Having a baby is all kinds of wonderful and brutal mixed up into one crazy shitstorm of a few months. What do you think? Did I describe that accurately? It’s such a unique and complex experience that is difficult to describe accurately in a few lines. When you become a mother, there’s a lot of talk about survival. And, let’s be honest: that’s what it can be about many days--just getting by. That said, after having my second baby a couple of months ago, I feel better equipped to handle the ups and downs of newborn life and am pretty committed to creating a life that looks a lot more like thriving than surviving. I want to share my own lessons learned and tips to thrive through these crazy days in hopes that it can help other new moms live even a little above that survival baseline and maybe even create a life with her baby that she always envisioned.
#1 Get your feeds in and manage the daytime sleep
This is probably my most specific tip and may not win me any popularity contests depending on your parenting style or school of thought. But I’m ok with it, because I can honestly say that this rule helped me stay sane with both of my babes and, because of that and the nature of this post, I can’t not share it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love baby sleep. And I don’t just mean babies that sleep (although, ultimately that is what we’re aiming for here). I mean I love learning the ins and outs of baby sleep. There is a boatload of literature and resources on this topic and it can be difficult to figure out how you want to approach sleep and how to get your baby to actually do it. But, a common thread I’ve found amongst most sleep resources and professionals is this: have your baby consume most of their feeds during the day. I’m no expert, but this screams logic to me. If your baby consumes the majority of their food during the day, they are less likely to be asking for it all night long. So, I always suggest starting there. Feed every 2-3 hours. Now, this inevitably affects daytime sleep. Sometimes, in order to ensure your baby gets in all of their feeds, you have to wake them from naps (gasp!), thus also controlling their daytime sleep. And here’s the thing: another concept that makes sense to me is that a baby who sleeps all day long will, at some point, sleep less during the night. I know this is the part of my belief system that doesn’t always sit so well with every parent. But, hey, this is my blog. And because I want to provide something really practical and actionable, here’s a rough daily feeding schedule that I used with both of my children from very early days (once they had reached birth weight after that initial loss), and spoiler alert: both of my kiddos have always been awesome night sleepers. By no means are they perfect, but they’re really good. I’m not saying that this is why… but I’m also not saying it’s not. If you’ve never done something before, and you don’t have anyone to tell you where to start, it can feel like driving without a road map. A schedule gives you a starting point, and thus, a little bit of confidence.
Disclaimer: I would use this schedule to base my day off, but would always feed before listed times if baby was hungry, of course (and Austin usually is!). Every day looks a little different, because, of course, babies are not robots.
Feed: 11:30am (top up)
Feed: 6:30pm (sometimes with top up bottle of expressed milk, as supply is lower at end of day)
For my children, this schedule resulted in a maximum of two night feeds that quickly turned into one. Totally manageable for me. Of course, there are a number of circumstances where implementing a daytime feeding schedule combined with appropriate wake windows will not automatically lead to better nighttime sleep. But assuming there are no impeding issues with you and/or your babe, it might be a solid place to start.
I like to follow an age appropriate schedule for daytime sleep limits with lots of flexibility, but, because I don’t feel like getting stoned (people can be a bit touchy about this topic… especially when they find out I wake my babies from time to time), I’m going to leave those explanations to the experts. Here are three of my favourite sleep resources:
Little Ones Sleep Guides: a simple online purchase that helped me structure my day-to-day routine based on age, while helping me implement solid sleep habits in my babes from the beginning.
Baby’s Best Sleep: Amanda’s phone consult saved me during a particularly challenging regression. Her very “real talk” approach on Instagram is appreciated by all moms in the trenches of baby sleep, and her podcast, Slumber Party, covers an array of sleep and parenting related topics.
Taking Cara Babies: Great tips on Instagram, a super informative blog, and available online guides/courses.
I have personally used each of these sleep resources in different capacities and have found value in all of them at different stages of my babies’ lives. I think there is space for a lot of experts in the baby sleep world, because different perspectives and approaches will feel right for different people. It may take some time to feel it out, but always trust your instincts when it comes to the needs of your babe. That will help you decide who you align with best if and when you decide you need baby sleep support.
#2 Ask for and accept help
I admit that, for baby number one, I was not good at this. If you follow my blog, you know I suffered from postpartum anxiety with my daughter, and I think this is primarily why accepting and asking for help was difficult. I didn’t know how to step outside of my anxiety long enough to let anyone in. This would mean potentially losing control of the situation, and I couldn’t handle that.
