Motherhood is an amazing, awesome responsibility, and in the beginning, it can be incredibly scary. It's the best job in the world, but also the worst, all the while going through the most physically taxing and emotionally draining experience of a woman's life.
The body aches and the brain can't keep up; sleep can be hard to come by, and a woman can feel lonely and out of sorts. The mission is messy, and sacrifices have to be made. The enemy is tiny — microscopic — but it can be the scariest foe that a woman has ever faced, and they realities of life can be terrifying.
The first few weeks and months at home with a newborn is the sweetest, scariest period of motherhood, and no matter how prepared a woman is, it can be hard to conquer. After all, a new mom feels overburdened and overwhelmed while also feeling hormonal and sore and inadequate. Even without postpartum depression — a very serious illness that deserves immediate attention — early motherhood can feel like a swamp that a new mother has to somehow slowly pull her way through, getting through the mess and trudging through the fog.
We want every new mom to know that she isn't wrong for facing hardship in early motherhood, but we also want her to have hope that things will get easier — because they will, we promise.
Here are 15 scary truths to early motherhood.
15 Messy Mission
A new baby's life is a revolving door of eating, sleeping and dirtying diapers, so a new mother's life revolves around the same. The bad news is that two out of the three of those can be pretty messy. That means a good portion of each day will involve cleaning up something gross — and at least part of the day she could be covered in it.
Newborns can go through eight to 10 diapers a day — both wet and dirty ones. That means a change is due every two or three hours, and sometimes a little one waits until mid-change to unleash some of his waste right into his mother's mouth. On top of that, babies have notoriously immature stomachs that mean that the majority of their lunch can end up coming right back up in the form of spit up. Baby wipes are a must-have, and the laundry can stack up.
Let us warn you about this scary truth to early motherhood — the mission is messy.
14 Hot Mess Mom
The baby won't be the only thing that is messy during early motherhood. The mom will be a hot mess as well. Even with a baby that sleeps well and cries little, a mom can miss her daily shower and only occasional clean up. Her hair pulled back and her yoga pants on, she may find her breasts leaking while postpartum discharge has her leaking out the other end.
Pretty soon, the occasional spit up won't even ben noticed. After all, a new mom has messy clothes and hair and she won't notice another stain anyway. The scary truth about new motherhood is that no matter how much of a hot mess a mom already is, she doesn't even notice when it gets worse. Soon she'll feel better and she'll start to clean up a little, but in early motherhood, it's hard to care about taking a shower when you feel gross five minutes later anyway.
13 No Sleep
Most new mothers are warned about the lack of sleep that their job will entail in the first few weeks and months. But it's hard to really fathom the fatigue until she experiences it. A newborn's sleep cycle starts out at only a couple of hours max. We may call it a nap, but it's a full sleep for a baby in the first few days. Instead, a nap to a newborn is about 15 minutes.
That can leave mom with little time to rest her weary head in between feedings and diaper changes. She needs to sneak in her own meals and try to take a shower, plus start a load of laundry or two. At night, the sleep can be even harder to come by, as some newborns find their days and nights reversed and they leave even less time for mom to catch a few zzz's. The scary truth is that early motherhood is more than exhausting. Eventually mothers can find a groove by stringing together small snatches of sleep, but it can be hard to barrel through the exhaustion in the beginning.
12 Breastfeeding Woes
Breastfeeding may be a natural body process that women have used to feed their children for millennia, but that doesn't mean it's easy. It's especially hard in the beginning. Babies have a natural instinct to crawl to the breast and latch on in the first few hours after birth, but that doesn't hold for long. After that, they'd prefer to sleep, or they will get themselves so worked up that they can't remember how to latch.
For mothers, figuring out how to hold a baby comfortably for a feeding can be hard on its own. They also have to worry about how much nourishment the baby is getting and keeping up their milk supply (or getting it in at the beginning), plus their breasts are tender and swollen and they can get chapped and bloody. One scary truth about early motherhood is the concern about how to get a handle on nursing when the doctor is worried about the baby gaining weight and getting rid of jaundice. Oh, and it hurts. It's a lot of pressure on early motherhood.
11 Feeling Overwhelmed
Mothers are filled with emotion in the first weeks of motherhood. The hormones that filter out at the conclusion of pregnancy can bring out lots of feelings, and the many ups and downs of motherhood can bring on even more. And while many mothers will have different emotions going through them in early motherhood, the scary truth is that they will all at some point feel overwhelmed.
