5 Things I Wish I’d Done Differently in The First Year of Parenthood

It’s hard for me to believe that baby J is about to turn one in just a few days! This past year has been life-changing in too many ways to describe. I laughed, I cried, I felt all-encompassing love, I lost hope, I found hope, then I cried some more. While I can’t call myself a big-time parenting expert, I surely know more about babies now than I’ve ever known before.

This is why today I’d like to share the best advice for new parents that I’ve gathered from my own experience this year: I’m going to talk about five things that I wish I’d done differently as a new parent. Learn from my mistakes, people!

Best advice for new parents - 5 things I wish I had done differently in the first year of parenthoodMy Best Advice for New Parents: 5 Things I Wish I’d Done Differently as a New Mom

1. I wish I’d introduced the bottle earlier. In the weeks leading up to and right after baby J’s birth, I heard so much advice about how introducing a bottle early on to otherwise breastfed babies can cause the so-called ‘nipple confusion’. Both online baby gurus and our hospital staff told me that babies may get confused by the difference in how their mom’s nipple and the bottle work, which could make it harder for them to establish a good breastfeeding habit early on.

Of course Rob and I wanted to avoid any breastfeeding issues, so we waited to introduce the bottle until baby J was at least a couple months old. We tried a number of bottle designs and brands, but she never warmed up to any of those. Pacifiers weren’t accepted either: when it came to nutrition and/or comfort, baby J turned out to be a boob purist.

Do you know what that meant for me? If you’re a mom who went through the same, you’ll nod reading this, but if you aren’t, let me just say: ALL. THE. NIGHT. WAKE-UPS. WERE. ON. ME. Yup. Also, for many months, I could never leave baby J’s side for more than an hour and a half because that’s about how long she could go before getting hungry. Do I need to elaborate on how trapped this made me feel? 🙁

My advice for new parents: Don’t be afraid of ‘nipple confusion’. It happens only in a fraction of all cases. If you want to keep your sanity and reduce the amount of resentment towards your partner, introduce the bottle earlier than later.

2. I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to sleep train. The subject of sleep training is very polarizing on the internet: some schools of thought believe that sleep training will emotionally scar your child for life, while others say that there’s nothing wrong with it, and that sleep training is usually harder on the parents than their kids.

Soon after baby J turned 4 months, her nighttime sleep quality quickly went downhill. She went from 1-2 wake-ups a night to waking up every hour. It didn’t help that she had a habit of falling asleep only after she breastfed, so the frequent nighttime feedings were draining all my energy and positive outlook. Between baby J’s 5th and 6th months, I was at my lowest point emotionally than I ever was after her birth.

In an effort to resolve the situation, I read everything I could find on the topic of baby sleep. The more information I absorbed, the more clear it became that we would need to sleep train baby J if we wanted to make things better soon. At the same time, we were afraid: what if the crunchy anti-sleep-training mamas on the internet were right that it would be harmful for baby J?

Eventually when baby J turned six months, we decided to give it a try after the advice of our pediatrician. Honestly, it wasn’t half bad! We started putting baby J in bed awake, and it took only a few nights before she learned to fall asleep by herself. After that, she’d only wake up once or twice a night, which was infinitely easier on me.

Now that baby J is almost a year old, I will say with confidence that our decision to sleep train was one of the best things we did both for ourselves and for her this year. She wakes up happy and rested every morning, and has plenty of energy to take on the world.

My advice for new parents: Don’t be afraid to sleep train. Your sanity will thank you. I got a lot of advice from this book (although I didn’t do everything exactly the way it suggests), but feel free to read up on safe sleep training  elsewhere before you commit.

3. I wish I’d established a daily routine with baby J earlier. I’m a huge fan of a daily routine: it keeps me organized, productive, and centered. I’m way more satisfied with my days when I know what’s coming next.

However, in early weeks and even months of parenthood, any semblance of routine often goes out of the window. Honestly, I don’t even remember what our life was exactly like right after baby J was born – I just remember being in a lot of shock from all the changes. I knew I needed to get my routine back, but I had no idea how.