But this time is different. Oh baby, is it different. I am filled with such a sense of confidence and calm and thank my lucky stars for it every day. I should clarify that confidence doesn’t mean knowing it all. Far from it. It comes from knowing that you aren’t likely to screw anything up too badly, and believing in the power of your instincts to lead the way. This has afforded me to accept any help thrown my way (within reason). You want to watch my baby while I run to the store? Yes please. You are offering to come over so my husband and I can go out to an event? Absolutely. Also, are you available to watch the baby while I go to the dentist? Your loved ones want to help you, but they don’t always know how. They may worry about crossing boundaries or stepping on toes. So, even if they aren’t offering up their assistance, ask for it! They love you and want to support you. I promise. Be confident in this and use your resources. You will be so thankful for the sanity it provides because sometimes you just need to step away and accomplish something not baby related, or simply hit the reset button. Don’t tell yourself any stories about being a nuisance and don’t be a damn marter. No one is going to give you a medal for it and it’s your family who will suffer the consequences. As the saying goes, it takes a village.
If you don’t have close family or friends who can help you out, consider hiring a postpartum doula if that’s an option for you. Many people think of doulas as support for mom and dad during labour and delivery, but what many people don’t realize is that many doulas helps parents in the home during those early months, post-birth. They can support by helping with the baby, doing household chores like laundry, cooking meals, helping with older siblings, etc. This is a really incredible support option, particularly for parents who don’t have friends and family available.
#3 Get outside
If you’re having a rough day with your baby--lots of crying, won’t nap, nothing getting done-- and you’re left feeling drained from being on this hamster wheel of soothing and settling, getting outside can be an incredibly powerful reset. Those difficult days leave you all up in your head and it can be hard to escape. A change of scenery, outside of your four walls, is often all you need to shift into a completely different headspace. I encourage you to leave the house every day. It doesn’t have to be for long, but you have to leave. An article written for Harvard Health Publishing referenced a 2015 study that looked at the brain activity of those that walked in a natural setting vs. an urban one, and found that the subjects who spent time in nature had “lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.” These benefits are very powerful, particularly for the newly postpartum woman, often walking on a narrow tightrope of mental health. If it’s crappy weather, go to the mall and walk around, drive to a cafe and grab a coffee with your baby in the carrier. The act of simply getting outside of your house can completely shift the outcome of your day. The sooner you are able to follow through with this rule consistently, the sooner you will feel like you are doing more than just ‘getting through the day’ with your baby. You will quickly find more enjoyment in your daily routine as a whole.
#4 Find Your Tribe
I’ve written about this topic before, which is a good indication of how powerful I think it is. Historically, women moved and acted in tribes. They were never isolated and asked to care for a child on their own. We are wired to want to support and be supported by other women. So it can feel incredibly isolating to be a new mother caring for their infant alone all day. If you are lucky enough to have friends also on maternity leave or home with their baby at the same time as you, this is a huge advantage. Set up weekly playdates and rotate houses. Have coffee and snacks while your little ones kick around on the floor or take a nap. You can laugh (and cry) together about all of the ridiculousness that is motherhood. It’s incredibly therapeutic to let it all out, the good and the bad, with other people in the same boat, and allows you to escape the daily monotony of being alone at home with your babe.
If you don’t have this automatic mom power group in place, then you have to put in some work. Decide on a few activities that you would enjoy doing that include your baby and tap into the mom groups in your community. If you don’t know what those are or how to find them, ask around (either in person or on local social media groups). You will be amazed at how quickly other women flock to get you up and running (because that’s what we do for each other!). I really wish I had done this sooner on my first mat leave, as I wasn’t lucky enough to have a group of friends close by also on leave. But, around the time Ayla was six months, I joined a mom and baby yoga class, a music class, and a creative play class. I also met another new mom and we set up weekly play/coffee dates. Having these weekly activities got me out of the house, provided new stimulation for my daughter and introduced me to a group of incredible women. This completely changed the trajectory of my mat leave. I enjoyed our days more and made friendships with women whom I am still close with now and commiserate with on a regular basis. This time around I was much quicker to jump into the mom and baby community, but being a bit busier now, I was very picky with how I wanted to spend my energy. I decided being active was what filled my cup the most, so I sought out workout classes that allowed me to have baby in tow and they became a regular part of my weekly schedule. I love working out, so this was a natural move for me, but I get just as much out of these meetups because of the connection it provides with other moms. I leave every class feeling fulfilled and uplifted. These are emotions I connect a lot more with thriving than simply survival.
