by Alissa Pemberton
Midwife, IBCLC & Gentle Sleep Coach
1. Get a Baby Wrap & Use It! The key to soothing baby when they're fussy is to mimic the environment they feel most comfortable in - the womb! Using a stretchy wrap (like the Moby Wrap) is the perfect way to keep baby safe & cocooned in a womb like environment whilst also allowing you to have your hands free. You can use your wrap out on walks or just around the house, and even put them in the wrap skin to skin. You can even pull out that birthing ball you spent so many hours bouncing on during pregnancy and bounce your baby off to sleep in their sling! 2. Take It Easy on The Visitors It's so exciting when your baby first arrives - and you feel like you want to shout it from the rooftops! Some parents find having family and friends around is great, but there's a definitely a limit. It's easy to underestimate how exhausted you will feel in those first few days and weeks. You're feeling slightly like a deflated balloon that's been hit by a truck, plus you're trying to figure out breastfeeding and that's so much easier with a bit of privacy rather than having Aunty Doris on the couch next to you ogling your every move. Try to limit the number of visitors in the first few days, and make it really clear to people that you're happy for them to pop in for a quick cuppa. If you need to - use the excuse of the midwife/health visitor/lactation consultant coming at a certain time and ask that they leave by then. Some parents choose not to announce the birth for a week or so except to close family to take the pressure off and avoid feeling bad saying no to visitors. 3. You don't have to 'get back to normal'
There's a huge push for mums post birth to 'get back to normal', there's even a huge industry of products and services that promise to help you do it. But what really is normal? Let's face it - your life is never going to go back to normal. Normal was probably working full time, seeing friends on weekends, spontaneous trips out for dinner or to the cinema, weekend getaways with your partner - and that normal, that one ain't coming back! But this isn't a bad thing - your new normal is going to be the craziest and most wonderful journey of your lives. So focus on defining a new routine and a new dynamic in your life, rather than feeling like you've got to reach some pinnacle of normality which is pretty much unattainable. Take some time to find your new normal, whatever that might be. Embrace the changes to your routine, take things at your own pace. 4. Be like a baby - reset your body clock This is possible the best piece of advice I give to families I'm working with - in those first 6 weeks, be like a baby! What do I mean by this? Reset your body clock. Rather than trying to continue to live by your previous rhythm of rising at 7am, eating breakfast at 8, lunch at 12, staying up in the evening watching TV or reading a book and then going to bed at 11pm, try instead to be just like a newborn - ignore what time the clock says it is, and really listen to the signals from your body. Tired at 10am? Great, tuck yourself up in bed and have a sleep. Hungry at 2am? Cool, grab a bowl of cereal. There will come a time for every new parent where you can start to gently help your baby into a routine (and believe me, I'm a mama who loved my routine!) but it's easy in those early weeks to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to get up and dressed in the morning, eat at mealtimes and function like a regular adult. If this works for you great, but if you're really struggling riding the sleep deprived train try tuning into your body and allowing yourself to go with your instincts for those first few weeks.
5. Find a rhythm with your partner To all the partners/second parents out there - shout out to you all. As a mum who had the joy of having my lovely husband by my side throughout my journey into parenthood it made me appreciate just how important second parents are (and hats off to any mamas or papas who do it on their own!). Talk to your partner before your baby is born and discuss how you’ll both be involved. You may find some of the duties you normally take responsibility for round the house are just not sustainable once you’re dealing with a newborn, so chat to your partner about how you can divvy up some of these tasks and what your partner would like to be involved with. Breastfeeding is really only one part of having a newborn, so just because you’re breastfeeding doesn’t mean there’s not lots for your partner to do – bathing, swaddling, baby wearing, skin to skin cuddles are all beautiful ways for your partner to bond with baby.
