By Kasey Hock
Those first few weeks after your baby arrives are hard. There is so much to learn and so many adjustments to make, and although there is no way to be truly prepared, there are a few practical things that helped me adjust to motherhood. I’m 18 months out of this stage (now it’s all about sharing toys and toddler discipline) but I still felt the need to share the things I did, or wish I did, to help prepare for one of the biggest transitions I ever faced.
1. Buy the Clothes
This sounds simple, but having clothes that fit and feel okay (let’s be honest, nothing feels “great” those first few weeks) is almost profound! Pre-baby clothes aren’t going to fit as you leave the hospital and nobody wants to spend the next few months rocking their maternity-wear. I found that high-waisted yoga/running pants were my best friend, especially those with the thigh pocket for your phone. We use our phones for everything (tracking breastfeeding, setting alarms, entertaining our fried brains) that it only makes sense to have clothes that easily keep them by our sides. Those pants will also accommodate your giant maternity pads and sexy hospital undies while holding everything in tight!
If you’re planning to breastfeed, consider breastfeeding access as you choose clothing. I loved maternity tanks with a fleece zip-up over the top. If you’re not into the tank, go for a maternity bra and shirts or sleepwear that button down. Shirt-dresses that button were my favorite in the first few months when I needed to look put together and still breastfeed/pump. Either way, stock up on those nursing tanks and maternity bras, because the idea of running to Target two days after baby arrives when the two you bought are covered in milk, sweat, and spit-up, is really daunting (take it from a mom who made that mistake!)
2. Ask for Help
You need to be your own advocate here. Help comes in many forms and it often comes with extra emotional burdens if the people you ask are not prepared to help in the way you need. My best advice would be to set up a plan with your partner before the baby arrives so they have things they are in charge of without having to ask. For the first two weeks Ben changed every diaper and did all the laundry. It was his domain. I was learning to breastfeed and healing from a difficult labor, and having those things entirely off my plate helped me make it through that time.
I know we were lucky to have flexible paternity leave, and that’s not the case for everyone. If your spouse will only be home for a few days, consider extra help in a different form –whether that’s a family member coming to stay for a few days, or hiring a post-pardum doula. Help also comes in the way of seeing experts. I struggled SO hard trying to produce milk and ended up seeing multiple lactation consultants to get me on the right track. Never be too proud to ask for extra help whether that’s seeking lactation resources, counseling for postpartum depression/anxiety, or something else.
3. Set the Boundaries
This is your little family and your rules apply. Don’t want visitors in the hospital? Tell your family and the hospital staff. Need time at home before you’re ready to see people? Make that known. Whatever your needs are, don’t be afraid to speak up! Most importantly, don’t find yourself playing hostess to people who “drop in”. If someone walks through the threshold of your home those first two weeks they better be picking up a broom, folding a load of laundry, making a meal, or holding a baby… and you should be napping.
You may also find yourself needing to set emotional boundaries. Motherhood comes with a lot of unsolicited advice, which usually comes down to “you’re doing it wrong”. As a first time parent, we know we’ve got stuff to learn, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s way of doing something is better than what you’re trying. Tell people to back off or give you space if they’re crossing a line (yes, even if they’re family!) Oftentimes the people giving advice are years (even decades) away from the stage you’re in and they’ve forgotten what those dark, early days feel like.
4. Invent a Routine
I wish someone had told me this from the beginning. Those first few weeks are chaos; nobody is sleeping, everything is a learning experience, and cluster-feeding is rough! Chances are you’re awake and feeding a baby every few hours so it doesn’t really matter when it’s morning or when it’s night. But for the sake of your sanity, invent a bedtime and do your routine.
We decided the first “break” we got after 7:30 pm was “bedtime” and that’s when we would wash our faces, change into fresh clothes, brush our teeth and go to bed. Was that “bedtime” any longer than an hour or two of sleep? No. But the routine helped us separate our days, brush our teeth, wash our bodies, and feel a little more human. And that’s everything.
5. Take the Photos
Have I mentioned the first two weeks are hard? lol They are, but they are also really brief. When your baby is crying in your sleep-deprived face, the time is going to feel long, but trust me, it goes fast and you will want to have photos of your tiny newborn. That said, days after a baby is born is no time to be shopping for clothes or booking a session (take it from a mom whose first outing with baby was a TJ Maxx run for photo session clothes!) Do your best to take care of all that prepping before your little one’s arrival, so all you have to do is send your photographer a message saying “baby’s here!” and slap on a ton of under-eye concealer.
Just like every mom, we took a hundred photos on our iPhones (and even some on our real cameras) but even as trained photographers we knew better than to try to take our own newborn photos, partly because we knew how exhausted we would be and how unappealing DIY-ing our photos would be, and also because we knew we needed to be in the pictures. Every baby deserves to have those first family photos to look back on as they grow up. No matter how tired, fat, puffy, and gross you feel, be in the photos.
6. Outsource the Food
You’re a mom now — yay! That’s exciting and wonderful, but it also means your needs may often get pushed to the back-burner (even physical survival needs like eating). Give your future mom-self a helping hand by doing a little meal-prepping in the last month before your baby’s arrival. Choose meals that require no more prep than a preheated oven or turning a dial on a crockpot and store them up for later.
To supplement this, you’ll probably need regular groceries (you know, bread, milk, eggs — the staples). For this, I cannot recommend a grocery pickup service enough! Woodman’s pickup service was seriously life-changing for us; we just purchase our groceries in the app and pickup the next day. You don’t even have to get out of the car (which also means you don’t have to take your baby out of the carseat.) Need a little extra help? Consider a meal delivery service like Nourish out of De Pere which delivers healthy meals full prepared straight to your door! Everything they post on Instagram has my mouth watering.
7. Give Yourself Grace
This momming thing is hard and hormones are no joke. Also, did you know that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture? Just keep that in mind when you’re wondering if you’re ever going to feel like yourself again. The truth is, you will come out slightly changed on the other side, but you will be you again.
It will get better, you will feel normal, your body will heal, and your baby will thrive. Then one day you will see a newborn in someone’s arms and realize how big your own baby has grown and how fast it all went. This stage is temporary and you will make it through.
In the meantime, give yourself grace for the days you feel too tired to stimulate your baby’s brain, or go on the outing you committed to, or clean up your disaster of a house. When you’ve eaten a handful of puffs for dinner and can’t remember your last shower, let grace swoop in and comfort you. You are doing great because you’re doing your best. You’ve got this.
Kasey Hock is an artist and photographer in Green Bay, and part of the husband and wife team Kasey and Ben Photography. She writes about motherhood and real life on her blog at www.kaseyandben.com/blog .