Ahead: actionable tips for surviving your baby’s first few weeks…
Being a mom to a newborn is one of the hardest things you’ll do in your life.
I’m sure you’ve heard that before, and it’s true.
You’ve just spent the last 9 months pregnant, now you’re healing from giving birth, you’re adjusting to breastfeeding, AND you’re taking care of a helpless newborn on negligible sleep.
As difficult as this is, it’s also an incredibly special time.
The key is to be strategic during the first postpartum weeks so that you’re able to enjoy all of the delicious newborn-ness as much as possible…
…and at the very least, maintain your sanity while you’re figuring out your new very important role.
In this guide, we’ll go over some harsh truths about what it’s like to be a first time mom to a newborn baby.
With a clear picture in mind of what’s to come (or what already is), we’ll talk about how to survive the first several weeks of motherhood and how long the hardest part usually lasts.
Let’s dive in!
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What to expect during your newborn’s first weeks
As a first time mom, it’s hard to imagine exactly what life will be like when you have a new baby.
Let’s talk about 4 things to anticipate during the newborn months.
Note: Take this with a grain of salt. Most of this will apply to you, but remember that all babies and all mothers are different.
Taking care of a newborn is an endless game of “why is my baby crying?”
Are they hungry?
Do they have a wet diaper?
Are they having digestive issues?
Are they tired?
Do they want to be held?
Do they want to be held or rocked differently?
For the most part, this cycle is going to dictate your every move, day and night, at least for the first several weeks.
(FYI: There’s no such thing as spoiling a newborn).
It will be difficult to come up with any type of schedule—or at least one that you can stick to reliably.
When you’re not feeding, diapering, and trouble-shooting (i.e. when the baby’s sleeping), you will either be cleaning, trying to squeeze in a nap, or prepping to resume feeding, diapering, and trouble-shooting.
Getting your baby back to their birth weight
Nearly all newborns lose weight during the first days after birth regardless of whether they are breastfed or formula-fed.
The general goal is to get them back to their birth weight within around 2 weeks.
(You’ll discuss specific goals with your baby’s pediatrician).
During this time, there’s a certain amount of pressure surrounding feeding.
Breastfeeding can be painful (especially at first) and it’s also much more difficult than first time moms expect it to be.
This only adds to the pressure.
Figuring out a successful latch and getting your baby to eat enough—plus pumping, if you’re doing that—is going to ‘eat up’ a big part of your days.
Side note: Supplementing with formula was a game-changer for us.
Lots of doctors appointments
You’re going to be back and forth to the pediatrician and the gynecologist constantly, sometimes several times per week.
The frequency will depend on a number of factors, such as how early your baby was born, how well they’re gaining weight, and of course how well your lady parts are healing.
Getting good sleep is going to be impossible
As a first time mom, I knew I’d be sleep-deprived, but I didn’t realize just how little sleep I’d be getting.
Newborns sleep a lot… but they don’t sleep for long intervals, day or night.
You may get lucky with one 3-4 hour-long stretch, at best.
It’s important to realize that this is normal for newborns—It’s not that your particular newborn is a terrible sleeper.
Knowing what to expect, you’ll be able to better plan for your survival, which we’ll more about in the next section.
First, a critical note about one of the dangers of sleep deprivation;
Parental Exhaustion and SIDS
Mind-numbing exhaustion often leads parents to resort to unsafe sleep practices, including:
All of the above substantially increase the likelihood of SIDS, which is the #1 cause of infant death.
This isn’t to scare you, but to emphasize the importance of having a plan.
How to survive life with a newborn
I give you fair warning:
Some of these tips are going to sound obvious at first glance, even if you’re a first time mom.
But, when you’re in the throws of brand-new-motherhood, it’s a completely different story.
Read on for some practical advice about surviving the newborn weeks.
If your plan is to “sleep when the baby sleeps”, you’re going to be a zombie.
In order to survive the newborn phase, you’re going to have to be strategic and intentional about getting sleep.
And not just some sleep here and there…
*PAY ATTENTION TO THIS PART*
You need to plan with your partner to get a bare minimum of 4 hours in a row of uninterrupted sleep each night (or day).
The keyword is PLAN.
Four consecutive hours.
