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No. 1 Must-Have for Pregnant and New Moms

Expecting women and new mothers get a barrage of information, advice and wisdom. It's often only in hindsight that you can see what actually made a real difference for you.

During my first pregnancy, I was offered tips on everything from baby gear to heartburn to what I should and shouldn't eat. Much of it: great advice. But there was one thing that trumped all:

Get mom friends.

Specifically, find women who are in the same stage as you—other women who are expecting or have a baby the same age as yours.

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I resisted allowing the newly forming mom side of myself to take over everything else. I downplayed, to myself and others, the impact having a child was going to have. I assumed I'd have a more complicated schedule, but that my friends, my work, my habits would more or less stay the same.

In part, this was a reaction to being told over again that becoming a mother would fundamentally change me forever. That sounded daunting.

I was 37 at the time—a little older than the average first-time mom, apparently. I didn't have any pregnant friends, or even friends who wanted to be pregnant. I did have friends who were mothers, but their children were older and, believe it or not, you do actually forget the nitty-gritty details of pregnancy and the newborn phase. (I have, and I've done it three times. Ask me now how much milk a 2-month-old should have each day—I have no idea.)

My husband and I enrolled in a prenatal class a couple months before our son was born, and it's the best thing we did to get ready to become parents. Not because I necessarily learned a lot of practical information in the class that I couldn't have found elsewhere. But because I made friends who were as pregnant as I was, with the same apprehensions, questions, concerns and, of course, feelings of excitement.

That first day, the instructor divided us into groups—the men on one side of the room and the women on the other. The women's task was to take a whiteboard with a cartoonish outline of a naked pregnant woman on it. We were tasked with labeling it with various symptoms we were experiencing.

Now, anywhere else, when friends asked how I was feeling at 7 or 8 months pregnant, I always said I felt great. You have to know your audience, and people who are not pregnant don't really want to know about your bleeding gums or feet swollen like bread loaves. What I mean when I said "great" is that I felt great considering everything I was actually experiencing.

But the women in my class didn't hold back. One grabbed the marker and labeled the diagram's feet "SWOLLEN!" Another drew little bubbles in the belly and wrote "GASSY!" Sore nipples, migraines, patchy skin, constipation, heartburn and, on a positive note, "great hair" were added.

I had found my people.

A woman I met in the class has become one of my closest friends. At the beginning, we shared how transformed we felt in some moments—constitutionally shifted after giving birth—and other times less so, like when she once woke to the sound of her baby crying and, in her sleepy state, thought, "What is that, a duck?" before waking fully to realize what it was. These are things new mothers can relate to.

When our babies were a certain age, she and I decided it was time for our first real night out since they were born. We went to a writers' gathering at a bookstore, because we are both editors and wanted to do some networking.

It was exhilarating to be out for the first time without our baby bumps, dressed in our non-maternity clothes and actually being able to sip wine with adults. But someone else had brought a baby, and its cry made us worry our bodies would respond by leaking milk. We had to leave. It would be hard for just anyone to understand that.

Our friendship is not limited to motherhood. She has become a travel and running buddy. We give each other career advice. We talk about what we'd like to do in the future and how to balance it all. We are honest about our feelings about motherhood—the good, the bad and the ugly—with no fear of judgment.

I've made many other "mom friends" since, and the value of such friends continues throughout the various phases of childhood and parenting.

I had always considered "mommy friends" a pejorative term, and envisioned a social life reduced to discussions of feeding schedules and diaper rash cures. And we do talk about those things, but I value it. It is an enormous gift to be able to talk to someone going through the same thing about sleepless nights, breastfeeding woes and how much you are in love with your baby.

But also what it's like going back to work if you choose to, or how your relationship with your partner has changed or stayed the same, whether you want another child. Whether you are patient enough. What you are too hard on yourself about. What you are doing really well.

Mom friends will also understand why you can't always be exactly on time when a diaper unexpectedly needs changing or teething has kept you up all night. They will not question why you don't want to stay out all night or why you have to go home to pump.

And the more moms you know, the more you understand there are many ways to parent, many ways to deal with issues and that no way is absolutely right or wrong. You feel empathy and compassion for each other and more able to be open about your own shortcomings or fears.

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My mom friends don't all fit into one mold. Some are older, many are a decade younger. Some have full-time careers, some don't. Some are married, some are single. Some breastfed for over a year, some chose not to at all. The more moms you know, the broader your perspective of motherhood becomes.

By no means am I saying you should ditch your childless/childfree friends, of course. Your circle of friends is a kind of map of your experiences, your priorities—what you value in your life. I have work friends, couple friends, running friends, travel friends, pub friends. And now I've been fortunate to add an invaluable group of mom friends to the list.

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Photo via Flickr/Simon

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