Everyone tells you that once you become a mom, your life is going to change. But no one lets on how motherhood affects every facet of your existence, from your sex life (spoiler alert: it tanks) to your kitchen counter, which is never clean anymore.
Motherhood brings joy for sure, but at some point, it has tested the limits of every new mom’s sanity. Thankfully, knowing what to expect takes some of the sting out of the reality. Read on for unfiltered insights from seven moms, each tackling a different aspect of post-baby life. Plus: Experts weigh in to assure you that regardless of what you’re feeling or experiencing, you’re not alone.
Work/life balance is an oxymoron
So, you’re back to work from your 12-week maternity leave. Here’s what happens next: Your first day, you forget nursing-bra pads and leak milk. The second day, you discover you need to fully remove your dress to pump. The third day, you drive the entire way to the office without crying. Progress.
There are highs and lows. It’s annoying that someone else — likely a daycare provider — will see your baby do something before you. (If your baby smiles when you’re not around, does happiness even exist?) You’ll also reach a level of tired you never touched during a college all-nighter.
The reality is there’s no such thing as work/life balance as a mother. You have two full-time jobs, and you’ll be attempting to strike that balance as often as your kid’s routine changes.
But every hurdle you get over will make you feel more competent. And there is nothing more balancing than being a mom who’s like: I got this. — Steph Opitz
THE EXPERT SAYS “Mothers are struggling to juggle income earning with caregiving,” says Dr. Caitlyn Collins, the author of Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving (Princeton Publishing University Press, 2019). “Paid family leave, universal childcare, and flexible work schedules are no-brainers.”
Your sex drive will vanish
Six weeks after my daughter was born, my OB gave the all clear to have sex. “Ugh,” I said. “Want me to write a note saying you have to wait a couple more weeks?” she asked. “I do it all the time.”
It’s no wonder my sex drive had gone into reverse. My life had become a swirl of dirty diapers and spit-up-covered clothes. Plus, there was a tiny mouth constantly clamped onto my breast. No aphrodisiacs there.
Initially, my husband, too, was exhausted by all-night crying sessions (mostly the baby’s) and the drudgery of keeping a human alive, but his libido rebounded. I, however, couldn’t fathom giving any more of myself, much less my actual body, to anyone. With no real physical connection, we both felt tense and frustrated, feelings we regularly channeled into 3 a.m. fights about swaddling techniques.
What ultimately saved our sex life was leaving 12-week-old Maya with my parents and flying to New Orleans. By the time the ice melted in my first Sazerac, so had my anxiety. Focusing on what I wanted — no worries about naptime here! — felt freeing in a way I hadn’t experienced since my pre-baby days. In other words, a turn-on.
When we returned home, we were so attracted to each other that we couldn’t contain ourselves. Just kidding. But we were having sex regularly again (that is, until I had Baby No. 2 and the whole cycle repeated). At least we’ll always have New Orleans. – Nicole Frehsée Mazur
THE EXPERT SAYS “It’s super common to have a low sex drive after birth,” says Dr. Neil Simmerman, an OB/GYN in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “There are lots of reasons, from fatigue to pain with intercourse to decreased estrogen that can lead to vaginal dryness. By three months post-birth, probably 90 percent of women feel back to normal in terms of sex drive. If it goes on for longer than that, talk to your doctor.”
You’ll hate your significant other
After having my first baby, I became one of those moms who posted photos that made my family look charmed, like my husband and me at restaurants where I put our baby’s bottle in the wine chiller with the Sauv Blanc.
In reality, my husband and I were fighting more than ever, mostly because I felt resentful of doing more of the parenting heavy lifting. I bought diapers and formula. I arranged babysitters, scheduled play dates, toured preschools, and went to the doctor. I also freelanced on the side and had zero “me” time. Meanwhile, my husband was often traveling for work and I had to be like, “Have fun!” while a baby pooped on my lap.
Eventually, though, I focused on the stuff my husband did do, like change light bulbs, shovel the driveway, and generally be a decent man and dad.