This means that your partner (or whoever is there to help you) needs to be able to give the baby a bottle.
If you’re breastfeeding and worrying about introducing a bottle, this should be your takeaway: YOU. NEED. SLEEP.
Sleep is the key to holding it all together.
Your baby needs a mom who isn’t deliriously exhausted and losing her mind more than they need to be breastfed.
You absolutely cannot take a “let’s see how the day goes” approach to getting sleep if you want to feel like a human.
Double or triple up on stuff you use often.
If spending some extra money is within your means, it’s well worth it to buy extras of anything you rely on to be clean and ready to use.
Doing so gives you the option to skip a day doing dishes or running laundry, which is a major help when you’re in survival mode.
I recommend having at least 2 sets of breast pump parts and lots of extra bottles. If you have a favorite swaddle, buy two.
Here are a few items I ended up buying multiples of:
- My favorite zip-up swaddle
- Burp cloths (we used flour sack towels)
- Dishwasher baskets for bottle & pump parts
- Pump parts (for Spectra S1)
Think about whatever you find yourself washing regularly, and order an extra.
Division of labor.
Assigning daily jobs to each member of your support team is a great way to simplify things during an overwhelming time.
You want each person to have a designated duty so there’s no need for discussion about it each day.
Daily discussions = energy being drained.
For example, in my house, my mom was the official laundry person. My husband was in charge of the dog and the trash. Other things we figured out day by day.
Come up with a system that works for you to get your household running like a well-oiled machine.
A wrap or carrier is your best friend.
Honestly, those first few months would have been ten times harder without my Moby Wrap.
(I genuinely don’t understand how people survive the newborn phase without babywearing.)
Newborns want to be held all the time, and this is the only way to have your hands free.
It was also my favorite way to do outings — I preferred this to the stroller.
Get sleep gear for YOU.
Back to #1 for a second: SLEEP FOR MOM.
It’s important to have whatever tools make it possible to completely shut down and relax when it’s finally your shift to sleep.
I really struggled with this when Aden was a newborn. Some weird hyperactive-mama instinct made me want to be with him 24 hours a day, even though I very much needed to separate and refuel.
The things that helped me were:
- Loud white noise so I couldn’t hear him crying. (This sound machine is phenomenal).
- An eye mask to make it easier to nap in the daytime.
Have more than one baby command center.
If you’ve got 2 floors or live in a big place, it’s great to prepare a few supply stations.
Stock diapers, wipes, outfit changes, pacifiers, burp cloths, and whatever else your baby needs throughout the day.
This was key for my family because we were on a constant rotation of who was sleeping in what room. We needed to make sure supplies were always accessible.
It’s also just easier to have everything at arm’s reach.
We used a mini Pack N Play, the Travel Lite, as Aden’s downstairs sleep space and changing station.
Upstairs (where the bedrooms are), I stocked a rolling cart that we wheeled room to room.
Get out of the house!
It may feel daunting, especially if you’re a first time mom, but pack your diaper bag and go do something.
I’m serious. It’s a major mood changer — especially if the weather is nice and you can be outside.
During Aden’s first two weeks we took him to the botanical gardens, the beach, a pumpkin patch, and for walks around the neighborhood.
Even though I was an exhausted zombie on these outings, it still felt great to get out.
(And now these excursions are amazing memories).
When things are feeling hard, try to remind yourself that this is entire phase is temporary.
Try to enjoy the sweetness of your newborn as much as you can.
What everyone says is true: the days are long but the months are short.
Next, we’re going to talk about my favorite newborn products.
But, first a quick note:
An important note about PPD/PPA:
Not all new moms feel bright and cheery, even though they might want to feel that way.
If you don’t feel like yourself and if you think it’s interfering with your day to day life, talk to your doctor.
“Postpartum depression isn’t a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it’s simply a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms and help you bond with your baby.” – Mayo Clinic
Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety don’t look exactly the same for every person.
The Mayo Clinic has a list of symptoms that are worth reviewing and speaking to your doctor about.
Must-have products for the first week
These are the 7 specific items I’m glad I had all ready to go for Aden’s first week home.
I relied on every single one of these heavily.
