new momSince we’re mere hours from the new year, I thought I’d count down the life lessons from my first year as a mother.

Being a marriage and family therapist as well as a new mom, there were lots of things I knew intellectually.  I’ve worked with women experiencing postpartum depression, and with couples and new families under stress.  But this year, I learned the difference between knowing and knowing.

For my Top Ten List–a la Dick Clark, or David Letterman, if you prefer–read on!

10.  So you had your baby.  All those months of planning and anticipation and excitement and nerves have come to this.  He or she is here, in your arms, in the world.  You might be tempted to just lay around all day and all night.  You feel like crap, after all.  You just pushed a person out of your loins.  And the new baby is so darn  cuddly.

There are plenty of excuses (I mean, reasons) not to leave the house.  All that gear that you don’t know how to use, and the diaper bag weighs more than your baby, and…

YOU MUST LEAVE THE HOUSE!  As soon as you’re physically able, get on out there.  Otherwise, it becomes more and more daunting to think of doing it.  So leave early, and often.

9.  Every feeling you’re having–and there are lots of them, simultaneously, sequentially, in waves–is normal.  Estrogen and progesterone levels increase tenfold during pregnancy, and then drop sharply after delivery.  So you’ve got good reason to feel wonky.

Every negative feeling you’ve had, every thought, is one some new mother before you has had.  You’re in good company.  Tell yourself that.  Because beating yourself up for your negative feelings makes them stronger.  Accepting negative feelings as a natural part of life (and especially a natural part of new motherhood) aids in healthy adjustment.

Most women experience some form of “baby blues”.  If you’re concerned it’s more serious, talk to your doctor.  For more information, you can also click here.

8. There’s no right way to be a mother.  People love to give advice, and there are a bazillion books.  But what works for one mother/baby combo doesn’t necessarily work for the next.  If talking to people is diminishing your confidence rather than increasing it, talk to different people.  Ditto for the books.

Do find a good pediatrician, though, who you trust and who doesn’t make you feel neurotic/stupid/annoying.  You’re going to have a lot of questions in the coming months and years.

7.  If you have a partner, give thanks for that.  I personally can’t imagine how overwhelming it would feel to do it alone.

Find ways to tend to your relationship, and to talk about things other than the baby.  It’s hard to stay connected to your partner, and to your pre-baby self, but worth it.

6.  If breastfeeding came off without a hitch (so to speak), I envy you.  If you’re struggling more, find a lactation consultant, or get support through the La Leche League.

You might feel distraught.  You might feel like a failure.  You might be terrified that you’ll never bond with your baby.  These feelings are painful, but normal.

If you decide not to continue to try, that’s your right.  If you decide to pump exclusively, or to go with formula, those are valid options.  Don’t let anyone bully you about breastfeeding.  There are lots of ways to emotionally connect with your baby.  It’s not all about the boob, you know.

5.  Strive for balance.  Hopefully, you were balanced before he/she came along.  You need to find a way to be that way again.

4.  When it’s time to go back to work, think of all the ways that’ll ultimately enrich your baby.  It might be that working makes you feel more balanced (see #5) and that’s good for you and your baby.  It might be that you’ll be able to pay your mortgage, and baby might not know it, but she loves a roof over her head.

Distinguish between productive and unproductive guilt.  Productive guilt is telling you to do something differently, so listen to it.  Unproductive guilt is just making you feel like crap (and you’ve had enough of that, see #10.)

3.  Be aware that if you’re breastfeeding and you stop, you fall off another hormonal cliff which leads to all sorts of emotional mayhem.  The readjustment can take awhile.  Just knowing that–it’s not me, it’s my hormones–can be incredibly helpful.  For more on that, click here.

2.  Avoid comparisons – Comparing yourself to other parents, comparing your baby to other babies.  Even if you come out ahead sometimes, you don’t want your good feelings about yourself or your baby to rest on that. Because sooner or later, you’ll come in behind.

(As a side note, though, it is good to have a book on developmental milestones. Not so you freak out if your baby lags on one measure or another–every baby has a unique timetable–but so you know how to do activities that encourage healthy development, and when to consult your pediatrician if there is a more serious delay.)

1.  It’s hard to get stuff done with a baby around.  You’ll accomplish less, but hopefully, you’ll get better at being present and engaged.  Babies can teach us how to be in the moment, if we let them.

Happy New Year! Here’s wishing you lots of love and learning.

Mother and baby photo available from Shutterstock