Count more sheep: Sleep when the baby sleeps
It’s kind of ironic that sleep is the one thing you need more than anything else during early parenthood, but it’s also the one thing you just cannot get enough of. Exhaustion can cause irritability and mood swings (as if you need more of those!); it can also weaken your immune system and affect your ability to concentrate, make decisions, and handle the responsibilities of being someone’s mom. Babies don’t typically sleep long stretches like adults do (since they like to eat every two to three hours), but they do sleep 14 to 18 hours a day. So instead of washing the dishes or checking your email, close your eyes when your baby closes hers. Even a short nap can go a long way toward reducing stress. To get some uninterrupted Zs at night, recruit help. If your baby normally eats at midnight, 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., ask hubby to take the 3 a.m. feeding every once in a while so you can get six hours of quality slumber.
Mommy time: Take good care of you
At this point you’re a pro at pampering your baby, but don’t forget mommy needs a little pampering as well. Whether you want to get a pedicure or pound the pavement, make time for what makes you happy. Most importantly, be sure you’re taking good care of yourself. Try to eat healthily and get some exercise. Finding time to break a sweat may seem like just another item on your growing to-do list, but working out actually boosts energy and helps you conquer the long days of motherhood; plus, it naturally reduces your stress levels.
Love thy partner: Maintain a bond with your baby daddy
Nothing strains a relationship like having a baby. You may think your number one priority should be your bundle of joy—and honestly, it should—but it’s beneficial for children to be raised by parents who have a strong, supportive relationship. You can’t kick your man to the curb just because a new love of your life has come along! Many experts (and moms alike) recommend regular date nights, but you don’t need dinner and a movie to connect with your spouse. Galena Rhoades, PhD, psychologist and senior researcher at the University of Denver, has studied the effect children can have on marriage. She recommends making an effort to bond with your partner, even if it’s just through small things, like an occasional hand-in-hand stroll around the block. “It doesn’t have to be an extravagant date night. It’s just time when you get to connect as a couple.”
After you gave birth, your social life may have vanished as quickly as your ability to laugh without leaking. But having a support system is a sanity saver, so if you don’t feel connected to your non-parent pals anymore, find other moms who can relate. Pamela Zabala, a new mom in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, found a mommy group through the website meetup.com. “It was a relief to identify with other moms who were having the same sleep, relationship and health issues that I was.” You can also attend mommy-and-me classes or groups in your community, or even just frequent mommy-populated areas like the park and library. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to strike up a conversation with a fellow mommy when you both have babies in tow.
A little help, please: Lean on friends and family
Every mom wants to be a superhero and do everything herself, but sometimes she just can’t. So when someone offers to help, take her up on it. If your MIL arrives and asks how she can be of service, don’t be bashful—hand her that laundry basket! If you don’t have a crew of family and friends eager to pitch in, consider hiring some outside help. A cleaning service can be a worthwhile investment in your happiness (and may be worth sacrificing a shopping trip or two to afford), even if they just come once a month. If nothing else, splurge on a babysitter once in a while for some much-needed alone time, or enjoy a night on the town with your girlfriends.
Take a deep breath: Let it go
There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and resentment are normal, so cut yourself some slack. While you’re at it, maybe cut your partner some slack as well. He may not heat the bottle correctly or be a diaper-changing pro, but he’s doing his best too. Having unrealistic expectations for either yourself or your partner is just setting you up for disappointment, so keep it real. If you blow your top, don’t be too hard on yourself—it happens to every one of us hormone-infused new moms. Things might be stressful and a little less than perfect at the moment, but the fact that you just brought a baby home from the hospital makes you one of the luckiest people on the planet.