The first few months of your first baby’s life are probably the most surreal you will ever experience. They are also some of the most amazing, but you might not be able to appreciate that at the time. You will experience the most profound joy, hope and excitement, but it may also be a time of pain, worry and fear. Not to mention the extreme tiredness.
When Baby Ben was born, I remember feeling very caught between wanting to enjoy and treasure each special moment, and wanting to get back to a feeling of ‘normal.’ The difficulty with that is that ‘normal’ will never be so again. Instead, you find a new normal. But not in those first few months.
If you’re like us, the first few days home from hospital will be very strange. You may have lots of visitors; you may have family who stay away for a few weeks until you’ve settled in. You are constantly experiencing new things, and you will worry about doing things right: does he need a clean nappy? Is he hungry? Why is he asleep? Why isn’t he asleep? I remember not wanting to sleep during the day because I didn’t want to miss anything. I also found that whenever I wanted to sleep, Ben would wake up and want feeding.
In those first few weeks, babies want feeding all the time. It can feel constant, and if you haven’t got your latch quite right, it can be very very painful. This is the time to get to an NCT Breastfeeding Supporter and get the support you need. If you need any more convincing, read this article from The Guardian. This is also the time to go to breastfeeding support groups, breastfeeding cafes and everything you can. The women there will be in exactly the same position as you, and you will bump into each other again and again as your children grow up in the area.
Some days, the only way I could stop Ben feeding and get him to sleep was to take him out, either in the pram or in the car. In some ways, this was great – it meant I got out of the house every day. It also meant I was taking some exercise, and starting to feel better about the delightful post-natal body. In other ways, I was worried – would he ever learn to sleep in his moses basket during the day? Would he ever have naps at home? I remember peeling potatoes with Ben in the sling, as we had friends coming over. That evening, after being awake all day, he fell asleep in the sling at 5pm and slept most of the evening while we had dinner.
I needn’t have worried. By the time he was three months old, he was napping happily in his cot, he had fallen into his own routine and he was only feeding every 3 hours.
In some ways, the first three months are easy: the baby generally sleeps when you take him anywhere, tiny babies are very portable, and you don’t need to worry about food too much, particularly if you’re breastfeeding. But in so many ways, the first three months are really hard, in my experience. And I had a baby with no complications. If your baby is premature, ill, colicky, has reflux or any other problems, you have my every sympathy.
Looking back, there were some things we did right, and some things I would have done differently. As best as I can, I’ve tried to summarise these into a list below.
Before your due date
- Food: stock up your freezer with meals, bread, milk, soups, even cakes which can be defrosted and prepared without any hassle.
- Nappy changing: set up your changing station with cotton wool, nappies, changing mat, nappy rash cream as your due date approaches.
- Clothes: fill your drawers with clean baby clothes. They need to be washed even if they are new before your newborn wears them.
- Pram and other equipment: have a practice to make sure you know how it works.
In the first few weeks
- Accept all offers of help: we were cooked for by friends and members of our church for the first two weeks of Ben’s life. It was the most amazing blessing.
- Aim to shower and eat three meals each day. Anything else is a bonus.
- Accept that you will be feeding or holding the baby a lot. Make yourself comfy and give in to the TV.
- Be kind to yourself. Take your medication, don’t sit awkwardly and lie down when you can.
- Enjoy it as much as you can – take lots and lots of photos, including photos of you with the baby, and you with your partner and the baby as a family. If you can, organise a newborn photoshoot.
- Don’t panic if you don’t have something you need. Many supermarkets are 24 hours.
- If you are worried about the baby’s health, go to the GP. My GP told me that she would much rather I came in with Ben than stayed at home worrying.
- Don’t worry about a routine. It’ll come when you’re ready.
- Controversial, but… introduce a bottle and a dummy if you want your baby to take one. I’ve never met a baby who wouldn’t take the breast after having a bottle, but I have met lots of bottle refusers, whose mothers would love to have a break. The dummy was a bit of a lifesaver for us, as we used it to get Ben to sleep rather than him using me for comfort.
- If someone asks if they can help, one good thing to ask them to do is to take the baby for a walk. This can give you and your husband some much needed alone time, even if it’s only for half an hour. If the baby is fed and comfortable, he will probably go straight to sleep.
- Enjoy the perks of the newborn stage – spend lots of time in cafes, eat lots of cake, photograph each smile. It is a really special time.
The newborn stage passes so quickly, but in the midst of it, it feels like it will never end, and that motherhood will be an endless cycle of feeds, baby sick and nappies. Strangely, when I look back, it’s definitely not the sick and the nappies that I remember! Enjoy your baby and be kind to yourself. The days are long but the years are short.