Real advice for new parents

Here's the stuff you really need to know about having a new baby.

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  • I remember going home from the hospital with both my newborn boys, incredulous that the nursing staff would let me leave with a baby. I had no idea what to do and no idea what to expect. Those first few weeks of new parenthood are exhausting, exhilarating and unforgettable. Unfortunately, all those baby books fall short preparing new parents for living with a newborn. Here's what you really need to know about new parenthood.

  • Finding your new normal

  • After our first child was born, my husband and I kept waiting to return to the normal life we enjoyed as a couple. Having a baby turns your world upside down and backwards — it won't take long to see that normal has an all new definition.

  • While this lifestyle shift feels drastic at first, your new normal has a definite bright side. All those sleepless nights are offset by first smiles, chubby thighs and big, bright eyes. Rest assured you will travel, stay out late and shower alone again someday.

  • Ride the emotional roller-coaster

  • A common problem among new parents is wanting to feel the "right" way. All throughout pregnancy, you dream of that moment when you first lay eyes on your precious newborn and fall instantly in love. There is a good chance it will happen that way, but there is an equally good chance it won't. Labor and delivery can leave mom exhausted and dad stressed out.

  • Whether you bond instantly or it takes a few weeks, what you're feeling is totally normal. You may have moments of complete contentment, followed immediately by paralyzing self-doubt. Go with the emotional flow. You'll find your groove soon enough.

  • However, if a new mommy is showing any signs of postpartum depression, seek medical help as soon as possible. There is no need to suffer in silence.

  • Dodging the nosy well-wishers

  • Remember those people who rubbed your pregnant belly without asking? They'll be out in force once you have the baby. Get used to inappropriate questions about feeding choices, baby bowel movements and your plans for the next 18 years of your child's life.

  • You don't have to figure it all out by the time you leave the hospital. Parenting is a trial-and-error process. Take the advice that feels right, and dodge the rest. You will have people telling you how to parent for as long as you put up with it. Only you are uniquely qualified to parent your child, so trust your instincts.

  • Lower your expectations

  • I am a type-A, overly scheduled neat-freak and I drove myself nuts trying to keep up with everything after having my first baby. Nothing will throw off your routine faster than a newborn. Don't try to run at your pre-baby pace during the first postpartum weeks.

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  • Spend time with your baby, enjoy the company of friends and family and accept help. You will have plenty of time to cook and clean when you're sleeping regularly.

  • Take care of yourself

  • I know it's hard leave your little one, but find a babysitter you trust and call her regularly. You need breaks, so don't feel guilty for taking them.

  • If you're feeling isolated, reach out to friends. Going from a job to maternity or paternity leave is a big transition. Every parent needs adult interaction from time to time.

  • It's just a phase

  • The last, and most important, thing to remember is that nothing lasts forever. Mixing up days and nights, growth spurts and diaper rashes all go away eventually. As a new parent, it's easy to think that the bad stuff will last forever, but babies change almost by the minute.

  • Along those same lines, the good things go away just as fast. Slow down and enjoy every snuggle and every sigh. Breathe in that new baby smell and take a million and one pictures. Trust yourself and cut yourself some slack. You will be an amazing parent.

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Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan and mom to three crazy boys.

Website: http://moderatelycrunchy.blogspot.com

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