Life with a Newborn: The first month
By Nicola Haslett
The moment you meet your baby for the first time is nothing less than truly magical. After 9 months of pregnancy you finally get to see that precious little being that’s been living inside of you and it’s an experience you will never forget. You can feel joyous and euphoric, exhausted and overwhelmed and anything and everything in between.
I am sitting writing this with my 3 and a half week old baby boy attached to me in a sling and would love to share with you my tips on how to enjoy the first month and how to overcome any challenges you might be facing. I have settled into motherhood well, but just like every other new mum I have found some days extremely challenging and I would love to share with you what has helped me to survive those days that I felt were going to send me over the edge!
Here are my top 10 tips for getting through the first month:
1) Get Support
I cannot stress to you just how important it is to have a strong support system around you! When you’re tired and emotional you can start to feel very alone, so having others to support and encourage you through the difficult times is priceless. This support system can be made up of your partner, family, friends, midwife and also online resources. I have found some excellent online communities for new mums that have helped me beyond words. At the click of a button I’ve received comforting words of advice from other more experienced mums and simply chatting to other mums who are going through exactly the same thing has made me realise that what I feel is completely normal. Also having people around you to remind you that you’re doing a great job can really give you a boost and help you to feel more confident as you settle into motherhood.
2) Be gentle with yourself
You’ve just had a baby, you’ve been through an intense physical experience and now you’re trying to work out how to look after a newborn, as well as trying to establish breastfeeding and do all of this with very little sleep. So why do so many women, myself included, put so much pressure on themselves to be a superwoman during this time?! I’ve felt like a failure because I don’t know why my baby is crying. I’ve felt guilty for feeling sad and blue when I should surely be feeling happy all of the time. I’ve sacrificed opportunities to sleep because the house needed cleaning and I was trying to prove that I could still ‘do it all’. But what we really need at this time is to be gentle with ourselves. So take a step back, do what you need to do and no more. Allow yourself to feel however you feel and let go of expectation, judgement and pressure. Also, don’t be scared to say no. If things are tough and you don’t want visitors just say so…you’re allowed to! Most people will understand that at this early stage you need space to bond and settle in and if they don’t understand then it’s tough! You and baby come first.
3) Make baby your priority
Looking after your baby is a full time job and will take up most of your time, especially if you’re breastfeeding. By making baby your priority and letting the other things go (such as doing the housework) you will feel emotionally stronger and more equipped to deal with the demands of a
newborn. Use your support system and let them help you. Have others cook for you and do the housework and just concentrate on looking after baby…and of course YOU!
4) Wear your baby!
Imagine what it’s like for a newborn baby: You’ve been cosy inside of the womb for 9 months and then suddenly you are born into the world and you feel vulnerable as you become used to your new surroundings, sensations and physical needs. Newborns understandably want to be close to mummy and nature intended it to be this way, but of course it can be demanding if your baby wants to be held all of the time. So what’s the answer? Wear your baby!! There are many baby wraps and slings available at a reasonable cost and believe me when I say they are LIFESAVERS! So when your baby won’t settle anywhere else but with you, grab the sling and wear your baby as you go throughout your day. No matter how unsettled my baby is, the moment I put him in the sling he calms down and usually falls asleep, leaving me with both hands free to do what I need to do…like write this blog! The sling creates a womb like environment, helping baby to feel comfortable and secure and helping you to remain sane.
5) Do what makes you feel nice
Just because you have a newborn, it doesn’t mean that the days of looking after yourself have gone and that you can never pamper yourself ever again…it just means there’s a lot less time to spend on these things. Looking after a baby can be anything but glamorous: You have breast milk down your top, baby sick on your shoulder and it seems that there’s never enough time to take a bath, let alone pamper yourself. Well here is where your support system comes in. I find that taking half an hour out a couple of times a week (at least) whilst my partner or family look after the baby gives me time to do something for me that just helps me to feel renewed and ready to continue with the demands of parenting. So whether it’s a bubble bath, putting on a bit of makeup, painting your nails, meditating, doing some yoga, reading a magazine or taking a nice nap, it can make the world of difference.
6) Toughen up – babies cry!
My baby was extremely peaceful and content for the first 2 weeks of his life. All he did was eat and sleep and the only time he cried was when we changed his nappy. Then around 2 weeks old he ‘woke up’ and realised he had a voice! He still doesn’t cry a lot; however he absolutely has his moments where he is unsettled and crying for no apparent reason…and it’s hard at first. As his mother I hate to see him cry and all I want to do is fix things for him. I found it extremely difficult hearing him cry and it felt like it was breaking my heart at times. I would cry too and I felt like I couldn’t handle it! Sure, I can cope with the practical demands of parenting, but the emotional? That’s TOUGH! Then my midwife gave me an excellent piece of advice: Toughen up because babies cry! When I stopped associating his cries with there being something wrong I was able to feel stronger and get through the unsettled evenings with him crying, without crying myself! Of course I would check to see if he needed to be fed or changed etc, but if not then all you can do is comfort your crying baby, realise that it’s completely normal and wait for the storm to pass.
7) Get out of the house!
It can be very easy to hibernate when you have a newborn. After all, there’s so much to do and it can take so much work and effort just to get you and baby ready for an outing. However, being stuck in (especially in the winter months) can feel very depressing. Even going out for a walk every day gives you a change of scenery, some lovely fresh air and a whole new perspective on things. Also, the motion of the pram can soothe baby and settle them into sleep so it’s a win-win! It’s natural to feel nervous about going out, especially on your own, but I promise you’ll feel better for it and baby will enjoy it too. You may even meet other new mums on your outings!
8) Sleep when baby sleeps
Everyone tells you this, but it honestly really does help! In the beginning I used the time my baby was sleeping during the day to tidy the house, but after a couple of weeks of very little sleep I started to feel absolutely awful and realised that I had to sleep when baby sleeps…for my own sanity! You have to simply forget time, forget that each day is divided into night and day and just grab some sleep when you can, whatever time of day it is.
9) Be organised and think ahead
Night feeds can be a killer. You wake up exhausted in the middle of the night to feed your baby and the last thing you want to be doing is trying to find your breastfeeding pillow…so get everything ready before you go to bed and it will make things much easier. Every night I make sure I have everything I need such as my breastfeeding pillow, a glass of water and a full stock of nappies and wipes on the changing table for when I need them.
10) It doesn’t have to be depressing…
Waking up in the middle of the night when you’re exhausted can get you down (especially on those cold winter nights!) so do what you can to make your surroundings as nice as possible. I find it easier for now to sleep and feed my baby in the spare bedroom so I have made that room my sanctuary. In the middle of the night when my baby needs to be fed I turn on the lamp, put the tv on, grab my breastfeeding pillow, get comfortable and I’m set to go. I used to feed in the baby’s room in the rocking chair (which is lovely!) but I started to feel that all I was doing was rocking back and forth in silence, apart from the ticking clock reminding me of the time…NOT FUN! Now it feels much better and I even enjoy the feeds once I’m awake and in the swing of it. Even if I’m not watching the tv, it helps to have some sound and lifts my mood. Do what works for you – just make your environment as relaxing and comforting as possible and it will make those nights easier.
So there you have it…my top tips for getting through the first month! Remember that you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be a superwoman and you don’t have to be anything other than who you are. You are learning and finding your way, just as all mums are…give yourself a break and enjoy the journey! J (…and I will try to take my own advice!!)