Your baby isn't the only one navigating a brand-new world. Life as a new mom is always amazing, often surprising and — let's be honest — sometimes completely intimidating. (What do you mean babies don't come with instruction manuals?) But being a newbie doesn't mean you can't handle your new role like a pro. We've compiled our best advice for all of the mama “firsts” — big and small — you'll encounter in the next 12 months. Get ready for the ride of your life!
The Girls Get a Starring Role
Breastfeeding sounds simple enough: boob + baby = done. The reality, however, can be a bit more complicated. “I just assumed that everything was going to come so naturally, and it really didn't,” says Andrea Champagne of Middlebury, Connecticut, mom to Noah, 11 months. Having a lactation consultant (find one through your hospital) or a been-there, done-that friend can help, especially with latching. (A baby with a good latch swallows regularly and doesn't leave your nipples sore.) Even for parents of bottle-fed babies, the schedule can be daunting. “The average newborn will eat every two to three hours,” says Nancy M. Silva M.D., a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a board-certified pediatrician in Brandon, Florida. Kirsten Taylor of Minneapolis nurses her 4-month-old daughter Margot, bottle-feeds her, then pumps. “Sometimes I only have 30 minutes before she's ready to start the next feeding,” Taylor says. The long hours are worth it. In addition to bonding, breastfeeding mamas burn about 500 calories daily, help their uterus contract and have lower rates of ovarian and breast cancer, says Dr. Silva. Plus, it's free!
Just the Two of Us
Your partner's back at work, and your mother-in-law just left for the airport. That means you're on your own. Eep! Start with a schedule: eat, play, nap, take a walk around the block. Keep expectations low on how much you'll get done — taking care of baby and sneaking in ZZZs should be your first priority. Help differentiate day and night by taking a shower and getting dressed, even if you'll be staying in all day. (Put the bouncy seat in the bathroom while you wash your hair.) Relish the cuddle time — especially in those first weeks. “There's nothing better than reading a book with Margot sleeping against my chest,” Taylor says. When your baby's alert and active, usually after eating, read to her, show her toys and give her wiggle time on the floor. “Five to 10 minutes of playtime is plenty for a young baby,” says clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo Ph.D.
The good news? Newborns sleep an average of 14 to 16 hours a day. The not-so-good news? Most get their shut-eye just a few hours at a time. Avoid feeling like an extra on The Walking Dead by actually following that age-old advice: Nap when baby naps — and start immediately after you put baby down, says Ellen Robinson, a mom of two from Seattle. “Don't go around and clean your house,” she says. “The clock is ticking; you need to lie down.” Take comfort in knowing that the interrupted shut-eye won't last forever. “Between 3 and 4 months, your baby may sleep for five-hour stretches,” says Dr. Silva. Set the stage for longer snoozes with a consistent bedtime routine (bath, lullaby, snuggle) starting between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Got a night owl? Reset his internal clock with eye contact and steady conversation in the morning and dim lights and hushed tones at night. Champagne gets extra sleep by sharing the night shift with her husband. She says, in the earliest days, “he would change Noah's diaper and hand him over to me so I could nurse.”
Don't forget the Kitchen Sink
Your new roommate comes with a lot of stuff, making trips out more complicated than planning Thanksgiving dinner. New mom Jacqueline Stone of Baltimore experienced that firsthand when she and her husband took 4-day-old Colton to his first doctor visit. “He wanted to eat, and as soon as he ate, he pooped, then he wanted to eat again,” she recalls. “It took two hours to get him into the car seat. My husband and I were like, ‘Are we ever going to leave the house again?’” Give yourself extra time — and bring a second set of hands if you can. Also, carry a shirt for you and changes of clothes for baby. “I packed everything but socks for my firstborn son,” says mom of two Renee Baumbarger. “He peed on his feet — just his feet!”
Spa Day Ahead
Sooner or later, even the most head-over-heels mom needs a break. Stone's mother played babysitter while she headed to the gym. “It was weird not being with him, but it was nice to get away,” she says. Aim to go out baby-free for at least a couple of hours or so every week to give yourself a breather. Head out immediately after a breastfeeding session to max out your time. (For longer trips, leave backup bottles.) One of the best parts of leaving is the reunion when you return. (Or sneak out during naptime, and she'll never know you left!)
Nervous about jumping back into the sack? You're not alone. “Many women are apprehensive at first,” says Mary Rosser M.D., a women's health specialist at Montefiore Medical Center and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. After all, your vajayjay has been through a lot. Most docs recommend holding off on intercourse until after your first postpartum checkup (usually four to six weeks after delivery). But don't be surprised if you want to wait longer. Let's face it, a post-baby belly, hormonal changes and constant fatigue can be worse than a cold shower. Ease into it with gentle foreplay and extra lubrication. Also, side-by-side or you on top may feel best. “Go slow,” says Kayla Riley-Abshire, a mom of two from Watonga, Oklahoma. “Don't expect to be a vixen right out of the gate.”
Breastfeeding? Check. Backup supply of milk? Now's the time. Pumping is key for daycare, “me” time and daddy's share of the feedings. Get the right equipment: a double electric breast pump if you plan to go back to work; a single hand-operated pump if you don't plan to pump regularly. Lanolin cream soothes sore nipples, and a hands-free nursing bra lets you multitask. Start by pumping once at about the same time every day — you may get more milk after baby's first morning feeding. If your baby isn't around, get things flowing by smelling a burp cloth with his scent. Start with gentle suction and adjust the pump to imitate your baby's nursing strength and style. (Cranking the dials to full-blast won't make more milk; it will just leave you sore.) You know what they say about a watched pot? The same applies here. Focus on a photo of baby and not how much milk is coming out. One session should last about 10 to 20 minutes — until the flow stops or a minute or two longer if you want to up your milk supply.
After being with baby 24/7 for his first weeks, returning to work can be a shock to the system, to say the least. “I'm not a big crier — my wedding day, not a tear — but I cried so much the first time I had to drop him off at daycare,” says Champagne, who went back to her full-time job when Noah was 4 months old. Make the transition easier by restarting midweek and rehearsing your strategy for getting the whole family dressed, fed and out the door on time. Once you're back on the clock, maximize your time with baby by planning on quick meals or takeout for the first few weeks at least, and have your groceries delivered by netgrocer.com or another site. Got the missing-the-baby blues? Flip through photos of your little one, especially while pumping. And focus on the positive — adult interaction!
Ready to toast the fact that you're an awesome mom? Plan ahead: It takes about two to three hours for one serving of beer or wine to pass through your system.