It can come when the baby goes through her first growth spurt and cluster feeds day and night, or it can happen when she is napping and her mother turns around to see the mounds of laundry waiting to be folded. It can come in the middle of the night or smack dab in the afternoon, but no matter what, there will be that moment when a mom is unsure how she is going to get through the day, or even the next hour. It's hard to imagine what the next moment will bring, but we want to ensure you that even through the most overwhelming moments of motherhood, it's OK to step back and recenter. Must put the baby in a safe space and walk away for a moment. Take it all one step at a time.
10 Mama Brain
It begins in pregnancy, and it can get even worse in the first months of motherhood. It could be due to the hormones and the body changes or something else entirely, but research has proven that it is a real thing — mama brain can cause all kinds of hijinks in motherhood.
Mama brain can cause a woman to lose track of her calendar and even her keys. She can lose things only to find them in the fridge or the dog food bowl. She can keep track of her baby's bowel movements, but she has a hard time getting dinner on the table. The scary truth is that mama brain is real, and that it can interfere with daily activities. It can be especially hard when a new mom returns to the office. She can't always multi-task the same that she used to be able to. The baby must have blocked a few brain cells, but as long as she can get through the first few months, it should fade a bit.
9 Body Issues
While the baby may be a new mother's entire world, she has a few major obstacles of her own health to battle in the beginning. The scary truth is that her body may not be ready to allow her to give her all to her little one. All new mothers have some issues to contend with, and depending on the delivery, some can have more problems than others.
First of all, before she ever has to spend a night up with her newborn, a new mom has to deal with fatigue from her labor and delivery. Rest is needed to recover from both vaginal and Cesarean deliveries, and that comes at a time when sleep is in short supply. Then the body has to release all of the blood and hormones that it has stored up for months. Many women have stitches to deal with, which can also be part of either type of delivery.
Postpartum recovery can take weeks or months. It can mean night sweats and hot flashes, lochia for weeks and hormonal mood swings. It's a scary truth in for early motherhood that can make it even more difficult to be a good parent.
8 Crying Out
Another scary truth for every woman in the first few months of motherhood is that more than a few tears will be shed. It's as much true for the mom as the baby, and we'll get to that later, but for the baby it's an inevitable part of life.
Even the easiest babies cry. They do it to let mom know when they are hungry, when they are too cold or too hot or too wet or too tired. As much as a 1-year-old loves a bath, a 1-week-old will probably hate it and cry the entire way through. They will cry when they are sick, and cry when they have to do tummy time, and cry when they want an extra snuggle. And sometimes they will cry for no reason at all.
Some babies develop colic, and for a few months they can spend every afternoon in tears. There is little a mom can do to make them happy during a bout of colic, but she will still try. And as long as the baby is in a safe place and all of her needs are met, it is OK to walk away and let them cry. It's a scary truth to motherhood that sometimes it is better to let the baby cry than to risk hurting it out of frustration or anger.
7 Panicky Moments
No matter how much experience a woman has with newborns, the scary truth is that she will have a few moments of panic during early motherhood. They could come when the baby has been crying for 10 minutes and she can't figure out why, or they could come when the baby spits up a liter of white stuff all over her in the last clean pair of pants in the house. It may happen when she gets her first fever or when daddy nearly drops her going down the stairs. There will be a time when a mom panics that something is really wrong with her sweet angel.
Most of the time, everything will be fine — the baby will get better or the doctor will assure the mom that she is completely normal — but even a fourth- or fifth-time mom will come across something that gives her pause and makes her heart beat a little faster. It happens to the best of us in those early months of motherhood.
6 Judgment Days
Early motherhood, we are sorry to inform you, is a time filled with judgment. Moms have researched everything and formed opinions on the best way to give birth, the best way to feed a baby, the best way to discipline a toddler, whether to circumcise or eat the placenta and if they should return to work or stay home with the baby. All of these decisions have more than one correct answer, but new moms don't always see it that way, and that can make it hard to get through a trip to the playground without feeling judged.
Perhaps even worse than the women who sit in judgment over bottle-feeding moms and those who have strong opinions on all-natural, attachment parenting, worse than the stay-at-home moms who look down on the working moms and vice versa, are the moms who judge themselves. It happens a lot when a mom ends up with a C-section after dreaming of a vaginal delivery, and it can last throughout a baby's life. There is nothing worse than feeling like you have let your baby down, so we hope that the judgment days to early motherhood aren't as scary as you imagine.
