Sure, your OB-gyn is seeing to it that you recover physically, and your pediatrician has already listed down detailed instructions on how to care for your newborn -- but what about the onslaught of emotions, guests, advice, and, well, managing that thing you used to call your life?
Though nothing can really prepare you for life with baby, here’s a list of what to expect and tips on how to deal—because this is going to be one exciting, emotional, but very fulfilling rollercoaster ride!
1. Expect overwhelming emotions. “I was afraid to go home from the hospital because I knew I was going to be on my own — without a nurse or doctor to care for me and my baby,” says Anya Morales*, mom to Jon*, 2. This is normal, according to Melissa Pizaña-Cruz, certified life coach and head of the parenting cluster of the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) of the Ateneo de Manila University. “You will feel a real sense of responsibility because everything you do and say will affect another’s life.”
Patricia Kho, M.D., obstetrician-gynecologist at the Makati Medical Center, St. Luke’s Global, and East Avenue Medical Center, says emotions can go both ways. “First-time moms can experience a lot of anxiety about whether they are doing things right or not, while others may feel empowered because they are able to give birth and/or breastfeed.” Pizaña-Cruz warns that some moms may feel guilty for not falling in love with their babies right away. “They question why they don’t feel [the bond],” she explains. “Be gentle on yourselves,” she advises. “You will lack sleep and feel cranky or guiltybecause you get annoyed with your child because you can’t rest — it’s natural to feel that way,” she adds. “But if it gets out of hand, seek help.”
2. Expect loads of (unsolicited) advice. Remember all the unwanted advice from friends, family, and strangers during your pregnancy? There’s more where they came from. Pizaña-Cruz says, “If you’re a first-time mom, everyone’s going to give you advice. So know your boundaries beforehand and arm yourself with knowledge about how you want to raise your child.”
She reveals how she dealt with her own mother’s ideas on childrearing that opposed her own: “I read many things on how I want to raise my children. Because I was armed with that knowledge, I was able to back up my ideas by telling her what studies show.”
But what if it’s your mother-in-law telling you what to do? “It’s trickier because she has a different background and does things differently,” says Pizaña-Cruz. “Be kind and gentle to those who give advice, but be firm about your stand.”
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3. Expect to need help. Even if you’re used to doing everything by yourself, you are now in totally new territory. Dr. Kho suggests seeking help as early as possible. In fact, she speaks to her patients’ husbands even before the birth to let them know how much help the new mothers will need.
“I explain to the husbands how their wives will be feeling, so they won’t think they’re just complaining.” She also reminds moms-to-be to seek help if they don’t have any. “Your husband can take a leave and help you out for a few weeks. You can also ask a relative to help you out at home, or you could hire household help.” She adds, “Managing a household can be tiring; it can also lead to depression or even resentment of the baby. It will help to join groups such as a breastfeeding support group.”
“[Unless you ask for help], people won’t know you’re having a difficult time,” Pizaña-Cruz adds. “They might think you can handle everything. Remember to ask for help.”
4. Expect disappointment and, maybe, baby blues after a C-section. If a new mom isn’t emotionally and mentally prepared for a cesarean section, Dr. Kho says she may “feel depressed and may even resent her doctor if she doesn’t understand why the CS was done.” She adds, “Some find it hard to accept they had a CS. But if the patient knows that it was the best possible option for her or the baby, she’d understand that it would have been dangerous otherwise.”
To manage your expectations, discuss all the birthing possibilities with your OB-gyn prior to giving birth. “You can’t control everything even if you plan ahead,” reminds Dr. Kho. “Sometimes, things don’t go the way you want them to. Be flexible and carefully talk to your doctor so you’d have a better understanding of the situation.”
5. Expect that people will want to visit you soon after. “After I gave birth to my firstborn, I sent a text message to my friends not to visit me in the hospital because I wanted to rest. Some felt hurt, but I wasn’t in any condition to entertain anyone,” says Marites Lim*, mom to Santi*, 4, and Rhina*, 1.
Pizaña-Cruz suggests asking friends to visit after two weeks. This way, you get the rest you need and you are able to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for company. Dr. Kho advises her patients to limit visitors in the beginning. “Some of my patients don’t announce that they’ve already given birth. Some send out a text message saying, ‘We just gave birth but please don’t visit. We’ll just [invite you] at home.’ Others say, ‘My doctor told me I need to rest because I’m very tired and I had a difficult birth,’” she describes.
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6. Expect your husband to feel displaced. Though not all husbands expect your undivided attention after the baby is born, some start to get their own share of baby blues because your focus is now on someone else. “There will be times when you find yourself stretched to the limit because you’ll have to meet the needs of your husband as well as your baby’s,” says Pizaña-Cruz.
“You can’t expect your husband to know how tired you are. You have to let him understand that it’s exhausting work. Maybe you can meet his needs another time.” Dr. Kho also tells the husbands what to expect when it comes to their wives’ emotional and physical well-being post-pregnancy. If you’re having a hard time making your husband understand what you’re going through, a visit to your OB-gyn might help.
7. Expect to have time on your hands — time you may not know what to do with. Some women find it difficult to go from a very hectic work schedule to weeks in bed, just breastfeeding and staring at a sleeping baby. However, Dr. Kho does not suggest jumping back into work right after giving birth, as some moms do. “Some women do not follow the two-month maternity leave.”
There are also moms who love their work so much or have a ton of work to do — I even have doctor friends who are already seeing patients one week after giving birth,” she reveals. “Some patients who carry a lot of responsibility in the office are already on their cell phones, giving orders, soon after giving birth. I tell them to take it easy for at least a week. They need bed rest and shouldn’t fuss over the small details.”
Pizaña-Cruz agrees, “There are some moms who cannot tolerate staying at home.” Usually, it’s the need to be useful that drives you back to work. Medically, there is a reason why you must rest. You need to recuperate and bond with your newborn.
If you feel the need to be active, find other things to do instead. Try crafts or a mini project you can work on. You can also learn a new language. Look for ways to sharpen your brain. Use this time to better yourself.”
“When my cousin gave birth, she used her maternity leave to learn photography,” says Anya. “When it was my turn, I decided to read all the books that I didn’t have the chance to read because I was working. I made a trip to the bookstore and bought so many books!”
“There are a lot of things to do,” affirms Dr. Kho. “If you feel trapped inside the house, leave for a few hours, go to the salon, or take a walk in the park. After the first few weeks, take a stroll with your baby. Bring a sling and let your newborn enjoy some sunshine. As long as it’s safe and not in a mall or a crowded place, it’s okay to walk around.”
Remember, caring for your baby also means caring for yourself — and now is the best time to start.