Plus, to be honest, I prided myself on being the more hands-on parent. At holiday events, his relatives would point out what a good mom I was and say nothing about his dad skills, which he later told me made him feel bad. I guess we’re all a little competitive when it comes to parenting. — Gillian Telling
THE EXPERT SAYS “A new baby brings stress along with joy,” says Dr. Erika London Bocknek, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the metro Detroit-based Relationship Institute. “One common conflict is the unfair division of labor after baby, with childcare and household management disproportionately taken on by women. Consider small behavioral changes, like alternating chores. A weekly meeting can be helpful for hashing out the details of who’s responsible for what.”
Your house will be a disaster
The new housekeeping reality that arrives with a baby is often brushed aside as a messy, fun phase that you’ll look back on fondly. But like many parts of new parenthood, it doesn’t feel fun at the time, and it seems like it goes on forever.
During maternity leave, I never napped when the baby napped. (Does anyone do this?) Instead, I’d start to empty the dishwasher, which was always full because baby bottles come in 40 different pieces that you have to wash the instant the baby breathes on them. Inevitably, the baby would wake up for a feeding (more bottle pieces!) and the sink would fill as the washer went un-emptied.
Apply this Sisyphean pattern to laundry and, later on, my two boys’ toys and projects, and I now live in a reality where the second I cross “housework” off my list it pops up again at the bottom. According to my fitness tracker, some days I’ve walked five miles without even leaving the house.
Housework can also bring relationship tension. During maternity leave, my husband would come home from work and ask about my day, and I was angry that he got to interact with the world whereas I was stuck with that half-empty dishwasher. Chores can get personal: Something small, like my husband leaving clean dishes on the counter because he doesn’t remember where they go, can feel like an insult to my value as a human being.
Like most of parenthood, you can’t prep for this reality aside from some honest conversations with your partner (or saving up for a cleaning service). Otherwise, you have to learn your own coping technique. Mine is called “Lowered Standards.” – Claire Zulkey
THE EXPERT SAYS “Toys have a way of ending up all over the house,” says Abby Kahn, a professional organizer in Scottsdale, Arizona. “And kids have basically no concept of cleaning up. Go through things monthly and donate toys your kids have outgrown.”
4 science-backed ways to treat yourself
Break a sweat For new moms, aerobic exercise can ease symptoms of postpartum depression, according to a 2017 study published in the British Journal of General Practice.
Schedule solitude Research has found that people who spend time alone tend to be happier and less stressed. Snag solo time whenever you can, even if it’s only in the shower.
Prioritize date night Hanging with your significant other fosters communication, commitment, and romance, according to the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project. No sitter? Put the kids to bed, grab a glass of wine, and catch up.
Phone a friend Connect with your closest pals, even if it’s just via text. Researchers from Arizona State University found that for new moms, psychological well-being is tied to several friendship-related factors, like having authentic relationships, feeling comforted, and getting “unconditional acceptance” from friends. — NFM
You won’t recognize your body
Everyone knows that pregnancy means looking like you swallowed a basketball. But that the changes will stick around forever, lifelong reminders of those nine months, is a secret that women have kept for generations. Before I got pregnant, I heard my chest would get huge. But I didn’t know that later, my breasts would not just shrink to their former size but keep going, flattening out into some new body part entirely.
Then there’s the baby weight. That I’m still carrying 10 pregnancy pounds is less surprising to me than the way I carry the weight. My whole life, I never had a tummy. Now, no matter what I do, my belly is there to remind me that it was once a cocoon. The truth is that I want it to go away.
Still, there are worse reminders than the fact that my belly gave my children shelter for nine months, or that my boobs gave them food. I’m not ready to say I’ve embraced this post-baby version of myself — that’s a level of enlightenment I haven’t hit yet — but parenting is a lesson in patience. I’ll get there. – Rachel Bertsche
THE EXPERT SAYS “It took nine months to change your body, and it’s important to give yourself permission to allow nine months to take off the extra weight,” says Nance Robson, a licensed professional counselor specializing in women’s issues in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Focus on the joy your baby brings and embrace that your body has gone through changes in order to enter into motherhood.”
