First-Time Parent Tips: Do’s and Don’ts

By Published On: December 28th, 2023

A list of pro-tips from a veteran mom who recalls the struggles of new parenthood all too well.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that we have a common goal: To be the best parents we can be to our little ones. It’s an overwhelming task, particularly when everyone seems to have an opinion about what’s right and what’s wrong.

My best friend is very vocally antivaccine, but my MD sister-in-law swears by them. My sister gave my nieces a bottle, but I breastfed my babies exclusively. So who’s right? Who’s wrong? How do I know if what I’m doing is best for my baby or if I’m making thousands of little (and some potentially very big) mistakes? Unfortunately, sometimes the answers aren’t always clear. My mom still ponders these questions; her kids are well into their 30s. 

From the moment we click the car seat into the vehicle at the end of our baby’s hospital stay, we’re on our own—and we’re going to do some things perfectly and other things horrendously. I can’t tell you the secrets of successful baby care and child-rearing because all babies and parents are different. What works for me might not work for you. However, I do have some experience under my belt that allows me to offer some friendly recommendations. To guide you as you find your way down this path, I present you with my list of the do’s and don’ts of parenthood.

Do Know That Parenthood is Full of Hard Knocks

Do you know when the easiest time to feel like you know everything about parenting is? Any time before you actually become a parent. Before that, it’s easy to confidently declare what you will always or never do. You’re not being cocky or delusional. You believe that you are going to be in control when the baby arrives. But—how do I drop this bomb gently? You won’t.

It doesn’t matter how much you prepare or plan; things absolutely will not go exactly the way you assume they will. In fact, just go ahead and anticipate dealing with the exact opposite of what your parenting plans entail in that first week, first month, and first year. The universe will take your plans and drop them at your feet, shattered and scattered.

At times, it will be hard to accept these surprises. You might even shed some tears, which is why you should try to keep this next bit of advice at the front of your mind …

Don’t Take Everything Too Seriously

All those hard knocks headed your way mean you’ve got to learn to roll with the punches. It’s essential to your survival. Unfortunately, the cards are stacked against you because new parents are tired and overwhelmed and—if we’re going to have an honest conversation about this—maybe a little overly sensitive. (It’s not your fault! It’s the hormones.)

Some shake-ups are going to be pretty devastating. If you had your heart set on breastfeeding and it isn’t working out, you can’t laugh that off. It’s a big deal. I get it. You deserve time to mourn that loss.

But for more minor things—say, a poop blowout as you’re heading into a doctor’s appointment or your MIL showing up unannounced to find you still in your pajamas at 3 p.m.—find humor in those moments. We are always our own worst critics, and people are probably judging you a lot less than you think they are. Being a little late, a little disorganized, and a whole lot tired is A-OK at this point in the game. It might feel like the worst thing in the world, but if you have the option, it’s always better to laugh than to cry.

Do Trust Your Instincts

You may feel underqualified as a new parent, but you aren’t. You were literally designed to be your baby’s caregiver. If something seems off to you, it probably is. Go with your gut.

You will get so much advice as a new parent. Some of it will be helpful. Some of it will be completely worthless. Weed through it with your instincts. Some sources (e.g., your pediatrician) will offer lifesaving tips and assurances. Other sources (e.g., the grocery clerk) may spout old wives’ tales that aren’t entirely—or even partially—accurate.

Keep this in mind, though: The best advice sometimes comes from the most unexpected places. Your Aunt Linda might be your kookiest family member, but that doesn’t automatically mean her all-natural method of easing teething pain is bunk. It could work like a charm. So listen, digest, and decide—and trust that you know what’s best for your wee one. 

Don’t Give Yourself a Hard Time

If you have a bad day—and you will—leave it at the door when you head to bed. If everyone is alive, fed, and relatively clean, call it a win—and don’t let your fear/regret/anger monopolize your mood any further.

Some of the best words of wisdom I have ever heard are this: Treat yourself the way you treat others. If your best friend called and confessed that she let her baby cry for 10 minutes in the crib today just so she could sit and have a much-needed coffee break, would you judge her? Probably not. You’d support her and tell her that it’s OK. Her baby is fine and will definitely not hold a grudge—and she was probably able to parent much more effectively after stepping away. The same is true for you. Tell yourself those same reassuring, positive things. The fact that you care whether your baby cries already indicates you’re a good mom, so you’re on the right path. Soldier on.

