When my husband and I first brought our daughter home from the hospital, we were filled with so many different emotions. Pregnancy did not come as easily to us as it did to many of our friends, and while we were beyond excited to (finally!) become parents, we were more than a little overwhelmed. Neither of us had ever held a newborn, let alone changed a dirty diaper, and once the wonderful world of sleep deprivation took its hold on us, the most basic tasks started to feel impossible.
I often chuckle when I think back over that first, sleep-deprived year of motherhood, when I lay awake for hours on end with the vacuum cleaner blaring at my feet in an effort to get my sweet child to stop screaming, but when I was in the thick of it, it wasn’t the least bit funny. I always thought my friends were exaggerating when they told me their kids kept them up all. night. long. when they were babies, but it wasn’t until I was going through it myself that I realized just how inaccurate the term ‘sleep like a baby’ really is.
I have vague memories of calling a couple of my friends crying in my early days as a mother, but none of them were particularly comforting to me. Sure, they listened to me and provided a couple of words of encouragement here and there, but they never offered me any help, and I always got the sense they kind of enjoyed hearing me sob uncontrollably on the other end of the phone.
Which isn’t the kind of a support a new mother needs.
I eventually found solace from various online support groups and a fabulous sleep coach who provided me with my very own personalized sleep plan, and when my little girl finally started sleeping through the night and I started to pull myself out of the postpartum hole I had fallen into, I made a promise to myself that I would be a much better friend.
I would never say useless things like, ‘sleep when the baby sleeps!’ or ‘it gets better!’ to a new mother, nor would I give her one of those annoyingly smug Been There, Done That! looks when she started crying about the 4-month sleep regression and the miserable world of sleep deprivation it brings with it.
I would simply open my arms wide and give my poor friend a hug, and when her sobs slowed and eventually turned into hiccups, I would offer her a glass of my chardonnay and share my best tips for sleep deprived parents before tucking her into my bed and taking her little one out for a walk so she could get some rest.
Because THAT, my friends, is what good friends do.
1. GET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT
I have always been a Type A, GO! GO! GO! kind of person, and while that served me well while I was climbing the corporate ladder, my constant need to prove to the world that I can handle anything and everything completely backfired on me during my first year of motherhood. I was so concerned with trying to do it all while simultaneously sporting freshly washed hair and perfectly applied makeup, that I failed to realize no one (least of all my husband) expected any of that stuff from me.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and even though I can’t go back in time and tell my new-mom self to back away from the toilet scrubber and take a 15-minute power nap, my biggest advice to new parents is to make sure you have your priorities straight.
Take stock of which tasks are essential, which are nice-to-haves, and which are a total waste of your time, and tackle them accordingly.
And remember: no one will care if you go 3 days without showering.
2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF VISITORS
In the first few weeks after we brought our daughter home from the hospital, everyone wanted to come and visit us, and we were so pumped and full of adrenaline that we welcomed them all with open arms. For the most part, the distraction was a welcome one as it was nice to socialize with adults and feel connected with things that didn’t involve poop and spit-up, but I deeply regret that I didn’t take my mother up on all of her offers to take care of my colicky baby while I had a shower or took a nap. She was living halfway around the world in Singapore at the time, and because I knew my time with her was so limited, I decided I didn’t want to miss any of it.
But then my husband went back to work, my mother flew home, and the visitors stopped coming, and I was all alone with my sleep-deprived, postpartum hormones.
It was a lonely time in my life, and I have since learned that accepting the help of others so I can be a better mom and wife does NOT make me weak.
3. LEARN TO CUT CORNERS
About 9 months into my career as a stay-at-home mom, I had a moment of clarity while my daughter was napping one afternoon. I had taken our food processor into our bathroom, closed the door as quietly as I could, shoved 3 towels around the door frame, and pureed a week’s worth of baby food on our bathroom counter, and when I started to make my way back to the kitchen while simultaneously balancing 6 containers of nutritious meals for my little one in one hand and our food processor in the other, I realized I was holding my breath.
And my heart was pounding uncontrollably.
I had been so worried the noise would wake my little one up from her nap prematurely and I wouldn’t have time to iron all of my husband’s shirts for the week, and it wasn’t until I saw my crazed expression staring back at me through the reflection in our microwave that I realized how ridiculous I was being.
I was ruining my health over baby food and ironing?
So I put on a pot of coffee, sat myself down on the couch, watched a little daytime TV, and when my daughter woke up from her nap, the 2 of us drove my husband’s work clothes over to our local dry-cleaner.
We also popped into our local grocery store and bought a few cans of prepared baby food.
I’ve since became the queen outsourcing tasks, and my life is much more enjoyable as a result.
4. CONSIDER ROOM SHARING / CO-SLEEPING
I was so caught up in the belief that co-sleeping would lead to a lifetime of sleep issues with my daughter that I absolutely refused to let her sleep anywhere but in her crib when she was a baby. This resulted in MONTHS and MONTHS of sleepless nights, and while I was rewarded with a child who absolutely loves sleeping in her own room now that she’s older, I whole-heartedly believe those first few months of motherhood would have been much easier on me if I hadn’t been so rigid.
