Before our daughter was born, as a first-time parents, my husband and I were constantly being asked about how we were going to parent our child. Questions like, “So do you plan on breastfeeding?” or “Will you put her in her crib to sleep?” seemed to be common. Being a new mom, I was confused about the nosiness, but also aware of the fact that this would be an ongoing conversation from society around me because we love to make other people’s business our business, too. Do not get me wrong though, I was guilty of asking similar questions before becoming a mom — and I still slip sometimes.
As these questions would come in, I would give the answer that I thought society wanted: “Why would any mom NOT breastfeed?” or “My child will never sleep in bed with me!” I assumed I was making decisions that were obvious and most likely the path I would take as a parent. Little did I know, after two months of sleep-deprivation, I would end up giving my baby a bottle, and when she would not sleep at night, I would bring her in bed with me just so I could get a couple hours of rest.
A list of new mom expectations vs. reality I wish I would have known that first year
These are my personal experiences and situations. There are many ways to be parent, and all in all, you need to do what is best for you and your child. These are the road-blocks I faced; if you are in a similar situation, some of these choices may be helpful to you, too.
1. Expectation – Nursing
At the hospital where I delivered, they were big advocates for nursing and skin-to-skin. I went to a nursing class while I was still pregnant, and I bought all the nursing bras, got my pump, and was prepared to nurse my little girl.
Sadly, when she was born, she had low blood sugar. My milk had not come in yet, and the doctors were getting concerned. Her first day of life, I was feeding her formula through a supplemental nursing system (SNS). I was in tears that I was not able to give my daughter what she needed. I asked myself why my body was not doing what should be for my child. When we came home, I was hopeful that we could drop the SNS.
Apparently, no one told me about cluster-feeding. From 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., my child was up and wanting to nurse almost every hour. It was becoming too much. I was anxious and scared and needing sleep. I finally gave in to formula, and some nights my husband would feed her a bottle to help me get some sleep. Up until she was about 9 months old, we went back and forth between nursing and the bottle, and once we started sleep training (see point #3), she went to bottle only.
She is a happy, healthy baby. I have learned that to be a good mother, I needed to do what worked best for me, too. Having the expectation of nursing and feeling like formula was the ultimate failure really put me into a stressful place. I wish I would have done more research and prepared myself in case formula supplementation was going to be needed.
2. Expectation — Bed Sharing
My daughter was the worst sleeper (at least I thought she was). I swear she would only sleep if someone were holding her or if she was nursing. The first couple of months, my husband and I would switch off throughout the night holding her while the other one got a little bit of sleep. However, when I was about to go back to work, we realized that this was going to be extremely difficult to continue.
I was talking to one of my close friends about the struggles we were having, and she brought to my attention the concept of bed sharing with my daughter. My first thoughts were “BED SHARE??!? I thought that was illegal? I will roll over on my baby! This seems extremely dangerous and other moms will judge me if they know this is something I’m doing.”
She sent me some research on the matter, and after a couple of bed-sharing naps, I made the jump to full-time bed sharing. My daughter and I slept like this for nine months until we started sleep training (again, see point #3). It was definitely a temporary fix for our situation but has taught me not to judge other Mom’s for decisions they may make to best benefit themselves and their child.
3. Expectation – Baby Forms Their Own Sleep Schedule
When my daughter was first born, the thought of “cry it out” scared me to death. I could not imagine my baby crying for me and not going to get her.
I thought I would let her choose when to sleep, how long to sleep, and how often to sleep. I’d go off of her feelings and let her dictate sleep. This mindset caused problems with the sleep habits we let her form early on. At 9 months, my husband and I decided it was time to hire some help. The approach we chose with the help of a consultant is called the “chair method,” which worked great despite there being some crying involved.
I was going to have to get over the expectation that I would never let my baby cry, and that this was going to benefit her in the long run. I had so many concerns about this, but after only a couple nights, the crying stopped and she went to bed extremely well. Something I was afraid of doing and caused such a headache for my husband and myself was finally solved, all because I let what I thought people would say about my parenting get in the way.
4. Expectation — Baby-Led Weaning
When I knew my daughter was going to start eating solids, I was determined to make sure she was not going to be a picky eater. I researched in depth about baby-led weaning to make sure I was going to help her transfer from bottles to food properly because, of course, my child was going to love every food and be the most adventurous eater. I was going to avoid added sugar, only serve her the healthiest options, and set myself up for success for when she got older.
The day came to start real food. It was so cute watching her try out new foods and explore, but the mess was outrageous. I tried to let her use utensils herself, drink from a cup, and try new things, but watching her struggle and throw food all over the place caused my anxiety to skyrocket.
I decided that what would be best for our family was a mixture of purees and baby-led weaning. If it was a food that she needed a spoon for, I helped; if I thought it was something she could handle on her own, I let her try to feed herself. I also got over the “I am going to be super healthy” thing quick. When I was rushing to make her lunch for daycare, sometimes a package of mini muffins was thrown in the lunch box, and when I was not home for dinner in time, Daddy would warm her up some chicken nuggets. It was not ideal, but it was what worked best for my family. She is still an adventurous eater, and I enjoy watching her explore new food items.
Overall, one of the biggest things I have learned over this past year of being a new mom is not to let your expectations or fear of what other moms will say about your parenting get in the way of doing what is best for yourself and your child. Do what makes sense to you. Research ALL options, not just the option that you think you will want to use because that option may not end up being the best for you.
Finally, we need to stop judging new mothers for the decisions they make. Telling them that “I did it differently” or “I would not parent my child that way” is not helpful. New moms are doing their best, and when you make sure to let them know that whatever they are doing is “wrong,” you are feeding the doubt that mom has already been feeling since the day she gave birth. Be encouraging, ask her what you can do to help, be the friend you wished you’d had when you were a new mom.