Help them to feel confident in putting on your sling/carrier so they can settle baby or take them for a walk while you rest. Why not purchase them a cute story book that they can read to baby? Encourage them to sing their favourite song, or tell stories to bub. Dad's are great at the nappy changing and bathing and lots of these little duties, but it's good to also give dad some special fun time with baby too. Often - when babies are distressed and overtired, and already have a tummy full of milk, it can be hard to settle them on mum because they will instinctively look for the breast, but they're no longer hungry, so they'll fight it, and passing them over to dad can be the magic trick that helps them settle (and there's nothing more beautiful than a dad skin to skin with his newborn son or daughter!). 6....but let them find their own way of parenting To many dads, baby care doesn't come naturally (and this definitely applies to some mums too). Partners often stand back and don't get involved because they're not sure what to do, how to do it, or they're worried about getting it wrong. It can be very intimidating to your partner if it seems like you know what you're doing or that you're able to do things so easily and keep baby happy in the process. It's important in the early days to help build their confidence by stepping back - they might not do things the way you do, but that doesn't mean they're wrong. Try to resist giving tips or criticising and let them come to you if they need help. 7. Make a helpful favours list... You will hear so many people say to you 'Let us know if there's anything we can do to help' and some may just be saying it out of obligation, but close friends and family will genuinely want to feel helpful. Why not make a list to pin on your fridge with suggestions of things they could do for you? Run the vacuum around, make some yummy snacks or prepare a dinner for you, pick up some food shopping to bring over when they visit. Make the most of any help that's on offer - people will genuinely feel good when they know they've been super helpful. 8. Seek help early... On the subject of help - it's never too early to ask for it. Whether it be needing some extra support from your midwife, struggling with breastfeeding, looking for support with sleep or your own postnatal recovery - everything is better (and easier) if dealt with early so do not be afraid to reach out for help. Resources like the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) or the Breastfeeding Network Helpline are brilliant for some quick breastfeeding questions and free support, you can find specialist breastfeeding support from Alissa Pemberton IBCLC on our page here or by visiting www.lcgb.org to find an IBCLC local to you in the UK. There are many great services out there helping new mums in the recovery after birth. For mums in Essex/Suffolk some of my lovely colleagues listed below are brilliant resources - check out Suffolk Women's Wellness Centre for great support with postnatal recovery, fitness, birth trauma and recovering from caesarian sections or Niki Rajput Family Osteopath for specialist support for both mum and baby which an assist with postnatal recovery, improve breastfeeding and help your little one recover after a traumatic birth or tongue tie division.
9. Keep emergency supplies EVERYWHERE!
If there's one thing you can guarantee about your baby - they'll be unpredictable! You’ll want to keep spare nappies, nappy bags/wet bags for dirty nappies or clothes plus wipes, a changing mat or small towel and a spare change of clothes in more than one spot. Try packing a small kit which can live in the basket of your pram and one for the boot of your car. You just never know when you might need it (I still remember going out with a newborn and my husband leaving the nappy bag sitting on the driveway when we drove off!).
10. Don't just pack for baby...
Same goes for yourself – put a spare change of clothes in the nappy bag for yourself (at least a spare top and some extra breast pads). There’s always a chance for a vomit after a feed, or that you might forget your breast pads and leak through onto your shirt so it pays to have a spare one handy!
11. Keep the outfits simple First time around it’s tempting to dress your baby in adorable outfits (and occasionally it’s fun!) but the easiest thing to do in the first few weeks is stock up on sleep suits (zip up are the best!). Keep them in neutral colours so you can put them all in the same load of washing without any fears of all of your white muslins coming out blue!
12. Forget the apps
There are hundreds of baby tracking apps available for tracking your baby’s sleep and feeding but many of them can make you worry unnecessarily and focus more on looking at your phone than your baby. Particularly when it comes to breastfeeding – it tells your very little to know how long your baby is feeding for – what’s more important it how effectively they’re feeding (see our blog here for how to tell your baby is feeding well) So focus on the signs you can see from your baby, and don’t worry about the sleep and feeding tracking apps.
13. Use coconut oil for those awkward meconium poos
Meconium can be tricky to clean from baby’s bottom, but a little coconut oil can work wonders! Try to use an organic oil if you can, and place a small amount on cotton wool and soak over the areas where it’s most difficult to clean.
