I was thinking the other day about all of the things I didn't know about motherhood in advance, despite reading quite a few pregnancy books and a few 'first year' books. So I decided to compile a few of the things I wish I'd known - mostly practical rather than emotional, that's a whole other story! - so that I'm not tempted to give unsolicted advice to my future pregnant and mom friends (my biggest pregnancy pet peeve!)
Babies don't just necessarily know how and when to sleep. Maya used to only sleep for 45 minutes at a time, all night long. I assumed this was pretty normal. It's not! I wish I'd known to read at least one sleep book in advance. I recently read Dr. Weissbluth's book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby. I don't agree with a lot of it (I don't care for 'crying it out' though Maya does seem to need 5 minutes of fussing sometimes before she'll go to sleep) but there was a lot of good information in it, especially about when to put a baby down for a nap. Note: In my uneducated opinion, the authors of The Baby Whisperer and Happiest Baby on the Block are certifiably nuts. The author of No-Cry Sleep Solution is less so, but still pretty weird (holding your baby's mouth shut?!) Though the No-Cry book had the best information on signs of tiredness, which I was totally missing.
Also, the information on SIDS varies among websites and books, some claiming the peak SIDS age is 2-4 months, others 4-10 months, etc. I wish there was better, more information, especially about the actual risk if you remove 'risk factors' like smoking (i.e. what's the rate of SIDS among non-smoking households?)
Babies don't always know how to nurse. I was resistant to having a lactation consultant, I thought, 'Oh, I won't need that.' But Maya didn't know how to latch immediately. Less than 3 minutes with a lactation consultant in the hospital, and we were good to go!
One of my biggest a-ha moments: Breast milk can be used for so many things! Since I was instructed to put it on sore nipples, I thought, if it's healing for that body part, wouldn't it be for others? Turns out, you can use it to sooth bug bites (it works, tried it!) heal cuts (works!), baby acne (works!) and diaper rash (works!) You can also put some in your eye (or your baby's) if you have an infection! It also is supposed to help with cradle cap, though we had less success with that. Obviously I'm not a doctor so ask yours if you should be using breast milk in this way. But I still cannot believe that doctors don't regularly tell patients about these uses, since for a lot of women it is a renewable resource :) Just Google "other uses for breast milk."
Also, I didn't know that some women produce either too much or too little milk If you have a lot of milk, you can donate it - just Google 'milk bank'. Unfortunately I was excluded due to my time overseas, but it's neat that moms with too much can help preemies and other hospital patients through donation. On the flip side, I have a few friends who do not produce enough milk, and have had to get over quite a bit of guilt.
Not all babies will take bottles. We've tried at least 6 different kinds and as many feeding positions/atmospheres. Nothing has worked! I've met a lot of moms with this issue. It sucks a little because we can't have a babysitter, but it's not the worst problem in the world! Just inconvenient for me. I do wish I'd known - I actually would have introduced a bottle when she was younger (we waited until 6 weeks to prevent nipple confusion, which may have been a mistake!)
Everyone, and everyone, disagrees on when you should start feeding an infant solid foods, and what. It's so frustrating to get different information from each place (including the American Academy of Pediatrics, who can't decide either). We are going to try to wait until 6 months, but exactly what to feed Maya first is up in the air, since cereal doesn't seem very natural or digestable. I'm voting for avocado but my husband's keen on pumpkin. We'll see!
Everyone likes to dress their baby in something different. I took the suggestion to have lots and lots of onesies on hand, and even structured my baby shower around decorating them. However, Maya wore only a swaddle for the first 6-8 weeks since it was a brutal summer here. Some people love onesies, but I prefer shirts and pants as it's only one thing you have to take off to change her diaper. We have lots of unused onesies, most of which were donated, a few very special ones I've kept.
People love to call a baby 'him' or 'her' depending on their assessment, but are super embarassed when they get it wrong. Just ask! Not all girls wear pink, not all bald babies are boys! (And a related comment: Some babies are small. Others are huge. Both are normal. That is all.)
It's really hard to find high-quality eco-friendly disposable diapers. I really wanted to use biodegradable or compostable diapers so that we don't contribute (as much) to landfill issues. We use Nature Babycare disposables, which are very nicely absorbent and biodegradable. We never have leaks with pee, not even overnight. However, almost every poops comes up over the back of these diapers. So we use them at night (Maya doesn't poop at night anymore, hooray!) but can't use them when we travel. We're experimenting with other eco-friendly (but not compostable) diapers.
Except at night, we use BumGenius Elemental (organic) "all in one" cloth diapers. We like them a lot! We almost never have 'blow outs' (maybe 1-2 per month) and I don't think we've ever had pee leaks. The only really frustrating thing is that we spent 2 months line drying them, and then I found out you can actually dry them in the dryer. BumGenius customer service was very unhelpful, and told me 3 different things about drying them. A big waste of time but good to know in the long run. We used to use these for Maya at night, too, since I had to change her at least once. When she stopped needing changes, though, she would get diaper rash if didn't change her cloth diaper. Hence the switch to disposables at night.
Babies need to air out! I didn't know this. Now we try to give Maya 5-10 minutes of air time at every diaper change and after baths. It doesn't completely prevent diaper rash but it does really help.
Some babies hate tummy time, as Maya did. We got her to like it by doing lots of airplane time, spending time with her down on her play mat, laying her over our knees and lightly playing rhythyms on her back, and other 'together' tummy time.
Maya's been very early on some developmental milestones, normal on others and late on a few. And some things that she was super early on (like babbling) she hasn't progressed that much since starting months ago. It's a lot of pressure to put on a baby to do everything at the same time, so I'm learning to just be pleased with her progress and not worry too much or compare her to other babies (though it's hard since there are 3 babies in her play group born within a week of her!)
Overall, even after reading pregnancy and new mom books, I just sort of assumed our bodies - and our babies - knew how to do everything 'right', but that's just not the case, either because of our modern lifestyles, or evolution, or whatever! I think that's the biggest thing I didn't know, that early motherhood (and maybe all motherhood?) is 'one step forward, two steps back' - I will be so excited to figure something out, only for Maya to undo her schedule / feedings / sleep habits / play preferences / whatever, after a few days or a week! After consulting books and the internet and asking lots of questions of friends and doctors, at some point we just need to do our best, take a breath and give a lot of love!
What did you wish you knew about motherhood before it arrived? Leave comments!