When I was pregnant with Holly, Mr H and I talked about how life was going to change when she was born. The fact that we would never again have our lives to ourselves was the main topic of conversation and, I have to admit, consternation. However nothing prepares you for those first few weeks of life with a newborn baby. It is like a crash course in parenting and the lack of sleep, crying for reasons unknown and figuring out all those little things that you didn’t even know you didn’t know can be an incredible shock to the system. So how do you get through those early weeks of life with a newborn baby without jumping out of the nearest window, or hiding in a corner slowly rocking back and forth? Here are a few things I found helpful:
Sleep When They Sleep
A million people will tell you this a million times and as much as you might roll your eyes, it is true. Despite the fact that the house looks like a bombsite and the laundry is crawling out of the basket yelling ‘clean me, clean me’, you need to rest and there will be no other time for you to get it. Having broken sleep through the night means you are not getting the quality sleep you need. Despite the fact that in total you may get eight hours, you will not get to that REM state we all need to function. Take a look at 10 Surprising Effects of Lack of Sleep and you’ll find that accidents, health problems and depression are all up there as symptoms you definitely want to avoid. So take heed of all those busybodies and the annoying but well-meant advice and when that baby finally closes her peepers, get your head down too.
Before your baby is here use the free time you have on maternity leave and drag your dust-covered cookbooks off their shelves. When you have a screaming baby in your arms, you haven’t slept in days and the kitchen is covered with formula rather than food, you will be thankful that all those weeks ago you filled your freezer to bursting. Casseroles, soups and pasta dishes will provide you with hearty, filling dishes that you can easily make in bulk and freeze individual portions of that just need a quick blast in the microwave. Some good recipes can be found on BBC Food and I’ve also tried several recipes you can grab on the go such as the muffins above or these pancake bites. Be careful of the ingredients you use though, if you are planning to breastfeed, as some can cause your baby to become more fussy.
Beware of the ‘Witching Hours’
When Miss H was a few days old I noticed that between 5pm and midnight she was very fussy and would not go down. After a long labor and exhausting time in hospital the last thing I needed was a baby who wouldn’t sleep. After a bit of research I found out this was quite common and often referred to as the ‘Witching Hours.’ There is very little you can actually do to stop this, they just have to grow out of it, however planning ahead can at least help you get through those hours of constant, often inconsolable screaming. Sometimes your baby just wants skin to skin, so get your creature comforts – in my case a book, blanket and some chocolate – and prepare to be confined for the long-haul. Going for a long walk with the pram or even a drive in the car may help to soothe your baby and eventually rock them off to sleep, giving you tine for some shut-eye. The most helpful thing I found was the support of my husband. We took it in turns to try and soothe Holly or just watch over her and let the other rest and when I got to my wits end he was a great sounding board and comforter.
Enjoy time with your baby
There are many activities to try during maternity leave, from getting outdoors to different types of play. A lot of mums enjoy both the healthy side and the social aspect of buggy fitness or even just going for a walk and both of you getting some fresh air can really help invigorate you and boost your mood at a time when you can be on your own a lot and the baby blues can hit.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Learning how to cope with a newborn baby is not an easy task and it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you need a helping hand from time to time. John and I live 5,000 miles away from our friends and family so we were pretty much on our own, but our parents both came out to see us and help with Holly during her first month and their help was greatly appreciated. However it can be hard to take that step back and realise that, just for a couple of hours, you really need a break. If people offer, let them help, even if its just to do the ever-mounting pile of washing up, or run the vacuum around for you. Our parents took Holly for a couple of nights, giving us chance to at least get the odd full night’s sleep here and there. As a person who was sleeping twelves hours a night when I was pregnant, this was invaluable to me. But not just parents, your partner can be there when you just can’t go on. I lost track of the amount of times I went into the bedroom in a state, to wake John up when I needed rescuing. When it’s 2am, you’ve only had two hours sleep all night and you find yourself falling asleep on your feet, it’s time to shout for help.
Throw the book out
Every baby is different and you cannot go by what others tell you and what you read in the guides. At the end of the day your baby will let you know what they need and when they need it and as you get to know them you will learn the signs. Holly was quite a good baby, she fed well and slept for reasonably long periods of time quite quickly. Nobody told me, though, that a baby doesn’t go back to sleep on their own and I was shocked to discover that after a feed it could sometimes take us three or four hours to get her back to sleep, just in time for the next feed! Hearing stories from other mothers about how ‘little Johnny’ went straight back to sleep after each feed is not only a total lie, but it doesn’t help. What she’s not telling you is that little angel was feeding every hour!
And finally….enjoy every little moment
It is easy to forget how much and how quickly they change. It may be hard and often you wonder what you have got yourself in to, but when you look back those hard times will fade into the background and you’ll wonder what you complained about. As many people have hammered into me, they don’t stay babies for long so take lots of pictures and enjoy it – after nine months of pregnancy and going through the joy that is labor, you’ve earnt it!