Life with a newborn is exhausting, challenging and rewarding

I wrote this back in 2013 when I was just starting to feel a bit human again after having our second baby. I’ve done some slight editing, but left it mostly the same. I share for new mamas who are overwhelmed and exhausted. I promise you will survive this phase! The 12-week-old baby is new a thriving 8-year-old boy and his big sister is now 11.

Just when you think you know everything as a mother, things change around and you realize that you don’t know nearly as much as you thought you did to begin with. Having a second baby has reminded me of this. My son is days away from being 12 weeks old. He’s not much like his big sister who is 3-1/2. I’ve learned a few lessons from life with a newborn. I’ve also been reminded of some lessons I learned last time around.

So, I decided to compile a list. It’s far from comprehensive, but it’s a few things that have been floating around in my mind and my life these last nearly 12 weeks.

1. Not all babies are the same. 

I can’t say this enough. I knew this in my head, but having a second baby really taught me this lesson. My daughter loved the bouncy seat; my son doesn’t like it. The swing didn’t interest my daughter; my son loves it. My daughter couldn’t sleep when someone was holding her. Sometimes my son will only sleep when someone is holding him.

2. Just when you think you couldn’t possible be any more exhausted, you realize you can. 

I’ve had plenty of times when I thought if I were any more exhausted I’d be dead. And then the baby spent the night crying and I got only two hours of sleep before preschooler was up and ready for the day to start. Turns out I was wrong. I could be more exhausted.

3. Dealing with reflux in a baby stinks. 

My daughter had other issues, but reflux wasn’t a problem for her. My son has mild reflux and it stinks. I feel a huge compassion for parents who have babies with more severe reflux.

4. Babies require patience. 

Lots and lots and lots of patience. I try to remind myself of this when I want to scream things like, “Stop crying and nurse already!” Or “Go to sleep!” So instead I do things like make shushing noises and sing lullabies. And when I can’t manage that, I just shut my trap.

5. Going anywhere takes a lot of effort. 

Going anywhere on time feels like a major undertaking. I travel with lots of stuff in tow, even with a second baby. While I’d like to say I’ve downsized from the first time around, the truth is I haven’t. In fact, my diaper bag now includes items for my 3-year-old as well. When she was a baby, I didn’t carry coloring books and portable toilet seats with us. 

Getting all of us ready to get out the door to go anywhere is a major undertaking and major accomplishment. If we get there on time, I’m pretty sure I deserve some sort of award.

6. Not sleeping in your bed for three months can really wear on you. 

While my daughter had her own issues in figuring out how to use her tongue to suck, she was a good sleeper. She slept first in her pack-and-play in our room and then in her crib in her room starting at 3 months. 

My son, thanks first to extra congestion after his delivery and then to his reflux, is not a good sleeper. He just starting sleeping in his crib and he’s not sleeping in there nearly as long as he was sleeping in the Boppy on the couch beside me. We’ll get there, I hope, because sleeping in a recliner is far from as comfortable as my bed.

7. Baby cuddles are sweet and should be enjoyed for no other reason than just to cuddle. 

I had trouble getting cuddle time with my daughter. Like I said she wouldn’t fall asleep in our arms. I also had to put her down quite a bit so I could pump milk for her. 

This time around in life with a newborn, I get lots more cuddles because our little dude is cuddly and because I’m nursing him. I really enjoy the snuggles. I just have to remember to cuddle sometimes just because baby cuddles are good for the soul and not just because I’m trying to get him to sleep or feed him.

8. Babies create lots of laundry. 

This is not different this time around. I had lots of laundry last time; I have lots of laundry this time. Before I had kids I always figured the laundry was for the baby. I’ve since realized that my laundry also increases when I get covered in spit-up and diaper blowouts. Fun stuff… 

(And let’s not pretend that I change my shirt every single time I get a teeny bit of spit-up on me, especially if I’m not leaving the house any time soon!)

9. Showers taken when other responsible adults are around are like mini spa days. 

I love my Saturday morning hot shower when my husband is home and making sure that the kiddos are fine. For 20 glorious minutes, I enjoy warm water cascading over me and nobody talking to me, crying for me or needing me to do something. It’s divine.

