When I had my first baby, there were many things I wish I had known.

When I had my first baby, there were many things I wish I had known. I had read all the books and was as prepared as I thought I could be. But the overwhelming sense of responsibility and uncertainty,
combined with lack of sleep and depression, was not what I had read or seen on TV. The biggest challenge was realizing I needed help.

Ask for help
Yvonne Gustafson, Ph.D. with the Elizabeth Blackwell Center's New Moms' Group said she sees asking for help as one of the greatest issues for new mothers. "We encourage new moms to get over the idea that they have to do it all themselves," said Gustafson. "They need to realize that even the most competent person needs help through this stage of their lives."
Monica Robinson, co-coordinator of the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) at Liberty Presbyterian Church in Delaware, said asking for help is the biggest hurdle facing the new moms in her group, especially stay-at-home moms. "We think we need to do everything ourselves and do it perfectly," she said. "Let others bring in meals or watch the baby while you get some time to yourself."

Be honest about your feelings
Post partum depression (PPD) can strike even the most upbeat and happy mother. Gustafson finds PPD and other hormonal or mood disorders to be the number one complication of childbirth. "The commercials and magazines all show new moms looking happy and put together and back to their pre-baby fitness, but that is all a myth," she said. "Reality is that they have this new baby and are overwhelmed, or feel guilty that they aren't feeling happy."

Get some sleep
Gustafson noted that new moms are called to do their most sophisticated problem solving while they are the most sleep-deprived. It's important to establish healthy sleep routines for baby, and Mom should nap when their baby naps.
Nancy Taylor, R.N., childbirth education manager at Mount Carmel Health System agreed. "We encourage new parents to begin a night-time routine with their baby right away," explained Taylor. "This allows the baby to develop a habit of going to sleep on his own and in his own bed."
Taylor said a good routine before baby's bedtime might be a bath, followed by a massage, some quiet time in a dimly lit room when you read a story or sing to the baby. Then lay baby on his back in his crib.
Taylor stressed that Mom needs plenty of sleep, too. "We also encourage the mother's partner to get up in the night with the baby to change diapers and then bring baby to Mom to nurse."

Trust yourself
Robinson wished she had been more relaxed with her first baby the way she was with her second. She advised new moms to talk to other moms and seek out support when needed, but to trust themselves that they know what is best for their babies.
Taylor agreed. "With your first baby, you are constantly questioning yourself," she said. "That is one thing we try to stress in our classes - for Mom to trust her own instincts."

Filter the advice
New mothers often find themselves filtering through lots of unsolicited, yet well-meaning advice, which may or may not be correct. Taylor recommended that new mothers surround themselves with positive support people. "For example, if you are learning to breastfeed your baby, don't listen to a negative friend who may have had a difficult time with breastfeeding," she explained. "Instead, talk with lactation consultants or join a breastfeeding support group."
Taylor said there is a great deal of new information and research available that may be contrary to the well-meaning advice new moms usually get, such as the new recommendations for SIDS prevention. (See web exclusive information.)

Enjoy your baby, but take time for you
"The biggest thing I wish I had known with my first child is that the time really does go by very fast," said Robinson. "I couldn't wait for my baby to get to the next development stage, like crawling."
However, as much as we try to enjoy every minute of our baby's development, what we really need occasionally is some time to ourselves. It's important that new moms get some time alone, have a night out with friends, or spend time with her significant other apart from the baby. This all goes back to asking for help. An hour or two by yourself may be just what you (and your baby) need.

Jan Myers is a freelance writer and mother in Coshocton. Her son Maxx is 15 and daughter Maggie is 10. She has thoroughly enjoyed every stage of her children's development.