The first year of motherhood: 10 things I learnt to thrive instead of just surviving!
Updated: Jul 25, 2021
From the moment your first child is born, people say you are also born as a mother and while you are, people often forget that you are also starting out from ground zero like your baby. It's a steep learning curve at times and a total change to life as you knew it.
My son is just over 2 and now with my daughter a couple of months old, it has me thinking about that first year, what was hard and what helped, and most importantly what I am going to do differently this time around. So here are some things I found really helped me with that first year of motherhood, some things I learned from things I read or from people I knew and worked wonders for me, other things I learnt the hard way.
1. Understanding your ’new job’
When you get home with your new baby you have started a new job, a job of being this little one's mother. Regardless of how much time you are having off, there will be a period that you are not working a paid job. It's easy to think 'you are not working' but you have embarked in a fuller than full time job - day and night.
I found it extremely helpful to remember this, categorising it as a job helped me understand expectations and my role in my newly developed family. It helped me validate my required tasks and my need for down time. So what do I mean by this?
When your baby is in the first weeks and month of life there really is no difference between day time and night time to what you have to do, you are feeding, burping, changing and settling your baby around the clock in a loop that slowly lengthens with time. So your only job at this time is to keep your baby alive and get in some sleep! Seriously, this was what I kept remembering when I would start to get stressed out that I was failing and letting everything else fall apart. The washing, cleaning, cooking, everything else is not part of the expectation at this time, so let it all go, if you get to it great, if not, the world won't end and you shouldn't have guilt about it. Did you keep your baby alive today? Tick! Job done!
As your baby starts to grow so will your ability to do other tasks. Every couple and family is different on how you split the baby and household tasks. So talk with your partner and get really clear on what you are expecting of each other. For us, we decided that night time was my responsibility, my husbands work requires him to be out the door at 4am and back at 7.30ish on his shoot days while I had the whole day to sneak in a sleep to catch up. I also was breastfeeding and had a serious supply so I couldn't express and get him to do one while I slept. So knowing night was all mine, it again helped me relax knowing no matter how shit the night was, it doesn't matter it's my most important job - to do this for my family, I don't have to do anything tomorrow, it can be a lazy day where not much happens and I get some good rest in and I don't need to justify it to anyone.
In a couple of months things get easier and I felt like I had more ability to do things, the next things I decided that I wanted added to my job description was ensuring I was wholly responsible for all the cleaning, washing and buying and preparing food. These are things that when we were both flat out at work we would fight over who does it! To now have all day and all week to fit these things in seemed like a dream come true! And while I definitely have more time than I did before, with a baby it truly does take all day to do things that used to take an hour or so! (To my dear feminists, please stand down while reading this! It was my choice and what I wanted to be doing - not because of gender roles but that I had the time to do it and wanted to. My husband and I see ourselves very much as a team and as a team we need to be doing different and complimentary things where one role is not more important than the other.)
So as long as I had this done, in my head it helped me to not feel guilty about napping in the day and going out for walks, coffee and catch ups with my friends. ie. living the life of being able to get out and about during the week that I always dreamt about when working 9-5 for over a decade!
Just like a paid job, you do your tasks and when you finish work you feel freedom and not guilt, its important to get to that point in motherhood, guilt will follow you around like a bad smell so define what you got to do (whatever that looks like for you), get it done and enjoy doing things that feel good for you. Don't have guilt that you got to take your baby to the pool for a swim and had a really great day while your husband had a long day at work, as you will have a tough night with your child while he sleeps blissfully, or you're stuck at home alone for witching hour while he is out having a drink after work with his friends. Not only should your partner have that understanding but so should you, it's always good and bad, give and take, being a team - divide and conquer to ensure you are both getting in good times while the other holds the fort.
And when and if you get back into paid work it's important to again re-define your job, household and child duties should change from not only your tasks but either shared with your partner or to getting in someone to help out with these things. You are not super woman, you should never do everything - never let anyone think you should or believe that other woman do it all, as they don't.
2. Take changes to your relationship in your stride
Of course adding a new person to your relationship is going to change your dynamic, especially when that person is tiny and very demanding! I found it really helpful stepping into motherhood embracing that things will just be different (not better or worse) rather than fighting it and morning your old relationship. Choose to have patience for each other, you both have to adapt, you will have times of sleep deprivation and other stress factors that put a strain on the best of relationships.
I made two things a priority, the first was ensuring that I was communicating clearly what was going on for me so that my husband knew where I was at, which resulted in getting support from him instead of turning it into a 'he doesn't understand' thing. As you go through pregnancy your hormones increase the entire time to crazy levels then a couple of days after birth your hormones have the biggest sudden drop you will ever have in your life to points lower that you had pre-pregnancy, cue the baby blues. Be aware of what's going on for you, read up on the chemical changes of your body, talk to your midwives/doctor about it as knowledge is power. If you can understand it you will be better equipped to ride the waves of your emotions. Cry when you need to, but definitely let your partner in - explain what you need from them, it will only make everything better.
