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Great Expectations: The Myths of New Motherhood
If your due date is approaching, it may be hard to resist dreaming about the perfect birth, the perfect baby and your image of becoming the “perfect mom.” While it’s tempting to picture your ideal scenario, it’s also important to acknowledge the realities of first-time motherhood, and to separate fact from fantasy. Here are some common myths about childbirth and early motherhood.

Myth 1: I can control labor.
One of the few predictable things about childbirth is that it isn’t predictable. Each labor is its own distinctive journey, and it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. Some couples write out detailed birth plans, trying to anticipate every possible labor scenario. Many women are determined not to use any pain medication and feel like failures if they change their mind during labor. While it’s fun to think about your preferences for labor and delivery, the most successful births occur when couples are flexible and open to their own labor and delivery journey. I’ve seen couples disappointed after a beautiful delivery because labor took a slight deviation from their birth plan, while other couples feel ecstatic with their birthing experience despite having a complicated delivery. Recognize that you cannot control what happens in labor, and that there are many ways to have a wonderful birth.

Myth 2: I will instantly bond with my baby.
Nature has a wonderful way of ensuring parents become attached to their newborns. However, loving feelings are not necessarily immediate and may take time to develop. Mothers who are exhausted, in pain or disappointed after an arduous labor need time to recover. While some mothers show instant affection for their new offspring, others need time to process their reactions to the birth and time to get to know their little one. If your birth experience differs substantially from your expectations, be kind to yourself. Don’t be worried if you don’t immediately feel loving and protective of your newborn. Those feelings will come when you are ready.

Myth 3: Mothering is intuitive and natural.
Some people have lots of experience with babies, and others don’t. Women with ample personal experience caring for newborns will undoubtedly feel more at ease with their own baby. If you haven’t had many opportunities to care for a newborn, you should get some practice. Spend time with a friend who has a newborn or consider taking a newborn care class. Some hospitals or pediatric nurses offer group or private lessons for first-time parents. These show you how to care for a newborn and also how to recognize and address common problems when they arise.

Myth 4: I will have a perfect baby.
We all want the perfect child who will be easily calmed in our arms, breastfeed without a hitch and sleep through the night. Despite our best intentions, some babies cannot be easily soothed, some are colicky, some develop allergies and most won’t sleep through the night for many months. Like labor, parenthood is unpredictable. It requires flexibility and a good sense of humor. Your baby will seem “perfect” to you.

Myth 5: I’ll get back into shape right away.
It took months to gain your pregnancy weight and will likely take at least as much time to return to your pre-pregnancy physique. Include exercise in your daily routine when you can and eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods to maintain your energy. But, be patient. It takes time to lose the pounds accrued during pregnancy.

Myth 6: I should always be happy and not admit how challenging motherhood is.
Most moms experience joy and fulfillment, but motherhood is hard work! You’ll be on call 24 hours a day to your new family member, which is exhausting. If you add in your domestic chores and any work duties, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed. Encourage a loving friend or relative to help out in the first few weeks or hire a competent assistant. You don’t need to handle everything on your own.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist