As amazing as it is, becoming a parent for the first time has its challenges: You’re navigating a major life transition on little sleep and without the benefit of experience. But you adjust, your confidence grows and the stretches of sleep at night extend—and you may soon feel up for expanding your family again.
When you do, don’t be surprised if everything feels less intense. Science proves becoming a mother for the first time is generally more intense both physically and emotionally than the experience with later children.
“First-time motherhood is so hard because it’s just so new,” says Diana Spalding, certified midwife and Motherly’s Birth Editor. “No matter how much you prepare, there’s no way you can fully be ready for everything that comes with it.”
Your body changes more with the first pregnancy
It all starts with how pregnancy alters your body. Your breasts, which don’t fully form until pregnancy, will begin to develop anew in preparation for breastfeeding. Your muscles loosen—especially in your pelvic region. Your brain structure goes through long-lasting changes. “Radical” surges of hormones transform your body and mind. And that’s what’s happening inside. On the outside, you’ll likely have acne flare-ups you never had before, your flat hair will bounce to life and varicose veins will pepper your legs. For better or worse, some of those pregnancy side-effects stick around long after baby is born—which means you aren’t dealing with anything new the next time you’re expecting.
Here are some of the ways the body adapts during and after pregnancy:
- Your pelvis bone structure stretches slightly and your hips carry more padding
- Your breasts may change shape after they no longer fill up with milk
- Your areola, labia and moles may darken
- Your bladder muscle tone may weaken, causing long-time urinary problems
- You may become more constipated
- You may experience hair loss
First-time motherhood is also uniquely emotionally intense
Becoming a parent for the first time is “the ultimate shift from self-centered living to selfless living,” Carolyn Wagner, MA LPC, tells Motherly.
“You have to learn to completely adjust your priorities, schedules and relationships. And you do it all while you’re sleep deprived, hormonal, and often physically uncomfortable,” she says. “Then subsequent babies bring along their own set of changes and unexpected challenges, but your mindset has already shifted into mom-mode so the adjustment isn’t as jarring.”
You’re likely also more consumed by thoughts about pregnancy and parenthood that first time around. While a 1990 study published in Psychology and Psychotherapy found that results in a higher emotional attachment among expectant parents with their first unborn baby, there’s nothing to feel guilty about: The bond with subsequent children is amazing and special in its own ways. You probably just won’t be so stressed.
You are stronger and wiser for it all
Of course, second-time motherhood comes with its own sets of challenges. You just have a few more tricks up your sleeve.
“First-time moms also put a ton of pressure on themselves,” Spalding says. “When you have your second or third kid, you start to get a little gentler on yourself because you understand more what it’s all about.”
Wagner says moms of two or more also have the benefit of confidence—not only do you know how to change diapers (in the dark with one hand), but you also know you are a successful parent.
“While there will always be self-doubt, moms of more than one kid know that they have figured this out once before, so they can figure it out again,” Wagner says.
She adds the first round of motherhood helps strip away most illusions about parenting, so it isn’t such a surprise when you’re in the trenches again.
“Second time moms know about the physical discomfort that is part of the first few weeks postpartum. They know the level of sleep deprivation to expect. They know how their moods may swing wildly in the early days,” she says. “While this knowledge doesn’t make these things a non-issue the second time around, it does take away some of the surprise and can help them feel more prepared.”
You’ve got backup
Whether your a first-time mama or have multiple kids, there’s one thing that helps: a support system, either with friends, family members or even an online community.
Chances are good you’ve already begun developing that by the time you add another baby—and everything feels so much more manageable when you are able to handle it with others by your side.