This week our little peanut turned one year old. In the blink of an eye, our tiny 6lb baby is an active, vibrant, funny and adventure-seeking 20lb toddler. When they say time flies, it sure does! In one sense, this has been the longest, tiring, most challenging year where all three of us have personally grown exponentially. Baby Oby (Obadiah) was learning life on this side of the womb and Alex and I had entered full-throttle into this new world of parenthood. On the other hand, this has been one of the quickest, best, and most fulfilling years that I will treasure forever.
“Mama Brain” is real. The Urban Dictionary defines it as, ‘the phenomenon known to mothers where their brains become useless piles of goo after being around their children for too long.’ Therefore lest I forget, I have written down some lessons, experiences, and general knowledge that I have learned in my first year as a Mom.
1. YOUR FAMILY IS UNIQUE
I appreciated all the well-meaning advice, stories and recommendations from others but kept them on a shelf to pull from if needed. Some were helpful, some were insightful, and some didn’t apply at all because our family, like yours, is unique. One of the best pieces of advice I did get was that I am created to be my child’s mom. That fact alone gives me the confidence to listen to my instincts, discuss with my husband, and together we can successfully parent our child.
If you are a parent, you might relate to this list (or maybe not!). If you are pre-parenthood, this list might be helpful on what you can expect. The first lesson I learned is that we are all so different and cannot copy, nor compare with one another. Every parent, baby and family is unique and we can’t put any of us in a mold.
2. YOU ARE THEIR FAVORITE PERSON!
It is a feeling like no other to know that you baby wants to be with you all the time. Physical contact between mom and baby is crucial to maintaining that special bond, to keep baby feeling safe, secure, and loved. Your presence is the most important. Thankfully I am still in this stage, but I hear that this passes as they grow and become more independent. Don’t cling to it, but treasure this time.
- To foster this, I learned too late that I shouldn’t give my baby away too much in the early months. Mom should have the majority of baby contact. This is an important time of bonding, as well as instilling security, love and trust with your baby. If you want a break, or need to shower, etc. then of course other people can hold your baby. But don’t give him away just because you feel pressured by other’s wanting to hold him. I learned this too late and had let way too many people hold my brand new baby too soon.
- When you become a mom you know when your baby is hungry, uncomfortable or scared. You learn to recognize the specific sounds they make, which to most sound like baby babble but to a mother they mean different things. You just develop an instinct that connects you with your baby. Also, long before your baby learns to talk they will understand you.
- They NOTICE when you are on a mobile device. Babies are more than attention-seekers; they are truly attention-needers. They need our focus, love and affection. Far too often, our electronics and mobile devices take us away from our little ones and they are keenly aware of this. Put it down and cherish those beautiful eyes that are gazing at you, just waiting for a smile.
3. TREASURE EVERY SINGLE SEASON
Babies grow fast! Time goes too slowly, and then so fast you can’t stand it.
- I remember there were very long days and longer nights in the first couple months where I just felt defeated and stuck. Oby was crying; I was crying, and even though we were together it felt very lonely. That season passed. Our bond, communication and joy grew together. For us, month three felt like the rain had cleared and the sunshine came out.
Things come in stages. Before freaking out, wait 1-2 weeks to see if this new behavior will pass.
- So many times I freaked out and got on Google to figure out “what is wrong with my baby?” to find that whatever it was, passed in a couple weeks and routines settled back in.
Each month is different, unique, challenging and very special. Throughout every growth milestone there is an excitement and a new challenge.
- When people say, “it will get easier”, I don’t fully believe them. Each season has had both joy and challenge. The challenges seem to get more complicated; although they tend to be less all-consuming. I think a better saying is, “this season will pass . . . but another is coming”.
4. EYES WIDE OPEN
Re-discovering life through the eyes of a baby is fresh, new and exciting. From the day we brought Oby home from the hospital we made it a practice to respect him by talking to him and not over him. No matter where we were, or what we were doing, Alex or I would talk to him and describe things.