The second priority I had was to always stop and step into my husbands shoes. What is like from his perspective, what are his needs, what can I do to support him? It can be so easy to get wrapped up in what is going on for you but taking a step back to see a different perspective does wonders for your relationship, your partner's happiness and also yours. Chances are you have both thought at some point that the other got the better deal or has it easier.
For example I was conscious to not be in a shitty mood when he walked in the door from work - which is often when your bub is in witching hour and a bit of a nightmare. He had worked all day and excited to come home and see me and our boy, and me telling him to take over and that I have had enough wasn't really the best way to go about it for him or me, as it would then dictate the mood for the rest of the night. I would be sure to always greet him nicely, ask about his day, talk about the good moments I had then explain what has been hard or frustrating and ask for his help to do some stuff together, or suggest he play with our boy while I take a shower or do something to chill me out.
Of course for a successful relationship your partner should also be doing the above for you too, but this post isn’t about what others can do for you but what you have control over and how you can dictate your own happiness from within.
Rember it’s not you verse your partner it’s the both of you against the whirlwind of parenting! Keep at the front of your mind how you can come together through the hard parts and also come together to celebrate the great parts.
3. No one knows your baby like you do
This saying was on a pamphlet that I got from the hospital when I got discharged and it really stuck with me and helped me through a lot of situations. As a new mum you obviously don't have much confidence in your abilities yet, you will have heaps of people giving you advise telling you what you are doing is wrong or right. Some people can be really forceful in telling you what to do that it's easy to cave and do what they say and it all goes pear shaped. While your mum or your mother in law might be an experienced mum and know what worked for them, they don't know your baby like you do and they never will. No one spends as much time with your baby as you do, trust your gut, trust in your ability to mother this child and don't be afraid to stand up to people who tell you to do things you don't want to or don't think is right. If people are in your home and can't be respectful of that, they aren't been helpful and you need to let them know. As the mum you quickly learn the signals of your baby, you learn what cry is what. It can really throw a spanner in the works if you start getting off your routine to please others. What I am taking about is when you are told 'they're tired, you need to put them to sleep', 'they're hungry, you need to feed them', 'don't let them go to sleep in your arms', 'you shouldn't schedule feeds/sleep / you should schedule feeds/sleep', 'give them a dummy / don't use a dummy' the list goes on and on. If you don't want to do it, don't!
It took me a while to stand up to some people and say no politely. The sooner you can do this in a nice but affirmative way the easier life will be!
This also goes for seeing doctors, you know your baby better so if you know something isn’t quite right push until you get answers you are after, don't let them make you think it’s nothing if you feel it’s not. Always trust your gut!
4. The importance of support
The old saying that it takes a village to raise a child is so very true. However, in our modern world we are more isolated in our individual homes than ever before so you need to actively make the effort to build your village.
If you have family around, utilise it. The amount of support, company and comfort that I got from my parents in early motherhood and still today made all the difference. Someone to lean on, to talk to, to hang my washing while I slept, to hand the baby to while I go to the toilet! From small things to big things, there is nothing like that unwavering support. If you don't have family close by, could they come stay with you for the first month, do you have close friends or neighbours that you can lean on? Their help will dramatically change the outcome of how you feel during the early days of motherhood, don't try to do it all yourself - if you don't have to be, don't be a hero!
Another great support network I found was mothers group. I really recommend signing
up to the mothers group in your community. I got and still get so much from my mothers group, to have other mums going through the same thing at the same time is really powerful. When you have tough days or nights it’s so easy to think you are the only one experiencing it, and fall into the trap of what’s wrong with me, what‘s wrong with my baby. But with mothers group the WhatsApp chat will be going off with everyone saying ‘I am going through this right now, is anyone else?’ It honestly helps so much! I also made some really great friends for life - people that are in the same life stage as me, kids that have become friends, people who I can go to with any motherhood triumph or challenge and they are there to cheer with me or cheer me up.
5. Learn the leaps
Every baby and child go through developmental leaps. Children learn new concepts and skills in bursts and these leaps are very predicable by age from conception to 18 months. After that there are a lot more factors at play as to when a leap will occur. So for the first 18 months you can highly predict a leap and this is important as they usually as a total nightmare when going through a leap!! The app Wonder Weeks is really helpful in telling you when they are entering a leap, when they are likely to be fussy and what they learn from each leap.
