Little M just turned 10 months, and as her 1st birthday approaches, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the past several months and my introduction to motherhood. Things are much easier now. That anxiety around doing things “right,” not irrevocably screwing up this tiny creature in my charge — stressing over her sleep and how much she’s eating, over which cup to get her that will promote development and not give her speech issues or expose her to dreaded mold — all these fears seem a distant memory. I finally feel like I know what I’m doing, like I’ve got this motherhood thing down. I know full well that this feeling is temporary; that as we barrel towards toddlerhood, we’ll be met with a whole new set of anxieties and uncertainties. But for now, I’m enjoying this calm and confidence. I am so in love with this creature and with being a mom, and can honestly say that this past 10 months have been among the most fun and fulfilling times of my life.
I know that my experience isn’t shared by all moms. And certainly the cultural narrative of what motherhood looks like in the first year does not support my cause. We are bombarded with images of harried new moms, living in yoga pants and a messy bun, covered in spit up, with a screaming baby in one hand, and a rapidly cooling cup of coffee in the other. It can be so easy to succumb to this vision of motherhood, and resign oneself to the notion that this is just what life will be life for a year (or more).
The converse seems to be completely unattainable. The Instagram visions of skinny moms with perfect hair and makeup, dressed to the nines, with a perfect baby and spotless house, who somehow find time in their day to whip up professional-looking gluten-free, vegan cupcakes and three course dinners, while simultaneously sewing Etsy-worthy patterned onesies with matching hats. It’s enough to make you feel like a failure before you even get out of bed in the morning.
I was never ok with either of these options. The calm, sunny, and sweet vision of motherhood that I had when I was pregnant may not have been entirely realistic (I’ve certainly had my messy bun, spit up covered days), but I knew that it was worth pursuing, even if it wasn’t always Instagrammable. I had been waiting my whole life to be a mama… I sure as hell wasn’t going to waste this magical first year being stressed out, overwhelmed, messy, and miserable.
Through some trial and error, I’ve narrowed down the five top things I’ve been committed to for the last 10 months that have kept me feeling pretty damn close to that vision I dreamed of while I was pregnant. These things definitely take effort. There will be days when you want to say screw it and stay home in your pj’s. And though we mamas are definitely entitled to a few of those wallowing days, I promise that any more than a few will leave you feeling more crappy, overwhelmed, and miserable than you did before. Stick to these secrets, and enjoy a happier, saner, and more joyous first year of motherhood!
5 Secrets for Happier Motherhood
1. Give yourself 1-2 months to get acclimated. Nothing gets new motherhood off on the wrong foot (i.e.: a perpetually overwhelmed and stressed out foot), than rushing into “normalcy.” Those first two months with baby aren’t about cramming in classes or lunch dates (though a couple of those here and there certainly won’t hurt), cooking up a storm, or trying to get your body back. Those first two months are about resting, healing, and bonding with your new bundle in as stress-free an environment as possible. Do whatever you need to do to get support during this time — accept frozen meals from friends, get a meal delivery service, delegate household duties to your partner. I remember my midwives scolding me for getting dressed and going out to lunch with my family when my baby was just a week old. I was rearing to go, and excited to start living the mom life, but in retrospect, they were right. I felt amazing, healed, and calm by the time those first two months were over, and that was largely because I didn’t try to do too much, and took plenty of time to just rest, cuddle, nurse, and get into a routine with my baby.
2. After that, start getting out of the house… every day. After those two months are over (or whenever you personally feel healed and ready), it’s time to start acting like a normal person. Staying home in your pj’s or sweats all day may feel indulgent, but after a few months, it’s actually more likely to cause depression and loneliness. At about 8 weeks, I joined a Mommy & Me class and a mommy & baby yoga class (see #3), and made it a point to get out, if only for a long walk, every single day. I started getting dressed every day too — not dressed up, mind you, just dressed. No yoga pants, unless I was going to yoga. And I can’t tell you what a difference this made in my mood, my sanity, and my sense of self. I may not have had the whole mommy thing completely down or have gotten my body back yet, but that didn’t mean I was going to hide away in loose clothing or stay home alone watching TV. I took little M on walks to the beach, I practiced nursing her in public, I grabbed a book and hung out at a sidewalk cafe reading while she napped, I started actually living the mommy life that I had been dreaming of. It was a little touch and go the first few times, but soon, it became second nature, and it was oh so sweet.
3. Join a Mommy & Me class and make some mommy friends. This is actually the number 1 piece of advice I give all new mom friends. Joining a mommy & me class was the best decision I made during this first year, and I am still reaping the benefits from this experience. A Mommy & Me class is a combination of new mom education, support group, social outlet, and developmental play/socialization for your baby. I’ve been in the same class with the same teacher, and largely the same group of people from the start, and many of us are staying through the first year and beyond. Our class covered everything from sleep, eating, self-care, development, relationships, everything, all tailored to the exact age our babies were at at the time (and believe me, all these things change drastically every three months or so). We had a super knowledgable teacher who answered all of our questions every week (an invaluable resource) and provided us with so, so much important information that I still rely on to this day.
