In parenthood, the days are long but the months are short. During maternity leave, the days can be an eternity and the months go by before you can blink. While I was lucky enough to spend my daughter’s first three months at home with her, it seemed as though I was back to work before I could even catch my breath. Somewhere between swooning over my precious little one and quite literally crying over spilled (breast) milk, I realized that time was indeed flying. I resolved to make the most those three precious months.
Here are a few things I learned on my wonderful roller coaster ride at home with little M. While your journey is almost certainly different than mine, I hope you will find some of these tips useful.
1. Your full-time job is being a mama. I prepared for parenthood the best way I knew how: with spreadsheets, books and to-do lists. Naturally, I didn’t realize just how engrossed every fiber of my body would be in ensuring my little angel’s daily survival. You’ll spend your days (and nights) feeding, soothing, holding, counting wet diapers, examining poop, Googling symptoms that may or may not be real concerns, testing new burping positions, cleaning spit up, the list goes on. Embrace this new experience and let go of prior expectations around housework, laundry duty and meal preparation. Instead, welcome the opportunity to dote on your little one while you are home. For those first few weeks, my husband and I survived on paper plates, crockpot meals, deli meat, yogurt, and fruits and veggies.
2. It takes a village – find yours. For centuries, women and families have relied on one another to rear and raise children. In today’s fast-moving world, it’s easy to feel the pressure to do it all yourself. Support from family, friends, neighbors and colleagues is extremely important. In addition to talking with “my village,” I found that one of the best ways to navigate through this new adventure called mommy hood was to connect with other new moms. Here are some easy ways to do it in Madison:
- Mom2Mom Private is a closed group on Facebook (read: your questions and posts won’t be shared with everyone, and their brother Larry). This informal network of mamas is a great place to ask questions and share stories.
- Meriter’s Mother-Baby Hour for 0-3 month olds is a free opportunity for new moms to come together to ask questions, share experiences and find resources. Facilitated by a community educator (in my experience, a nurse practitioner and lactation consultant), MBH offers a casual environment to socialize with other new moms while also offering a forum for questions around all things baby. For nursing mamas, it’s a comfortable place to breastfeed and even has a scale to weigh your baby after feedings.
3. More importantly, ask for help. (I’m still working on this one) My husband went back to work when M was a week old, and for a very brief period of time afterward, I wished I had more help (mainly with all the aforementioned housework and cooking that I’d been neglecting. And OMG, a nap.). Even though I realized that my family and friends weren’t mind readers, I still had a hard time asking. Luckily, my husband, mom and sister-in-law took the reigns. My mom came to the rescue with home-cooked meals. She cleaned our house, top to bottom, and didn’t think twice about offering to do it again. When my husband went out of town for a few nights, my SIL stayed a night and allowed me to get four STRAIGHT hours of sleep. And of course, my headstrong lady friends were always there with coffee or wine when I needed them. I powered through the tough stuff, the way all parents do, but I know I could have made it easier on myself if I only had the courage to ask when I needed help.
4. Find your BF’s (breast friends). If you are nursing, accept that it can be hard. And while it is natural, it doesn’t always come naturally. While my baby was an expert latcher, I had all kinds of concerns with supply and reflux. It didn’t take me long to fall into the deep hole that is the World Wide Web. I soon found that the key to successful breastfeeding is surrounding yourself with support. For nursing moms, the Madison area is full of resources.
- First things first: find a lactation consultant if you have any breastfeeding concerns. First, I worked with the LC’s at Meriter. Then I got a referral to another LC from my daughter’s pediatrician. Your doctor or your baby’s doctor can connect you with someone to help.
- Nicki’s Diapers and Happy Bambino are excellent resources for nursing mamas. Both provide comfortable areas to nurse and weigh your baby, and the staff are knowledgeable and relatable. Each offers breastfeeding classes with LC’s. (These are also great places to pick up tips on baby wearing, car seat installation and cloth diapering if you so choose.)
- La Leche League of Madison. In addition to hosting mothers’ groups in the area, LLL offers free advice by email and phone, as well as fee-based options for home visits. I found their helpline particularly useful.
5. Be adventurous. Don’t be afraid to get outdoors with your baby (or in the winter, to get out of the house and go somewhere else indoors). When little M was just a week or two old, our pediatrician told us never to underestimate the power of fresh air and a change of scenery. New sights, sounds and smells are great for baby’s development. As you introduce your little babe to the rustle of the leaves, the feel of a fresh-cut Christmas tree or the smell of a flower, you will likely be surprised at how you begin to appreciate those little things yourself.
- Walk with your babe (and your partner!). Each night after dinner, we took a family walk. It felt great to get our blood flowing and enjoy the outdoors together. Mall walking is a great option during the winter months. Find what works for you; we alternated between stroller walks and wearing our little one. Madison even has a stroller strides group!
- Take a class with your baby. Little M and I enjoyed Mama/Baby Yoga at Happy Bambino. They also offer a Music Together class. (Be sure to check out their free trial class options!)
- Go to a library. Look up local story times and other family events. It’s never too early to read to your baby, and you’d be surprised at the number of moms you’ll connect with.
- Check out Kids in the Rotunda at the Overture Center. This is a destination for Madison parents and children during the cold winter months. Even if your baby is too young to run around and play, it’s a great place to hold, sing and be silly with your infant. The free programs run every Saturday, September through April.
6. Take time for yourself. Self-care is important to maintaining your physical and emotional well-being. Everyone is different, but it took me a couple of weeks to feel comfortable leaving my little one home. When you’re ready, enlist someone you trust (like a loving family member) to care for baby. Then leave the house. Take a yoga class, get your nails done, run an errand or even take a walk. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to cuddle that little one! While time to yourself may feel strange at first, it is important for both you and your baby. Plus, it allows little ones to bond with the OTHER people in their lives that love them. Taking a few hours away at a time is also a good chance to ease into going back to work.
7. Write it down. I remember the time I broke down and cried to my mom “will I EVER get more than 3 hours of sleep?” Then, time warped and I had a one-year old, and could barely remember when she got her first tooth. One of the best gifts my husband ever gave me cost nothing at all. He started an email account for our baby when I was pregnant, and we have been writing to her ever since. Just the other day I was unpacking a box of childhood “stuff” my mother-in-law sent to us, and I found an old baby book from when my husband was born. The pages are filled with monthly calendars, covered in notes about my dear one’s first months and years of existence. It was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen. (And also quite hilarious. When he was 8 days old, the entry was “Brother locked you in mommy’s room. Mommy cried.”) Life moves so quickly that it’s easy to forget the “firsts,” and you will be happy you wrote them down.
8. Above all else: soak it up. Bask in the joys that babyhood brings. Beyond the exhaustion, worrying and doubt, there is an endless supply of bliss that comes with motherhood. Memorize the details of your sweet one’s first smiles and giggles. Allow yourself to relish in the simplicity of caring for your child. Truly enjoy the moments as they come. No one ever looks back and thinks “I really wish I had a cleaner house when my children were small.”