Going into my first pregnancy, I heard all of the clichés about motherhood, particularly about the newborn phase. New mothers hear the warnings all the time—they’re told they won’t sleep until the baby is in kindergarten. They’re told they’ll go days without showering and won’t even notice. They’re told they’ll hover over the kitchen stove and shovel three-day old macaroni into their mouths while rocking a demanding infant, staring wistfully into their mind’s eye and yearning for the days before their lives were consumed by around-the-clock feedings and nighttime wake-up calls.
The newborn phase is no joke and many of the unsolicited warnings I received actually did come to fruition. Breakfast and lunch for the first several weeks of my son’s life consisted of various forms of bars (Kit Kat, Fiber One, and lactation cookies, respectively) shoved hastily into my mouth while I tended to an adorable demanding little creature who refused to sleep more than two hours at a time until he was 3 months old.
And while I did in fact find myself yearning for simpler times during those blurry early months, many of the early experiences promised to me failed to make good. These are the Three Rules of Early Motherhood I broke that you too can break all you want:
1. Thou Shall Not Shower
This has to be the most frequently spouted rule about new motherhood—the Holy Grail, gold standard, preeminent rite of passage. New moms don’t shower; everyone knows that. I wound down the final days of my pregnancy ready to say goodbye to daily showers and freshly washed hair. I packed my hospital bag with toiletries, hopeful yet uncertain they’d actually see the light of day.
I was surprised, and thankful, when, on the morning I gave birth to my son, I was whisked away to shower just two hours later. The next day, I was surprised to again find that I could sneak in a shower while my son was away for some routine checks. I was even able to straighten my hair and put on makeup.
I was sure my scrupulous grooming streak would end the moment we arrived home from the hospital, but to my amazement, I was able to continue daily showers and grooming everyday thereafter. I’m not saying every shower was a day at the spa—far from it—but for a new mom, two minutes alone in the shower can certainly feel like it.
Some days, I even put on makeup and styled my hair, but most of the time, I was throwing my wet hair into a bun, spritzing my face with a moss-colored hydrating mist, throwing on my favorite Gap lounge pants, and thanking the shower gods for their generosity.
Two minutes is all you need. Granted, I only had one child to contend with, but if you have two minutes to spare, you have two minutes to shower. You might even get to brush your teeth, and you’ll feel refreshed and ready to tackle a day of marathon feedings and binge-watching Law & Order.
2. Thou Shall Not Clean Her House
Another oft-repeated rule for new moms is to let the laundry, dishes and other household tasks fall by the wayside during those early newborn months.
If you don’t like to clean, if you have an abundance of help at your disposal, if you are overwhelmed at the thought of another task, or if you simply don’t care about those dishes towering in the sink, then by all means, do not clean your house. Don’t clean, and don’t feel guilty about it. There is no need for extra stress when there is a new baby at home.
However, if you are like me and the sight of dust collecting on your picture frames makes you physically break out into hives, feel free to break out the Pledge. For me, tidying up daily between feeds, pumping, soothing, and changing diapers provided me some semblance of normalcy and calmed me with the illusion that a baby tornado had not in fact ripped through our lives uprooting all that was comforting and familiar.
A few minutes here and there helped me feel at ease in a home that felt unfamiliar during those bleary newborn days. Fresh sheets were a welcome sight at the end of a long day (or a long night), and keeping my kitchen and bathrooms livable made me feel like I was a responsible superwoman.
3. Thou Shall Not Exercise
This rule actually is a rule and actually does serve a very important purpose. Depending on your pregnancy, depending on your birth, depending on your postpartum phase, depending on your physical activity level pre-pregnancy, depending on a myriad of other factors, including authorization by your doctor or midwife, you should not engage in any strenuous activity too soon postpartum.
I was a regular exerciser for over a decade before my son was born, and with the exception a few pukey months early in my pregnancy when I was too dizzy and nauseated to comb my hair let alone workout, I exercised up until the very end of my pregnancy. My birth was the typical fare, and I did not have a major surgery to contend with.
Within a few weeks of my son’s birth, we were taking regular walks outside or in the mall, and within a month, I was back at my gym either walking on the treadmill or gently using the elliptical. For the next couple of months, I hopped on our home treadmill or did short workout DVDs while my son napped or played beside me. Some days, I could only get 10 minutes in; on others, I’d get an hour of sweaty bliss. Later, when I returned to work, I was able to get in more regular workout sessions of barre and spinning.
Exercise has been a huge part of my identity for all of my adult life. It got me through hectic days in college, law school, bar prep, as a new attorney, and as a pregnant mama. I knew I’d need it to still feel like myself as I grew into my new role as mom, and I don’t regret breaking this rule at all.
If you don’t like to exercise, then don’t. But if you do, you still can. You may need to get creative, and it definitely helps to have someone who supports you. But even if it is just you and your baby for 12 hours a day or more, a walk around the block or the mall may be just what the doctor ordered.
So there you have it. Three “rules” new moms are told that aren’t rules at all. New mamas will be tested and changed in ways they cannot fathom before welcoming their babies into their lives. The most important rule they can follow during this precious time is to forget the rules and remain true to themselves.