14. Use breastmilk for EVERYTHING! If you could bottle it and sell it, well it would make you a fortune. There are so many great uses for breastmilk. It’s natural antibacterials help to heal sore nipples, as well as clear gunky eyes. It’s great for breaking down mucous so syringe a small amount into your baby’s nose if they’re a little blocked up. It also works well on skin rashes or dry skin and even on nappy rash!
15. Don’t worry if your baby only wants you If you’re like most parents you probably spent a good few months agonising over the decision of where your baby will sleep. Moses basket or sidecar crib? This brand or that one? You’ve probably set up their space and arranged it perfectly, only to find that your new baby cries every time you put them down in it. Are you doing something wrong? Nope! Totally normal. Newborn babies are very instinctual little beings – they’re unable to understand something called object permanence. So if they can’t see or feel you, they think you no longer exist, and they cry because they feel they might be in danger. This goes away with time, but it’s completely normal in the early weeks for your baby to only want to sleep close to or on you. Look into recommendations on safe co-sleeping/bed sharing if you decide you’d like to try this, or take turns with your partner so you can both get some sleep. If you’ve got family who can help out at home during nights as well then definitely take advantage of this.
16. Swaddle your baby or use a swaddle bag Your baby is used to having an edge to their world, a very limited little space to move around in, and this is what they’re most comfortable with. A tight breathable swaddle (like a large muslin) or using a swaddle bag (like the Love to Dream Swaddle Up) are perfect from newborn to keep your baby cosy and help them to settle when not being held.
17. Get yourself and your baby some fresh air each day There is lots of research to support a positive link between exercise, natural light exposure and better quality sleep. Even just a short walk around the block (or down the street) can help you and your baby to feel more energised and sleep better. Depending on your birth experience you might just want to start with a short walk down the street or around the block. Do what feels comfortable to you and slowly work your way up from there.
18. Start expressing early I hear of mums receiving all sorts of conflicting advice about expressing, but there’s no reason not to start expressing early. Most women will naturally produce more milk than their baby needs so it’s a great time to express and start stashing some milk in the freezer. You’ll have it there for emergencies – if you need to leave your baby or if you’re unwell. Once you get a few months down the line and might be considering spending some time away from your baby it can be harder to express on top of what your baby is feeding, as your milk supply has naturally reduce, so it’s great to have some back up in the freezer.
19. Build your tribe If there’s one thing that’s essential for surviving the first few years of motherhood, it’s an amazing tribe of mamas around you. You might have met new mums at your antenatal or hypnobirthing classes, but you can also join classes like baby massage from soon after birth or try a drop in breastfeeding or new mum group. It’s great to have a group of mums who are sharing your experience and can remind you you’re not the only one going through tough times.
20. Don’t pressure yourself to eat healthy, just make sure you’re eating In an ideal world we all would have spent the last few weeks of pregnancy blissfully in our kitchen in a coordinated outfit and apron prepping months worth of meals into identical Tupperware containers. But lets be real – for many reasons this probably didn’t happen. If you did manage to get a few meals put away, great, but if not don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be eating healthy all the time in the early weeks (see our blog on diet and breastfeeding here) just make sure you are eating small meals regularly. Smoothies make a great option that you can whip up quickly, you don’t have to worry about leaving it to go cold like you do with a hot meal and you can throw in delicious fresh or frozen fruit, yoghurt, dairy/non dairy milk, even added goodness in things like spinach!
21. Prepare some meals in advance See point above about identical Tupperware- it doesn’t need to be fancy, but having a few quick microwavable meals prepared in your freezer can be such a relief when you just don’t have the time or energy to cook. Meals like cottage pie, lasagna, curries, home made sausage rolls or batches of pasta sauce freeze well and are quick and easy to heat up whenever you need.
22. Express some colostrum before your baby is born Almost every mum I speak to during pregnancy, I make sure to tell them about antenatal expressing. Taking some time in the last few weeks of pregnancy (from 37 weeks onwards) to hand express and freeze some colostrum can be a lifesaver in the first few days if your baby is having difficulties with feeding. You needn’t worry about introducing formula and disrupting your breastfeeding journey before it’s even begun.