Not only is it great to learn and understand how they are developing, it will help with your sanity so much. When they were sleeping really well then you are on the 3rd terrible night of no sleep and you can’t understand why, knowing it’s a leap will help you have more patience and compassion for your baby rather than racking your brain trying to work out what tiny thing has changed or what you did wrong to mess up your babies routine!!! It’s a classic case of it’s them, not you!
6. Be social, get out
I am sure at some point you felt the impacts of isolation during Covid to understand just how important it is to get outside your house and around others. Motherhood with a small baby can be very similar, it can feel very isolating at times. It’s easy to feel stuck at home with wanting them to get good sleep in their bed and catching up on household chores, but try your best to get yourself outside. Meet friends for walks, coffees, go to play areas, kids classes, the pool, whatever interests you. While it may seem like a effort to get out, I promise that once you are you will feel better for it.
I decided to do a Baby Sensory class with my boy for a full year and not only did it make me get out each week rain hail or shine but it really created space for quality time with my boy and with my new mothers group friends.
You always feel better after talking with friends, getting things off your chest and realizing they are also going through similar things. If you get an invite to do something, say yes! Get out and build those real lasting relationships - there isn’t many more things more valuable than this in life.
7. Understanding when you are ready for change
Whatever is working for you now in terms of routine, settling, feeding and sleeping may not continue to always work for you. So, it’s important to know that point and make a change. Advise on parenting has changed in recent years to a much more relaxed approach. They now talk about how it’s ok to feed to sleep, rock to sleep, feed to comfort etc when they are under 12 weeks as they are still so little and adjusting to the outside world. You may continue to do these things beyond this point and that is totally your call, do whatever works for you.
However with everything there will be a point where it’s not longer working for you. For example you may be rocking them to sleep but now they are too big and heavy, or you feed to sleep at night but now you want to wean them from night feeds, so it’s time to change what you do.
What I am getting at is that don’t let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing, if you want to rock them to sleep, do it! They aren’t little forever, if you enjoy it - go for it. But, when it’s no longer working for you, know the signs and find resources to help you slowly change their routine. Don’t battle on hating what you are doing or what your baby is used to, you can always change it, sometimes it’s hard but you will both get through it and find harmony again on the other side of it.
8. It's a year until your sleep returns to normal
Seriously! So if you just get that expectation in your head it will make it easier to accept! Of course in that year you will have lots of great nights, it’s not all bad! But it’s generally around that one year mark that they are consistently sleeping through every night, only the odd illness gets in the way. Within the first year each time they go through a leap, learn to roll, sit, crawl, and teeth pop through, their sleep is likely to get out of wack. So it’s constantly going through the circle of getting good then something comes and mucks it up! Once its all said and done it doesn't seem that long or hard as when you are in the middle of it!!
9. Keep actively working on your balance
Two years in for me and I feel this maybe something you will have to do for life as a mum! It’s so easy to loose yourself, loose who you are beyond a mother, or the flip side feel constant Mum guilt for anything you do that’s just for you.
Try to constantly check in with your inner self and see how you are really feeling and tracking. Do you need do more things just for you, do you need to let go of guilt, do you need to share the parenting load more with your partner, do you need more time with just you and your partner, have you ‘filled your cup’ lately. When you are feeling your best you can be your best for those around you, including your children.
10. Remember how personal parenting is
Everyone has the right to raise their children how they would like (so long as it’s loving and safe). It is highly personal, like everything else in your life, you are going to do it your way and that’s how it should be. Just like there is no one right place to live, no one right job to have, there is no one right way to do every step with raising a child.
As you want to be respected for the choices you make for your child, you must remember to do the same for others. Don’t think your way is the right way, it’s not. It’s the way that works best for you in your family, with your circumstances, and what makes you feel comfortable. That’s it.
There are big choices about birthing, feeding, sleeping, returning to work, care for your child, disciplining, schooling and so on that you will need to make. You need to do what works for you as do others need to do what works for them.
You will make many friends through your parenting journey and it’s important to have mutual respect for the differences you have. Don’t judge or push your ideas onto someone else and not only will you have friends for life, but an open mind and different ways may help you see and try things differently too.
Bonus tip: ‘Take them outside or put them in water’
I heard this a little while ago from a mother than got this advise from their mum and it’s so true!! When your kids are being hard work and you are really feeling it, take them outside or put them in water. It’s so simple and works everytime! When they are little pop them in the pram or carrier and go for a walk, it will make both of you feel better. When they are older take them to a park, go for a ride, or run around in the back yard - it burns off their wild energy! Or put them in water, run a bath. From babies to older kids the bath or shower always helps to sooth, settle and reset them. So next time you feel like pulling your hair out, think outside or water! Would love to hear if you think it works for you!!