Personally, the first six months of motherhood was a mixed bag. I learned some harsh lessons about myself that made taking care of my baby seem overwhelming. For example, I was clueless, and no amount of research could help me feel like anything but a fish out of water. But after having three babies, I can tell you that you'll also learn important lessons during the first six months of motherhood about your baby, and those lessons will help you become the mom your little one needs.
These lessons not only altered my view of motherhood, but my understanding of who my baby was and what they needed from me to thrive. I can tell you that many of the things I learned were totally unexpected, too. For instance, I always thought that I would breastfeed exclusively and, since breastfeeding is "natural," that wouldn't be a difficult goal to meet. Turns out, however, that my body is incapable of breastfeeding exclusively, so I watched, instead, as my baby thrived on formula. I, honestly, had no idea that was possible.
I learned about the importance of sleep, for both of us, too. Sleep is life, and in the absence of sleep life definitely becomes difficult to manage. And I realized that just because everyone you know parents one way, doesn't necessarily mean that their parenting-style will work for you or your baby. By the time my babes were 6 months old, I could, for the most part, figure out what their cries were indicating they needed and how to best facilitate that need. As a result, and the end of those first harrowing six months of motherhood, I finally started to gain some confidence in myself as a parent.
I'm not going to lie: the first six months of motherhood is hard, but when you pass that milestone — and you will, without a doubt — you just might find that you've learned some necessary, helpful, and often heartwarming lessons about your baby (and yourself) in the process.
What Their Cries Mean
After the first six months of parent life with each of my babies, I totally learned how to translate their cries. Of course, that didn't necessarily mean I could give them what they wanted right away, but at least, for the most part, I knew what they wanted. Trust me, knowing is so much better than not knowing at all.
How Inconsistent They Are
Unfortunately, the main thing I learned about my babies is they are fickle creatures. One moment they want to be picked up. The next, they want to be put down. And just when you think you have them figured out, they will change their mind.
Oh, and if you have more than one baby, you'll soon learn that they totally like different things and at different times and for different reasons. In other words, babies will keep you on your proverbial toes, my friends.
How Important Sleep Is
Sleep is actually life itself, and, unfortunately, new parenthood typically means losing way too much of it. My babies also taught me how important it is that they get enough sleep, too. Skipped naps mean cranky kids, and nobody has time for that. No, you should never wake a sleeping baby either, and, yes, it's OK to sleep train your baby when they're old enough for you to do so safely.
Do what you can, when you can, to get as much sleep as you can.
How Much Stuff They *Really* Need
Your baby needs to sleep, feed, have their diaper changed, and be loved. If you find gear or supplies that help you do those aforementioned things, hold onto them for dear life. But also know that a baby doesn't need even close to the amount of baby gear we buy for them.
Also, remember that each baby is different and might hate the swing your older child loved, or the only bottle their sibling would take. In the end, simply figure out what your baby can't live without and facilitate them getting those things as frequently as needed. Everything else is just gravy.
How Your Self-Care Actually Helps Them
In the first six months of life as a new mom, I was forced to learn how to take care of myself. I found out how to obtain treatment for postpartum depression, how to make sure I was getting enough to eat and drink, and how to make time to myself. And, as a result, I realized how my self-care was actually benefiting my child.
In the end, my babies taught me that when I thrived, they thrived, and I needed to take care of myself so I could take care of them. And I can tell you that, as I continue to parent my children, that lesson has been invaluable.
How They'll Define You As A Mom
I had no idea what it really meant to be my baby's mom. In fact, there are so many examples of glaring differences between how I thought parenting would be and how it actually is. These were harsh lessons to learn, but necessary in every sense of the word. My baby needed me to be flexible and to go with the flow, and I needed to admit that I absolutely had more to learn. And, in the end, recognizing the unique needs of my child helped me morph into the mother my baby needed.
My baby's existence truly defined my motherhood, and in more ways than one.
How & When They'll Meet Their Milestones
It's useless to compare your baby to other people's kids, or even to their older siblings. Every baby is different and will meet milestones — like smiling, rolling, saying "mama," and crawling — in their own time. They also will probably learn to crawl and pull themselves up to standing way before you're actually ready, so it's really never too early to baby-proof your house.
How Imperfect They Are
As you stare down at your beautiful child, it's hard to recognize that, well, babies aren't perfect. In fact, they're a lesson in "nothing will ever be perfect in your entire life" and, hey, that's OK. The baby you envisioned in your mind will not be the *exact* baby you hold in your arms. Instead, they will surpass your expectations and redefine the word perfection to include all of their little imperfections and quirks and, sometimes, even frustrating needs.
You'll realize that your baby doesn't need to be perfect for you to love them unconditionally. And, likewise, your baby doesn't care if you're perfect, either.
That They Don't Need More Than You Can Give
Even though it was arguably my most difficult experience to date, surviving the first six months of motherhood taught me so much about my babies and myself. In a way, my babies, especially my first baby, taught me to love myself a little bit more, to be kind to myself, and to cut myself some slack. Because, in the end, I realized that my child really only needed me. I was enough, all on my own, and even though I was terrified I was able to give my babies what they needed, when they needed it.
As a new mother, I saw a proud, confident, capable version of myself reflected in my children's eyes. And that, dear reader, is a lesson I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.