When my first child was just a few weeks old, my neighbor found me on my front porch crying into a glass of whisky. I told her that no matter what I did, none of the tricks from the mom-books were working. She then gave me the best advice; Put down the books and get to know my own baby.

While the baby books contain some key information for first-time moms, the authors don’t know your baby. They can only write about their own baby and their own experience. Since every baby is different, there are some lessons I just had to learn the hard way.

The postpartum phase isn’t optional

‘Bouncing back’ after having a baby is often praised. Getting up, moving around, taking on the usual duties, and fitting back into your pre-pregnancy clothes are all seen as the mark of a strong woman and a good mother. Many don’t realize that way of thinking and acting soon after having a baby is actually harmful to the mother and the bond she is supposed to be developing with her new baby. Postpartum is not optional. It’s called the 4th trimester because it’s a continuation of the process of having a baby. Your body needs time to heal and you owe it to yourself to slow down and honor the process. Rather than attempting to bounce back, each mother should focus on the accident practice of lying in.

Some babies need more support to sleep

You have probably heard of the 5 S’s to soothe a crying baby. Did you know that some babies need them all every single time and then some? My first did. I had to bounce him like I was churning butter while shh-ing in his ear as loud and long as I could, pacing the house just right. It was quite the ordeal not just each night, but each sleep time! He would wake up as soon as I stopped or as soon as I laid him down. I truly thought I was doing it wrong or he was broken. None of the magic tips worked for my baby and I was exhausted. But once I stopped trying to match my baby to the baby in the books and got to know him, I realized he just needed more support than the textbook babies to be able to sleep. I was an exhausted zombie for the first nine months and no one and no book could have possibly prepared me for that.

Even when your baby sleeps well, you might not

Speaking of sleep, once my child did start sleeping better and sleeping through the night, I still did not sleep well. I had anxiety that kept me awake long after he went to sleep. I woke to check on him often. I was constantly anticipating him needing me. This cycle continued until he was two years old when I finally reached out to my healthcare provider for help. I didn’t realize that my poor sleep was leading to other health issues and it was all residual from having trained myself to respond to a newborn’s sleep cycles. Thankfully with therapy and some proper sleep hygiene I was able to get my sleep back on track.

Not all babies will take a pacifier or bottle 

Honestly, I was shocked when my firstborn would not take a pacifier and settle to sleep easily with it. I thought babies just took pacifiers! We tried every pacifier on the market and he was not interested. He preferred to suck his thumb. Our second living baby followed suit with rejecting any and all pacifiers and upped the ante by refusing most bottles as well. Thankfully we found one he would take while at daycare but it made me a very nervous mama thinking he would not be able to eat while he was away from me.

Colic is not a diagnosis, it’s a symptom

I’m sure many of the baby books talk about colic in an attempt to prepare you for it. They define it as a “frequent, prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant” as if it’s just something some babies go through and there is no reason or explanation for it. They are wrong. At least, for me they were. Our firstborn was diagnosed with colic at a few days old and I was told to just tough it out, and wait for it to get better. I knew that was not going to work for me. I did not think I would survive months of what we were dealing with. After doing some digging of my own and talking to other moms, I had a hunch that my infant was dealing with a dairy intolerance. I was willing to try anything to help him feel better and stop screaming at all hours so I removed dairy from my diet. Within a matter of weeks, he was a new baby with a new attitude. The colic he was dealing with was actually a symptom of his upset stomach caused by inflammatory dairy.

Each phase is such a short time

Everyone tells you this and we know it to be true but you don’t know it until you’ve been through it. The sleepless nights of infancy, the painful first weeks of breastfeeding, the time of the toddler tantrums, and the rough potty training days are all so short. You and your child will conquer them before you know it. The days of a sweet-smelling newborn, the time when they fit in one arm, the chubby arms around your neck, the wobbly awkward just-learning-to-walk steps, the days where they climb uninvited into your lap, those times are short too. Soon they are telling you that you don’t need to hold their hand anymore and to please not talk so loud in front of their friends. Enjoying it all is not always easy or frankly, possible. Some of it is downright difficult. But no matter how much you love or hate a phase, they are all so short.

And no one can possibly prepare you for that. You just have to learn it the hard way.

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