A big part of my job as a pediatrician is helping parents care for their children. The past few months have given me a new appreciation for exactly what parents go through.
I am approaching the end of maternity leave, having given birth to my first child earlier this summer. I have experienced a whole set of highs and lows over the past couple of months, and I thought I would share some of these experiences.
My adventure started right after coming home from the hospital. Our son cried and refused to sleep unless he was held. My husband and I endured some tough nights. We were given the same advice I give to parents: day-night mismatch is common for newborns and it should go away. In the meantime, we were advised to help our son reset his sleep schedule by keeping things louder and brighter during the day and quieter and darker at night. However, I realized that this suggestion didn’t help us in the interim. How could we keep from going crazy in those nights before his sleep schedule adjusted?
Eventually, we realized that the best solution was to spend a few nights in our TV room. Keeping the lights dim and the volume low, we watched comedies while taking turns holding our baby. The lights and sounds from the TV probably weren’t great, but we were able to keep our sanity much better than the first couple of nights spent in bed crying along with our son all night.
Within a week, he began sleeping some at night and we were able to move back to our bedroom. I realized that while watching TV all night wasn’t very healthy, it allowed us to relax and make it through those first few sleepless nights. New parenting is often like this – doing what you can in the short-term to keep everyone happy and healthy.
I also learned that it’s OK for parents not to have all the answers. Even after years of experience caring for babies and children, I often felt, especially in the first week, that I had no clue what I was doing. Whether it was figuring out a good sleep/play schedule or worrying about where my newborn was supposed to nap during the day, I felt completely out of my league. I remember crying and telling my husband, “I’m a fraud as a pediatrician!”
However, after talking with him, my son’s doctor and friends who are also parents, I realized that this feeling is common. No matter how many books or articles you read, or how many years you attend school, there will always be times when you feel you don’t have the answer as a parent. The good news is that every other new parent is in the same boat.
The next big advice I have for new parents – especially new moms – is to be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much. During pregnancy, I had lofty plans for how I would spend maternity leave. I was going to clean and organize the house, bake bread and other treats each week and so on. What was I thinking? Between frequent feedings and diaper changes and holding our newborn when he refused to be put down during the day, I had little free time.
I found that the time I did have was better spent on self-care: a shower or relaxing stroller walk was much more useful than trying to clean or bake. I also learned that when the baby sleeps, it’s often a good time for me to catch a nap, too.
Last of all, don’t be afraid to ask for and accept help. One of the best things my friends and family did for me was frequently checking on me to see what I needed. Let friends and family help by bringing food or holding the baby for a while so you can get a much-needed nap or shower.
Don’t worry. Over time you’ll figure it all out and feel more comfortable and confident. Parenthood is a stressful, but exciting adventure. And don’t forget to focus on all the great times you’ll have watching your child grow.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.