Q&A: Timeline for new baby stress

Rachel writes:

"I’m waiting for baby #2 to arrive – today’s the due date, actually – and trying to recall:  How long is that super-newborn phase when I will be so overwhelmed with tending to the baby’s and my own most >basic needs that I will be thrilled to accomplish something like getting the outgoing mail into the mailbox?  Two weeks?  Two months? And how about the period during which I kind of have the basics down, but still am too sleep-deprived to do anything requiring actual cognition?  I know it depends on the delivery, the baby, the rest of the family, and so on, but I feel like there are ballpark estimates that might help me remember what to expect.  Thanks."

Well, yeah. I think second babies are way different than first babies are, but let's review first babies first. The general rule is that the first six weeks are just shell-shock and constantly feeling like you're the most incompetent, exhausted person in the world. Physical ailments on top and bottom, and every feeding feels like the baby might die if it doesn't eat enough.

Then from weeks six to 12 or 14, you're struggling with how much you love the baby and yet how much your minute-by-minute existence still pretty much sucks rocks. By 14 weeks you can read the baby's signals better, and are starting to feel more human and more competent, but the naps are still busting your chops.

Second babies are so different because the stress points are different. The incompetent, white-knuckle feeling of the first six weeks isn't so strong, because you know you've done it before and can do it again. You're still tired and worn out, but there isn't that horrible feeling of "Can I do this?" permeating everything. You know there's nothing wrong if you don't bond instantly, you know that either the breastfeeding will work out or you'll feed your baby with formula just fine, and you know that eventually the baby will sleep.

I think the biggest stress point of having a second baby is having to divide your attention between two kids. (This is why everyone says it's easier to go from two to three, and if you're having three you might as well have 10.) You always feel like someone's getting shortchanged. Either your older one has to wait while you do something with the baby, or the baby has to wait while you do something for the older one. (If I hadn't learned to nurse my second in the wrap I'm not sure he ever would have been fed some days at the beginning.)

So my opinion is that the stages are the same (first 6 weeks are awful, 6-14 are dicey, after 5 months it's easier), but that the things you think will be awful aren't and the things you didn't worry so much about will be the complication.

Good luck! At this time two years from now it will all be a piece of cake.

Other conflicting or confirming opinions about the timeline?