avoid nipple confusion since I was nursing.
I’ve learned that we all parent differently; what has worked for me is different than others’ experiences (and is probably still unlike what will be best for my next baby). It is easy to focus on comparing sleeping patterns, feeding routines, and parenting philosophies. However, I’ve found that it is more important to look at the bigger picture, knowing that like everything else in life, each mother’s own experiences influence her behavior.
We need to support one another. It seems that the mother who is most prepared envies the one who can go with the flow, and the reverse is also true. The parent who follows a strict bedtime schedule wishes she could stay out later, and the mom with a loose routine wishes her child would just go to bed already!
Keep in mind that most parents are doing their best, and that in and of itself means we are all succeeding at the parenthood gig, regardless of how different our styles look. I’d love to hear in the comments below one thing you wish you had known or would like to know as you plan for the exciting first few weeks of motherhood!
Amanda O’Kane welcomed a charming son in 2014 and is expecting her second baby this fall. She is passionate about working full time in marketing communications, loves being an avid runner when she has the chance, likes traveling with her family, and enjoys acting as an amateur chef for her household most weeknights. She lives in Arlington, VA, with her family.