10 Tips for surviving the first week as a new parent

You think pregnancy is hard? You've only just begun. Here are some tips for surviving the first week of being a new parent.

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  • You’ve done it — you lasted through nine grueling months of pregnancy. You labored to bring your child into the world, and he is here at last. Now what? I hate to break it to you, but you’ve just completed the easy part of parenting. Don’t get me wrong, parenthood is awesome and fulfilling and incredibly worth it, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The first thing you’ll need to learn is to take each day, and sometimes even each hour, one at a time. Here are some tips for surviving the first week of your newborn’s life.

  • Don’t expect perfection

  • Whether this is your first kid or your fourth, you’re going to make mistakes. It’s part of being human. One night you might bump the baby’s head on the crib railing and wake her up after spending an hour putting her to sleep. There will also be times when it doesn’t matter how fast you change your son’s diaper you will still get sprayed. So go easy on yourself and realize the learning curve for taking care of babies is steep.

  • Sleep when you can

  • Everyone told me to sleep when baby sleeps. That advice didn’t work for me. When my son slept I tried to take advantage of the free time to go to the bathroom, take a shower and maybe even get a snack. So my advice is just to sleep when you can.

  • Accept help

  • One way to get that much-needed sleep will be to accept the help of friends, family and neighbors who offer their services. Feed the baby, hand her off and hit the sack for an hour or two of shut-eye. Don’t worry about imposing on your friends; people love holding new babies.

  • Don’t force a schedule

  • The first week of life for a baby is rough. He or she just spent the last nine months in a warm, cuddly cocoon where everything needed was provided. Babies don’t have feeding or sleeping schedules at first, so just resign yourself to that fact from the first.

  • Use breast pads

  • One of the most embarrassing things for me when my milk came in was the constant damp circles that stained the front of my shirt. I didn’t know for a couple days that there are pads you can buy to put in your bra to soak up the excess milk.

  • Breastfeed often

  • If you plan on breastfeeding your baby, do it as often as possible to prevent engorgement. Being engorged is extremely painful, makes it hard for the baby to latch on and can lead to clogged ducts and infections. The more often you express your milk, the less engorged you will feel.

  • Use lanolin ointment

  • This stuff is a lifesaver for women with tender nipples. Apply some after each feeding to prevent cracked skin and to soothe soreness. It can be a little expensive, but one bottle lasts a while and you’re unlikely to need a second one. Your body will adjust, and you won’t have pain after the first few weeks.

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  • Enlist your partner

  • I list my husband separately from friends, family, and neighbors because he is in the trenches with you. Work out ways for you to spell each other off. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll still have to wake up every time the baby cries at night, but your husband can help by retrieving the baby for you or burping her after feeding. Also consider switching off diaper duty and chore duty.

  • Go outside

  • During my first week, I got claustrophobic. My son was born smack dab in the middle of RSV season, and there was six inches of snow on the ground so I couldn’t go for walks or even open the windows to let in fresh air. After a while, it felt like I’d never leave my house, again. That’s why I counsel women to go outside at least once a day, even if it means just standing on the front step of the house. The fresh air and open space will help clear your head and remind you there is life outside of childrearing. Here are some tips on surviving the baby blues.

  • Make small goals

  • As time goes on, parenting does get easier, but it will take a few months before you feel that way. Ease off the pressure and make small, reasonable goals for what you want to accomplish going forward. You might try making a goal to do 10 jumping jacks a day, to eat at least seven meals a week where you consume something other than cold cereal or to take a break with a friend a couple times a month to go do something not baby-related.

  • Surviving the first week of being a new parent is an accomplishment, for you and the baby. Being a mom is tough. I think all mothers should pat themselves on the back for all that they go through for their families. And don’t forget that if you ever feel really overwhelmed or inadequate, there are thousands of other moms out there feeling what you’re feeling. You are not alone.

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Katie Nielsen received her bachelor's in English with an emphasis in technical writing. She has taught English and is a published writer.

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