- It’s a breathtaking experience to go for your first walk and describe the majesty, colors and beauty of nature to your little one.
- Prior to having a baby I NEVER got excited to see a bird or squirrel visit our lawn, but wow, if you could only hear me squeal with delight and show Oby excitedly through the window the little friend who came to visit.
- As parents, it can be difficult NOT to act like a baby. We found ourselves copying his actions and babbled words, even when he wasn’t around! “Agoo” is just a very satisfying word to say! Oby would light up with excitement when we would say ‘his words’ back to him.
- Crawling around chasing each other is a great workout, but also takes you down to his level of play and enjoyment.
5. PREPARE FOR STOPS
When out with your baby, be prepared for many interactions with strangers. For some reason, if you have a baby or a cute dog, people want to talk with you. You will be asked two questions numerous times by complete stranger: 1. “Is he/she a good baby?” and 2. “Is he/she sleeping through the night yet?”
- No matter what age your baby is, those are the predominant questions people seem to ask. First of all I don’t even understand the first question… a good baby? I’m not sure what they mean by this? I don’t think they understand what they are asking either. Babies have different personalities but none are ‘bad’. I felt very uncomfortable with that question. Oby is not a quiet, laid back, mellow baby. He is energetic, emotional and lets us know strongly when he’s upset. Although, challenging at times I feel very blessed that he knows how to express himself so well at a young age. When babies cry, they aren’t ‘bad,’ they are merely communicating their needs. I like what Dr. Sears says describing a high need child…’they know what they want and demand the best.’
- Secondly, I was asked at almost every month of his first year whether he was sleeping through the night. To move on from that question, I usually answered, “Yes, he sleeps.” Babies are growing and developing at an exponential rate. They need to eat frequently. I didn’t want my baby to sleep through the night. I wanted him to sleep and feed frequently throughout the night. As he grew, his tummy grew as well so he could store more food and go longer stretches. As he began solid foods at an older age, he also began sleeping longer stretches. Naturally, with no training on our end, at a year old, he now sleeps through the night for 10-12 hours. Before marking that as a standard milestone date, please remember my first point to not take this as rigid information or to compare. Many other babies were able to sleep through the night earlier and others later in their lives. What I’m sharing is just what happened for us.
6. BREASTFEEDING HURTS
Breastfeeding was more difficult and painful than I thought it would be.
Breastfeeding is very natural and wonderful, but the skill of it doesn’t come so naturally. I needed to learn. My baby needed to learn. It was work and it was painful.
- Like playing an instrument (your fingers get tougher), so it is with breastfeeding (your nipples need to get tougher). I remember in the early days scrunching my toes back and forth to distract me and absorb some of the pain. I also wish I had more hands to hold my baby, hold my breast in position, tilt his chin in position and take a drink of water (thank goodness for nurses in the hospital). And then all of a sudden it stops hurting one day, you and your baby seem to know what you are doing, and it becomes a wonderful, bonding and nourishing time. Push through the pain; it is very worthwhile. Seeking out a lactation consultant can be very helpful. I had a few sessions and benefited greatly from them.
- There are so many hurdles to breastfeeding! I can’t go into them all, but it would be worthwhile for any new mom to research them. Don’t be afraid to seek out help when you come across them yourself. One of the hurdles we discovered was that Oby had a tongue-tie. Apparently that can negatively affect how your baby latches. He was frustrated because he couldn’t get a large enough latch and wasn’t getting the milk he needed. We did end up getting it cut and that helped. If you get it cut young enough they don’t feel it because that area is numb. . . I was crying watching it, but he seemed fine with it.
- Thankfully my milk supply was good for the majority of the time, until I discovered essential oils and took the wrong one. There are some great oils that can boost your supply (basil, fennel, copaiba), but unfortunately peppermint (for some women) can decrease supply. Peppermint is a main ingredient in some wonderful muscle ache remedies that I was using religiously to relieve my neck and back pain, but unfortunately my supply dipped drastically. To get it back up I removed peppermint, started taking the supply boosting essential oils, herbs and teas as well as offering Oby milk-time as often as possible. The more your baby latches, the more your body is triggered to create milk.
