Motherhood. It’s the one job for which there’s no training, no degrees, and no blueprint for success. There’s no breaks, no sick leave, no vacation days, and no pay, and yet you are required to be present and give it your all, 24/7. It’s both exhausting and exhilarating. But here’s the truth, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it… the first year of being a new mom will be, by far, one of your hardest life experiences. As a new mom, I found that the learning curve was pretty steep. The journey although incredible and fulfilling, was certainly not easy. Somehow, I survived. And you will too.
Here’s an honest and heartfelt month-by-month account of my first year with a baby.
Lying on the delivery table, I recall looking down to catch a glimpse of the baby but all I could see was one tiny little hand, fingers outstretched that seemed to be waving at me. Later that day, as I cradled her in my arms, I remember saying to my husband, “look, we made a pink baby!” It surprised me how flushed she appeared to be and how tiny she was, but I was told she was a healthy 2.9 kg. “Neither overweight nor under, this is a good starting point”, the doctor said. I felt proud and happy that I had been able to bring such a beautiful little person of this size into the world.
In the beginning, I didn’t have much trouble. Unlike some new moms who might struggle with breastfeeding, I was fortunate that once my daughter came into this world, she instinctively knew how to latch on and suckle. I was fortunate to have birthed my baby in a hospital where a 3-4 day stay post delivery was the norm, and in fact was required to ensure that both mother and baby receive proper care. The nurses would come in round the clock to check on us. They encouraged breastfeeding and guided me on my posture, hold and techniques. It was a wonderful experience that set us off to a great start.
Once home, things turned out slightly different. Unaccustomed to taking afternoon naps pre-pregnancy and during pregnancy, I powered through my days with the same sort of gusto that I had had before. The new daily routine of feeding, burping, and changing diapers was enjoyable and I cherished every moment with my newborn. However, nights were especially hard. Having to wake up every two hours to feed the baby, became a continuous, back-breaking, and incredibly intense experience. It almost felt like there was no respite from the endless cycle of diaper changes, feeding and putting the baby to sleep. Although my mother was willing to get up at night along with me, it didn’t seem right for both of us to lose out on our sleep.
One exhausted grandma on newborn night duty.
I had to be awake anyway to feed the baby, so changing her diaper and putting her back in the crib fresh and clean again was one small extra step that I was sure I could manage on my own. My baby didn’t need to be rocked to sleep. She’d fall asleep during or immediately after nursing, but needed to be burped and held upright for 10-15 minutes after feeding.
I would set my alarm and wake myself up right before I knew baby would awaken. Slowly, all this extra effort I was putting in, began to take its toll on me. The lack of continuous sleep resulted in a sort of heaviness in the head and a tiredness in the body that lingered. I felt my confidence waning. At times, the whole breastfeeding thing scared me. I didn’t know if I was holding the baby right, whether she had had enough to eat, etc. The doubts were many, stress levels high and sleep low. I wanted help, and a little encouragement. So I did something that I never thought I would do… Just two weeks after I left the hospital, I hired a night nurse <gasp>. She was to be more of a mother’s helper than a nanny.
With the arrival of the night nurse, things did not improve much. I found myself feeling awkward about having someone else around all night, especially when I needed to nurse the baby round the clock. Although she did offer me some excellent guidance and support, the costs seemed to outweigh the benefits. I didn’t particularly like having a stranger sleeping in my room, so I let her go. I didn’t want to keep my mother awake at night either, so I went back to doing the nights alone once again.
Breastfeeding felt like my superpower. I was delighted to see the satisfied smile on my daughters face when she unlatched and pulled away just before falling asleep. I was amazed at how she knew exactly how much milk her little tummy needed, and always stopped when she was full. I often timed her nursing sessions, and noticed that her feeding was consistent, nearly to the minute. It was fascinating!
While browsing articles on my pregnancy app, I learnt that babies should ideally double their birthweight by 6 months. This, combined with my doctor’s recommendation that she should be exclusively breastfed till 6 months, motivated me to power ahead. It became my mission to help her reach this goal. A friend had lent me a baby weighing scale; something that I had not thought to buy. It was not on my newborn shopping list, but proved to be very useful in monitoring my daughter’s growth at home.
Once my daughter was 6 weeks old, I started expressing milk. I also introduced her to the bottle around the same time. We had to try several brands, before we found one that she liked. For as long as she had been exclusively nursing, I had no physical problems with breastfeeding. Supply equaled demand, and all was well. However, once I started pumping and giving her the expressed milk, the longer gaps between our nursing sessions meant that some milk was being left behind in my breasts. I didn’t know that this could be harmful. Over the span of a couple days, I may have missed only 1 or 2 feeds, but it resulted in clogged milk ducts, which was extremely painful. I remember being up one night, crying in agony as I held a warm compress to my chest to relieve the pain. Over time, I learnt how to prevent breast engorgement before it was too late. Feeding the baby regularly, or pumping a little to take away the excess milk helped.
