People always talk about the first year of marriage being the hardest, but that wasn’t the case for us; I can’t imagine anything being harder than the first six months of our child’s life. Now granted, we have had a challenging baby, in the middle of a global pandemic, and we left our jobs as teachers, my husband started the first two months of our baby’s life unemployed, and we went through a move. But even if you have an “easy” baby under more idyllic conditions, it’s still really really challenging.
Since James just turned six months and I finally feel like the fog is beginning to clear, I decided to share with you my top ten tips for surviving your baby’s first six months. Here they are:
1. Simplify your beauty routine.
Whether you’re really into a beauty regimen or not, try to find ways to simplify your daily beauty routine. Routines like daily showers, curling your hair, and putting on make-up are really difficult to maintain, especially during the newborn stage.
Consider adopting a hairstyle that is low maintenance and cut your skincare routine down to the bare essentials. And definitely don’t worry about shaving for a little while. No one’s going to be looking at your mom-legs anyway.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should neglect self-care. Maintaining hygiene and taking the time to put yourself together for the day is important in making you feel confident and will likely brighten your mood, so don’t throw it out altogether, just find some ways to simplify.
2. Relax your cleaning expectations.
Most women don’t really enjoy cleaning, but you probably enjoy having a clean house. I actually start to get anxious if my house gets too dirty. Before James was born, the nesting drive hit me hard and I became even more fastidious about my cleaning routine.
But after James was born, my cleaning routine had to be simplified down to the bare bones–laundry, vacuuming, toilets, dishes, and countertops–and none of them as frequently as I would normally.
Also know that it’s also okay for clutter to pile up, especially in those first few weeks. I’m a very organized person, and I remember very distinctly looking at our apartment about a week after James was born, and there was stuff everywhere: changing pad on the dining room table, breast pump in the living room, hospital papers were strewn about the table and countertop, pump parts in the microwave, pillows as far as the eye could see, swaddles and burp rags on the ottoman.
I mean, there was crap everywhere. But there was nothing that could be done about it, and it was fine. I just had to let it go for the time being. By the time he was a month old, the house eventually returned to a more functional version of its former self.
3. Meal plan.
Whether you plan to cook, eat out, have meals brought to you, or a combination of all of the above, you need to have a plan for how you’re going to eat, especially if you’re partner will be going back to work soon after you give birth.
If friends or family want to bring over meals, ask them to have the meals spaced out so you have one or two meals a week prepared for you, rather than a refrigerator full of a ton of food all at the same time. Or let friends and family give you gift cards to restaurants you like or meal delivery services like Doordash and Grubhub. Try to save these for when out of town relatives return home and the family/friend meal-delivery service starts to wind down if you can.
If you plan to do any cooking, keep it simple and aim for dishes that prepare themselves, that can be made ahead of time, or that can be assembled in pieces. Instapot and crockpot recipes are excellent for this. Try to stay away from meals that generate a lot of dirty dishes or that require you to be actively cooking for more than 10-15 mins at a time.
And always have backup meals in the freezer and backup snacks in the refrigerator. This is especially important if you are breastfeeding. I cannot recommend these no-bake Boobie Bites highly enough. Six months in and they’re still a staple of my diet.
4. Learn how to accept help.
I’m an independent person by nature and I struggle to accept help from anybody, but when you have a baby, you have to get over that. If your in-laws offer to watch the baby so you can go to Target or the post office, let them. If your best friend wants to come over and clean your house for you, let her. If your co-worker who you don’t know very well offers to cook a meal for you, let them (yes, even if you are afraid you won’t like the food they make). It truly does take a village and any time that you are able to save by getting help is more time you have to love on your little one later.
5. Don’t feel guilty for setting boundaries.
As much as having family and friends around to help out is wonderful, don’t be afraid to set boundaries either. Having a baby during Covid was especially daunting because it meant having to navigate a lot of different perspectives on things like mask-wearing and social distancing, and it was really uncomfortable for me to try to set boundaries with family and friends on what we felt comfortable with. Luckily for us, everyone was incredibly supportive and understanding.
Most people will be respectful of the boundaries you set, whether they have to do with health and safety or just boundaries on your time and space. But even if they aren’t, you should not feel guilty if people’s feelings get hurt or if they don’t understand. Do your best to be kind and courteous, and then give yourself a pat on the back for putting the needs of your family and your child first. Be sure to ask your partner for assistance. Presenting a united front is critical.
6. Celebrate your baby’s small successes.
You know the comedic trope where parents think their baby is a genius for doing incredibly mundane things like smiling, rolling a ball, or saying “da-da”? I used to laugh at these parents. The truth is, they feel this way because they’ve had to live with their baby who was completely incapable of doing anything at all for such a long time, that when the baby is finally able to do something, it’s like a miracle.
