So, you just had the most emotionally and physically intense experience ever: you brought new life into this world. You’ve been under the care of a team of medical experts for days, and suddenly poof! They are guiding you to the exit, and you’re bringing your baby home from the hospital. The lyrics of Taylor Swift’s song “22” flood your brain. “Yeah, we’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical, oh yeah.” Deep breath. One day at a time, momma.
With so much frenzy around preparing for your baby to come home with you, now what? I could never have predicted what my family’s homecoming would look like. Those first few days feel like a complete blur, and I wish I knew then what I know now.
3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Bringing My Baby Home from the Hospital
1. You Don’t Need to Set the Nursery Up Months Ahead
Oh, the nursery. It’s the first actual, physical, tangible acknowledgment that you’re adding a little person to your family. Maybe you got to work on the nursery before your clothes even grew snug. Perhaps you started setting it up before your belly softened and before you felt that first thrilling kick. I was constantly searching for inspiration and adding small touches. I was assembling furniture and insisting we needed to get the custom-ordered vinyl wallpaper up months ahead. But the reality is that while it’s a lovely space to create, you don’t need it for a while, so don’t stress.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released new sleep guidance for parents. The AAP recommends5 that parents sleep in the same room — but not the same bed — as a baby, preferably for at least the first six months. While the timeline for moving your baby into their nursery is personal (our babe hated his bassinet, and we transferred him into his crib just shy of three months), the point is — you have plenty of time. There is no reason to stress about readying the nursery when your baby comes home.
At birth, while babies may look intently at a highly contrasted target, they have not yet developed the ability to tell the difference between two targets or move their eyes between the two images.3 Their primary focus is on objects 8-10 inches from their face or the distance to a parent’s face. So, no need to worry about impressing your little nugget just yet because you are home for your baby.
2. Accept the Help That People Offer You
I’m not sure we have enough time to unpack the intricacies of mom guilt, but it’s alive and well. Almost instantly, I felt compelled to do everything myself, as if asking for help would be an admission that I wasn’t able or competent to do it. Spoiler alert: No one can do it all on their own. Nor should they. Whether your mother-in-law offers to clean the baby bottles piling up or your neighbor offers to walk your dog, you may initially be inclined to decline politely, but that’s a mistake! If you felt stretched before bringing your baby home from the hospital, you will be amazed at how time flies once they’re home.
I remember one of my friends who lives several hours away asking how she could help in the first few postpartum weeks when we were in full sleep-deprived survival mode. I started typing out a “thank you, but we’re all set!” message before pausing to reconsider. What would be helpful would be a meal we didn’t have to prepare. My friend sent us money and instructed us to grab dinner on her that evening. Such a generous, thoughtful, and lovely gesture meant so much. It helped to take one extra thing off our plate, and it was a way my friend could show her love and support without being able to be there physically.
Assistant Professor of Sociology at Washington University, Caitlyn Collins, believes mom guilt takes on a social role that keeps women from questioning their lack of support.4 The lesson: accept support offers and graciously pay it forward when you can help others at different points in your life.
3. Turn Your Phone Off and Sleep When You Can
Duh, you might mutter to yourself as you read this. But seriously, try making this a habit and stick to it once you bring your baby home from the hospital. We are all so plugged in all the time. The pre-baby expectation is to be available 24/7 for work, friends, and family. Of course, this significant life milestone will require a lot of your time and attention. But it may be less obvious that you should adjust some habits accordingly to preserve your mental and physical health.
With approximately 725,232 new photos of my perfect potato baby on my phone screaming to be shared, I was tempted after the hospital to spend my free time updating friends, reviewing (and re-reviewing), and curating albums, shopping for baby essentials. You know, all things that felt urgent but could wait. I was also checking in with the “experts” online on all the right and wrong ways to navigate this whole mothering thing instead of trusting myself. Screen time can easily cross the line from “reasonable use” to a process or behavioral addiction. This is when a behavior “lights up” the reward center in our brain.1,2
But now? My advice is to unplug more; put your phone down or away from your bed and grab that precious rest when you can. Make sure the baby is safe, the monitor is nearby, or there is another caretaker able to tend to their needs when you unplug. But consider how much more present you will be with your babe when you take time to step away from technology and stop scrolling and posting.
There are classes to take and apps to install. There are support groups to join and parenting books to read. And there are a million and one ways to prepare for your baby to arrive. Preparation is terrific — as long as it makes you feel at ease and not overwhelmed. Regardless of what your pregnancy journey looks like, know that the most important thing is a loved, cared-for baby and a supported mom. There will be bumps, hiccups, and trials and errors along the way, but that’s life! Just remember to try to release the expectation and preconceptions about what bringing home your baby from the hospital is “supposed” to look and feel like. The reality will likely be a lot different than the plan, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be its own kind of beautiful.