There will be blood (and other stuff)
“You must be expecting,” my manicurist commented, motioning toward my cuticles, which were splotched with blood. Clearly, she knew what I, at 12 weeks pregnant, did not: My body was cranking out 50 percent more plasma (due to the growing circulatory needs of my uterus, breasts, and other parts).
My OB said the blood bath was normal, and not to freak out when other orifices seemed eager to hemorrhage. Cue the poorly timed nosebleeds and flossing episodes reminiscent of scenes from The Vampire Diaries.
Turns out, there are plenty of wacky bodily reactions during and after pregnancy: the brown line that appears on your stomach (it’s called the linea nigra and is caused by hormonal changes); bigger, darker areolas (the better for baby to see your breasts with); and, lightning crotch. This is a real term for a shooting pain that randomly bolts through your vagina. It’s harmless, but, wow, it’ll put a spring in your step.
As I bled and felt the fire down below, I couldn’t help but wonder: When does the “glowing” start? Now, a few weeks postpartum with baby No. 3, I’m still waiting. — Carly Boers
THE EXPERT SAYS
“During the course of your pregnancy, your body is going to change in many ways,” says Dr. David Schwartz, an OB/GYN in Cincinnati. “Changes in your skin, posture, breast size, fluid retention, blood volume and, of course, weight are totally normal.”
Breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally
I was a classic, wide-eyed first-time mom. Took all the breastfeeding classes, bought the special pillows. Nursing would be hard at first, but I was ready! Clear eyes, full boobs, can’t lose, right?
For me, not quite. After our first pediatrician’s visit, my son wasn’t gaining weight. Maybe my latch was wrong? Maybe he hadn’t mastered sucking yet? I saw a lactation consultant named Linda, who checked my son’s latch (“textbook”), asked if I felt pain while nursing (not after the first 10 times) and looked for a blocked duct (I didn’t have one). I wished I could blame our issues on any of these complications. At least it would mean my boobs were working.
After fenugreek supplements to boost milk production and some unsexy home breast massage, Linda told me that despite our efforts, and partly due to my genetics (my mom and grandma both had trouble producing milk), nursing alone wouldn’t be sustainable.
I was gutted: Had my body grown this perfect baby, then betrayed me? But I also felt relief. Linda reminded me that bonding with my son, and the positive hormones it produced, was more important than being militant.
So about two weeks later, we stopped nursing. I felt sad that this brief period was over, but proud of how hard I’d tried. I no longer see feeding as some false binary of success or failure. Fed, no matter what, is best. – Jeanelle Olson
THE EXPERT SAYS “You and your baby are just figuring things out!” says Wendy Wisner, a board-certified lactation consultant in New York. “If you’re struggling, reach out to a lactation consultant. That said, if you try breastfeeding and it’s not for you, you shouldn’t feel pressured to continue. Go with your gut and do what works best for you.”
How to know if you’ve got the baby blues
The first weeks of motherhood are an emotional rollercoaster. One minute you’re blissfully cradling your newborn and the next, you’re weeping because you misplaced your phone.
Is this “normal,” or a sign of something more serious? “Up to 80 percent of new moms experience baby blues,” says Dr. Neil Simmerman, an OB/GYN based in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “They usually start two to three days after delivery and peak a couple days after that.”
Plunging hormone levels that affect brain chemistry are thought to be responsible for the changes in mood. But other factors play in: sleep deprivation, pain or PTSD from delivery, breastfeeding challenges — not to mention the pressure of sustaining human life. Thankfully, the baby blues typically lift within two weeks after birth. “By that point, you usually have a bit of a rhythm going,” says Simmerman.
If that glum feeling persists, you may be facing postpartum depression, which is estimated to affect one in eight women. The condition can surface up to several months after delivery and is characterized by feelings of sadness, guilt, and disinterest in the baby.
If you experience any of the above — or have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby — don’t wait for your six-week postpartum checkup; seek help immediately. (Ditto if you experience delusions, hallucinations, or paranoia, which can signal a rare condition called postpartum psychosis.) With professional help, these conditions are treatable. In fact, earlier this year the FDA approved the first-ever drug to specifically treat postpartum depression. — NFM