The best advice for new mamas
What is the best advice you would give for new mamas? Today I wanted to share more of a personal post for you: the best advice I ever received when I became a new mama.
If you’re expecting, congratulations! You’re in for a crazy, wonderful ride.
If you haven’t already, you’ll soon discover that anyone and everyone wants to give you advice. Total strangers are experts in the topic of mamahood and are only too eager to give you their two cents.
Out of all the guidance I received (that I actually retained), only 3 pieces of advice seemed to me 1) universal—that is, they apply to almost any new mama in our day and age—and 2) useful—as in, I actually applied this advice and found it beneficial.
Here I am today, about to bestow this advice to you. A bit hypocritical, I know. But if you’re already here on my blog, you probably care what I have to say.
Have a cup of coffee with me. It’s story time.
The trouble with Kind People and their unsolicited advice for new mamas
When I was pregnant with C, I got A LOT of unsolicited advice. I smiled and nodded, but I wasn’t listening. I basically ignored everything, but that was my strategy back then for other reasons which I won’t get into with this post.
Like a fool, I thought the advice would end once my baby arrived. Big mistake. The advice kept coming. I was inundated with “What you gotta do is x,” and “Are you sure you don’t wanna try y?”
The biggest issue was this: everyone giving me advice was trying to solve a problem for me—even when I didn’t feel like there was a problem in the first place!
Conversations would go something like this:
Kind person: “So, is baby C sleeping through the night?”
Me, a new mama just tryna tread water: “No, she sleeps for maybe 4 hours, then we’re up the rest of the time.”
Kind person: “Oh man, that sounds terrible! Did you try making her stay awake during the day? You should also give her a huge feeding right before bedtime. It worked wonders for my son.”
I had this conversation what felt like hundreds of times in the months after C was born. These were Kind People who were honestly, truly trying to help me. But there are four problems with this example:
1. Differing views on parenting
It’s not the case for everyone, but personally, I was very much against any form of sleep training for my newborn. It was hard to accept once I was actually in the situation, but I truly believed that C would sleep as long as she needed to, and that eventually, she would adjust to a normal rhythm. This particular Kind Person didn’t stop to think what my views were before they dispensed their advice.
2. Different parenting techniques
I breastfed C until she was a year and a half old. I couldn’t “give her a huge feeding” because I was feeding her on demand. When she was a newborn, I certainly wasn’t offering her the breast just because I thought it was “time for a feed.” And I certainly had no control over how much she actually drank. This Kind Person assumed I was bottle feeding. Completely irrelevant to my situation.
3. All babies are different
What works for one baby, won’t work for another. This Kind Person was in all likelihood French, and the framework they were using was typical French parenting methods (putting a newborn in their own room upon getting home from the hospital, and bottle feeding—neither of which I chose to do with C). I am sure that this Kind Person’s advice did actually work for them, and would probably work for some other mamas. Just not me. Maybe not you.
4. Your problem, not mine
Most importantly, I didn’t ask for this Kind Person’s advice—especially because I didn’t view my situation as problematic. So C wasn’t sleeping through the night. Big deal! She was a NEWBORN. Not all newborns sleep through the night from the start. Yes, it was tough at the time, but I knew it was only a passing phase, and C would eventually self-regulate and adapt to my schedule. (I had to be patient, but guess what? I was right!) When new mamas speak openly about their struggles, they’re not necessarily viewing their struggles as “problems,” and therefore don’t always need advice.
You can be gracious. You do not have to be accepting.
This post now kind of sounds like I’m ranting about people who are giving their kind advice to new mamas because they truly care. So let me clarify: these Kind People have their hearts in the right place, and I was grateful for that.
What I want to impress upon you is this: If you’re about to become a mama for the first time, or if you are a new mama, don’t stress about the advice you receive. I felt that. I felt overwhelmed by other people’s two cents. It became so much that it was all jumbled in my head in one big mess.
Until I had an epiphany.
I wasn’t obligated to do anything with this advice from other mamas. Yes, some of these Kind People actually checked up on me afterward to see how their advice changed my life. It was sometimes awkward to let them know that I didn’t actually put it into practice.
But you know what? You’re the mama. You’re in charge. You do you.
It’s hard in the beginning to know what to do sometimes because all of this is new, so other people’s thoughts and opinions seem tempting. They’re seasoned parents, after all! Of course they know what to do!
But you know what? The more advice I received, the more I realized how much of it was actually completely contradictory.
So if the advice you receive is contradictory, what do you do with it? You go with the flow. Try what feels natural to you. If one method doesn’t work, try something else. Parenting doesn’t mean you have to force a particular technique. Children grow and change so fast that you’ll soon realize that you need to constantly adapt your strategy. They keep you on your toes!
After everything I heard and read about becoming a mama, and after all the advice I received once I actually became one, there are 3 pieces of advice I can look back on now and feel so grateful that a fellow mama told me about.
I am now going to tell you, and I truly hope to help you.
The best advice for new mamas I ever received
Each of these wise words of wisdom came from a different good friend of mine.
The most specific advice I have to tell you comes from E. She warned me that:
For the first 4-6 weeks, your new baby has no schedule.
Why is this important? First, it stopped me from wildly hoping that I would sleep at night during those early weeks.It helped prepare me for a situation in which I would be thrown from my routine (as a creature of habit, I like my routines, and I knew it would be uncomfortable to live without one).
Second, it helped me realize that I didn’t need to impose a schedule on my new baby, because it was likely to be total anarchy in the beginning, completely beyond my control. I was happy to have given C some time in the beginning to just do her thing instead of trying to fit her into a rigid schedule.
Third, it helped me to rationalize my choice to slowly start to nudge C onto a schedule at around 4 weeks. I felt that I had given her the necessary time to do her thing, and now she was going to have to start adjusting to my thing. It might be at 4 weeks for you and your baby, it might be at 6 weeks, or 8 weeks, whatever. You’re the mama, you decide.
And, if you’re wondering, this worked rather well for me. All I did to start C on a schedule was: get up at the same time every morning, change her out of her pajamas and into daytime/play clothes, then give her the first feeding of the day. It took longer for me to get onto a schedule in the evening. I remember the timing was still a bit all over the place. But I still made an evening routine of changing C back into pajamas, taking her up to bed with me, feeding her and having a little relaxed quiet time as she lay in her bed next to mine. Nothing brutal. Just a gentle restructuring of our day. It did wonders for my outlook, too, because I benefited from having some parameters again.
Some general advice I can give you comes from my best friend here. D became a mama seven months prior to me, so we’re on this journey of mamahood together. When I texted her for the thousandth time about not knowing what more to do for my inconsolable baby, she had this to say:
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. They’re just gonna cry. Just let them know that you’re there. That’s all they really need in the beginning.
There will be times when you are at the end of your rope because you have tried EVERYTHING to get your baby to calm down and stop crying. You get into more and more of a frenzy when your efforts amount to nothing. You feel like you’re gonna cry too, and maybe you do. It happened to me so many times, I cannot tell you.
D’s advice let me off the hook of always having to do something (this is surely the American in me). I felt like I was failing as a mama if I couldn’t successfully soothe my own child.
Well, sometimes newborns just need to cry. D meant that your baby just needs to know they’re not alone in those times. You’re next to him or her, and you don’t even have to say anything. You are showing up physically and emotionally for your baby, and that’s all that matters.
My other best friend here is X. I love getting advice from X because it’s often a wildly different perspective from the Americans I know as well as the Europeans. She told me:
Don’t get too attached to the parenting techniques you think you want to use. Better to try something else than to keep trying the same thing if it isn’t working. Let go of your preconceived notions of parenting, and do what feels right as you go along.
Writing those words again, I am reminded of what a powerful message I received when she told them to me (in French, so I am translating here). Her advice puts the power back in the hands of the mamas. When you feel something isn’t working for you, it’s completely within your right to change it.
Let me give you an example. X told me that in China, no one uses binkies (pacifiers, dummies) for children—which I find ironic, because I bet a large portion of binkies are probably manufactured in China, but I digress.
I was so inspired by the fact that I could go without these little bits of rubber and plastic, because I was trying to approach motherhood from an ethical and minimalist perspective. I didn’t want to have to consume “baby things” just because they were marketed to me as a new mama.
D gave me a binky. I said, I won’t use it. She said, you never know. If you need it, you have one. She was right.
When C was 6 weeks old, her incessant crying (for whatever reason, probably for every reason) drove us nuts. I mean, what parent isn’t driven nuts by that sound? I decided that for our own sanity, I was gonna try the binky.
It worked. Mostly. But that’s a blog post for another day. The point is, hubby and I were almost disappointed that it worked. Why? Because now we felt dependent on the binky, something we were adamant about not using in the first place. I felt like I had failed at something. What was the secret to Chinese parents being able to live without binkies for their babies?! Why wasn’t I strong enough to stand my daughter’s constant wailing?
That’s when X gave me her advice. And it’s so true. You think mamahood is going to be like x or y or z, but the reality is, no one really knows what it’s like until they’re in it.
Her advice helped me to stop feeling guilty about my choices as a mama. Of course I wasn’t a failure just because I gave my child a binky, but I felt guilty about creating a dependency. I know that it’s going to be hell when I one day have to wean C from the binky, but I guess that’s Future Jessica’s problem, as D would put it.
Honestly, no one else is judging you about a binky or anything else you do as a mama. And if they are, then their opinion is probably not worth your feeling bad about it.
Ouf! We’re in the home stretch now. Now for a little piece of my own advice to wrap this up.
My last best advice for new mamas
This might be hard to believe, but before I became a mama, I never drank coffee. Then a baby happened. And breastfeeding. And late nights. Sometimes no nights at all. The diaper changing and the endless dishwashing and the pile of laundry that kept getting higher.
I needed a pick-me-up. I needed caffeine! Black tea just wasn’t cutting it!
Make friends with coffee
To be honest, I still kinda hate the taste of coffee. But it wasn’t about that. When I put on the kettle and measured out two or three spoonfuls of soluble coffee, then poured milk over the top and almost to the brim, I instantly felt like I was about to have some Me Time.
I was entering into a 5- or 10-minute window of peace and quiet. It was a little ritual of self-care, because honestly, in those days it was hard to even get a shower organized. Sometimes I had coffee by myself, sometimes with my mama, who was visiting. A coffee break broke me out of the “ongoingness” of being a mama, which was really hard to deal with in the beginning.
That’s why I knew I wanted to include coffee as a theme in this blog about my version of mamahood. It sounds simple, maybe a little kitsch, I don’t know. It’s less about the coffee, and more about the break you’re getting, and totally deserve, mama!
Here’s a little bonus advice for you, expecting mamas and new mamas: try not to hit the spoon on the cup as you stir your coffee. A deadly struggle for our planet between Man and aliens could be happening outside our house and C would sleep soundly, but as soon as that spoon hit the side of the cup, she’d wake right up. How do babies just know when their mamas are off duty? Gah!
So now it’s time for me to actually solicit your advice. What was the best advice you ever received as a new mama? I can’t wait to hear what you know!-Jessica