Real advice for new moms

Whenever I learn that one of my friends is going to have a baby, I promptly begin to panic on her behalf. 

“Congratulations!” I yelp, hoping my frozen smile will mask my palpable anxiety. 

I realize how crappy this is. For one thing, I’m taking someone else’s big life event and making it all about me. Furthermore, can’t I just stop wringing my hands for once and simply celebrate the pure joy of new life? 

Evidently I cannot. Because while I do, in fact, think the creation of new life is awe-inspiring and sacred, I know from personal experience that the first year of motherhood can be a wild ride.

And this is why I’d like to offer some bits of advice I wish someone had shared with me when I was a wobbly, exhausted new mother.

1. Stop reading.

The options are endless — the various sleep “solutions,” the Dr. Sears encyclopedia, tomes about the “womanly art” of breastfeeding, how to make your baby the happiest one “on the block” and so on and so forth. 

Please, just walk away. Not only have these books been published primarily to make money for their authors, they’ve also been put into your hands to mock you. 

You’ll see what I mean when your unwomanly breasts fail to produce the promised “art,” despite all manner of lactation consultant-ordered interventions; when your baby is the saddest baby not only on your block, but in the entire metro area; and when all your dedicated “attachment parenting” habits result in a baby who screams in your arms yet snuggles up cozily and quietly with the teenage babysitter. 

2. There is no ‘cure’ for colic. 

Let’s say you discover that your baby is “colicky.” 

She screams day and night as if she came into the world with a full understanding of the tragedy of human existence. You’d cry too, right? 

Like healing a broken heart, the only real cure for colic is time and what is referred to these days as “self-care.” You may be tempted to try to “fix” your baby with chiropractic adjustments, around-the-clock white noise, endless bouncing, “energy work” and so much more. 

Don’t waste your time. Hire a trustworthy babysitter who can handle the screams and go get yourself a massage or a steak or a top-shelf smoothie.

3. Acknowledge your needs. 

New mothers are vulnerable — physically, emotionally and more. It’s a shaky time. I encourage you to make every effort to surround yourself with people who truly care about your well-being. 

It’s easy to lose sight of your own needs when you have a new baby. 

Meanwhile, you’ll most likely encounter people who claim they want the best for your child. When this comes at your detriment, proceed with caution. 

For example, we visited a baby chiropractor when my daughter was colicky. Through some sort of mind-meld with my 2-month-old, the chiropractor determined that my baby was “allergic” to my breast milk. 

But she didn’t want me to quit breastfeeding — the next crucial step was for me to implement an elimination diet that was so comprehensive I was left with little more on the menu than steamed celery and barley. 

Meanwhile, I hadn’t slept in weeks and was probably on the verge of a visit to the psych ward. 

This woman claimed to care about my baby’s well-being, but didn’t seem too terribly concerned with mine. At the time, this made a sick sort of sense to me: Now that I was a mother, I reasoned, my needs were secondary. 

Don’t smother your own needs in a masochistic attempt to prove to an apathetic world that you’re “mom enough.” Find the people who care about you and let them help you. 

I suppose this is what it boils down to, for me: Take care of yourself, so that you’re in your best state to take care of your baby. In other words: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” 


Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.