You’re going to have frustrating times with your baby, a lot of them. They’re going to poop right after you change them, spit up on the clean outfit you just put on, cry every time you sit down to eat, and wake you up in the middle of the night every hour and refuse to go back to sleep for months on end. It’s going to be hard.
But you need to enjoy the little moments and celebrate the things your baby does well. It’s important not only for you but also for them, so they have the opportunity to be encouraged by you and so they feel loved and important, even in infancy.
7. Prioritize intimacy with your partner.
I know this is going to be somewhat controversial, and I’ll be honest, if it weren’t for my stubborn devotion to the Bible, I never would have done this. 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 is the famously anti-feminist sounding verse that says, “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.”
I’ll be honest with you, as a woman, I do not feel the need for sex very often. I just don’t. I can feel completely close and connected to my husband without it. The same is not true for my husband. I don’t understand why–other than that God made men differently than women–but physical intimacy is a critical component in relationship maintenance for men. Connecting physically is how they feel loved.
Maybe you’ll be one of the really lucky women who feel super in the mood after your baby is born, but more than likely, you’ll be one of the 33-50% of women who report a loss of sexual desire in the first six months postpartum, if not always, certainly on occasion. On top of your waning desire, there are physical limitations during the postpartum period. You can’t have vaginal intercourse for the first six weeks or so, and after that, if you had a vaginal birth, you may experience discomfort when having sex. All of this is on top of having a needy, screamy baby you spent two hours putting to sleep who is bound to wake up at any moment if they even hear the rustle of a sheet. It’s certainly enough to put you off sex for the indefinite future, but don’t do it.
What I have found in our relationship is that when I go out of my way to prioritize our intimate time (I’m not talking every day, but a couple of times a week at least–you and your partner will find your own rhythm), it brings us closer together and helps us remember why we got married and started a family in the first place. It also makes it so much easier for us to be patient with one another when times are hard.
I know it sounds strange, anti-progressive even, to suggest that you should have sex even if you don’t really want to, but if you re-frame your mindset as it being a way of being loving, serving, and self-sacrificing, I promise you it will pay dividends in your relationship. Just, give it a try and see what happens.
8. If you don’t already have one, develop a conflict resolution strategy with your partner.
The best thing my husband and I did for our relationship was going through the Love and Respect Study Set by Emerson Eggerichs. It’s a marriage counseling book based on Ephesians 5:33 and on the idea that women’s’ primary need is to feel loved and men’s primary need is to feel respected.
This book not only gave my husband a much greater understanding of one another and how our minds worked differently as a man and woman but even more importantly, it gave us a language for expressing ourselves when the other person made us feel bad in some way. Dr. Eggerichs talks about the idea of stepping on the other person’s “air hose,” which leaves them feeling deflated. What I love about this is that it doesn’t assume negative intent or assign blame, but rather focuses on the feelings of the hurt person and opens the way for discussion and resolution.
Whether you use the Love and Respect model or something else, having a language to talk about your feelings and to address conflict is critically important. I can pretty much promise you there is going to be a time when you don’t feel that your partner is supporting you in the way you need them to or vice versa, and you need to be able to discuss that together without it turning into a fight.
9. Take time away from your baby.
It’s truly beautiful to experience the utter dependency that a baby has on you as its mother. There’s nothing else like it in the entire world. It’s affirming in a way that’s impossible to describe until you’ve felt it. But you cannot be your baby’s sole source of all of its needs 100% of the time. Mom guilt is a real thing, and you will probably feel guilty for taking a nap or a shower or eating dinner while your husband holds the baby and he/she won’t stop crying, but you need to do these things. Not only is it important for your baby to learn how to receive comfort from people other than you, but it’s also important for you to continue to exist as a person separate from your baby and to take time to recharge. If you don’t, you’ll probably end up more tired and frustrated than you would have been if you’d just taken a break in the first place.
10. Reach out to other moms when and how you can.
This last point is perhaps the most important one on the list. As I said before, it truly does take a village, and no matter how many books or blog posts you read, there is nothing that will prepare you for all of the challenges that motherhood presents and there is no substitute for the comforting words of that sister/cousin/friend who you can text or call any time, day or night, to cry to or ask for help. You need to have at least a couple of these people.
On top of that, try to connect with other moms that are in the same place as you, whether it’s through a class, your church, or an online community. I really wanted to do the whole Mommy-and-Me thing, but because of Covid that wasn’t an option, so I’ve had to be creative with how I connect with other moms. For all of its pitfalls, social media has actually been an incredible gift for me in this way. It has allowed me to meet incredible women both locally and from all over the country who I never would have connected with otherwise, and we’ve been able to bond over shared experiences and support one another with shared challenges. So even though it’s not what I imagined, connecting with other moms, even digitally, has been a tremendous gift.
More than anything, remember that every phase of your little baby’s life is a gift, even the challenging seasons of the first few months. You’ve got this, Momma!