Welcome to Planet Parenthood, where the sleep is scarce but the love will blow you away. Your newborn may seem to be mostly eating and sleeping, but he or she is actually tackling some complicated developmental tasks:
- Learning to eat and digest nourishment
- Learning to sleep at night
- Learning to handle lots of stimulation
- Developing trust in other people
- Rapid physical and brain development
- Prelanguage development and sound recognition
- Recognizing visual, auditory, and other experiential patterns
- Settling into her body
Your challenges are equally huge:
- Learning everything about your baby, even though he was delivered without an owner's manual -- and as soon as you figure it out, he changes!
- Renegotiating your entire life, when you can't even find time to take a shower
- Learning to nurse your baby
- Learning how to comfort her
- Figuring out how to get some sleep
- Gaining the confidence that you really are the perfect parent for this baby!
What's the best strategy?
Relax and enjoy each moment. Don't sweat the small stuff. (And everything except caring for your baby is small stuff.)
Trust Mother Nature. You grew this baby. You're his or her mother. Your baby is your teacher. If you pay attention, you'll learn quickly what your baby needs. Then trust her to unfold perfectly, as she was created to do.
Wear your baby. Babies are designed to be held. She'll cry less. You'll be more in touch with her cues.
Breastfeed. He'll be healthier, have a higher IQ, and cry less. You'll be happier in the middle of all that unfolded laundry. (The hormones that get released when you nurse are similar to those released after orgasm.) Nurse on demand, not on schedule. Get whatever advice you need to get nursing established. As soon as your baby can handle it, nurse at night lying down, so you can doze while she nurses; you won't be so exhausted the next day from night feedings.
Sleep whenever and wherever you can. For me, the family bed was the only way to get any sleep at all. It makes some people anxious. There are now great options, like a baby bunk, that connect right up against your bed so your husband can't roll on the baby accidentally. My advice is to read as much as you can, and then lose the guilt. Do what works for you and your baby.
Plan for the baby to be with Mom or Dad as much as possible for at least the first year. An infant needs to be with an adult who is crazy about her. That's too much to expect from a paid caretaker. Not to mention that if the paid caretaker IS crazy about the baby and leaves your employ -- and the chances of turnover are very high -- your baby will experience it as a tremendous loss. HE doesn't know this isn't a second mother. In fact, if he spends most of his waking hours with her, he doesn't know it isn't his primary mother.
If you stay home with a baby, don't let yourself get isolated. At the very least, get out of the house every single day and go for a walk. (No one cares if your hair doesn't look its best, I guarantee.) Or get together with other moms or dads and talk babies. Or politics (For instance, why the U.S. is one of only five countries that doesn't mandate some form of paid maternal leave, putting us on par with Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, and Swaziland!)
De-prioritize everything else, except eating, sleeping and loving, for yourself and the rest of your family. This isn't just for moms. It's amazing how many dads assume their lives can go on as usual when there's a new baby at home.
Enjoy every moment. Your baby is growing and changing every day. Before you know it, he'll be crawling, walking, running, asking for your car keys. Whatever feels unbearable now will be over before you know it. Whatever is precious, revel in it. This is the foundation of your relationship with your child.
Dr. Laura Markham