New Mom's Guide

It was 18 years ago when I brought home my first baby from the hospital. I'll never forget the day. It was July 2, 1991 and I slowly walked out of the hospital with no shoes because my ankles were so swollen. Feeling the pain of my episiotomy, I placed my son Kai in a car seat we borrowed from a friend. It wasn't an infant car seat like the ones we have today, so the huge car seat swallowed up all 6 pounds, 14 ounces of him. Looking at his tiny body all scrunched up, and thinking about how I had already failed him, I burst into tears. It could have been the hormones, or the unrealistic expectations I placed on myself to be a good mom. And the tears were no doubt a reaction to the fear I felt as I was about to embark on an unknown journey. A journey, that no doubt, was one I took very seriously. After all, I would be responsible for the care and development of a new life - my baby.

Since then, I have raised my first son, and have eight years into my second boy. With this experience, and the years of coaching moms at various stages of motherhood, I've learned a few things about what it takes for a new mom to not just survive, but thrive with her new baby. Below are 10 tips you can use to make your experience as a new mom positive, healthy and enjoyable:

Sleep Whenever You Can
When you are sleeping, your body is working to correct chemical imbalances, assure proper blood sugar levels for the next day and maintain memory. A lack of sleep results in reduced energy, diminished moods and a weakened immune system. Because your baby is waking up a lot to feed, your sleep is disrupted. While you may be tempted to concentrate on getting things done while your baby sleeps, it is equally important that you sleep while your baby sleeps. Take naps whenever you can and go to bed early. If you are breastfeeding, store extra milk so Dad can take a few middle of the night feedings or give you a break on the weekends while you rest.

Slow Down and Simplify Your Life
While you get adjusted to your new life with a baby, consider cutting back on the number of commitments you place on yourself. Dr. Brent W. Bost, an obstetrician-gynecologist says "there are sixty million women in America who are so overscheduled and overstressed that it affects their physical health." He identifies this phenomenon as The Hurried Woman Syndrome and reports that many of the "avoidable stresses are those that come from a busy, hectic schedule and lifestyle choices that many of us have embraced as completely 'normal'." Look for ways to simplify life and minimize stress for you and your baby.

Adjust Your Expectations
It doesn't matter if this baby is your first, second or third, a new baby brings with it a time of transition. I know you want to be a great mom, and that is certainly an admirable goal, but a great mom is not a perfect mom. You don't have to follow all the rules perfectly. Do what feels right to you. Your baby doesn't care whether the house is perfectly clean, or whether or not she has the coolest toys or cutest outfits. She just needs love, food and sleep. Come together as a family and adjust your expectations. Focus on what is most important to you in this phase of your life, and accept that you're in a period of learning and adjustment.

Ask for and Accept Lots of Support
Asking for and accepting help as a new mom, or a mom in any phase of motherhood, is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength. Put together a team of people that can help you with the house, the children, the errands or with anything that takes a load off your shoulders. Most important, do not feel guilty for needing help. There are plenty of people who are more than willing to jump in and support you. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for my mom friends, including laundry and babysitting their children. Your time will come when you can give back to other moms by being a source of support for them.

Up to Date Parenting Information
We are blessed as moms today with a wealth of free information pertaining to every topic imaginable. There are community forums for moms to interact, share stories and gather ideas. Having access to up to date parenting information increases our confidence and reduces worry. It is okay to use the books, pediatricians and older moms to gain knowledge. And it's equally okay for you to trust your gut. A mother's intuition is strong. But I think one of the most important gifts we get from educating ourselves and staying connected to knowledge is validation. It's comforting to know we are not alone, and other moms and children
Isolation is not healthy. Get out of the house or get away from your job and make time to connect with other new moms. Use your time together to enjoy each other and share funny stories. Avoid comparing your babies or yourselves, but instead do something fun and creative. You can join a moms club, start a playgroup, participate in a book discussion or just hang out and socialize over a cup of coffee. Getting out and connecting with other moms breaks up the monotony of everyday life and gives you something to look forward to.

Manage and Accept Your Emotions
It took you nine months to conceive and deliver your new baby, and it's going to take some time for your body and hormones to readjust. Mood swings are normal for new moms, but it's still important to talk about your feelings. Don't judge yourself if you are feeling angry or sad. Instead take a few moments to talk with a friend or journal about what is going on inside. Fighting with your emotions only causes you to get stuck emotionally - going with the flow allows you to release your feelings and move forward. If you have a chronic feeling of depression or anger, don't hesitate to seek help.

Exercise Your Body
Exercise is one of the best natural antidepressants on the market. Not only will exercise help you get your pre-baby body back, but it will boost your energy, release stress, and increase endorphins (the "feel good" hormones) in your brain. Take your baby for brisk walks. Join a health club that has a kid center. Do yoga with your baby. Partner with your husband so both mom and dad can get in shape and model healthy living for your new baby.

Take Time Alone to Nurture Yourself
Do you remember who you were before you became a mom? If not, it's time to reconnect with that woman again. So many moms abandon important parts of their "self" in the process of motherhood. While it may seem like you are tending to the needs of your children and being a good mom, it will eventually catch up to you and manifest itself in irritability and impatience. Make regular time to stay connected to what makes you happy. Enjoy your hobbies and give yourself permission to hang out with "you".

Romance with Your Husband
There is no doubt romance becomes more challenging after that first baby arrives. A family without a healthy marriage is not a healthy family. While a crying baby can be demanding, dad will feel abandoned if the baby moves in for all the attention. You need time too to reconnect with the man who helped you bring your new baby into the world. Find a reliable babysitter you can trust and schedule a date night once or twice a month. Not only will this nurture your marriage, but it gives your children a great example of what it means to be happily married.

A new baby brings great joy to a new mom. Choose to thrive, instead of survive, and make this time of your life a positive and healthy experience for everyone. And go kiss some baby toes.

~ Lori Radun