You may only have nine months to officially prepare for a baby’s arrival, but you could spend a lifetime reading up on all the tips and techniques for caring for a newborn. The shelves at Barnes & Noble are lined with how-to books on raising a happy baby, and they all serve a purpose: to help expectant mothers feel like we’re preparing ourselves for the baby’s arrival. But how much do these books really help when push comes to crowning, and the new baby’s arrived? I studied some of these page-turners like they were the Holy Grail, highlighting key passages, earmarking the nuggets, and diligently taking notes. Do you know how many books I referenced after the baby was born and I was in throes of midnight feedings and showerless purgatory? Zero.
Why? Because bringing home a new baby is the equivalent of the world’s most exhilarating, exhausting, ruthless rollercoaster ride in the world. You can study up on the ride all you want, but until you get in your seat and the wheels start rolling, you don’t have a clue what to expect.
Which brings me to the one thing I wish people told me before having a baby—something that could be a mantra for every new mother in delirium at 3 a.m. with a baby who won’t calm down, won’t latch or won’t relent:
It’s OK just to wing it.
From the moment you get home from the hospital, you’re going to be winging it. It doesn’t matter how many books about newborn baby care you read or how many infant CPR classes you attended. Everything you do, from changing your baby’s diaper to finding the best way to swaddle, to figuring out which baby carrier doesn’t feel like you’re suffocating your child, will be winging it. And that’s OK.
Your baby will not be like your sister’s baby, or your hairdresser’s baby, or how your mom described you as a newborn. You will have to wing it to find the best position to hold, to soothe, to burp or to feed. You will have to try different techniques, some that you read about in your books but some that are “I’m losing my mind and I’ll try anything” new inventions. And that’s OK.
Your in-laws will tell you you’re holding the baby wrong. Your cousin will tell you you’re not swaddling properly. Your teacher from kindergarten who you ran into at the grocery store will tell you the baby’s not dressed warm enough. You can heed some of their advice, but the fact is you’re winging this and you need to learn what works for your baby. Nobody will know your baby the way you do. They don’t see him or her every minute of every day. You need to make the call over how to hold, dress, soothe, snuggle and care for your baby.
Those first few weeks or months at home, that’s your time to wing it. That’s your time to find your baby’s tune and develop the harmony. You’re going to screw up. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to follow the instructions in the baby books and tear your hair out wondering why nothing is working.
You’ve just got to wing it. You’ve got to step outside the guidebooks, and the YouTube videos, and the people staring you down just waiting to pounce and tell you what you’re doing wrong. This is your baby, and you are the mommy. And even if you’ve never held a newborn before in your life, there’s no one in the world more qualified to hold yours.
It’s going to be scary, and you’re going to question what you’re doing 99 percent of the time. But through trial and error, through breakthroughs and fallbacks, and through moments of elation but more often tears, you can do this, new mommy. Hop on the roller coaster, pull down the harness, and put your hands up. You’re in for a hell of a ride.