Can we just take a minute to talk about expectations?

new mother and baby

Image by Ketzirah Lesser & Art Drauglis @ Flickr click for source.

One of the most difficult parts of my “job” is watching new families struggle and kick against the goads of life with a newborn.  A little understanding and preparation for the realities of this season can make the transient challenges much sweeter.  It seems in our culture, that we have for the most part, failed to prepare new parents for what to expect.  Instead of a realistic picture of the early months, they’ve been fed a bunch of arbitrary information on how life “should,” or “could” look.

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom:

  • Your new baby will want to be in your arms most of the time.  This is their safe place.  A newborn recognizes its mother’s smell and voice (father’s voice too!).  Think of where this tiny human has been for its entire existence: a dark environment, being gently rocked and swayed as his/her mother goes about her daily life.  Hunger, thirst, pain and cold are entirely new sensations.  Your baby craves you and you are her comfort.  Despite what Grandma may have been told when she had her own babies, an infant cannot be spoiled by being held and carried a lot.  This period is uniquely designed for bonding (NOT discipline, for which the toddler years will provide plenty of opportunity).  Going with the flow, instead of against it, is going to make everyone’s life easier and happier.
  • Babies never seem to follow a pattern for very long.  Especially in the beginning, schedules are more harmful than helpful (want low milk supply?…put baby on a schedule).   Even if your baby begins sleeping well, for long stretches and going down easily, you should not expect that this is how life is always going to be.  There are a number of reasons for “sleep regressions.”  Teething, growth spurts, illness, developmental milestones, etc. all play a role in upsetting your routine.  So say after me, “the only constant with babies is that nothing ever stays the same.”
  • When you are sleep deprived, sleep training might sound mighty appetizing.  Don’t do it until you have studied arguments for and against.  I’m not going to tell you what you should do, but I will tell you that there is almost no evidence for allowing a baby to scream until they shut down and there is plenty of evidence against this practice.  At the end of the day, you get to decide, but make your decision based on what your instincts tell you is right and not because of outside pressure.  It is entirely normal for a child to not sleep through the night until well after their second birthday.
  • Life never returns to normal.  You find a new normal, which might resemble life pre-baby, but will have some marked differences.  Recognize the early days as sacred and something you need to honor and respect.  The whole process of falling in love requires time to focus on just one another (I’m not saying you can’t love your baby if you aren’t alone together, but if your days are full and rushed, you are asking for emotional upsets in the first month).  For your own recovery and emotional adjustment (moms), you need to do as little as possible, outside of resting and baby care, for as long as possible.  Prepare for this and you will improve your chances of avoiding postpartum depression by leaps and bounds!

I’m going to stop there for now, because I don’t want to overwhelm you with information.  This isn’t meant to frighten anyone.  These early days are precious and so joyful, when you can let go of expectations and go with the natural ebb and flow of life with baby.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether new parents’ expectations are realistic, or not.


Some suggestions for setting yourself up for a smooth transition –

  • Take an independent childbirth class which includes information on what to expect in the early weeks. Find a list here.
  • Hire a postpartum doula to be your personal guide through this often overwhelming season. For local postpartum doulas, go here.
  • Read all you can on the “fourth trimester”and the needs of your new baby as well as what your own needs will be.  For a great selection of birthing and parenting books, visit our Amazon store.