7. BABIES CRY
This wasn’t exactly a new lesson I learned. I was more surprised at how much he cried. I had this idea that he would be so happy living with us and be a calm baby. I also thought that as his mom when he did cry, I should be able to soothe him, and if I couldn’t, then I was failing. In reality, babies cry, ALL of them.
When he cried (for endless hours) it was hard to not take it personally, but I needed to learn that he wasn’t ‘mad at me’; it’s his only way of communicating and expressing himself. Their emotions are very real and we need to consider each tear or tantrum to be a valid display of his true emotions. Of course I checked everything that could possibly upset him (food, diaper, temperature, position, boredom, etc.) and sometimes all I could do was hold him, pray and love him while he cried.
In the early days, our little man cried a LOT. More than I felt was normal. I sought out some help from professional practitioners. I found a physiotherapist and counselor that specializes in emotional healing for babies. I learned that babies can experience birth trauma and need to heal emotionally from it. I learned so much from this baby whisperer and together we created a safe place for little Oby to express his pain, build trust and feel safe with us. She taught us a lot about talking and listening to our baby respectfully. From then I made an effort to not just do things for Oby, but first narrate what we were doing together and ask his permission so not to take him by surprise. We noticed a huge change in him soon after this.
- One of the best methods we found to help soothe Oby when he cried was movement. Holding him close while walking, dancing, tapping, or sitting bouncing gently on a large exercise ball calmed him right down. Squats were my go-to. I remember doing hundreds of squats at 4am to soothe him back to sleep. It doubles as your ‘get-back-in-shape’ plan too!
- Our best investment was a soft stretchy carrier wrap (for newborn to 3 months) and a soft structured carrier for 3 months to 1 year. When babies are held by you, they cry less because they are more settled, content and calm. It’s cozy, snuggly, close to your warmth, close to your heartbeat and close to your milk supply. A huge benefit to you is that you can be near your baby, but hands free to do other things.
8. NO WORDS TO DESCRIBE HOW TIRED YOU WILL BE.
Sleep? If you don’t count on it, then, it’s like a wonderful surprise when it actually happens. I have never appreciated 4 solid hours of sleep in a row, more than I do now!
Amazingly, you will discover how little sleep you actually need to function the next day. Don’t count the first few weeks because they are an adrenaline rush full of feel-good-new-baby-hormones rushing through you. After that, the tiredness really kicks in! No matter, how exhausted I was and how little I slept, I could still find the reserves to do what I needed the next day. I think I was being fueled by baby cuddles.
Some days you will dream of running to a hotel to be all by yourself for at least 24 hours, but if you are gone even 1 hour you won’t be able to stop thinking about your baby.
- Sleep went up and down for me throughout this past year. It obviously began on a low because newborns are up most of the night. Once we got into a rhythm of co-sleeping and feeding, sleep was much better (more on co-sleeping in point 10). I got used to sleeping for 2 hour-increments, helping baby to latch on, and then drift back to sleep while he fed and then slept himself. I went to bed early with him and we slept in late. So although we were up every couple hours, cumulatively we actually were banking more sleep than I would get pre-baby. I was starting to feel energized and alive again. It wasn’t until he was 8 months old and transitioned to his crib that sleep for me took a downward turn. Believe it or not, Iwas having a lot of trouble sleeping without him! My body was used to drifting off to sleep as he fed (milk has sleep-inducing hormones for both of us) and I was also used to waking up often so I continued to wake up often. Anyhow, it took me a few months to get used to this new sleep arrangement and I’m still quite tired even as I type this.
