It’s the honest truth – the first 12 weeks with a newborn are tough, at times hellish. My expectations were intentionally low once we brought our little one home. I didn’t assume she would sleep through the night and only cry when hungry or wet, but rather assumed it would be incredibly hard. And I think these realistic expectations helped me get through her first weeks. Here are some other tactics I used during her first three months.
Take it Hour by Hour
Days can be long with a newborn, and overwhelming. For me, rather than wake up each morning wondering how I was going to get through the next 24-hour period, I’d segment the day into 1-2 hour intervals. Once I started transitioning my brain into that way of thinking, the daily mommy duties became less daunting and more attainable. And I started to relax a bit, rather than wake up anxious about how I would tackle everything.
Look At Your Baby, Not the Clock
I found so many baby advice books speak about the importance of “getting your baby on a schedule, right from day one”. I’m a firm believer in the importance of routine, but those first few weeks with a newborn are so chaotic. While routine is important, it’s more about survival. A really good piece of information a friend of mine told me was to throw out the clock, and instead look at the little one for “scheduling cues”. And once I started to do this, my mind relaxed. Rather than think “oh, she’ll need to sleep in an hour”, I would look for yawns and eye rubbing. And when she was hungry, she’d let me know with her cries.
Accept the Good, Bad and Ugly
Looking back, those first few weeks gave moments of complete euphoria mixed in with utter exhaustion, defeat and frustration. I dreaded Ingrid’s bedtime, as it was usually a battle with a fussy baby from 4 – 7 pm, and putting her to bed at night usually took about 90 minutes (let’s be honest, sometimes 2-3 hours). What helped me was when I decided to change my train of thought. I accepted those feelings of frustration and defeat wholeheartedly, told myself it was ok I felt that way, and then moved on. And when I was alone and felt frustrated, I would place my little one in her crib, knowing she was safe (albeit unhappy), gave myself a few minutes alone (sometimes crying in the bathroom), and then went back to her with a clearer mind.
Eat Good Food
Healthy, home cooked food can be incredible therapy, especially during trying times. I have a few vivid memories of those first few weeks with my little one. One is of my sister who flew in for 36 hours from Montreal when Ingrid was 6 days old, and she cooked up a storm in my kitchen – breakfast cookies, gluten free vegan mac and cheese, chickpea peanut stew. Another memory is of a friend who dropped off a vegan and gluten free fruit crisp and lasagna on our door step, with merely a text that said “I was in your neighbourhood and dropped off some food for you”. No expectation of a visit or to meet our baby, but simply a “I’m a mom and I know what it’s like”. These two memories still make me a bit weepy, because food was my medicine. And those dark chocolate almond squares my sister brought me helped me get through those first 72 hours of non-stop cluster feeding.
When our little one arrived, my stubbornness kicked into high gear where I was determined to try and do it all on my own. But boy was it tough and I quickly realized I needed help – emotionally as well as physically. A colleague of mine wrote me detailed emails those first 7 days that had to be about 700 words each, which I cherished, and actually saved to read during the early morning hours, to feel more normal. Girlfriends back home would text and BBM me constantly, not expecting a reply, but simply to check in with a sounding ear. And my husband was my rock. Sure he felt completely useless during those first weeks when our little one only wanted my boob and/or chest, but he’ll never understand how much I cherished everything he did, despite him thinking it was nothing – a shoulder to cry on when breastfeeding was so incredibly hard and my body ached from delivery, his willingness to clean and keep the house in order when everything completely out of control, his culinary skills and the countless pharmacy visits he made to try and find a Sitz bath.
I’m a home body to begin with, and I knew I would become a hermit those first several weeks once our little one arrived, and I’m glad I did. With most of my family out east, family visits were few. And my husband and I were both committed to telling our friends we’d need a few weeks on our own before we introduced our little one. I also felt it incredibly difficult to even try and schedule any kind of visit or appointment when our little one was so young, as I was really flying by the seat of my pants. Fewer commitments helped me place my full attention on my little one.
Get Out of the House
I’m such a homebody, probably close to a bit of a hermit. I was very happy those first few weeks of staying housebound with our little one. But when I started cornering our dog walker for 20-30 minutes of adult conversation everyday (and making her late for her other dog clients), I realized I needed to get outside. Was it easy? Absolutely not – and instead, incredibly daunting thinking I had to get this little creature dressed and in her stroller, along with trying to remember clothing myself. But each day became a bit easier, and the outside world helped provide me with a bit of normalcy, which was very therapeutic.
It Will Get Easier
When you’re in the depths of parenthood with a newborn, daily struggles are so frequent that you think it’s impossible for it to get harder – and then it does. So you quickly learn to adapt to a challenging lifestyle and a little person who constantly depends on you. But then one day you realize that the usual 3-hour cluster feeds have reduced to a bedtime snack, your baby goes to sleep on their own in their crib rather than on your chest and you can fathom staying up past 7 pm to have an adult conversation with your partner. It is true – it does get easier. A lot easier. And yes, there will still be days and nights where you want to cry and pull your hair out, but you’ll also start missing the night time feeds because of those newborn baby snuggles (even if you don’t want to admit it!).
So take it all in now mama, and breathe!