Do Celebrate the Little Things

Every once in a while, life will grant you a beautiful moment. You’re going to trim baby’s nails for the first time without stressing. You’re going to realize that your milk supply has sorted itself out, and you’re no longer weeping when you breastfeed. Soon, friends, you and your baby will sleep for six straight hours—and you will swear you hear angels singing when you wake.

These are all moments worth pausing to rejoice in as a new parent. They’re small victories, sure, but victories they are. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything that’s going wrong—the laundry pile, PB&J for dinner (again), that persistent diaper rash—but take a few seconds every day to take stock of everything that’s going right. There’s good all around you; you just have to stop and notice it. 

Don’t Apologize For The Way You Parent

You won’t parent like everyone else or always make the same decisions other parents do—and you shouldn’t. Just like not all babies are the same, not all parents are the same. 

If you run into a group of moms giving you the stink-eye as you mix up baby’s bottle for a midday snack, don’t waste your energy on caring. Truly, it’s no one’s business why you do things the way you do. As long as your child is safe and cared for, you don’t have to justify your actions. Let others’ judgment roll off your back.

It’s also important to learn to agree to disagree respectfully and considerately. We can all get a little passionate where our kids are concerned, but keep it in check. If you play nicely, generally, other people will, too.

Do Stay In The Picture(s)

In the grand scheme of things, this tidbit of advice might seem like small potatoes, but it’s actually—in my opinion—very important. You see, after I had baby number two, I didn’t shower all that often, and I didn’t really change out of loungewear … ever. I was not pretty as a picture. And for that reason, I avoided them (pictures) like the plague. I documented every moment of my little guy’s life, but I was absent from all the photos because I didn’t want to preserve this less-than-perfect postpartum version of myself for years to come.

But looking back, that uncomfortable season, when my skin wasn’t at its best, and I was so tired—that was a beautiful season. It really was. And I want my kids to look back and remember how much I loved them and that I was there with them, in the trenches, every single glorious day. There simply isn’t a better picture to be found than a parent loving their babies.

Don’t Stress Over Baby’s Development

All kids do things in their own time, which can be worrisome for some parents. Kristie Rivers, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in Plantation, Florida, says, “It is easy … to get caught up in the comparison game when you suddenly realize your little angel is not doing what her little friend accomplished two months ago.” This can be compounded when you see a developmental checklist online or at your doctor’s office and realize your baby hasn’t met all the markers.

But Dr. Rivers says, “It’s vitally important for parents to remember these developmental milestones are simply broad guidelines and nothing more. Each and every baby is different, developing at their own pace, on their own terms. There are so many variables to development in those first few months and years.”

I know babies who walked at 9 months and other babies who didn’t take a step until closer to 15 months. According to Dr. Rivers, they would all fall within the normal range.

Sometimes, a missed milestone might be a red flag, but as long as you stick to your baby’s well-visit schedule, your pediatrician should be able to assuage your fears.

Remember, too, that these early developments don’t usually have lifelong repercussions: Delayed walking doesn’t mean your child doesn’t have a future in the NBA. Trust me, once he starts running (especially away from you in public places), you’ll wonder why you ever worried.

Don’t Jump On Every Bandwagon

There’s a ton of conflicting information floating around the web and the world, and it can make your job very hard. If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. If a friend posts a link on social media claiming that flu vaccines put babies at risk, don’t automatically assume it’s true and cancel your upcoming appointment. Reach out to experts (in this case, your child’s pediatrician) and do your due diligence before immediately thinking that something is bad (or good) because that’s what everyone else is doing.

Do Take Time For Yourself

I have turned the TV to Disney Junior for 30 minutes before to fold a load of laundry in peace. And I’m happy to report my children are not completely screwed up. They’re really quite well-adjusted. I’m not advising you to use a screen as a babysitter often, but if you need a break, take a break. A brief timeout during the day can make a big difference in your morale, and things will not fall apart while you spend a few minutes alone.

Taking time for yourself goes beyond just a daily moment of silence. Once you’re comfortable leaving baby with someone else, you’ll benefit highly from the occasional day or night out. Even a solo Target run can feel like liberation. Join a book club, take your sister shopping, plan a date night … just get out of the house. You won’t regret it. 

Entering new parenthood is incredibly stressful (and scary, if I’m being honest), but as much as you can, trust that you will find your footing—because you will. If things get tough, don’t be afraid to refer to this list for some support. And, if you find that everything feels overwhelming, then reach out to your OB-GYN or a therapist to make sure you have all of the resources you need to protect your mental health.