From the time you find out your expecting, through bouts of nausea and doctor's appointments, a lot of time and energy goes into the process of giving birth to your first baby. I know it did for me!
That said, birthing a baby is a time-limited experience, often involving much support and oversight. What follows, the act of caring for a baby and raising a child, is an entirely different scenario. It is joyous and awe-inspiring, but also intense, overwhelming and sometimes chaotic.
If you are at the start of your parenting journey, here are the five things I wish I knew when I was a first-timer:
1. There's No One Right Way.
If you research any topic from feeding to sleep to vaccines to the recommended thread count of organic baby sheets, you will find dozens of opinions. Each of those opinions will claim to be the right one, the best one, the most tried-and-true of the bunch.
I can't stress this enough, they're all wrong because there is no one single right or best way for every single baby, parent, and family. I wish I had this mantra written on the back of my hand while I tried to sort through advice and opinions in my sleep-deprived, new-mommy state of being.
Once you accept the fact that raising babies and children is not a one-size-fits-all situation, you'll turn the volume down on stress and prevent a ton of unnecessary mommy-guilt.
2. Babies Are Resilient.
One of your child's distant ancestors survived in a cave somewhere without a single modern "necessity." It's true. Babies may appear to be tiny, fragile, thin-skinned beings, and while they are dependent on you for survival, they are anything but helpless.
Infants are equipped with loud voices that will alert you to their discomfort. They have amazing reflexes designed to keep them alive in all sorts of situations you will work tirelessly to avoid. Seriously, the mammalian diving reflex ensures that babies under six months of age hold their breath if they slip under water for a second and adorable infant bodies are basically engineered to fall perfectly (unlike us adults who apparently do it all wrong by stiffening up and trying to fight gravity).
You'll still take every precaution to keep your baby from harms way, but knowing that your infant is equipped with a slew of built-in safety features will hopefully help you sleep better at night.
3. Accept Help.
It truly takes a village to raise a child and in our current society, opportunities for hands-on help and support are often limited. So, when a genuine offer of help comes along, don't shy away from it.
In fact, I think it's a great idea to be as specific as possible. Some new moms are desperate for help with laundry while others may find it priceless to have an extra set of hands to hold a fussy baby allowing for time to shower or nap.
Be honest, and know that everyone in your family unit wins when you have more assistance.
4. The Internet Will Make You Crazy.
Especially if you log on while worried or feeling guilty about some parenting issue. Researching topics like "normal infant body temperature," "typical baby bowl movements," or "when should my child be babbling" can have you falling down the rabbit hole of parental paranoia in no time.
Even pursuing topics that may seem mundane can lead to undue stress. For example, you may be looking for some cute ideas for at-home baby pictures only to close your laptop 30-minutes later feeling like a failure because of the staged and unrealistic photo spreads littering Pintrest.
Internet research is great to find the phone number of a fantastic dry cleaner who can get baby vomit out of your favorite decorative throw blanket, just keep in mind that you may get more than you bargain for upon searching baby-related topics.
5. Trust Your Instincts.
This is the most important lesson of parenthood and it will continue to serve you and your child well far into the future. You have instincts. Little "knowings" or hunches that clue you in to what your baby wants or needs.
Parents who have raised more than one child can speak to the fact that no book or expert teaches you to hold or comfort your child. You figure it out through a combination of instinct and trial-and-error. Sometimes instincts allow you to discern a "I'm having a tough minute right now" cry from a "this is a serious emergency situation and I need attention right now" cry.
Trusting that you will know when something is off course allows you to truly appreciate and enjoy whatever moments of peace and calm come your way.
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