23. Relax It is so easy to feel like you've 'done nothing' at the end of a day with a newborn, and if you're used to being busy and multitasking you might really miss that sense of achievement, but you're keeping a tiny human being alive - not only that but providing them with love and nurture and stimulation, and that's a full time job. There will come a time again when you've slipped into a good rhythm with your baby and you can be super productive again, but in those first few weeks - give yourself permission to relax.
24. Do what you used to love doing It can feel impossible with a newborn baby to dedicate any time to yourself, but for some mamas being told to sit at home and just enjoy the cuddles just doesn't feel right. Perhaps take some time to get your nails or hair done, have a friend round for a cuppa, cook a favourite meal or bake a cake - do something that makes you feel satisfied, that makes you feel like you! Even a short period of time every few days to do something that you really used to enjoy can make a huge difference.
25. Get out of your pyjamas Now this might feel like slightly conflicting advice - I'm telling you to embrace being at home and relaxing with your baby, but to get up and get dressed? Every mum is very different, but for some mamas you instantly feel better once you're showered, dressed (preferably in something not covered in milk stains). It has a huge impact on your mental health. Try to take some time to take care of yourself, even if just in small ways.
26. Don't be afraid to leave the house It's easy to feel overwhelmed with a newborn by the idea of leaving. It's also easy to spend so long packing everything you need that by the time you're ready to go baby needs feeding again and you just never quite manage to get out the door. The baby bubble is great, but it's also nice to get out into the world every now and then. Start small - maybe a trip to the supermarket, walk to your local cafe and grab a coffee (even if it's takeaway!). It doesn't have to be anything long or adventurous. Keep your nappy bag packed with essentials all the time so it's easy to grab and go. I can still remember heading out to the supermarket with my daughter two days after she was born, and whilst I was feeling a little sore by the end of it, it felt so good to be out in the world and doing something normal.
27. It's okay to not understand your baby's cries How many times have we been told to get to know your baby's cries - as if there's a completely different sound for each individual need and we just must learn this language. As time goes on you'll get to notice the difference between a distress cry and a protest cry, but initially - much of their crying sounds like well, crying! Don't feel bad if you can't tell the difference, just work through the cycle - offer boob first, if that doesn't work, check their nappy, if that doesn't work help them to bring up some wind - and repeat!
28. This too shall pass.. The best piece of advice I was given as a new mum was from my own mum - this too shall pass. Having a baby is one phase after another - some of them are lovely, when you feel like you're really getting the hang of this whole parenting thing, and some of them are down right challenging. But everything is a phase, nothing is forever. Remind yourself that the difficult times will pass, and that it truly does get easier.
29. Trust your instincts!
Welcome to a lifetime of self doubt. I think most parents can agree that there's a lot of worrying that goes with parenthood, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by advice from health professionals or so called experts (or well meaning relatives for that matter!) about what you should or shouldn't be doing. Remember that all of these people know a lot about babies in general, they might have lots of experience with a huge number of different babies - but they don't know YOUR baby like you do! You are with your baby 24 hours a day and you know them better than anyone else. So if advice that you're given doesn't feel right - don't take it, and likewise if you feel dismissed as a paranoid first time mum, but you really feel something is not right with your baby - that gut feeling is probably correct! Seek a second opinion or support elsewhere if you have doubts.
30. Forget about the rules As a new parent you'll hear all sorts of advice and so called rules. You'll be told to forget all the housework, sleep when the baby sleeps, not rush to get out of the house etc. etc. etc. The truth is - the only advice you should be given is 'Do what feels right for you'. For many mums it's freeing to be told they can let the housework go, that they don't need to put make up on, that they can wear their maternity leggings for the next six months. If that makes you feel more relaxed and takes the pressure off - great! But for some mums - it makes them feel better to have the house clean and tidy. I woke up the day after my daughter was born and showered and put make up on - just because it made ME feel better. The long and short of it is - do what feels right for you. Only do what makes you feel better, what boosts your energy levels and what keeps you and your baby happy.