#5 Know that self care is mandatory, not a luxury.
(and remember you are more than a mother)
There’s something about moms in particular that make us feel like if we do anything for ourselves, we’re being self indulgent, and inevitably, feelings of guilt tarnish the very little “me” time we get. Stop viewing self care as a luxury. It needs to be a mandatory part of your week. Not month. Week. Maybe day. Taking care of yourself benefits several areas of your life. When you put your own oxygen mask on first, so to speak, it ensures you have the ability to take care of your loved ones. It’s true on airplanes and it’s true in your daily life. You can’t possibly give to your children or your partner if you’re empty. So fill that cup, damnitt, and if you’re having a difficult time getting this done, refer back to tip #2.
It’s incredibly important that our children see us take a break from mothering to care for ourselves. We are modelling the act of self care when we do this and communicating to them the importance of it in their own lives. I don’t want my daughter thinking that my only job is to be her mother and that I don’t value anything else. Because it is so far from the truth. You were someone before you were a mother and that person still exists. So step back from your daily duties and find some solitude. Remember who that woman was before she birthed her children and go spend some time with her. I am regretful that it took me so long to wholeheartedly embrace this philosophy with my daughter. But am thankful that this reflection has allowed me to honour it now.
For me, I have some non negotiables on a weekly basis. Once I passed that six week mark, I needed time to workout a minimum of 3 times a week in order to feel like I have enough gas in the tank to give to my family without feeling drained. Sometimes I work out with a group of other moms, babies in tow. Sometimes I work out in my basement over nap or after the kids are in bed. Other times I will go to the gym in the evenings. Working out is an immediate reminder of who I was before I was a mom and it’s what I still love to do for me. Something else that takes minimal planning and that I find pretty easy to do is take a nightly shower. Basic hygiene may not sound revolutionary, but there’s something very therapeutic about that quiet time in a hot shower at the end of a long day and enjoying some solitude before bed. This is a simple daily self-care activity that refreshes and relaxes me.
So find your mandatory, non negotiable self-care routines, ensure your partner and support system are very clear on what they are, and make them happen every week. At the beginning of this year, Dave and I made individual plans that mapped out our ideal daily, monthly and weekly routines. This was an organized and clear way to communicate to each other what we needed in order to be our best selves. We talked about the items on each other’s lists and work really hard to support each other in making them happen. Not only does it allow us to parent better, but it makes us better partners.
Taking care of yourself is not a luxury. If you want to thrive in the rest of your roles, it’s priority.
Not surprisingly, when I asked other parents on my Instagram to send me their top tips to crushing life with a newborn, I was sent some great advice. This just proves once again how powerful the parent community is and how you should be tapping into it on the regular (not just moms, because I had a few dads toss their hats in the ring as well).
Much of the advice echoed a lot of what I have included above, so you can trust that these tips are working for a lot of parents out there. And because I couldn’t pick just one additional tip to include, here are some of my favourites that made their way into my DMs:
It’s only temporary.
This is so beyond true when it comes to babies. I remember hitting a difficult phase with Ayla and thinking, “Is this forever? Is this the new normal?” It isn’t. Nothing is. So, whether you’re in a good phase or a difficult one, know that it will pass.
Have a to-do list of chores ready for anyone who asks how they can help.
Such a good idea that had never crossed my mind! You want to help? Here’s my list. Pick whatever you’d like!
Be kind to yourself and lower your expectations. Take it one day at a time.
I combined a few here, but it seemed appropriate. Have grace for yourself. You are doing a HUGE job while likely adjusting to the biggest role change of your life. Your day-to-day is bound to look very different. Embrace that and work towards being ok with it.
So, that’s it. I feel like this is a solid foundation to get you up and running towards the life you always dreamed of living with your baby. Even though some days it will inevitably be about simply surviving, it doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t be!) like that all of the time. Be an active participant in creating the life that you want as you travel through those first few crazy months with your baby. It will all be over before you know it, and although challenging at times, you’re not going to want to miss it.