9. YOUR TOP PRIORITY: BABY SLEEP
As newborns, it’s easy. They sleep when they are tired, frequently, and anywhere. There was a freedom in those earlier days that I could go out and know that if Oby was snuggled against me in the carrier wrap, he would sleep soundly. As they get older, they discover how much fun being awake is and parents will need to help wind their little ones down for sleep. Many parents have found a consistent routine to be very helpful. You can’t force your baby to sleep, but you can set them up for the best possible sleeping situation.
To avoid your baby becoming overtired, you will do at any cost, whatever it takes. Sleep is so incredibly important for everyone’s well-being and sanity. If the baby is unhappy; nobody is happy.
- One Saturday, Alex and I drove in complete silence with Oby in his carseat for an hour on the highway west, turned around, and drove 2 hours east and then 1 hour west again so that Oby would have a day-time nap. This was during a period of development milestone where sleep had regressed. He had refused his naps for three days in a row that week, so we were desperate. As point 3 mentioned, this season of nap regressions worked itself out in a few weeks.
Sleep sacs, white noise machines and soothing essential oils are wonderful and indispensable for baby sleep time! I use them every day. I even pack them and bring them on trips.
- Sleep sacs are cozy, keep your baby warm without the risk of suffocation (like a loose blanket could) and keep your baby from climbing out of the crib! White noise machines are helpful because babies are used to sleeping with noise from within mom’s uterus.
- The white noise machine also drowns out any possible sudden noise from within the house that could startle a baby and wake him up. Now that we have one, I actually prefer to sleep with it as well.
- Essential oils have been great to soothe and calm Oby to help wind him down and keep him asleep longer. Personally I’ve found lavender, vetiver, marjoram, roman chamomile and cedarwood to be the most helpful. I make a different blend using two of those oils each month and mix it up month to month.
10. CO-SLEEP OR CRIB TRAIN?
I wrestled with that question prior to giving birth. We had an adorable bassinet and this perfect Winnie The Pooh crib set up waiting for our little peanut to come home and sleep peacefully in. However, after birth he cried and would not settle unless he was on my chest. So from then on, he slept there. Once we were home from the hospital I introduced him to his sweet little bassinet, but he would have none of it. He cried unless he was held by me (constantly).
I didn’t plan on co-sleeping but felt like we didn’t have much of an option. However, I soon came to love and cherish that time. Now that he’s older, he sleeps in his crib but I do miss the closeness, ease and simplicity of the early months of co-sleeping. It built a strong bond between us, made night feedings much easier and actually helped us all sleep better (mamma’s milk has some great sleep inducers for both baby and mamma). And (if you follow the safe co-sleeping guidelines) no, you will not roll on your child. Moms are given this natural instinct to always know where their baby is, even when asleep. The moment Oby stirred, I was instantly awake and had the energy to attend to him.
Where you and your baby sleeps is a personal decision that each parent needs to make. Don’t be pressured by the advice from any person, organization or blogger (even me!) Do what is the safest and most natural fit for you and your baby.
11. I FELL MORE IN LOVE WITH MY HUSBAND
- There’s something so attractive about seeing your husband become a father.
- I discovered new, wonderful things about my husband this year. I saw him step up and take care of me and our home, so I could take care of our baby. I saw him become even stronger and more protective and yet softer as his heart melted with love for our precious little one. I saw his childlike joy come forth as he played on the floor with Oby.
- I learned that Dadda is a very deep and sound sleeper through the night. However, my heart is full to know that our son’s favorite part of the day is getting up early with Dadda to play (while Mamma catches up on sleep).
- I love my husband more today than I even have, and will love him even more tomorrow.
12. I LEARNED TO BE PRACTICAL, BUT NOT PERFECT
- Always pack an extra set (or 2) of clothes
- Always carry baby wipes
- Plan stops along the way.
- Thankfully, there are quiet rooms for nursing moms in public locations like malls and airports
- Double the time you anticipate it will take you to get ready and out the door
- It always seems to take double!