10. Trips anywhere alone are like mini vacations. 

This includes grocery shopping and doctor’s visits.  I’ve been disappointed when my doctor or dentist got me in fast enough that I didn’t have time to sit in the waiting room and read my book. Times have changed.

11. Toothless baby smiles make your heart melt — even when it’s 2 a.m. and you’ve not been asleep since 7 a.m. the day before.

It’s hard to stay mad, upset or any other negative emotion when you’re getting a toothless baby smile.

12. You can come up with all sorts of systems for how things work best.

For example, we learned pretty quickly that this little dude needs to be held more to go to sleep. My husband tests when our son is ready to be laid down by lifting his arm and seeing if it stays completely limp when he gently drops it. My test in the middle of the night has sometimes been when the sniffing from my exhausted tear-fest no longer makes him jump. Whatever works.

13. You are desperate to hear from other mothers of newborns. 

I have a small network of moms I enjoy talking with who have kiddos the same age as mine. We talk about shots, exhaustion, bottle size, diaper brands and all the stuff that comes in life with a newborn (and older kiddos). It helps me to know I’m not alone in my worries and frustrations.

14. On the flip side, unwanted advice from non-parents or those who haven’t had a baby for decades does not go over well. 

It’s a great way to annoy a new mom. And, honestly, we get tired of hearing how much we should enjoy these days because they go so fast. Having a 3-1/2-year-old, I’ve already learned this lesson a bit. 

However, there are most definitely parts of life with a newborn that I don’t enjoy and won’t miss. There are way more parts I do enjoy and will miss, but I don’t enjoy every single moment and can get tired of the suggestion that I should.

15. Hormones and exhaustion can combine in negative ways. 

I don’t mean to be grumpy, weepy or irritable. It just happens. And for that I’m sorry.

16. Mommy brain is real. 

We fully intend to remember what we were talking about or supposed to be doing and then we just don’t. This happens from being exhausted by life with a newborn and from being interrupted so frequently.

17. Babies smell good. 

I feel like I knew this before, but I almost forgot it. I think of Frank Barone, the grandpa on the old TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He’d come in and smell his grandchildren’s heads and claim to be taking in their youth. I get that. Sometimes I smell my son’s head and just try to suck in that smell. He won’t smell like a new baby forever. It’s a special smell.

18. Mommy guilt is real. 

This isn’t something I had to learn anew. It’s something I’ve had from the moment I became a mom and I continue to struggle with it. I worry that I’m not doing enough for either child at any given time. I worry that I’m not making the baby do tummy time enough or playing enough games with preschooler. I worry if I leave them with their grandparents for a few hours to do something like see a movie with my husband that I shouldn’t be leaving them at all. I am good at mommy guilt.

19. Diaper changing time is sometimes the highlight of my day. 

Some of my favorite times with my daughter were on the changing table. She’d baby talk to me. She’d smile at me and look into my eyes. My son is the same way. Sometimes, in fact, we’ve been in the middle of really rough nights when his reflux is acting up and I’ll go to change his diaper and he’ll settle down and “talk” to me and smile at me. The changing table is sort of a magical place with my babies.

20. The rewards of life with a newborn are worth it. 

Just when I think I can’t possibly have the energy to go on another moment or just when I am so incredibly ready to give up, I look down at my baby’s precious little face and remember he depends on me so very completely for everything right now. He needs me. I’m irreplaceable to him (and to his big sister). 

And I love them both so completely. That love gives me the extra energy I need to press on and take care of their needs. (Some prayer for strength goes a long way, too!) Getting rewarded with baby smiles and coos makes my heart swoon and re-energizes me enough to keep going. 

It’s motherhood: long hours, crummy pay and tremendous rewards.

Looking for more on life with babies? Don’t miss these posts!

About the Author: Stacey A. Shannon

Stacey A. Shannon is a freelance journalist and blogger who has been published internationally. She's also a Christian, a wife and a mom of two school-aged children. She started Families with Grace in 2019 to encourage Christian moms as they create homes filled with grace, love and faith.

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20 Lessons from life with a newborn20 Lessons from life with a newborn20 Lessons from life with a newborn20 Lessons from life with a newborn

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