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The Mommy Club

Forget girls' night! These moms from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have just as much fun when they meet every Thursday morning  -- with their babies  -- at the hospital where they gave birth. They didn't know each other before they started coming to this new-moms' group, but in the past year they've bonded over everything from housework and husbands to bottles and breastfeeding. Here, they share what they've learned at their weekly meetings.

How to get a baby to sleep
Any new mom knows this is a touchy subject: Listen to another woman talk about how her 5-month-old goes down at 7:00 each night and doesn't stir till 6 a.m., and it can send your own sleep-deprived self over the edge.

"I can relate to that," says Kristy Hecker, whose 5-month-old son, Ryan, used to wake up in the middle of the night  -- even if he wasn't hungry  -- and wail until she rocked him back to sleep. "At first I didn't mind, but after a while I was really feeling the effects of not getting enough sleep."

"Sleep deprivation can make you do some crazy things," adds Michele Porubcan, a mom of 9-month-old twins, Mackenzie and Madison. "I remember one early morning I was working on about two hours of shut-eye and I carried Mackenzie to the kitchen and almost put her on a shelf in the refrigerator!"

To get Ryan to sleep through the night, Kristy tried soft music, swaddling, and even letting him fall asleep in the car seat. Nothing worked. So, when he was 11 weeks old, she took a more drastic step and stopped picking him up when he woke before 5 a.m. "I'd rock his cradle, rub his belly, and shush him. In four nights he was sleeping until seven a.m."

The group's consensus: You can kiss your solid eight hours goodbye for at least the first few months, but once it's time to get your baby on a regular sleep schedule, trust your gut and don't do anything that doesn't feel right. "I bought a book that drove me nuts trying to follow all the 'rules,'" says Melanie Schaller, mom of Harrison, 7 months. "But what helped me most was the reassurance from these moms that whatever felt best was the right choice for me. Everyone supported me when I wanted to comfort Harrison instead of letting him cry himself to sleep, but they also helped me see that training him to fall back asleep on his own would probably involve some crying."

Meghan Rabbitt is an associate editor at Parenting.

The excitement -- and angst -- over milestones

Watching other babies hit milestones can be both encouraging and frustrating. "It's great to see another child reach a milestone because it can give you insight into helping your child," says Kristy. "But it's tough to see a younger baby do something your child hasn't mastered yet. Right now there's a little one who's two weeks younger than Ryan, and he's rolling over. Ryan is so close but can't seem to push over just yet. I know he'll get it, but I have to remind myself to relax."

Keri Bongey, mom of Jake, now 9 months, and who's expecting her second baby, agrees: "If a baby is older than my son and reaches a milestone, I get excited thinking that Jake will be doing that soon. But if the baby is the same age or younger, I sometimes feel a little envious and wonder if there's something wrong with him." And for many new moms, that can ignite feelings of guilt.

"It's so easy to blame yourself for everything," says Keri. "I read a book that said babies could have a couple of syllables by the time they're six months old and I thought, 'Gosh, Jake is eight months and he hasn't even uttered a consonant!' My next thought was, 'Am I not talking to him enough when we're together during the day?' "

The group's consensus: Try to see other babies' milestones as a sneak preview of what's ahead for your child  -- even if it's taking him a little longer to reach them. And be sure to remind yourself that there's a huge age range in what doctors consider "normal" development. If you have any concerns, you can talk to your baby's doctor. And when it's your baby who starts sitting up or crawling first, you'll be able to share what the earliest signs were and how you helped your little one along.

"As my daughter gets older, it's nice to be able to answer questions other moms have," says Holly Werra, mom of Lydia, 5 months. "It helps you feel like you're not clueless anymore  -- like you actually know what you're doing. And that feels great."

Why it's easy to envy other mothers

No matter how happy you are with the decisions you've made about choices like letting your baby cry it out versus rocking him to sleep, or working versus staying at home, it's easy to compare yourself to others. Jenna Goeb, mom of Eva, 10 months, knows that she's been on both sides of the comparisons.

"I breastfed Eva until she was eight months old, and other moms in the group would tell me how jealous they were that I could do it and they couldn't," says Jenna. "But breastfeeding was really hard for me  -- I felt like I could never get a break from Eva. Sometimes I'd be so envious of moms who bottle-fed. They had such freedom."