- Expect friendly interruptions while you are out… people love to smile at a baby
- People tend to poke babies… they just can’t help themselves. Wear your baby in a wrap if you want to shield baby from curious hands
- Messes aren’t a bad thing. Embrace messes. Messes mean fun and learning is going on.
- Products and recommendations aren’t miracles but can help
- I never used a playpen. A baby gate worked better for us.
- We tried a swing… it worked for some of the time. Other mom friends said it was a lifesaver though… depends on your baby.
- Oby hated the car for many, many months and we got used to loud, screaming car rides. Then one day he figured out how to sleep in the car and now it’s our backup for naps
- The vacuum, washing machine and cupboard full of pots and pans are some of the most exciting baby toys on the planet.
- Remember to take care of yourself; when you are healthy, you are in a better place to take care of your child.
- You will miss carrying a real purse around (because you’ll be toting a large diaper bag)
- I have had “the wheels on the bus” song (with ALL the verses) stuck in my head on repeat for the last 4 months. I don’t know how to get rid of this… help me by posting your recommendations in the comments please!
- Baby teeth are incredibly sharp, watch your fingers as they’ll want to chew.
- Baby nails are tricky to cut and very sharp as well. You can put socks on your baby’s hands to prevent them from scratching… until they learn to pull them off.
- Things we take for granted like eating and drinking are challenging skills your baby will learn overtime
- As they get older, carry snacks with you. This could prevent a tantrum if you are running late between meals.
- Those squeeze bags full of organic pureed meals are the best invention ever!
- The baby industry does not have my baby’s health as a priority (see my blog “Why I Purged My Baby’s Toy Basket”)
- Peek-a-boo is the best game in the world to a baby and can be played over and over again
- I have the weakest stomach with smells or taking out the garbage but changing diapers or cleaning up his puke doesn’t seem to faze me.
- As a new parent you will discover that you had an inner photographer bubbling up in you all along. Somehow all your social media sites will be taken over by photos of them.
13. MOTHERHOOD IS DOWNRIGHT HARD BUT WORTH IT!
- Being a mom is tough! It comes with a lot of work, juggling, creativity and of course lots of energy (that most of us do not have. I’m running on reserves). It’s not for the faint of heart.
- Yet, somehow it is all worth it. Their first smile and all smiles afterward are pure rays of joyful sunshine that warm your heart
- Your baby’s laugh is the best sound you’ll ever hear. We turn into ridiculous monkeys dancing around in order to hear it just one more time.
- This little person has changed me for good. My priorities, schedule, habits, goals and even desires are so different now. Babies have a great way of becoming all-encompassing to their parents and teaching us patience, grace and of course unconditional love. You become a better version of yourself; they will help you grow, learn, and mature more than any other person will.
- We change physically, but we also change emotionally. A deep strength and toughness have developed. I would protect him from any potential danger. I would do anything for him. And yet I’m more aware of how sensitive and fragile my heart truly is. We suddenly care A LOT about someone else and daily put their needs before our own. We become so proud and joyful when we see them do another accomplishment no matter how small it is. We can’t believe how much love our heart can hold.
- Each day, you will think you can’t possibly love your baby any MORE than you already do… and then you’ll wake up tomorrow and you will.
14. HEAVENLY LOVE
I learned that God’s love for us is patient, gracious and unconditional!
- I can’t truly fathom the depth of God’s love for us. As a daughter, I have received unconditional love, but becoming a mother has helped me better understand and experience it by giving it daily. Loving my son has helped to show me a deeper level of love that Father God has for us.
15. ANSWERED PRAYER
Lastly, I witnessed prayer to be powerful and effective.
- As mentioned above, our son had some birth trauma and the first 6 weeks were difficult. He seemed so emotionally hurt and couldn’t be comforted. Every day I would sit holding him, bouncing gently on the exercise ball, and pray that God would give him abundant joy and a passionate love for life. Today I have heard countless times the same comment from close friends to strangers at the grocery store, “That is one joyful baby who loves life.” I believe God answered our prayers.
- Pray every day with and for your child.