The Learning Curve of Parenthood

It’s true what they say … you’re never quite prepared for parenthood.

I am a student. I love school, and I love to learn. This year I took a workshop through my employer, and we were asked to take an extensive test to discover our top 5 strengths. One of mine was Learner. So when I found out that we were pregnant, I started researching. I read books, blogs, online articles … basically anything that I could get my hands on. I read about baby sleep, newborn behavior, bathing, nursing, and the birth. My husband and I also took a prenatal course at the hospital. The course was 4 weeks long and I remember when we were driving to the first class I mentioned that we should grab some dinner before it began. My husband commented that we could eat after the class, as it was only an hour. Oops! Somehow I had forgotten to warn my husband that the course we were enrolled in was 3 hours a night – 12 hours of learning about the birth and first few days with our baby.

Yet, even after all of this preparation, I can’t say that I was ready for the life that began when Baby E was born. I truly believe that with parenting, much of it must be learned on the job! Over the first few months I have learned many things, but here are the top 10 little things that I have learned over the past 7 months:

  • The 1st week is the hardest. The first week after Baby E was born was the hardest of them all for us – the lack of sleep, the crying (both her and me!), and just the fact that absolutely everything is new to you. I am a strong believer in getting support from family and friends. My family and friends were incredible. My Mom and best friend even slept over a number of nights to help me through that tough time. I can’t thank them enough, and couldn’t have done it without them.
  • Although breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t always come naturally. When I was doing my baby research during my pregnancy, I read a lot about breastfeeding. My husband and I had just assumed that it would be a natural thing for Mom and Babe, but I kept reading all of these tips on what to do if you’re struggling. So I had an idea that it could be tough, even before our daughter was born. We had our share of difficulties with breastfeeding. My advice is to take help wherever you can. Every nurse that looked after us in the Mom and Babe Ward at the hospital asked if I’d like help breastfeeding. And every time, I said yes. Each nurse had their own tips and their own methods, and it sort of all eventually came together into our own sort of technique. Both Baby E and I were new to breastfeeding, and we both needed to learn the technique, and how to work together. After a few months, we were both pros.
  • If you can’t, or don’t want to breastfeed, life will go on. During my pregnancy, every book and article that I read talked about the benefits of breastfeeding: ‘breast is best’. There was a lot of pressure from the literature, and from nurses and other mothers, to breastfeed. I very much wanted to breastfeed my baby, but ran into some difficulties that caused us to have to supplement with formula. At first, I was incredibly upset by this. I felt that somehow I had failed my baby by not being able to breastfeed her exclusively. I was also worried that using bottles so early on (Week 2) would diminish Baby E’s desire to breastfeed. This was not so. And now, 7 months later, I know that I am doing the very best for my baby. All we can do as parents is our best, and our children will surely benefit from this. I recently saw this satirical article and it really solidified my feelings about this!
  • A baby’s neck is hidden in rolls. All of the books I read said that babies only need a bath once or twice a week at first, and that a little wash of the face, neck, and hands can be enough most days. But watch out for those rolls in your baby’s neck! Those adorable rolls can very easily trap moisture – from a wash, a bath, or just a hot day outside. Be sure to keep that area clean, and more importantly, dry. If not, a crusty layer can build up here. It’s not the end of the world if it does, but it’s pretty easily prevented if you know what to watch for! We didn’t know this at first!
  • Give it 5 minutes before giving up. This was a key realization for me. When Baby E was first born, it was so difficult to see her cry that I wouldn’t give any attempt at soothing long enough to see if it worked. If Baby E was crying, I might try to put her in the cuddlywrap. If she didn’t immediately stop crying, I would be ready to remove the wrap and try something else to stop the tears. But I soon learned that you need to give it 5 minutes. Try the wrap for 5 minutes before moving onto another technique. Often just giving it 5 minutes would be enough for the wrap to work. Had I moved on too quickly, I would be off trying another soothing technique when my first instinct would have done the trick. It was a hard thing to learn, but I still find that it is true after 7 months.
  • Sleeping and naps will become one of the most important parts of your day. When my friends with kids talked about difficulties getting their children to nap, I sympathized with them because I could sense their frustration. It was obvious to me that it was a challenge, but I never really knew the true importance of napping until we had our own child. Very soon, napping and sleep patterns seemed to become the most important thing in our world! I won’t get into any details, but I will mention that I found one book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (recommended independently by 2 friends) extremely helpful. I think now, looking back, my time spent researching baby things while I was pregnant would have been well spent reading this book and putting these tips into place early on with Baby E!
  • Develop a routine. The more time that passed with Baby E, the more I found that routines were helpful for both of us. We gradually developed a routine for our mornings (that always begins with cuddling/playing/singing songs on the bed together) and one for each nap and bedtime. I think that I benefit from the routine just as much as Baby E does!
  • Cloth diapering is not as much work as I thought it would be. I didn’t start cloth diapering right away, as I was overwhelmed with all of the other aspects of raising a tiny baby! Six months in, I tried the cloth diapers (AppleCheeks) at my favorite baby store in town … and I loved them! They fit perfectly, no leaks, fun colors – and they were much less bulky than I remember cloth diapers being in the past! I am just building up my set now, but am excited to get going. I have an AppleCheeks storage sac that I throw the diapers into between washes, and a gentle detergent that is recommended for cloth diapering.
  • If you can make it through the 1st 3 or 4 months, it’s smooth(er) sailing ahead! For me, the first 3 or 4 months were the toughest. It’s a big change having a child in your life, and there are so many things to learn at the beginning. But it does get easier! By about 4 months, we had our routine and rhythm, and things just felt good! Less crying, more anticipation of her needs on my part … and just a wonderful familiarity with each other!
  • A baby is truly life changing. Baby E is almost 7 months old now, and I can’t even express how much she means to me. She is sweet, adorable, loving, innocent – and I would do absolutely anything for her. She has changed the lives of my husband and I (and also our family and close friends!). I don’t know what we did before her …

I have learned all of these things over the past 7 months, and many more as well. Things change very quickly with babies, so even when something seems challenging, new things are just around the corner. I planned and researched so much while we were pregnant … but no amount of reading can prepare you for the amazing experience of watching your baby grow before your eyes, or the overwhelming love you feel when you look into that little face smiling back at you!

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