The second month flew by quickly. Before I knew it, my daughter was 3 months old. Unfortunately, around this time, she went through a bout of colic. Inconsolable and incredibly fussy, she’d cry and cry all evening long every single day. I worried that her little tummy was having trouble digesting, so I eliminated foods from my diet, hoping that would help but to no avail. Eventually, she did outgrow this phase, but it had been heart-breaking and stressful while it lasted.
What had been a gruelling and demanding schedule, was now becoming more manageable. I had a little more time to myself now that the baby needed to be nursed only once every four hours. I was able to take long showers without having to worry about getting back to her. I even managed to put my feet up once in a while, and relax with a book in hand. I happily resumed my exercise regimen.
Shortly after my baby girl turned 4 months old, we took our first flight together. We were headed back to Bangalore, to my in-laws place where I live with my husband. I no longer had the support of my mother whom the baby had grown used to. My husband and in-laws were elated beyond words to have us back at home. However, since everything was still new and unfamiliar to the baby, she would often cling to me tightly, and simply would not allow anyone else to care for her. I had my hands full. It took a couple weeks before we managed to settle down into a routine.
At every doctor’s visit, I was thrilled to find that the baby was gaining weight. At the five-month checkup, I beamed with pride when she was put on the scale and the numbers jumped to a whopping 9 kg, nearly three times her birthweight. There it was, I had done it! No, well we had done it. We had reached and surpassed our goal just one month short of the suggested time frame. I was overjoyed. My little newborn had blossomed into this beautiful baby girl, and I had done that. I had nourished her, and nurtured her tirelessly day in and day out.
By this point, breastfeeding had become easy and very routine for both of us. I introduced solids, offering her a taste of banana and baby oatmeal to begin with. Initially, she enjoyed trying new foods, but very quickly became a fussy eater. She’d purse her lips shut and would refuse to open her mouth. It seemed as though she didn’t want to be spoon-fed. I tried baby-led weaning instead, with which we had a bit more success. My favorite mantra during this time was “food before 1 is just for fun”. The bright, rich colors of beetroot and carrot sparked her curiosity, and I enjoyed watching her explore foods on her own.
Baby Led Weaning | Yogurt, yummy!
7 – 10 Months
Some new challenges arose with regard to sleep. Since she was so active during the day, she had a hard time settling down for naps and bedtime. It often took upwards of 40 minutes at a time to put her to sleep, and with three naps a day, it felt like this was all I was doing all the time. After I put her down for her nap, inevitably she would stir awake exactly midway through, and then I’d have to put her back to sleep again.
It was convenient and easy for me to nurse her back to sleep whenever she woke up at night. I didn’t think about the consequences. Back then, I didn’t even realise that I was creating a bad habit. For many months, she continued to require me to nurse her back to sleep every single time she awoke.
This phase was the least enjoyable and it really pushed me to my breaking point. I stopped working out, I stopped eating healthy and I stopped doing fun things. I honestly don’t remember much about this period. It was a blur; a messy blur of sleepless nights and sleepless days. My daughter was now waking up nearly as often as a newborn, or so it seemed. I was wrought with frustration, resentful and angry. From bathing her, breastfeeding her, changing her, giving her meals to putting her down for her naps, I was caring for her almost entirely on my own, and I was getting burnt out.
And then one day, my Mary Poppins arrived! This new nanny was referred to us by a family friend, and my daughter loved her. I loved her too. I was so grateful to have some support.
Everything was going smoothly. I finally felt like I had a handle on things. The nanny was able to put baby down for her day naps, and would be there to pat her back to sleep when she woke up in between. This was a huge help to me, and it meant that I didn’t have to be at home all the time. Mealtimes were still a bit of a challenge. Spoon-feeding was difficult and very nearly impossible. On the other hand, baby-led weaning was working for us, and breastmilk filled any nutritional gaps. However, her doctor was concerned because her weight had remained stagnant at around 9-10 kg for several months. He brought this up at every appointment. It worried me, but there was not much more that I could do.
My daughter is one year old. I used to be able to cradle her in my arms, but now she’s a walking, talking bundle of joy. Her birthday marks a full year of sleep deprivation, but today, I am brimming with confidence and unconditional love when I think of how far we have come.
Proud Mom, Happy Baby
What has your journey into motherhood been like? Would love to know! Please share in the comments below.