But the most important aspect of the Mommy & Me experience was the community. Being new to LA, and new to motherhood, this year would have gone so differently if I didn’t have the support and friendship of other mamas going through the exact same thing I was. We still hang out all the time, join other classes together, and have a Facebook page where we share resources and support each other. We’ve met each other’s husbands, and been to each other’s homes. Our babies are friends (in so far as babies are able to be friends) and learn from each other every week. First time motherhood can be such a lonely and anxious time without support, and you can have all the family and non-parent friends in the world a block away, but it’s just not the same as having a group of mamas with babies in the same stages of development as yours, who can share their favorite straw cups or diaper rash remedies, lend you a travel crib, or sit with you on one of your tougher days as you cry about how sleep deprived you are. Nothing beats having someone to text in the middle of the night with a random baby-related question that’s keeping you up, or walking into a room full of beautiful women and babies with whom you’ve shared the ups and downs of this amazing experience of motherhood. So find a class near you (if you can’t find one online, ask your doula or even the owner of a local baby gear store), and step up after a couple of classes, inviting everyone to the park after class to hang out. It will be the best decision you could possibly make!
4. Prioritize sleep. This is another big one. A sleep deprived mama is going to be that much more likely to experience cravings, mood swings, and feelings of overwhelm than a rested one. DUH. Now sleep deprivation is just part of the territory for the first few months (which is yet another reason why #1 is so important), but after that, helping your baby to sleep through the night needs to become a top priority, both for your sake and your baby’s. By 3-4 months, a baby at a healthy weight does not need to be fed during the night, and is developmentally ready to sleep through the night. Now some mamas enjoy waking at night to feed their baby, or co-sleep, which makes it much easier. If this is you, and you’re waking up rested, then you don’t need to rush this (though there is definitely merit to encouraging your baby to start getting 10-11 hours of straight sleep to help them be more rested and less cranky). But if you’re like me, and NEED a solid 8 hours of sleep to function and be happy, then supporting your baby in sleeping through the night is a must.
Personally, I am not into any sleep training methods that involve crying it out — I never felt comfortable letting little M cry for more than 5 minutes. So I used a combination of The No Cry Sleep Solution and The Happy Sleeper, both of which I found to offer healthy, gentle, and developmentally appropriate methods of encouraging my baby to sleep through the night, without resorting to any tactics I wasn’t comfortable with. I outlined our plan, got Jonathan on board, and within a week, little M was sleeping 7pm-7am, like a champ. Now, when she does experience some disturbances in her sleep (be it from teething, developmental leaps, or the occasional cold), I know exactly what to do to get her back on track. It was the second smartest choice I ever made (after joining a mommy & me class, of course ; ). I felt like a different person when I started getting a full night’s sleep — I was happier, calmer, and more me, and I know that this has been a huge part of how much I’ve enjoyed this first (almost) year of motherhood. Stay tuned for an upcoming article with more tips on getting your baby (and therefore yourSELF) to sleep better!
5. Take care of YOU. Nothing makes me sadder than the notion that a good mother is one who always puts everyone else’s needs before her own. Yes, being a mama means prioritizing the little creature you brought into this world, but it doesn’t have to mean neglecting your self. I know that in the whirlwind of taking care of your baby it can be so easy to forget to eat, put movement on the back burner, and give up on your pre-baby self-care routines. Suddenly, going for a massage or getting your nails done feels like an impossible indulgence. But let me remind you of something you already know, deep down: a mom who is taken care of is a better mom. A mom who takes time to pamper herself, feed and nourish her body, and get her needs met is calmer, more patient, and more joyful, not to mention healthier (with more energy and a better milk supply).
It took me a little while to get out of a guilty mindset around self-care — the first time I left little M with her daddy while I went to get a massage, I felt like a horrible, neglectful mother. But I came back restored, rejuvenated, and ready for whatever was coming my way. I realized that taking care of myself wasn’t an indulgence, it was an absolute necessity. So I started scheduling monthly massages, facials, and mani-pedis for the weekends. An hour away from my baby while she played with her daddy was not only good for me, but it was so great for my husband, who got to build his own comfort and confidence around taking care of our little one. I started making eating healthy easier for myself by stocking up on some prepared foods from Whole Foods every week to have on hand for when I just didn’t have time to cook. I made mommy & baby yoga a weekly priority. Not only did all of these commitments to myself help me get my body back faster, but they also help me to feel calm, happy, and taken care of as a mom.
BONUS SECRET: Teach your baby to play independently. This one isn’t a must, but it certainly helps. I read a lot about the RIE philosophy of parenting during this first year, and the biggest thing I took away from the unique approach was the importance of fostering independent play. Nothing sucks the joy out of being a mama than feeling like you can’t step away for a minute — to pee, make yourself a cup of tea or dinner, or just do something for yourself or your home. From the very beginning, I encouraged little M to play on her own, and she took to it wonderfully (after some initial light complaining). I can’t tell you how much stress and overwhelm this saved me. To be able to leave my content little baby on her play mat with some toys (or just looking out the window, as she would often do), while I read a magazine, sipped some tea, or ate lunch nearby helped me to feel like a person, as well as a mama. Some of my favorite memories of sweet sweet motherhood from these past 10 months have been peaceful, calm moments like that — of loving coexistence with my baby, without needing to put on a whole song and dance to entertain her. The ease of undertaking this concept can largely be due to your baby’s individual personality, but every baby is capable of independent play, with proper commitment and encouragement from you. But it is so, so worth the effort. Here is some more information from Janet Lansbury’s RIE blog on fostering independent play.