The first few days home from the hospital were glorious. Having been morning sick for 36 weeks of my 42-week pregnancy, the light at the end of the tunnel was a beautiful newborn, coffee tasting good again, and no longer needing to hug the cold porcelain of the toilet anymore.
Because my in-laws live overseas, my mother-in-law stayed with us for about a month.
During that time I basked in my new motherhood. I focused on my daughter, healing from my cesarean and soaking up the joy that came with having my little girl fall asleep on my chest.
When my mother-in-law left, things got real.
While I was still grateful for my newfound motherhood, I was also rocked by how nothing about my life was linear anymore.
Showering and adult conversations were interrupted by cries. Something as simple as plating store-bought rotisserie chicken and bagged salad took twice as long as it should. And unloading the dishwasher felt like my Everest.
When my head hit the pillow at night, I was still on duty.
On top of it, my body didn’t feel like mine anymore. Not only did I have a huge scar along my lower abdomen, but my breasts looked like torpedos. Every orifice of my body was leaking. My stomach was still puffy and felt like a mutant.
Around eight weeks, my daughter went through a growth spurt and spent 48 hours latched to me. The moment my husband walked through the door, I was shaking, puke-soaked and desperate. I threw a can of formula at him and told him to keep the baby away from me for a while (the second she wanted to nurse again, I ended up grabbing her back).
It was around this sensitive time, I came to learn another less-than-desirable part of being a new mom – getting inundated with advice.
While I’m sure the unsolicited advice was well-intentioned, I found it was anxiety-inducing.
“Don’t spoil the baby” was the one that got under my skin the most. As someone who studied psychology, I knew this was counterintuitive. But it bothered me nonetheless.
“Sleep while the baby is sleeping” one made me feel like I wasn’t doing things right. For the first three months of my daughter’s life, she tended to nap in short spurts lasting less than 30 minutes at a time.
And then, there was the advice about sleep training. I had relative strangers visibly concerned that my four-month-old wasn’t sleeping through the night every night. And, it happened a lot.
Related reading: Why Science Says You Can’t Spoil a Baby
Advice for New Moms – The Best Way To Interpret the Worst Advice
There are nuggets of good advice amidst the unsolicited advice out there, they just need some editing. Here is the not-so-great advice for new moms and their better, edited counterparts.
Bad advice: Sleep when the baby is sleeping.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a light switch. I can’t just rest at the drop of a hat. And, I’m not sure if you noticed, but young babies sleep really unpredictably and for unusual durations. I have slept when my toddlers have slept, but if I did this every single time they did nap, nothing would get done around the house.
Better advice: Don’t try and do it all. If you need to rest, lay down and ignore your to-do list. If you’ll go crazy if you look at the unfolded laundry for one more minute then do that instead.
Bad advice: Put baby cereal in the baby’s bottle so she sleeps longer.
Pretty well every source imaginable says this is a bad idea because babies shouldn’t have solids until 4-6 months of age. Plus, it’s a choking hazard. The safest way to feed a baby ready for solids is while they’re sitting upright. Also, as Bettina, mom of two, points out, babies don’t just nurse for nourishment. They also do so for closeness and comfort.
Better advice: Nurse/ bottle feed your baby on demand. Follow your health authority or doctor’s advice for introducing solids. If you need a break delegate a night feed to your partner or a family member using pumped milk or formula.
Related reading: Introducing a Bottle to a Breastfed Baby – a nervous mom’s guide
Bad advice: Don’t spoil the baby. You’re holding him too much.
If you happen to hear this ill-informed piece of advice, you may want to ask that person to do a little google search. There is no article based in developmental science that suggests it is possible to hold a baby too much. Before the advent of strollers, bouncy seats, and car seats, humans relied on holding and wearing babies in slings or makeshift carriers. Because of this, neonatal development is strengthened by physical contact. In fact, one study found that babies who were held less had less mature DNA (1). Quite simply babies rely on closeness and touch to develop optimally. As they get older, they will naturally want to be more independent. No amount of newborn-holding will stop this.
Better advice: Hold, carry and love your baby to help foster her develop. When you need a break, put the baby down or pass her to someone else to regroup and recharge.
Now onto the absolute best advice for new moms
Every single piece of advice should be approached with an element of flexibility. Even if you feel it resonates with you, if your course of action changes, be forgiving of yourself. Also, don’t take advice just simply because it’s what you feel you should be doing.
