If you’ve got a newborn on the way and you’re a first-time parent, you might be wondering what it’s going to be like. Unfortunately, no one can exactly tell you how it’s going to go. One, every baby is different and has different joys and struggles. Two, it’s impossible to exactly articulate to a non-parent what parenthood is like. But I can go into what they don’t tell you about newborns and hopefully leave you a little more prepared.
Newborns don’t like to sleep in their bassinet/crib
This is perhaps the hardest part of new parenthood. They just came out of a nice, comfy womb, and they don’t want to sleep in a cold, empty bassinet or crib. All they want to do is sleep in your arms. You might be able to get them down for short periods in the bassinet, but not always.
Unfortunately, this means that it can be difficult to get sleep in those early days. Everyone says, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” But this is actually quite difficult. My husband and I managed by taking shifts at night. I would sleep for six hours while he handled baby care, and then we would switch. It was still hard, but at least we got some sleep. But then again, he was on leave, and it’s a lot harder if you’re doing it by yourself.
My big tip if you’re going through this is to rely on your partner or helper to do the household things so that you can take advantage of every bit of potential sleep. Let them wash bottles or do the insane amount of laundry you’ll now be doing. And remember that this is temporary. Eventually, they will sleep in their bassinet.
A newborn’s day-night cycle is reversed
When you were pregnant, did you notice how your baby would sleep all day and then wake up just as you were going to bed? Babies are often lulled to sleep by your movement during the day. So, when you lay down to sleep, they wake up.
This cycle tends to stick in the early days. This is something no one told me about newborns. It takes time for them to start sleeping more at night. They tend to be more alert at night and sleepier during the day. This can be really rough on new parents because your sleep cycle is the opposite of theirs.
Try and get them more activity during the day, so they’re a little sleepier at night. Obviously, if they’re tired, let them sleep (which they will do A LOT). But try and take advantage of their alert time and do what you can to reverse their sleep cycle. Again, remember that this stage is temporary, and their cycle will start to become regular around two months, with it finally settling in around three months.
Newborns eat so often
This is especially true if you’re breastfeeding. Formula tends to last a little longer, so newborns can sometimes go three to four hours without eating. If you’re breastfeeding, the breast milk metabolizes faster, so you’re feeding more often. Generally, this means you’re feeding them every two to three hours, with your baby often taking twenty to thirty minutes to feed.
In total, you’re doing about eight to twelve feedings per day. For formula babies, how much you’re feeding them depends on their weight, but a good rule of thumb is two to two and a half ounces per pound of body weight in a twenty-four-hour period. So, if your baby is seven pounds, you’re feeding fourteen to seventeen and a half ounces in twenty-four hours.
There’s also something called cluster feeding, which often means they’re going through a growth spurt. Cluster feeding means that you’re feeding your baby more often because they’re hungrier. They may want to feed almost non-stop, so try and be emotionally prepared for those times and rely more on your partner or helper if you’re breastfeeding. It will only last a day or two. Make sure you’re eating enough food as well. Some healthy snacks that will give you staying power are crucial.
It can be difficult at first to figure out their cries
This isn’t always the case. New moms can sometimes understand their newborn’s cries early on. But don’t panic if you can’t! Sometimes, it just takes time to learn which cry means they’re hungry and which cry means they’re tired. I read articles in the beginning that described the cries and what they mean. But I found it difficult to translate the text to my son’s actual cries. So, I’m not even sure if these articles are accurate.
Over time, you just start to figure it out. Now, I can easily distinguish his tired cry from his hungry cry from his “change me!” cry. But that took me time and paying close attention. Just give yourself time and try out different things when they’re crying. Pay attention to other cues, like if they’re rubbing their eyes or you’ve changed their diaper and they’re still not happy. You’ve got this.
You worry constantly
And I do mean constantly. Whether you’re worried about SIDS or if you’re doing something right, your anxiety can be through the roof. The first time we gave my son a bath, I spent the entire time paranoid that we were doing something wrong. (No one warns you that bathtime is going to be so difficult at first.) It didn’t help that he was screaming the whole time.
But those are the smaller worries. The bigger worries are panicking about whether or not they’re going to die or whether or not you and your partner are going to suddenly die. One experience mothers often don’t talk about and should is you can get some pretty horrible intrusive thoughts. I would be walking down the stairs with my son and suddenly worry that I was going to drop him down the stairs and hurt him. I would wake up in a panic because I hadn’t heard him move or cry in a bit, and I was worried he’d died in his sleep. It’s constant but survivable.
That being said, if you suffer from anxiety, I would recommend doing what you can to get that in check before the baby comes through therapy or baby-safe medication because it’s going to get worse when they’re here. Easier said than done, I know. But do what you can. Once they’re here, if you’re struggling with new mom anxiety, there are some things you can do.
Just take things one day at a time and one step at a time. You can only control so much. Honestly, parenthood is just a lesson in doing your best because that’s all you can really do. Some days you’ll feel like you’re doing great, and some days you’ll feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.
These were some difficult things to talk about, and it makes parenthood sound awful. But it’s important that you know these things that people often don’t tell you about newborns. I just want to say that motherhood also comes with a lot of joy. It’s so hard, but it’s so much fun. The first time they smile at you is so rewarding. Watching them slowly become their own person with their own personality is such a joy. It’s going to be okay. I promise. One day at a time.
If you’re looking for more information on the newborn stage, I’ve written about it.
Erin Lafond is a writer, website creator, and mom. She survived new motherhood by Googling things a lot, calling her mother, and embracing trial and error. Now, she shares her knowledge with all new moms. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and son (soon to be two sons!).