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6 mistakes I made my first year as a mom — which you can avoid

Melissa P.
Aug. 28, 2018

The journey of becoming a new parent is as beautiful and joyous as it is messy and exhausting. Most of all, it’s a learning experience. My son, Oscar, will be turning 1 in just under a month, and as we inch closer to this milestone, I’ve been reflecting back a lot on the past year. While I can’t reach back in time, I now can see clearly all the things I wish I’d done differently.

Childbirth educator Brea Loewit tells me it’s not unusual to feel out of your depth your first year as a parent.

“It’s so hard to wrap your brain about the reality that is a new baby and all the changes it brings, and because of that, many parents are unprepared,” Loewit says.

As a certified family nurse practitioner and board certified lactation consultant, Loewit has helped countless families overcome what researchers characterize as the “stressful event” of becoming a parent. The transition to parenthood, they say, brings about more profound changes than any other developmental stage in life. My husband and I had methodically planned our pregnancy, so I naively thought we were ready. But according to at least one study, even people in “low-risk circumstances” like ours experience individual and marital distress once the baby arrives.

I spoke to other moms about their missteps, and apparently none of us are perfect! Here are the six biggest mistakes I made my first year as a mom.

1. I worried about everything.

The anxiety began the minute I found out I was pregnant. I worried about gaining too much weight and how I’d lose it. As we neared my due date, I grew fearful of giving birth. Then came our baby, and all thoughts of “me” went out the window. I sat up all night, watching my tiny human sleep. He seemed so fragile. Intrusive thoughts flooded my mind. I’ve since learned this was textbook perinatal anxiety — defined as excessive, uncontrollable worry that affects your daily functioning — and it can affect up to 10 percent of women during pregnancy and postpartum.

When I see pictures now of myself when I was pregnant, I know I looked radiant. My labor, for the most part, was a breeze. For the past 12 months, Oscar has been relatively healthy and happy. I wish I’d worried less and enjoyed it all even more.

Sarah Netter, a mom from New Orleans, experienced something similar and agrees: “I wish I wouldn't have been terrified and paranoid about anything and everything. Granted, I had a micro-preemie who did have some very serious and scary issues at the start. But I wish I would have relaxed just a little. At 5, he's doing great.” 

2. I didn’t take enough time off work.

Becoming a parent changes your life, so why did I struggle to keep going with my old “normal” instead of welcoming this new normal? As a freelance writer, I pitched articles well into my third trimester. I signed with a literary agent less than a week before I gave birth. Three hours into labor, I checked into the online class I was teaching from the hospital bed. Other mothers cautioned me against it, but that December, I travelled to Sri Lanka to teach a writing retreat with my 3-month-old in tow. I needed the money, but it was more than that. I worried that becoming a mom would negatively impact my career.

Honestly, it did. A year later, my “mom brain” — that foggy and forgetful feeling that 50 to 80 percent of new moms experience — is just beginning to lift. I’d arranged it so that I’d have time to work while also caring for a newborn. However, I didn’t account for these cognitive effects related to hormonal changes and sleep deprivation.

Risa McDonell, a mother from Libertyville, Illinois, put it perfectly: “I wish I had realized that I was going to feel like an overtired alien the first year, no matter what I did, and had just given myself permission to sleep.”

3. I should’ve asked for help.

There’s nothing simple about having a newborn. But, in retrospect, I see how my husband and I could have made our lives easier. For example, while Oscar and I were still in the hospital, we could've hired a dog walker instead of my husband running back and forth to take ours out. Those first wild weeks, we could’ve hired someone to come clean our house, or at the very least sent out the laundry. Instead, we did it all ourselves, and while both grandmas came to visit, it was more like hosting guests than having a helping hand.

If you lack a support network or have trouble communicating with grandma, Loewit suggests a postpartum doula to fill in the gaps.

“A postpartum doula can help manage household tasks, pets and laundry, as well as supporting moms and dads with the transition to having a new baby,” Loewit says. “Doulas can help provide breastfeeding support, offer help with postpartum care and support the parents in learning infant care skills.”

I’m still not great at asking for help, but when I look back at my fourth trimester, I wish I’d hired help for the practical stuff and turned to mom friends for everything else.

Shana Westlake, of Rockville, Maryland, says the biggest mistake she made as a new mom was not asking for help when she needed it.

“I had a really hard time breastfeeding,” Westlake  says. “By four months, we figured out our issues, but those four months were rough and would have been much better had I gone to a (lactation) support meeting and asked for help.”

4. I should’ve skipped asking for help on Facebook.

People have plenty of opinions about how to raise your children — from sleep training to screen time and child care options to vaccines. And, boy, will they let you know about those opinions, especially on social media.

Rebecca Johnson, a mom in Hamilton, Ontario, says her biggest mistake was posting about anything pertaining to sleep on Facebook.

“After becoming literally suicidal from lack of sleep, I switched from co-sleeping to putting Maya in her crib,” she says. “She went from waking many times a night to sleeping 10 to 11 hours a night, and I felt like a new person. But, of course, then came the judgment.”

This happened to me too. Whenever I’d post about parenting problems on Facebook, I was often confused by contradictory advice. Nearly 12 months later, I’ve learned there’s no one way to parent a child, and every child is different.

5. I shouldn’t have fought so much with my partner.

The first six months of our son’s life, my husband and I fought about everything. He couldn’t understand my experience, and I had no time for his problems. Somehow, when Oscar was around 8 months old — and after many tearful conversations — we eventually accepted that life was different and difficult for both of us as parents. We started working as a team and became better at communicating.

I learned that “Will you give Oscar his bath while I start dinner?” is a lot more palatable than “Why haven’t you given Oscar his bath?” Of course, the game-changer came when Oscar started sleeping through the night, and my husband and I started making time for our relationship again. I wish we’d done it earlier.

Terry Ward, a mom in Tampa, Florida, says she wishes she and her partner had hired babysitters instead of only making time for one another when family was available to watch their kids.

“Taking time for yourself and your partner is crucial for long-term success,” she says. “Our oldest is 22 months, and we have an 8 month old, too, and last week was the first time I've actually hired a babysitter.”

6. I should’ve put more trust in my baby’s instincts (and my own).

Co-sleep or sleep train? Breast or bottle? Go back to work or stay at home? There were seemingly endless decisions in that first year, and each decision we made felt momentous. But some of them didn’t feel like decisions at all; they just sort of happened. And those changes were always the easiest ones to make because they came naturally. For example, baby-led weaning was never our intention and, like co-sleeping, it was against our pediatrician’s advice. When Oscar started refusing baby food and smacking his lips at us when he saw us eating, our pediatrician-recommended plan to introduce foods in stages went out the window.

“I’m glad you followed your baby’s cues,” Loewit says. “That’s being a good mom!”

Above all, Loewit says, it’s important to follow your instincts.

“You are the expert on your baby, and you know what will work best in your family life, no matter what your mom or best friend or even your pediatrician has to say.”

Whatever the challenge, it passed — oftentimes on its own. The everyday choices we made as parents weren’t always as consequential as we feared. By the end of our first year, I stopped trying to do it perfectly. I learned to listen to my gut.

“Having kids has given me a voice that I didn't have before,” says mom Arlene Ruth Soto, of Denver. “I seek help when I know we need to, but for the most part, my mommy instincts are on point.”

If you’re a new parent, feel free to learn from our mistakes. Or don’t. Making mistakes is perfectly OK, too.

Read next: Guide to evaluating your child care options

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