Accept others’ help.
It’s easy to get caught up in trying to be polite. However, if someone offers to bring over dinner, wash your floors, or fold your laundry, say yes. There is no prize for doing it all. Every extra little bit of help gives you extra energy, extra morale or just a needed break from being touched out.
Get some alone time.
Whether it’s going to the grocery store alone, driving to and from Starbucks or actually taking an hour or two to yourself, find a way to do it regularly. As cliche as it is to say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. And you’re not just doing this baby thing for the next few weeks. You have the next 18 years plus to be selfless most of the time. Take time for yourself.
Have a sense of humour, or at least be loving to yourself, in the face of your parenting fails.
We all have them. All of us. But they feel especially consequential when you’re a new mom. It’s easy to feel like each action defines your success in this new role. But this isn’t remotely true.
In fact, in a study on emotional development, Shore found that new mothers responded “the right way” to their babies approximately 30% of the time (2). What separated the best mothers from average ones was their propensity to re-attune. Meaning, when they failed to get their responses right the first time, these mothers tried again to find ways to get it right. As such, he concluded that the real power in parenting is in the “good enough mother.” It’s guaranteed that all parents will get parenting wrong often. However, what separates the best parents from the average is their desire to get back on track and re-attune themselves with their parenting goals and what is best for their infants.
No one knows your baby better than you.
This is something I had to teach myself. But new moms need to listen to their instincts. If someone makes a suggestion to you that doesn’t sit well, let your gut be your guide. Vanessa, mom of three, suggests saying, “Thanks, I’ve got this,” to shut it down.
Understand parents who parent differently than you are doing their best too.
I have friends who chose to formula feed because she could not take how draining and exhausting breastfeeding was and it was impacting her mental health. When my son was about five-months-old, I got so tired I stopped putting him in his crib and co-slept because I couldn’t get enough sleep any other way.
Every situation is unique and so are each person’s limitations.
Whether it’s good or bad, it isn’t forever.
The best piece of parenting wisdom I was ever given was from one of my regional managers. He said, no matter if it’s incredibly good or incredibly tiring, understand everything is fleeting. Relish in the good and hold onto it while you can. Motor through the hard times knowing there is an end in sight. No matter what, there will be a day your baby no longer nurses, does sleep through the night, doesn’t fit into your arms, and needs you way less.
A final note
It’s been eight years since I brought my bright beautiful baby girl home. And in that time, I’ve learned to lower my expectations, roll with the punches more, and laugh at the fact that I’m now a bit of a hot mess mom. The unsolicited advice comes much less frequently too. I still fumble but I understand now more than ever that no one has this down pat.
As neuropsychologist Allan Schore shares:
Giving birth and becoming a mother to an infant is a profound experience. Not surprisingly, the early postpartum experience is an emotional and challenging time, associated with both positive and negative affect.
The truth is, it’s okay to falter, to feel out of touch with yourself and feel overwhelmed. Through the ups and downs, lean into those around you, share your experiences and soak up those baby snuggles.
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Do you agree? What tips would you add to this list?
What's the best advice for a new mom?
• Have easy to eat snacks available for when you’re hungry but have to feed/ nurse your baby. Apples, protein/ granola bars, pre-cooked chicken, carrots sticks are all great options.
• Find a mom and baby group, friends with babies or an online group where you can share your experiences
• Remember no one knows your baby better than you.
• Say, “Thanks I’ve got this,” or, “If I need tips, I’ll let you know,” to unsolicited advice.
• Accept offers of help big or small.
• If you need to ignore household chores to get a little extra sleep do it. But if a clean house is better for your mental health, then prioritize that.
• Everyone parents somewhat differently and that’s okay.
• Forgive yourself. No one gets it right all the time or even close to all the time.
What are some of the best things to say to a new mom?
• Your baby is so beautiful.
• Can I drop off a coffee?
• Would you like me to change his diaper?
• I have dinner I’d like to drop off.
• Do you need a break?
• I’m here for you.
• You’re such a great mom.
• You look great!
• Whenever you need me, I’m just one text away.
What are good gifts for a new mom?
Any offer of help, notes of positivity, coffee, food delivery gift cards, essential oils, clothes that are breast-feeding friendly, precooked dinner dropped off, items to pamper herself at home like facial supplies, bath salts, and moisturizer.