New Moms: Advice to Keep & Advice to Trash

(We Won't Give Unsolicited Advice, Promise)

Advice for new parents

That first period of having a newborn—and feeling like you have no idea what you're doing—can be very stressful. And you're going to get a lot of advice from "veteran" moms, most of it unsolicited.

At the risk of sticking my nose where it doesn't belong, I'd like to offer three suggestions for managing that early phase of motherhood. Call them recommendations, if you like (see Suggestion #3).

Suggestion #1: Don't be afraid to ask for help

This seems like a no-brainer, but many new moms—including me—find themselves subject to a ridiculous notion that they have to somehow prove they're worthy of motherhood. That asking for help is admitting they can't handle things on their own. This can lead to martyr syndrome, where parents (let's be honest: usually women) wind up doing everything themselves because they've said "no" to others too many times.

Everybody needs help sometimes. And it's better to accept genuine offers of help than to refuse and feel secretly resentful that you have to do it all yourself.

Suggestion #2: Be specific about what help you really want

In my experience, people really do want to help. But you need to tell them exactly what you want them to do. 

When I had my first baby, people would ask me, "Do you need anything? How can I help? Can I come for a visit?" And I would say, "Sure! Come whenever you want!" But what I really meant was, "I want the company, but I'm terrified you'll show up when I have my boobs out and the baby's crying and there's milk spurting everywhere and I haven't showered in 48 hours." 

What I should have said is, "Sure, why don't you come by around 2 p.m. on Tuesday for a quick visit?" Or, "To be honest, I'm exhausted this week. If you're willing to hold the baby for half an hour, I'd love the chance to take a nap. Is that okay?" One of the best things a friend did for me when I had baby No. 1 was to come over, bring all of the necessary ingredients, and make lunch for both of us. It was perfect: I enjoyed some grown-up company, I didn't have to attempt the then-arduous task of leaving the house with an infant, and I got a real meal instead of whatever I could cram into my mouth between feedings.

Suggestion #3: Listen to everyone's advice but make up your own mind

When you have a baby, you'll find everyone has an opinion about what you should be doing and how you should raise your child. Unasked-for opinions will be gently (or adamantly) offered on topics ranging from what you should feed your baby, to whether your baby is dressed appropriately, to what kind of childcare arrangement you should have. 

For the most part, it's well intentioned, and other moms may have insights you'll find valuable. The key is to hear what they have to say but make your own decisions. This is sometimes hard to do, especially when those offering the advice are family members or close friends who believe they know best. But you're the parent. It's your decision (or you and your partner's). 

So those are my suggestions: whether or not you take them, I won't be offended. And if you want me to hold the baby so you can lie down for a few minutes, just let me know.

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In her day job, Alyssa Hodder is an experienced communications professional in the pension and benefits industry. In her 24/7 job, she's the mother of two lovely but demanding little girls. She lives in Oakville, Ontario.