5 Sacrifices Have To Be Made
Life with a newborn means that a woman's life is not her own. The scary truth is that sacrifices have to be made to keep the little one alive. Whether breastfeeding or formula feeding, a parent has to feed a baby around the clock at the beginning of his life, and the work of changing diapers, swaddling and keeping up with laundry can be constant. But those only scratch the surface of what it takes to be a mother.
After all the months of foregoing a good sandwich or sushi and a glass of wine while pregnant, many moms continue to cut out their favorite things while they breastfeed. Or they do the best they can to get by eating snack foods with one hand so that they can keep the other ones free to hold the baby. Nights out are a luxury, and even a day at the office can seem far out of reach. A new mom may not realize how much she has to sacrifice for her little one, and sometimes the adjustment isn't easy. But it's another truth of early motherhood.
4 Germs Are The Enemy
No matter how much a woman laughs at germaphobes, there is something about life with a newborn that will bring it out in any mom. Babies are fragile, and there is a reason to do all that is possible to avoid germs. But a scary truth in early motherhood is that every germ will become the enemy and every mother will feel like she is on the front lines. She'll arm herself with bleach wipes and hand sanitizer and protect her little one with every ounce of her strength.
Some moms stay home for months to avoid any contact with a sick person, and some won't let friends, much less strangers, come within touching distance. While it's a good idea to keep the baby away from sick people and force everyone to wash hands before they hold him, moms don't need to go overboard unless the baby has a compromised immune system. Most of the time, the immunities are passed from the mother for the first few weeks and even longer if she breastfeeds. Moms should be vigilant, but they don't have to lock themselves in the house either.
3 Lonely Life
As we've mentioned, early motherhood is a time when sacrifices have to be made, when some moms are tempted to seclude themselves to avoid germs and when anything unusual can lead to a moment of panic. Add on the hormonal mood swings, and a scary truth of early motherhood is that it can be a lonely life.
No matter how many family and friends come to the aid of a new mother and how great her partner is at helping shoulder the load, there is something about motherhood that can make her feel alone in her struggle. Since the baby was entirely dependent on her while she was pregnant, a woman can have a hard time sharing the burden once the baby arrives. Postpartum depression can compound the feelings of loneliness, as well. All new mothers need to feel supported and loved. It can be tough to accept help, but she is better off when she knows that friends and family are near by.
2 Realities Of Routine
Some women thrive on routine, but others hate the idea. Either way, the scary truth of early motherhood is that each new mom loves and hates the routine that her days take. In the beginning, life with a newborn will seem anything but routine. But before long the cycle of eat, sleep and poop will somehow turn into a schedule. It won't necessarily go like clockwork, but it will go round and round until it feels like a routine, whether a new mom wants it to or not.
Some women will be grateful to fall into a routine with their little one, and they will get upset every time an illness or other issue throws a kink into it. Others will get bored quickly and will try to spice things up, which can be hard on the baby at times. But those moms just have to wait a little while, and something will inevitably come up that adds a little excitement to the day. Routine is easy to come by yet hard to maintain in early motherhood. It's a burden and a blessing — and that's the scary truth.
1 Mother's Love
For some women, the scary truth to early motherhood is that a bond between a mother and its newborn isn't always instantaneous. Some women feel their hearts skip a beat the moment that their little one is born, and they can feel a piece of their soul detach and implant itself into the helpless newborn that is placed into their arms. The love is there from the very beginning, and that makes it easy to go through the sacrifices and messes of early motherhood.
But others, though, the baby that grew in their belly can feel like a stranger when it arrives. It doesn't look like anyone they recognize, and they don't feel drawn to answer every need. Some women don't feel like mothers, and they don't feel connected to their baby once the cord is cut. That can make the burden even harder to bear and can make some women feel extremely guilty.
The scary truth is that a mother's love may not be felt right away, but the rest of the story is that it always comes eventually. That can be hard for a new mom to wait, but we want to assure them that there is nothing wrong with how they are feeling and that it will be OK in the end. Sometimes the rush of love — when it comes — can be the scariest truth of all. It's the most intense, amazing, scary feeling ever, but it's also the best. And that is the truth.