Having a baby can feel be an ecstatic moment in a woman’s life, but the aftermath of holding your newborn for the first time is really sort of a mixed bag. Yes, you get the joy of bonding with the life that grew inside you for nine months and will now be nourished and molded in your image and under your care. But you also have to deal with crying, illness, new expenses and essentially being on-call 24/7 for the next 18 years.
Becoming a new mom is incredibly stressful. Dads kind of have an idea, but really, they have no idea. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 19.8 percent of new moms can experience post-partum depression after giving birth. The flood of hormones surging through your body, combined with the new stressors in your life, can feel absolutely overwhelming. Here are five of the most significant challenges new moms face and what you can do to combat them.
1. Getting enough sleep
The number one complaint you will have for the first few months of your child’s life is a lack of sleep. Newborns need constant care and attention, and that means your sleep schedule is thrown out of whack. Once you start losing sleep, all the other stressors will overwhelm you, leaving you panicking and in tears at 2 a.m. as you try to convince your newborn to go back to sleep.
The best way to combat this is to become flexible about your sleeping hours. You won’t be able to return to a standard 11 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. sleeping routine anymore, so don’t bother. Grab a nap when your mom comes over to watch the baby. Sneak in a few zzz’s when your husband is bonding with her. Naps will sustain you through the worst days and extra hands and family members can help ease your burden while you get some rest.
2. Convincing your baby to breastfeed
Everyone and their mother tells you that breastfeeding is hands down the best decision you can make for your child. And it’s true - breastfeeding provides your baby with valuable and precise nutrients that no other milk on earth, even other women, can provide. But it can be surprisingly difficult to breastfeed, and does not come naturally to a lot of mothers. Many women struggle with getting their newborns to latch.
The reality is, historically, most women learned how to breastfeed through lots of help from other women - no one ever knows how to do it naturally. It can take multiple tries over weeks to master breastfeeding, and if you have to rely on formula or pumping until you can get your baby to latch, go ahead and make that choice. Don’t feel pressure to master it immediately. You can breastfeed your child safely until she’s a toddler - you have time.
3. The pressure of returning to work
Returning to work can feel like a daunting and impossible task. Who’s going to watch your baby? How are you going to overcome mommy brain and focus? For most American families, the financial reality is that mom can’t stay home for too long, which means the return to work happens soon for most mothers.
Make sure you have reliable nanny or daycare arrangements for when you return to work made before your child is born. They should have recommendations and offer you regular updates on your child’s status. Ease back into work - start a few days a week first, before returning full-time. Make sure to take diligent notes and meet with your supervisors when you return to catch up on what you missed.
4. Making dad help out
While you’re worrying about how to take care of your newborn, don’t forget the other half of the equation. If dad is around, he should be doing his share to take care of his child. You should be taking turns with midnight feedings and fussings, and he should be respectful about the post-birth recovery time that new mom need before their bodies can return to normal. Remind him that he’s a parent too, if he’s not doing his fair share, and ask him to take on more household chores while you’re recovering so you can rest.
5. Working on your post-baby body
Moms can feel an immense pressure to return to their pre-baby bodies as soon as possible, but for most women that’s simply not realistic. A body can change significantly during a pregnancy, and while some changes can be undone with time and effort, many will be permanent. Expect sagging skin, a big pouch and large, heavy breasts in the months after your pregnancy. Your calories are going to produce essential breast milk for your baby and your body is trying to repair itself - a little extra fat on your body is going to help, not hurt, during this time period. You should try to stay active and go for light walks to keep your heart working, but don’t fuss about losing weight and finding abs within a few weeks of your delivery - it’s unrealistic and unhelpful for most women. Delivering a baby is an enormous challenge, but taking care of one can feel insurmountable. It’s normal for a new mom to feel completely stretched out and frazzled. It’s okay - the older your child gets, the easier it will get for you. Even though this can feel like the worst time in your life, these will be precious memories.