When you’re stumbling along the path of early parenthood, life can become pretty foggy. Simple decisions—the blue shirt or the green? (for the baby, of course—you haven’t had a clean anything on your body in days)—become overwhelming. The normal tasks of adulthood like organizing, cooking and folding laundry are almost too much to comprehend. Plus, you are taking care of an additional person, a tiny little one who can’t do a single thing for herself or even verbalize what she needs.
Until the fog begins to lift, there are a few things you can do to make your journey a bit easier. Because we’ve been in your shoes and know how hard it is to remember anything on 20-minute intervals of sleep, we’ve broken it down into seven easy words. (It’s OK if you need to write them down. We won’t judge.) Here’s what you need to do to survive.
The thing about sleep is … you’re just not going to get much of it. But you have to find a way to get at least a little, or you’ll be no good to anyone. If you’re able, you really should sleep when the baby sleeps. People say that all the time for good reason. It helps. (Sorry, moms with kids already at home—probably isn’t happening for you.)
Another option is asking your partner to take a turn with night duty. “I am no good with only one or two hours of consecutive sleep, so I would sleep for five to six hours straight while [my partner] was up caring for the twins; then we’d switch,” shares Raina Bouphavong, a mom of two in Rochester, New York. Even if he’s going to work the next day, one 30-minute feeding and diaper change in the night probably won’t hurt him. If he really can’t help during the week, ask him to step it up on the weekends, so you can catch up on your Z’s.
You may also be lucky enough to have a friend or family member who is willing to handle baby duty while you indulge in some blessed shut-eye. You might feel like you should spend your baby-free time cleaning or returning phone calls or entertaining guests, but you shouldn’t. You should spend it sleeping, at least until your baby has gotten on a schedule that leaves you feeling somewhat alive. You need to rest, ladies. Trust us on this one.
Sadly, I know very few moms who eat well. Most of my friends eat like I do: a handful of crackers here, the crusts from a PB&J there. When my tot was a newborn, it was not unusual for me to realize at bedtime that I had not placed a single bite of worthwhile sustenance in my mouth all day. And that is just not acceptable. Moms cannot exist on cereal alone, especially if they’re breastfeeding.
What you should do is eat healthy, energy-boosting snacks or mini-meals every few hours. The key is to have foods on hand that do not require “fixing.” If you have to choose between the melon that needs to be sliced and diced or the chips that simply have to be torn open, you’ll obviously go for the chips. You need to make healthy choices easy.
You should also aim to eat one “real” meal a day. Remember, food is like fuel for your body—it keeps your engine running. You have to fill up every once in a while. And if you’re thinking about that baby weight still hanging on your hips, give yourself a break. Remember the phrase, “Nine months up, nine months down”—there’s plenty of time to worry about getting back into shape after you’ve started functioning normally.
In a perfect world, we’d all have the opportunity to shower once a day. In a new mom’s world, bathing opportunities can be few and far between. That water beating down your back is nothing short of heaven on earth, so when the opportunity arises, seize it. Five minutes under the hot water will make you feel instantly alive in a way few other things can.
Don’t be afraid to hop in the shower while your mother-in-law is gushing over her perfect new grandbaby, or while your bambino is napping in her bassinet. (If it makes you feel better, bring the monitor into the bathroom with you.) You don’t have to bask in the beauty of bathing for half an hour—although if you can, that’s not an entirely bad idea—you just need to get clean. Wash off the grime and breast milk and tiredness. A few minutes will do the trick.
More than one mom has dragged a portable cradle into the bathroom to keep an eye on her newbie from behind the curtain—that’s fine too, as long as you leave the door cracked and don’t overheat her with your steamy goodness.
For help, that is. How do you get sleep and a shower and all these other things with an infant attached to your chest? Sometimes you have to ask for assistance. No one will think any less of you if you admit that you need someone to step in for a bit, so you can do normal human things. If you have a hard time asking for help, allow me to supply a script: I’m feeling pretty beat. Would you mind hanging out with the baby for a few hours, so I can rest? It’s that simple.
And you can ask people to lend a hand with other tasks, too. “Enlist a friend to help you tackle [chores],” suggests Bouphavong. “One of my close friends would stay with me once a week. While the twins were asleep, we would watch True Blood, eat popcorn and fold clothes. The company and conversation kept me sane.”
Another thing that can be hard for a new mom is accepting offers of help when they come her way. It’s sometimes instinctive to reply with a “Thanks, but we’re fine!” But you should say, yes. Yes, you may bring me dinner. Yes, you may wash my dishes. Yes, you may hold the baby while I relax. Yes, yes, yes.
When my son was about 3 weeks old, I ventured out to the grocery store by myself. I knew I had to be back in an hour to feed him, so it wasn’t a long trip—but it was a beautiful one. I needed that break. Sometimes, you just have to get away for a bit.
Leaving the house isn’t an option for everyone, but you can still steal a momentary escape in the comfort of your own home. Get lost in a book. Click around Pinterest. Watch a television show. Or, just enjoy the quiet: “My biggest secret,” confesses Jennifer Benson, mom of one in San Diego, California, “is that I sometimes will seriously act like I have to go to the bathroom, and I will sit on the lid of the toilet for 20 beautiful, quiet, no-one-around minutes.” I have done the same thing (more than once). Take some time for yourself. You’ll be a better mom for it when you get back to the grind.
You absolutely must find a reason to laugh at least once a day. If you don’t, you could very well drown in life itself. Studies have shown that laughter reduces stress, boosts your immune system and may even positively affect blood glucose levels—all good things for a recovering-from-pregnancy-and- delivery mama.
Of course, everyone finds humor in different ways. You might enjoy a movie, read the comics, peruse YouTube clips, phone a friend … whatever works for you. They’re not lying when they say laughter is the best medicine.
You also must learn to laugh at everything you’re going through. You’re going to have rough days, but you’re also going to live through them—and learning to laugh off the small stuff is the first step. Having a newborn is so, so hard. But it is also so, so awesome. Which brings us to …
These days won’t last forever. And to me, that is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you will, eventually, begin sleeping through the night again. Breastfeeding will become almost effortless. You might even get to go out on a real date with your partner sometime soon and actually feel like a lady, not just a baby-maker. But it’s a curse because every second that passes is a second you can never get back—and those seconds fly by so quickly.
People will frequently tell you to enjoy every single second of motherhood. But I think those people are setting you up for disappointment. The truth is, every single moment isn’t awesome. When your baby is sleeping contentedly in your arms or cooing sweet nothings to you, soak it in. Don’t think about the dishes. Be right there in that moment. That’s the good stuff.
Those moments when your child is screaming bloody murder and you have exhausted tears running down your cheeks and spit-up caked in your hair? You don’t have to enjoy those moments. Parenting isn’t 100 percent kittens and roses, and admitting that doesn’t make you any less of a mom. There will be good times and bad, and you have to embrace them both.
Being a mama isn’t always easy, but keep in mind that parenting isn’t a contest. You don’t have to be supermom or do it all. All you have to do is be the best mom you can be. Trust me, that tiny babe in your arms thinks you’re pretty much the bee’s knees. Savor this crazy time, and love your little one with all you’ve got.