Having a newborn baby is a bundle of emotions and a boatload of work. There are a thousand new things to learn the moment a baby is born, and perhaps more than any other rite of passage, everyone in the entire world seems to have an opinion about what to expect and how you should proceed.
It’s funny, though, how wrong people can be in their well-meaning advice. Here are seven of the biggest lies people tell you when you have a newborn.
1. “They smell good”
Not unlike your golden retriever, babies smell good when you wash them. They don’t naturally just smell great on their own. And you’re not allowed to bathe them until their umbilical cord falls off, which could take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Newborn babies ball their fists and toes up, which means clammy hands that might have trapped lint or dust or cat hair or who knows what in them. Factor that in with stale milk or formula, and it’s quite possible your baby’s hands might smell like cheese. And I’m not talking about aged cheddar — more like Limburger (Google “why do my baby’s hands smell like cheese?” for a fun read). Plus, whose crotch wouldn’t stink after pooping 10 times a day.
2. “If you’re lucky, your newborn will sleep through the night”
The most common question you’re likely to get asked about your new bundle of joy is whether the little one is sleeping through the night. The truth is, while a small percentage of brand-new babies might sleep for longer stints at night, newborns aren’t hardwired to sleep more than two to three hours at a clip. Their stomachs don’t hold enough food to sustain them for longer than that without needing to eat more, and their sleep cycles are months away from operating like ours do. Stop asking this question, folks!
3. “You can lean on your family for help”
My parents were so excited to welcome their first grandchild to the world, they could hardly stand it. I was so looking forward to having them come over and help take care of my newborn to provide some much-needed relief in those first few days and weeks when sleep is a distant dream and every noise the baby makes is terrifying. Instead, my family came by regularly, but just sat and stared at the baby, often interrupting our routine or his naptime. While I was grateful that they brought prepared food a couple of times, they didn’t offer to hold the baby, feed him, diaper him or rock him to sleep, let alone help with other chores.
4. “Breastfeeding will come to you naturally”
Of course, breastfeeding is as old as human creation, and so it’s natural in that respect, but there’s nothing natural or easy about thrusting a brand-new baby and a brand-new mom into what can be a complex and stressful process. Baby is just learning how to do everything and needs to learn how to latch and feed as well, and it doesn’t always happen automatically. The breast or chest-feeding parent has never done this before, and there are a lot of mechanics that go into making sure it’s painless and productive. It can often feel like the most frustrating and unnatural thing in the world.
5. “You’ll learn how to become high-functioning on little to no sleep”
I suppose it’s possible some people can take care of a newborn and run a marathon and write the next great American novel, but I imagine most people don’t feel that way. In fact, it’s really hard to take care of a newborn and still function in other aspects of your life. You will forget to feed the cat or pay the electric bill or put underwear on when you go out (guilty as charged). You will be clumsy and forgetful and many other things will fall to the wayside because you are running on little sleep and are at the beck and call of a tiny, demanding human. Every bit of common sense and wakefulness you have will go toward keeping said tiny human alive.
6. “Newborn poop is odorless”
Perhaps the person who started this myth wore their taste buds right off their tongue from sucking on too many lemons. Newborn poop — while different from adult poop in that it is less solid and resembles something that might, say, be produced by a duck, still stinks. Whether your baby is breastfed (Grey Poupon poop) or formula fed (Play-Doh poop), the excrement still smells a lot more like crap than it does daisies. It only gets worse as they move into solid food, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still gag-worthy when the kid is brand new. And the meconium, or the black tar-like poop that first comes out of your precious newborn when they’re just days old, is composed of delicious things like bile and hair and mucus, and it takes some real elbow grease to scrub it off their little bums. There’s no fun happening there.
7. “You’ll sleep when the baby sleeps”
This is a wonderful piece of advice in theory, but in reality, the way it plays out is quite different. Newborns do sleep a lot (upward of 18 hours a day), but they rarely sleep more than a couple of hours at a time, and a full sleep cycle for a newborn is actually only 20 minutes, so you’re more likely to get baby’s short stints of sleep followed by crying and the need to be fed and changed and rocked back to sleep again. You hardly have time to put them down, let alone get any semblance of restful sleep yourself. Plus, those two- or three-hour stretches of sleep are the perfect times for you to do the 1 million things you need to do like pee, shower, shove some food down your throat, throw in a load of laundry, etc.
Smelly poop and sleepless nights aside, having a baby is an incredible journey. And if you ask me, it’s completely worth it — even if everything people tell you is a big, fat lie.