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No matter how many times you read What to Expect When You're Expecting, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the unexpected physical and emotional changes brought on by motherhood. Here are a dozen ways to make the transition to parenthood a little smoother:
Eat well. It's tough to keep up with healthy eating habits once you've got a baby who doesn't want to be put down. Try to have a few weeks' worth of healthful meals stocked in the freezer before you deliver, so all you have to do is defrost and add a salad. You can also ask your partner to help keep some finger foods nearby for you. Hard-boiled eggs, baby carrots, almonds, cheese cubes, and grapes are a few examples of things you can munch on if you have just one hand free. Have your friends and family help with cooking while you take care of the baby. While you may be anxious to start dropping pregnancy weight, you need adequate nutrition right now—especially if you're breastfeeding. Try to choose foods that are high in protein and low in fat, but don't skimp on calories. You need your energy! Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, especially when nursing. Juice, sodas, and coffee will dehydrate you, so try to stick to plain water. Have a goal of at least 8-10 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
Expect some soreness. Your whole body may ache after birth, especially if you labored and pushed for a long time and in different positions. Massage and gentle stretching may help. For genital pain, sitz baths and medicated pads can take the edge off. Cramping pain while nursing is normal in the first few days. Try over-the-counter pain relievers to help reduce your discomfort.
Let others help. Don't be a martyr and try to do it all. If you have family nearby, let them cook a few extra meals for you, do the laundry, or help clean up. Friends can make drugstore trips, provide play dates for your older children, and watch your baby while you sleep. You shouldn’t go it alone!
Get enough rest. This isn't easy when your baby is getting up three times a night to feed (or more!), but if you can get your rest in little dribs and drabs, you may be able to piece together enough sleep to function reasonably well. When your baby takes a nap, take one also. You may feel the need to get things done around the house while the baby is sleeping, but make yourself the priority and take that nap. The dishes can wait—your sleep is more important. You can also simply go to bed whenever he or she does—even if it's at 7:30 p.m.
Accept your partner’s parenting style. Try not to be territorial about the baby. Let he/she have a go at bathing, dressing, and caring for your child while you shower or nap. If he/she gets the baby's onesie on backwards or holds him or her in a position that seems awkward to you, resist the urge to correct him/her. Your partner is doing things his/her own way—neither right nor wrong.
Exercise. As soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, do some form of physical activity every day. It will energize you and improve your overall well-being. You likely won’t be able to jump back into an intensive workout schedule right away. Work your way back up as you establish your new daily routine, and be patient with yourself. Don’t forget that your body just went through major changes during the pregnancy, and then even more changes once you delivered. Start with a simple walk around the neighborhood until you're ready for more. Then, check out your local gym for postpartum fitness classes—some even include babies in the exercises, and others have daycare/babysitting services.
Schedule time for yourself. Don't feel guilty if every waking moment isn't devoted to your precious bundle. It's not only okay to take time for yourself; it's necessary! Take a shower every day, and put on a little makeup if that makes you feel good. Feel free to get out of the house once in a while to take care of yourself. Rely on friends and family for watching the baby if you want to go get a haircut, a manicure, or just a stroll through the mall by yourself. Your mental health will benefit enormously. When you’re taking care of yourself, your baby will benefit, too.
Accept ambivalent feelings. Despite what you see on TV, life with a new baby is not fully euphoric. Being a new mother is amazing, scary, fulfilling, tiring, wonderful, and frustrating—sometimes all at once. You will probably experience the "baby blues" for the first few days after birth (because of a drop in hormone levels). Becoming a mother is a huge step—and your feelings are normal. Know that you can love your baby and still feel conflicted about your new status as a parent. One caveat: if you're having troubling thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, call your doctor right away. Postpartum depression is not normal, but is VERY common and very real, and should not be ignored. It is not a reflection of your strength or your ability as a mother—it is a medical condition that cannot be controlled on your own. Medication and talk therapy are proven treatments for this disease.
Seek help with breastfeeding. For a natural act, nursing can be quite frustrating at first. You can attend the prenatal Breastfeeding Basics Class to address any concerns you have prior to giving birth. Once you deliver, your nurses on Labor and Delivery and on Maternity will help you get started, and will help you navigate through all the normal difficulties those first couple days. Lactation consultants are also available to see you in the hospital. Furthermore, there are a variety of resources to help you once you go home, including visits with the lactation consultants, a telephone number for quick questions, and support groups. If you are committed to breast-feeding, know that you are not alone in your struggles and you have a lot of support on your side. But if breastfeeding becomes too stressful, and you decide to switch to formula, or if your pediatrician recommends supplementing, do NOT feel guilty. When breastfeeding causes such overwhelming frustration that it interferes with your well-being, it’s better to keep yourself happy and healthy so that you can take care of your baby.
Avoid rushing back into intimacy. Your body will need time to heal, whether you had a vaginal delivery or a C-section. First, the medical stuff: you should wait until your doctor gives the okay to resume sexual activity. You should also talk to your doctor about contraception options. It is possible to get pregnant soon after delivering, even if you are nursing. Theoretically, exclusive breastfeeding should prevent another pregnancy, but it cannot be relied upon for birth control. Plenty of people have gotten pregnant before their first menstrual period came back! There are many options to prevent pregnancy until you are ready for your next baby—not just the pill, if you are worried about taking it every day. Now, the real stuff: besides the fact that your body needs to heal, your emotions may be in a tailspin right now. Between the lack of sleep, the changes in hormones, and all the emotional changes that motherhood brings, sex is usually the last thing on your mind (or your partner’s) if you two get some time to yourselves. So remember, intimacy does not only mean intercourse. Take some time to just cuddle with your partner. Remember to tell each other how much you love and appreciate each other. When you do feel up to intercourse, talk to your partner. Communication is key! Make sure you each understand each other’s expectations. Know that intercourse will not feel the same as it did prior to getting pregnant, at least at the beginning. Pain is unfortunately very common in women who have had vaginal births or C-sections, simply due to the changes to your body during the pregnancy, and hormonal changes. Over-the-counter lubricants can help with vaginal dryness (which does happen with nursing). Have patience, and know that things will get back to normal with time.
Let things go. It's ironic that the birth of a baby makes your phone ring off the hook—just when you may least feel up to making conversation! Disconnect the phone if you're busy taking care of your baby or let voicemail take calls. Don't worry if your carpet is looking shabbier than usual. The laundry can wait, too. It's more important to rest and spend time with your baby than to try to keep up with chores and other demands. You have the ultimate excuse—everyone understands that you are now totally preoccupied.
Trust your instincts. All the baby books and websites in the world can tell you how to be a mother, but you know your baby best and what he or she needs. If something works for you, do it (even if your mother or mother-in-law says she wouldn't have dreamed of doing such a thing when her babies were born). Sometimes, recommendations from pediatricians change from generation to generation as we learn more. Accept advice from friends and family, but remember that what worked for them may not be appropriate for you. In fact, what works for your first may not be best for your next child! You and your partner will tailor your parenting style to your baby as you get to know his/her personality over the first few weeks and months. A happy, healthy baby (and a happy, healthy mommy!) are all that matters.
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