I have been thinking about what it takes to care for little ones and I know that it is not an easy task! It is full of joys for sure, but it is also a time of real exhaustion and concern. Babies can be quite challenging to figure out when you haven’t been around them before. The learning curve for both parents and babies is steep!
Here’s the gist of what I have gleaned from 35 years of parenting and of helping others begin their parenting journey:
1) It’s ok to ask for help! I know it is not easy to do, especially if you pride yourself on being a very capable person, but receiving help during this time can make all the difference. Most friends and family will welcome the opportunity to be of support, so make a list of what you most would like, and let others be there for you.
2) Try not to compare what you or your baby are doing with other parents and babies. It’s a very tough thing to avoid, but it really can wreak havoc on your mental and emotional state if you get caught in comparing how much your baby is sleeping, how far along they are with development, or how well you are managing the parenting juggle. We all have our strengths and challenges, even if you can’t see them, so let go of measuring your progress with others and focus on your baby.
3) Rest when you can. Really. You don’t have to take a nap, but resting is vital to riding through the early stages of parenting. Babies are around the clock feeders and need lots of opportunities to connect with you. It’s important to pace yourself. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, lie down on your bed, or a carpeted floor and breathe. Notice when you are fading, and rather than take in sugar or caffeine, rest first.
4) Find small, but meaningful ways to nurture yourself as you nurture your little one. It doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive, but simple pleasures can help you feel less depleted. What that is depends on who you are and what you find enjoyable. Something like: listen to music, drink a cup of tea, take a bath or shower, massage lotion on your neck or feet (better yet, have someone else do it for you!), take a walk and look at the trees, smell flowers that have a pleasing scent. You get the idea.
5) Learn good sleep habits for yourself as you help your baby learn healthy sleep habits. Go to bed early on some nights. Put away your phone and read a book, or listen to music before you go to sleep. Do some gentle stretches before bed. The early weeks are often a time when you will be up a lot during the night. Know that it won’t always be like this and do what you can to find ways to get as much sleep as possible during this time.
6) Crying is sometimes necessary for both you and your baby. Crying can be a release, and there are times when we just need to let go and let the tears flow.
7) Talk and listen to your baby. Use your voice in a soothing tone and let your baby know what you are doing and what is coming next. Your baby won’t understand your words, but will still benefit from hearing your voice. Describe what you are doing and acknowledge what you are feeling and what you imagine your baby must be feeling.
8) It’s ok to soothe and comfort your baby. You will not spoil your baby by responding to them. You build trust when you come to help your baby if they are upset or overwhelmed. That said, notice when and if you are overhelping. It’s also ok to let your baby work on, and even struggle for short periods of time.
9) Create some flexible rhythm to your day. Caring for a little baby can feel endless, so having a loose structure to the day can be helpful. Come up with a little daily plan that includes time outside in the fresh air as well as time to rest and eat nutritious food.
10) Know the signs of postpartum depression and anxiety. It is normal to feel all kinds of feelings after the birth of your baby and riding the roller coaster of hormones is to be expected. But if you are feeling overwhelmed and can’t sleep when given the chance, or feel afraid to pick up or put down your baby there is no shame in reaching out for support. You are not alone! Know where the resources are in your community and reach out to connect with a trained person to help you find your way through this time.
That’s it for now. There’s lots more to say, but just know this window of time when your baby is small and in need of so much care will shift and change. Find ways to enjoy your baby and the early stages of parenting! And if you need support, I am a phone call away.