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9 Truths About Motherhood

No matter how much you study milestone charts or plan what you'll do when your baby cries, real life as a mom can be a shocker. What do you really need to know to be prepared? Experienced moms from around the country look back on when they first became mothers and offer these tips:

"Take all the help you can get -- the whole first year" You've heard you'll need it those first couple of weeks. Well, that's not nearly enough. "You need help in weeks one through fifty-two, as far as I'm concerned," says Mollie Hart, the Berkeley, California, mom of 11-year-old Nick and 3-year-old George. "A lot of people think new parents are okay after the early weeks, but that's when the honeymoon period ends and you realize that maybe your baby isn't such a good sleeper after all."

Help can come in many forms. You might find a good friend or relative who'll agree to take the baby for a stroll every now and then while you take a nap. Or you might decide to pay for a convenience, such as a weekly cleaning service or grocery delivery.

Find a network by getting to know your neighbors or joining a church or community group. This is how car pools, playdates, and moms' groups get started. There's safety in numbers.

"Alone time is good" Letting the baby gurgle happily in his bouncy seat while you fold laundry is not neglect. You're not the first mom to think, "Will my baby suffer if I put him down to take a shower? Better not, just to be safe!" But experienced moms want you to know that you really don't have to worry so much.

When Gail Doeff of Evanston, Illinois, became a mom, she took her role very seriously. "I thought that I was at home with my daughter Nina to stimulate her and interact with her constantly," she says. "I really, really wish I'd listened to my own mom when she tried to tell me that it wouldn't hurt to let her play alone." She didn't believe it, however, and kept up the constant attention. The result? "Even at age four, Nina couldn't entertain herself," says Doeff.