For Michele, feelings of envy creep up when she talks to working moms. "I'm jealous of moms who can spend their days with adults, earning a living, and be home at night with their kids," she says. "I miss the corporate world."

"Me, too," says Keri. "I had Jake when I was thirty-four, so I'd been in the workforce for years. And although I knew I wanted to stay at home once I had a baby, it was  -- and still is  -- a shock to my system to be alone all day, every day."

But it's that time at home that some working moms  -- even those with flexible, family-friendly schedules  -- wish they had. Holly, a teacher, knows she has better hours than most, but she struggled with the idea of going back to work. "I'm concerned about missing milestones and not being there when Lydia needs her mommy," she says.

The group's consensus: Cut yourself some slack for the comparisons. "It's easy to size yourself up against other moms because even when things are great, you'll always have some concern or frustration," says Karen Gonzalez, mom of Benjamin, 9 months. "Some weeks I compare myself to a mom whose baby isn't as fussy as Benjamin, and other weeks to a working mom who always seems so put together," she says. "But you quickly realize that every woman is dealing with something." And as hard as it can be, it's important to remember that the mom you're stacking yourself up against might be just as envious of you.

Getting husbands to help out

There's nothing like a new baby to throw off the dynamic in a household, especially the one between a new mom and dad. "After the twins were born, my husband and I were more like individuals than a team," says Michele. "He'd go to work, then to the gym, and it'd be eight by the time he got home every night. I'd say, 'Come on  -- you have to get home and help me. My job is 24/7 now,' but he just didn't understand. And that was such a disappointment."

Getting the help you need from your partner can also be tough if he's a little apprehensive around your newborn. "At first, my husband was timid when it came to everyday tasks, like diapering, dressing, and feeding," says Kristy. "It was frustrating, because those things take a lot of time. But now that Ryan is older and less fragile, my husband is more comfortable doing this stuff, which has been a huge help."

For Michele, too, there was a moment when things changed with her husband. "I left the girls at home with him and when I got back, he said, 'Thank God! Where were you?' It gave him a taste of my job," she says. "Now, it's not just me saying, 'Honey, I really need you to come home.' He gets it. It took a while for the lightbulb to go on, but now he helps me and I help him. Finally, we're a team."

"Sometimes, you just have to take your cell phone and leave," says Jenna. "If your husband loves your baby, he's going to take good care of her. You have to trust that he'll be able to handle things at home while you go out and do something just for you."

The group's consensus: If there are things you'd like your husband to help out with more often, talk to him. Having a baby is a huge adjustment  -- it takes most couples some time to get used to the new living situation. "Remember," says Kristy, "even if your husband doesn't dive in with the parenting duties right away, don't worry. There's a good chance he'll come around."

Making friends with other mothers

Whether it's a morning spent sobbing right along with your baby or a feeling of great accomplishment after finally squeezing in a five-minute shower, there are some experiences only another mom  -- especially one with a child around your child's age  -- will be able to relate to. And oftentimes, all it takes is an understanding nod to help you feel like everything is going to be okay.

"The two people I talk to most are my husband and my mom," says Keri. "But it's one thing to have one of them say, 'Oh, don't worry, you're just being paranoid,' and another to have a mom say, 'Oh, don't worry  -- we went through that, too.' It makes you feel like you're not crazy."

And of course, new-mom friends are great for helping you make sense of all that unsolicited advice that comes with motherhood. "When you have your first baby, everyone gives comments and criticism," says Jenna. "And even though my mom and my grandmother are experienced moms and I rely on them for so much, their advice isn't always up-to-date. The moms in this group just get it. And their support has made everything seem more doable and helped give me confidence."

"Something else that's so wonderful about spending time with other moms and their babies is that it helps you realize there's no right way to parent," says Keri. "Although all of us share some of the same general concerns about sleeping and eating, each one of us is different and each of our babies is different, and everyone eventually finds their own way."

The group's consensus: Seek out other new moms as soon as you can  -- even if it seems like it's too much of a production to get out of the house. "Harrison was six weeks old when I finally made it to our group for the first time  -- I was terrified that he would start screaming in his car seat or would need to breastfeed while I was in public," says Melanie. "Now, when I see some moms come to our group with babies who are two weeks old, I feel a little silly for all of those fears. This group has been so wonderful from the start. It's a place where you can come as you are and share anything  -- and it's helped me come into my own as a mom."

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