The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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MILESTONE NO. 4 Your first breakdown
You may spend a few minutes every day second-guessing your decision to have a baby. Breakdowns, temper tantrums (your own) and the desire to go AWOL are par for the course. If you find yourself losing it, take the time to soothe yourself first. “Babies are terrific at reading your body and emotions and can feel your distress,” says Black.
Put the baby in a safe place, such as a swing or bouncy seat, and take some deep breaths. Or call someone: your husband, your friend or your mother. “Don’t be embarrassed to sob,” says Black. While tackling the overwhelming task of caring for your baby, you need to take care of yourself, too. “Lack of sleep, poor nutrition and fluctuating hormones all have a huge effect on your emotional state,” says Black. Avoid crashing by not letting yourself get too hungry or dehydrated; fight the urge to do chores if you need to lie down; and get out on your own each day—without your baby, if possible—even if it’s just to take a walk around the block. For most mothers, the storm will eventually pass, but some women may experience mild to moderate postpartum depression. If your emotional breakdowns start to blur into each other, seek professional assistance.
MILESTONE NO. 5 Resolving that a clean house is just not important
Dust-free shelves and weekly vacuuming are just a few of the things that get sacrificed when baby makes three. “A lot of our expectations about cleanliness are all in our own mind,” says Meg Meeker, M.D., the Traverse City, Mich.-based author of The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers (Ballantine Books). “Babies don’t need a perfectly clean house; they need a calm, relaxed, rested mother.” Friends, relatives, neighbors and even co-workers are often willing to lend a hand—take them up on it!
If you can afford it, hire a housekeeper or sign up with a meal service for the first few months. One of my favorite things about having a new baby was the meal tree my friend organized for me. Anybody she could recruit signed up for a night to bring us a meal, often providing enough that we had leftovers the next day.
MILESTONE NO. 6 Soothing your baby becomes second nature
Ah, the electrifying (and hair-raising) sound of a crying baby. Here’s where those parenting books sitting unread on your night table come in handy. If you haven’t already, crack open The Happiest Baby on the Block (or, even simpler, pop in the DVD version) by Harvey Karp, M.D. (Bantam Books), and commit to memory his “5 S’s” program: swaddling, shushing, sucking, swinging and side/stomach position. His technique is taught in parenting classes in hospitals for good reason— it works. “Swaddling and white noise stopped my son’s crying and was the first thing that made me feel I wasn’t completely powerless,” says Nikki Gersten, a first-time mom in Portland, Ore.
But the S’s may not stop every infant’s cries. For some babies, it’s doing stair repeats; or riding in a car; or being bounced on an exercise ball ad infinitum; or taking a bath with you. We promise, you’ll eventually discover what works.
MILESTONE NO. 7 Finding your sense of humor
Spending the day with a fussy baby is a mild form of torture, like listening to a whistling kettle you are not allowed to turn off. It’s hard to find humor when every fiber of your being is engaged in silent weeping, but laughing is sometimes the only way to get through the desperate absurdity of those first few months.
Gersten, whose son was a big fan of white noise CDs, recalls the time she and her husband couldn’t find the remote to their CD player, which was the only way to operate it. Unable to eject the CD, and afraid it wouldn’t start again if they unplugged it, she says, “We had the rain CD on for six weeks— continually. We joked about it raining for 40 days and 40 nights.” Looking back, Gersten admits that sleep deprivation may have played a role. “We finally bought a new remote. What seems so simple now was just baffling to us then,” she says.