5. DO SOMETHING YOU ENJOY
When I was in the throes of the first few months of motherhood and the sleep deprivation it brings with it, there really wasn’t a whole lot I could do to make myself feel better. I didn’t have any family I could call to help me out, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of hiring a babysitter, my husband was stupidly busy at work, and since my daughter was up 4-6 times a night (and the only thing that could calm her was one of my boobs), dinner and drinks with the girls was out.
But I needed to do something for myself or I was going to completely lose my mind, so in the wee hours of the night when it felt as though I was the only person in the entire world who was awake, I read every single blog post from Kelly Oxford’s blog, Eject, made it through her entire Twitter feed, and eventually found a bunch of other humor bloggers I still follow to this day.
I started to look forward to those late-night feeding sessions – and sometimes laughed so hard I woke my daughter up – and those precious hours with my daughter, my boobs, and my iPhone are what inspired me to put my career in marketing on hold and create this website.
6. FIND A SUPPORT GROUP
Before I found Kelly Oxford, I spent many nights reading stories from new moms like myself who were struggling in one way or another. Some were sleep deprived like me, but others had more serious concerns on their hands. I never had the courage to reach out to any of them personally, but their stories always made me feel less alone, and often made me take stock of how luck I was (and still am).
Of course, support groups are typically more effective when they involve in-person get-togethers, and if I could have a do-over, I would have swallowed my fear and approached all of the moms I encountered at the grocery store, park, and mall each day instead of ducking my head and avoiding eye contact.
I would’ve been a lot less lonely if I had!
I strongly urge you to find a group of people you can connect with in some way or another so you feel less alone as you navigate your way through the first year of parenthood.
It really does take a village!
7. GET UP AND MOVE
I have always been an active person – I can’t sit still for more than 30 minutes without losing my mind – but I was so caught up with following all of the sleep advice I read online about ensuring my daughter slept in the same place for all of her naps and at bedtime, that I spent most of my time inside.
Which is not a good idea for a new mom.
So on a complete whim one afternoon when the weather was unseasonably warm, my daughter was refusing to nap, and I was desperate from some Vitamin D, I strapped her into her stroller and took her for a long walk outside.
It took her a while to fall asleep and I initially worried I had made a huge mistake, but she eventually nodded off and the fresh air and movement made such a difference in my mood that I started making stroller naps part of our weekly routine.
Getting out does wonders for the soul, and while it sometimes seems like more trouble than it’s worth when you factor in the time needed to pack a diaper bag and figure out a place to go, I guarantee it will make you feel better.
8. TALK WITH A SLEEP COACH
I read so many books and articles on sleep and sleep training in the first 6+ months of my daughter’s life, and when each of the different techniques failed miserably, I was convinced the world didn’t want me to sleep ever again and gave up.
What was the point?
But after an(other) tearful night of rocking and bouncing and walking my daughter for 3+ hours, only to have her wake up 45 minutes later so I could start the routine all over again, I cracked and decided to ask for some help.
I found a wonderful woman named Nicole Johnson, who is the founder of The Baby Sleep Site™, and from the first email I received from her, I knew I was in good hands. Not only did she listen to everything I had to say, but she also reassured me that what I was experiencing was normal, and that I was not alone.
She gave me a personalized sleep plan that DID NOT include letting my daughter cry-it-out in her room for hours on end, and emailed me repeatedly over the course of the week as I implemented her strategies. She offered encouragement and support throughout the whole process, and within the first 24 hours we were getting more sleep than we had in months.
I have since contacted her for help with a couple of other sleep challenges – nap transitions and night terrors – and her strategies have brought us back to a good night of sleep every single time.
9. LEARN HOW TO SAY ‘NO’
I have always been a people pleaser, and my GO! GO! GO! attitude often makes me take on more than I can handle, which was a recipe for disaster when I was a sleep deprived zombie full of postpartum hormones. I felt like I was constantly racing against time, and spent a lot of my free time crying into my pillow, but once I learned the art of saying ‘no’ when I was feeling overwhelmed and at capacity, my life got so much easier.
I find the trick is to be completely honest with people. I don’t hide behind excuses and worry I’ll be caught in a lie later, and by being 100% upfront with friends and family, I find they respect me that much more.
10. CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK
Being a parent is difficult on a good day, but when you’re caring for a demanding, colicky newborn on zero sleep, it can feel downright impossible. So rather than berating yourself for not finding the time to shower, put on makeup, throw in a load of laundry, make it to the grocery store, or cook dinner, give yourself credit for all the things you DID do today.
And when you find yourself feeling exhausted and overwhelmed and worried that you will never sleep again, remember:
THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
Parenthood is the hardest job you will ever have, and while things won’t necessarily get easier as your little one grows older, you will become more experienced and learn to take things in stride.
And you will sleep again.
You can count on it.
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