Arms UP swaddle
Here’s why I love this particular swaddle:
- It’s 100% exhausted-mom-proof. You can’t mess it up. It easily zips closed and you don’t have to worry about anything coming loose.
- It’s lightweight. Perfect for warmer and moderate temperatures.
- Aden seemed to like having his arms by his ears, as many babies do.
I loved this thing so much I struggled when it was dirty so we Amazon Prime-d a second one!
Fellow big-chested mamas… these nursing bras are so comfortable!
Especially in the early postpartum days, the last thing you want is a digging underwire.
They aren’t the most shaping or supportive, but they aren’t the worst in those departments either!
They’re super comfy for 24-hour wear, reasonably priced, and are easy to hook/unhook to feed.
And of course, they fit big boobs! According to their sizing chart, they go up to sizes such as 38DDD.
Check out this customer review that I thought was really helpful.
I don’t know how anyone manages to pump without a bra like this.
A pumping bra is a must-have if you want to be able to use your hands while pumping — which you will.
I did everything while I was pumping… emptied the dishwasher, responded to emails, even drove!
There’s a long swath of velcro in the back so this bra fits a very wide range of sizes, even the DDD range.
Helpful note: a pumping bra doesn’t need to meet your usual bra requirements… all you need is something tight around your ribs with holes for your nipples.
All of the new motions of lifting, holding, and breastfeeding a newborn triggered some serious shoulder and back pain for me.
I relied on this massage pillow heavily in the early days (and still use it all the time).
I got really good at rotating and positioning it to get all different areas of my neck and back.
If you’re someone who likes super hard pressure, you won’t be disappointed.
P.S. Sometimes there’s a 20% off coupon available at checkout! (This is approximately a $10 discount!)
See if the coupon is available. (It will be in green right underneath the price).
Portable dimmable night light
I’m obsessed with this little light! It’s exactly what you need for breastfeeding and diaper changes in the dark.
I love that it’s wireless and rechargeable (the charge lasts a really long time). I’ve been using this multiple times a night for months.
The light dims really low as you apply pressure to the center.
A free alternative is to use the flashlight on your phone, but I found even my phone’s lowest setting to be too bright.
Mini Pack N Play
We love our Travel Lite.
I’m certain that we’ve used it more than almost every baby product we own.
It’s safe for sleep, has a much smaller footprint than a regular playard, and can be adjusted as your baby grows.
We used ours constantly during the newborn weeks. It was Aden’s downstairs bed and also served as the perfect changing table.
If you haven’t heard about this postpartum hack yet, you’re welcome.
Get yourself some of these.
The hospital will probably give you some crappy disposable underwear and ginormous pads to take home, so that’s your free option.
Your easier and more comfortable option is to make like a baby and wear a diaper for a few weeks!
This was by far my most used postpartum item.
When do babies get easier?
Babies get easier when they start sleeping for longer intervals.
The timeline will be different for every baby, but generally, the first 6 weeks are the hardest.
For us, everything got SO MUCH easier when Aden turned 4 months and we received pediatrician approval to do some light sleep training.
(Babies younger than 4 months don’t know how to self-soothe, which is why sleep training isn’t advised before this).
We did a modified version of the Ferber Method and within just a few nights, we saw the following amazing changes:
- We were able to put Aden down awake and have him fall asleep (quickly) on his own.
- He slept longer stretches at a time.
- I was able to feed him in the middle of the night and have him go right back to sleep without any fuss.
All of this meant more sleep for us parents!
More helpful articles for first time moms:
- Bathing your baby: how to get your newborn to love the bath
- Life hacks for new moms: 60 lesser-known tips and tricks
- Diaper bag must-haves: all the little things you don’t want to forget at home
- Surprising safe sleep tips: 3 things I can’t believe I didn’t know
Final thoughts on surviving the newborn phase as a first time mom
As magical and memorable as the newborn phase is, it’s all about survival.
And I don’t just mean keeping the new tiny human alive.
A key part of taking care of your newborn is taking care of yourself: recovering from giving birth and getting some sleep.
Now is the time to call in the troops.
You must—you absolutely must—take advantage of your support system.
If you haven’t showered in days, you’re covered in spit-up, and you don’t remember the last time you felt like yourself, just remember you’re not alone.
Pin this post for later or share it with a fellow first time mom!