As I’m watching my almost 8-month old grow up before my eyes, sitting and rolling and not wanting to be held during naps anymore, I thought I’d write a post dedicated to the new and new-again moms in my life.
Here are the four things you should do when the baby is sleeping.
1. Hold the baby
People will tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps. That’s a good idea. It’s in my top four, but it’s not number one. That little guy/girl will not be little very long, and the inconceivable joy you get from holding them is something you will cherish forever. It is also a memory and a feeling that will stick in your soul and help you put up with toddler shenanigans later. Sit somewhere that is safe in case you fall asleep, and don’t feel a bit apologetic about holding your little one when you feel ‘behind’ on life and on all the things that getting done before your family grew by another little person (or two!).
2. Take care of your most basic need
I’m not going to tell you what this is, because I can’t. You need to listen to yourself, figure out what it is and do it. For some it might be emotional, taking some quiet time to process, maybe by journaling or talking to friends and family that come to visit. For others it could be taking a shower, or putting on makeup, physical needs that help us feel refreshed and taken care of. It might be sleep, or quality time with your other children. Make a list once the baby arrives of the main things you most enjoy doing to meet your basic physical, mental and emotional needs. Circle the few that are the most non-negotiable for you and do what it takes to fit them in.
The time that the baby is asleep is strategic during their first 3-4 months. Use it intentionally, in the way that is right for you, as a new or new-again mom, and don’t assume that will look the same as it did with your last child. Don’t be afraid that if you give up a habit or a hobby that you’ll lose it forever. Take time while they are asleep to just breathe. Feel the rhythm of your family. Consider how your home feels. Think about the stages each member of your family is in. Right now, with this baby, joining your family, in this season of your life, what do you need?
Once you’ve prioritized your most important basic needs, put sleep right after that and before everything else. Having an infant is incredibly wonderful, and it can also be incredibly overwhelming. Some moms (including me) enjoy the mental and physical freedom of that time when the baby sleeps and have trouble sitting still and resting, because those windows of time hold so much opportunity, often a longer to-do list than the amount of time provided.
This is where you need to know yourself, listen to yourself and consider what is right for you, but I encourage you to know when you are past a healthy for-you level of fatigue and prioritize sleep. Then find help when you need it. Infants cannot be held too much. Sometimes it can work well to sleep when the baby sleeps, and then when you have family or friends over, let them help you with household tasks or by holding the baby and freeing you up to catch up on tasks. It is easy to get so sleep-deprived trying to keep up with it all, that you have trouble enjoying the season. (Maybe that’s just me. I always felt it was not fair that such a special time was accompanied by so little sleep that I had trouble cherishing the season.)
4. Adjust your expectations, and enlist help
For most moms I know, the season with a newborn is a time to relax and let some things go. Some moms embrace that more and better than others, but the truth is that adding a whole new person (or two!) to your family is a big change, and while I’ve heard having older kids is challenging on a whole other level (here are my keys, don’t wreck the car!), having an infant is uniquely intense in a physical and emotional way. You’re constantly on call to hold, feed, nurture and soothe this small bundle of a person.
Listen to your heart and your soul. Confide in your spouse. Don’t be afraid to delegate, or reduce your commitments. Trust your instincts. Don’t feel obligated to follow anyone else’s instructions about motherhood. Find the information that is useful to you, accept advice from mature mothers that God has put in your life, and then trust your instincts. You are different than other moms. We each have our own temperament that God gave us for our families. And children are unique. Your baby may not be the same as his/her older sibling. Allow them to be unique, allow this season to be unique.
When you have adjusted your expectations, consider what would be helpful to you in this season, and ask for help. We live in a culture that values strength and independence, but all of us yearn for authenticity, vulnerability and inter-dependence. All of my relationships became deeper and more meaningful after I had children, could no longer do everything on my own and had to ask for help. Embrace your spouse’s role in the journey, and invite your family, friends, your community to share it with both of you.
You will continually be surprised and blessed by how much joy there is to be found in sharing the multi-facetedness of this season: you feel lighter and heavier at the same time, full of joy over new life and exhaustion from the new daily routine, wonder and hope mingle with frustration and exhaustion. Embrace it all, and then find what to keep and what to let go.
This post is dedicated to my sister-in-law who is going to be a first-time mom of a little girl this summer, and to my neighbor who is pregnant with twins and will be going from two children to four. I love you both. Slow down and embrace the season. Feel the wonder of birth and little babies, and hold onto hope that all the parts of life that you let go of can come back later – if you still want them.