The first year of motherhood is a wild ride full of highs and lows. From the first time you hold your baby in your arms to the middle of the night feedings; the first trip out of the house to healing your own wounds from birth; the first time you attempt to have sex and so many other firsts create memories you’ll never forget.
I love being a mother.
That’s not to say I haven’t had my ups and downs throughout my first year. But when my son has gone to bed, and I finally can put my head back and think for a few minutes, I am truly grateful that I get to be his mother and see him grow day after day. During these quieter moments, I often drift back to the prior 12 months we’ve had together, and I start to think about how far I’ve come as a mom. There are many times that I want to have more patience, more creativity around his meals or more time to read that book for the fourth time. But with that all aside, I know I’m a great mother and that I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way—here are eight lessons I’ve learned during my first year of motherhood.
1. Happy mama, happy family
How are you feeling about this new part of life? When I first got home from the hospital, I felt like I was completely in over my head. I had a lot of family in town, we lived in a super small apartment, and I couldn’t move around very quickly because, you know, I had just given birth.
This overwhelmed me, but what I didn’t know is that the overwhelming feeling this early in motherhood with your first is normal. If you’re feeling this too, no matter if it’s day one or year one, speak up. Your family will be better off if you’re feeling OK as much as possible during this new journey.
2. You need more help than that
Speaking of speaking up more, you need way more help than you’re letting on. I know that there is a narrative out there that we, as mothers, must do it all, but we simply can’t and shouldn’t. We already carry most of the mental load trying to remember schedules, deciphering the cries, wondering what the rash is, figuring out what cluster feeding means, and so much more.
If you can get help in other areas of your life, I urge you to take it. I learned this lesson the hard way. As a Type A person, I embodied the concept of “If you want something done right, do it yourself”—looking back, I should’ve leaned more on those around me. It doesn’t matter if it’s not done the way you’d have done it; let go of the perfection and take the help so you can mentally and physically rest just a bit more.
3. Self-care isn’t selfish
Something I’m just starting to dig into more now is taking care of myself first. When your baby is a newborn, they need all of your time and attention, so it’s OK if you choose to put some of yourself on hold momentarily to tend to your baby’s needs.
Once you and your baby get into a rhythm, I recommend scheduling weekly date nights with yourself to lovingly hand your baby over to a friend, grandparent, sibling, or partner for 1 hour (more if you can) and take care of yourself. Make a delicious cup of coffee and go on a walk and don’t check in on the baby unless absolutely necessary, take a bubble bath and ask to not be disturbed, or go for a drive listening to your favorite music turned all the way up.
As the saying goes, “You, as much as everyone else, deserve your love and attention.”
4. Make the first year as convenient as possible
For most of the first year, I used a meal delivery service that dropped four meals on my doorstep. The meals were healthy and delicious, I looked forward to the meals I chose, it saved me a grocery shopping trip, and most took 30 minutes or less to cook (meaning my husband could even do it!).
At first, I felt guilty as all of the “shoulds” came up in my head around what I “should” be doing in comparison to what I heard or saw other moms doing. But I quickly let that go as I saw how much more time it gave me back on my weekends by not having to grocery shop as much and in my evenings (especially once going back to work) by not standing in the kitchen long to cook my family dinner.
Maybe you’ve got cooking meals down, but maybe you can get your groceries delivered, hire a cleaning person to scrub your bathroom or kitchen floors, drop your laundry off and have someone else do it, or hire someone to do something else you dislike doing or don’t have time for.
I know we’re in some tough times right now, so use your resources, ask your partner, and if nothing else, it’s OK to let the mess pile up. There’s no shame in that in exchange for some rest.
5. Talk about life after baby before the baby arrives with your partner
During my pregnancy, I talked often with my husband about what life would be like once that baby arrives. Will he sleep in a bassinet, pack and play, or a crib? Will we breastfeed, exclusively pump, or try formula? These were just a few of the questions we talked through, but we didn’t quite discuss how we would parent once the baby arrives.
To be fair to both of us, you don’t know what you don’t know—meaning, you may not know what type of parent you’ll be until the baby actually arrives. I had no idea I was going to be a helicopter wife to my husband until I had a breakdown when he took a shower while the baby was asleep and I was grocery shopping (something at the time I was too nervous to do).
Talking through the best-case and worst-case scenarios may be helpful so that you know what to expect from one another. Some questions to consider could be: who will get up each night with the baby? Will both of you tackle bath time, or will you alternate? Or are you OK with co-sleeping, or will you choose another option?
6. Advocate for your sleep too
Yes, both parents are going to be incredibly tired this first year, but it is often more natural for the mother to sacrifice her well being, sleep included, for the needs of her baby. When I was on maternity leave, I frequently felt guilty having my husband wake up in the middle of the night for an occasional feeding so I could get some rest. Looking back though, we both were waking up the next day to go to work—our jobs just looked a little different.
When you can, advocate as much as possible for extra rest and sleep. If this means going to bed when the baby goes to bed for the night, do it. If this means letting the dishes pile up so you can nap when the baby finally naps, do it. Or if this means asking for an hour or two of alone time and using it solely to get some extra rest again, do it.
You and your family will absolutely benefit from you being a more well-rested mama in the end.
7. Try your best to not compare
I have been there before: it’s late at night, you’re trying to stay awake for another feeding or trying not to move so that you don’t wake the baby up again, so you do the infamous never-ending scroll through social media. A thumb scrolls through, and you’re just seeing happy mom after happy mom followed by clean white kitchen after clean white kitchen, and your mind starts to spiral.
That can’t just be me.
Yes, I’ve found myself comparing my reality to other mom’s social media highlight reel and truth be told, it sometimes puts me in a negative funk. Over the last six months though, I’ve made a conscious effort to take inventory of who I’m following and continue to check in on if it still feels right for me and where I’m currently at in life. Sometimes the white kitchen brings me motivation, sometimes the happy moms remind me of all the silver linings of motherhood even when it’s tough.
But when that doesn’t happen and I begin to sink down into a rabbit hole of wishing my life looked like someone else’s, I know it’s time to reevaluate my relationships—in real life and on social media.
Remember, we never fully know someone’s story, so it’s best to keep our eyes on our own paper.
8. Emotional health matters just as much as physical health
If you’ve read anything else I’ve written for The Everymom you know that I often talk about my mental health struggles and navigating postpartum depression and anxiety. I talk about it openly because we, as mothers, don’t do that enough, and we tend to feel ashamed for not loving every single part of motherhood.
Becoming a new mom for the first time throws a lot at you all at once, and it is OK if you don’t know how to handle it right from the get-go. If you are having tough days or think that maybe you might be struggling with depression or anxiety, know that there is nothing wrong with you. The people in your life love you and want the best for you, so I urge you to share how you’re feeling with someone you love and trust whether that be your partner, your parents, a friend, a neighbor, or even your OBGYN. There is help out there for you, and you’re not alone. Feeling great is just as much mental as it is physical.