I started doing some research to find out what other parents did in this situation. Like in the case of sleep training, I found that there were two schools of thought regarding daily routine. One school believes that a routine is a bad idea for children because the rigidity can curb their imagination and creativity, keeping them from reaching their potential. The other school of thought says that children feel safer and ultimately happier when they know what’s coming next within the safe boundaries of a day-to-day routine.

From observing baby J and myself in the first half a year of her life, I could tell that the lack of a predictable routine was making us both miserable. At that point I didn’t have much to lose, so at six months I started working on establishing a daily routine that would work for both of us.

At first our daily schedule was centered around baby J’s naps that she quickly learned to take at around the same times every day. After that I arranged the rest of our days into blocks of activities like playing, mealtimes, walks, etc. During her naps, I was finally able to do some work, blogging (if you go back far enough, you’ll see that I started posting here more frequently about half a year ago), and if I was lucky, some housework or gardening.

Before long, I was back to feeling like my normal, productive self, and baby J was happier and more active than ever living within the boundaries of our reasonable daily routine.

My advice for new parents: A well-planned daily routine will do wonders both for you and your baby, so get on it sooner rather than later!

Best advice for new parentsBaby J and I feeding goats at the Someday Farm Vegan Bed and Breakfast last summer

4. I wish I hadn’t looked at all advice as the only way to go. As I researched my way through the first year of parenthood, I often got frustrated because a lot of the advice for new parents would suggest scenarios that weren’t going to work for baby J.

For example, most parenting experts agree that between 6-9 months of age, babies should take at least three naps a day. In our situation, I don’t remember when baby J took three naps on the same day for the last time (I’m sure she did before she was six months old, but a lot of my memories from those times were hazed out by my postpartum depression). Between 6 and 9.5 months, she only needed two naps – and even then one of those naps often failed.

I was getting frustrated, thinking that I was doing something wrong that kept baby J from taking those three naps, which of course made me think that I was failing her (hello mom guilt!).

What helped us eventually was talking about this to our pediatrician who’s had decades of experience with babies. He told me that if something IS working, then there’s no need to change it, even if the smart books and websites are saying otherwise. He was right: baby J was totally happy and full of energy on days when she took two naps. Later, when she started leaning towards only one nap at around 9.5 months, I went with it – and baby J has been perfectly fine.

My advice for new parents: Don’t be afraid to trust your baby – and yourself – even if everybody on the internet disagrees. (Of course, I’m talking about common-sense things here. For anything serious, especially when it comes to your baby’s health, please consult with a doctor you trust.)

5. I wish I’d taken more time for myself. Yes, I know – this is easier said than done, especially if you don’t have any friends and/or family willing to step in and relieve you from baby duties every now and then.

This has been our case: we don’t have any family (and not a lot of friends) here in Washington state, so aside from one weeklong visit from Rob’s parents and one two-month-long visit from my mom, it’s been just the three of us together all the time in the past year. I can’t remember being away from baby J for anything longer than an hour and a half the entire time.

Looking back, I wish I was more assertive asking people in my life to spend time with baby J while I could get out of the house and do something nice by myself for an hour or two. This would have worked best if I had introduced the bottle to baby J (see my point #1 above) so that somebody else could feed her when she needed it. Even an hour by myself once every couple weeks would have done magic to my sanity.

Another perk of enlisting family and friends as occasional babysitters – the ability to go on date nights with your partner. I’ve read somewhere that the first year of parenthood can be the hardest year of a marriage. That definitely was the case for Rob and I, in particular because we hardly ever got a chance to do something without baby J in tow.

My advice for new parents: Don’t try to be the martyrs who spend 24/7/365 with your baby. Your sanity, your marriage – and ultimately your baby – will thank you.

I hope that these lessons from my first year of parenthood will be helpful to the new parents who find themselves reading this post. You can find all my parenting-related posts over here.

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About Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.

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