You’ve made it through nine months of pregnancy bliss — plus the nausea, fatigue and discomfort that can come along with it. You’ve survived hours of contractions, deep breathing, sweating and pushing. At last, your baby is here, and you dissolve in a blur of tears, happiness, relief — and total exhaustion.
That was the easy part. Now you have to be a mom.
“Nobody tells you how busy you’ll be with a new baby — and how tired,” says Valerie Fahey, new mother of her second child in Piedmont, Calif.
Even prenatal classes don’t prepare women for what lies ahead. “Most childbirth-education classes are skewed,” says Anne Stoline, M.D., director of Women’s Mental Health at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “They’re totally focused on labor and delivery. After that, the mom is on her own.”
It’s not hard to see why those first few months can be daunting: You’re faced with responsibility for a brand-new life, madly fluctuating hormones, an exhausted body and a sleep schedule right out of a brainwashing manual. Your best defense? Knowing what to expect. Sometimes it just helps to hear from other mothers that you’re not alone.
You’re getting sleepy... “The hardest part for me was definitely the sleep deprivation,” says new mother Lisa Hilgers of San Anselmo, Calif. “Since I’m the one breastfeeding, I have to get up every time the baby does.” Getting a three-hour stretch of sleep may begin to feel like a triumph.
Lisa Weissman of Scarsdale, N.Y., concurs. As the mother of a toddler and 1-year-old twins, she says, “My biggest problem is not sleeping enough and not having enough energy to function the next day.”
One way to maintain energy in the face of interrupted sleep is to watch your diet, according to Karen Rosenthal, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Westport, Conn. “Stay away from junk food, caffeine and alcohol,” she says. “And make sure you drink lots of fluids, especially if you’re nursing.”
Another solution is to keep your baby in bed with you so you don’t have to awaken fully for nighttime feedings. Some moms forgo using a crib for months just for this reason.
One tried-and-true rule of thumb: Nap whenever your baby does. So what if the dishes sit for a while? Catching up on sleep will restore your energy and do wonders for your state of mind.
As a result of hormonal upheavals after delivery, many new moms experience crying spells, sadness, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia and irritability. Usually these symptoms level off after the first couple of weeks, but it can take up to a year for hormones to reach their pre-pregnancy levels, says Rosenthal. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself unexpectedly weeping at McDonald’s commercials or screaming at telephone solicitors.
You also may feel like a failure if you think your baby cries a lot. But all babies cry; this does not make you a bad mother.
And, it’s natural to feel some resentment toward your partner. Mimi Towle of Mill Valley, Calif., finds that her husband’s help is not always welcome. “Often I find myself thinking, ‘I can do this better myself,’ although I know that’s not true. But it’s hard not to be bitter when he gets home at 6:30 after a day out, and I’ve been in the house with the baby all day.”
It helps to remember that this is a big adjustment for fathers, too. “After all, he’s probably not getting much sleep, either,” says Sarah Allen, a psychologist in private practice in Northbrook, Ill., and coordinator of Postpartum Support International (www.iup.edu/an/postpartum).
To transcend the daily deluge of diapers and feedings, Weissman and her husband made a commitment to go out together every Saturday night once their twins were 6 months old.