5 things I wish I knew before I had a baby
Dear mama-to-be or new mama,
There are a lot of things I wish my veteran mom friends would have told me. Sometimes, I think maybe they were too proud to admit they struggled or maybe they didn’t know how to convey it. But mostly, maybe, they didn’t want to scare me off from motherhood.
Honestly though, I wish they would have trusted that it would have just better mentally prepared me—maybe even changed my reality of going on to develop severe postpartum depression.
And so, 4 years into this journey, I’m going to tell you my top 5 takeaways that I wish any other mama had sat down to tell me. I tell you these things not to scare you, but to make you aware so you don’t have to suffer my fate. Or if you find yourself going down a similar road, maybe this will give you the foresight to ask for help sooner than I did. I’m telling you because you deserve the whole picture, unfiltered. And you can thrive. Here goes:
1. Breastfeeding is hard.
Maybe you’re a unicorn who has a perfectly latching baby right away and has the perfect milk supply that doesn’t cause engorgement and feeds your baby amply. But assume you are not the unicorn. Because I foolishly thought I would be one and it almost broke me trying to make it work.
Learn how to use your pump BEFORE you deliver (I wish I did). Because flailing around with all the parts and figuring out your flange size after you deliver will be extra time you could be spending resting or cuddling your baby.
Remember that your worth isn’t measured in ounces and that fed is truly best, however that is achieved. Breastfeeding is truly great. AND, it's good to have a backup feeding plan if breastfeeding becomes too much. (I didn’t have one.) Formula is also great and there’s entirely no shame in using it.
2. Develop a sleep plan ahead of time—for YOU!
Yes, you and everyone else will still be obsessed with your baby’s sleep. But we often forget that mama’s sleep is equally important, if not more. And sleeping when the baby sleeps is not the best plan, to be honest.
Can you agree with your partner on how to give yourself a chunk of minimum 4-hour sleep, whether it’s earlier or later in the night? Let’s be honest—no new parent sleeps enough. But not having that solid block of sleep really starts to wear mama down and can contribute greatly to mental health deterioration.
Sleep deprivation and then developing insomnia were some of the biggest factors feeding into my PPD. So I am always a huge proponent now for making sure moms know they also need to prioritize their sleep.
3. Perinatal mood disorders affect 1 in 5 moms. It’s more common than we think. It’s also absolutely not your fault; you can get well again.
And this was, again, something I thought I would never have a problem with. I don’t know why I had such hubris. Maybe I thought that because I was a healthcare provider myself that I would recognize the signs quickly and curb it before it got bad. But the scary thing about depression is that when it creeps in unbeknownst, it takes away your energy and hope to battle it. It makes you doubt yourself, guilt yourself, shame yourself. But it isn’t your fault if this happens to you!
I wish I had asked for help sooner and stopped hoping it was just baby blues that lingered. If it has been more than two weeks, don’t ignore it. Talk to someone. I also highly recommend Postpartum Support International for more helpful (free) support resources!
💌 Note to readers: Oath Care provides lactation, sleep, and mental health support for moms in one place, for free! I wish I knew about it when I was postpartum. You can join here.
4. It’s okay to take medications/antidepressants.
As a pharmacist, I actually hate taking medications. Less is always more in my books. But as someone who had severe PPD, I can honestly say now that I could not have climbed out of the darkness without the help of my antidepressants. After resisting them for a while, it became clear that I needed them yesterday.
So if you’re someone who is offered an antidepressant and wondering if they can even help, they can--when you find the right one and right dose. That may seem daunting, but starting the process sooner than later might help you get back more time with your baby that PMADs often rob you of.
It doesn’t make you a bad mom if you have to take them during pregnancy or after pregnancy. And if you want to someday be off of them once things are very stable, I can attest that it is absolutely possible too.
Do not let the stigma of antidepressants keep you from getting better.
5. Recommendations are not absolute truths.
You can try to follow all the pediatric guidelines and recommendations to the tee, but every child and every mama is so different, you may not be able to fit into each “requirement.” So don’t think of recommendations as requirements. They can be a guide, but if you deviate a bit or adjust to fit your situation, no one is going to write you a citation.
Trust your gut if you feel that something different works better for your baby or you. I was so rigid in trying to follow all the recommendations that I think it also contributed to my postpartum anxiety. Remembering that you and your baby are not cookie cutter and that recommendations are not end-all-be-all will do wonders for all.
6. Lastly (this is a bonus), motherhood is an oxymoron.
You will likely feel many opposing feelings at the same time and wonder why you are this way. I believe that motherhood opens you up to a deeper ability to feel and you'll likely notice that you might feel wildly in love and frustrated with your baby, all in the same moment. This is more common than you think! It's okay to feel these things. Lean into the and instead of the but, and I am willing to bet you will be able to get through the hard moments more easily.
I could write a lot about how to better prepare for motherhood, but the truth is no single mama's experience is ever completely the same--nor is each mama's experience with each child the same either. So I leave you with remembering that the best thing you can be for your child is a healthy mama. That means your mental health is very important--and sleep contributes greatly to that. So keep those goals in mind to steer you whenever you are conflicted. And I think you're going to be just fine.
Your supporter always in maternal mental health,