How to make new motherhood easier

Six bewildering weeks after the birth of my first child, a friend recommended a session with maternity nurse Rachel Waddilove who happened to live near my parents in Devon.

With over 40 years experience of helping new mothers and their babies (including both Gwyneth Paltrow and Minnine Driver), Rachel was an enormously reassuring authority who, in an hour’s consultation, helped sort out feeding issues and gave me the confidence to put my baby to sleep in his cot – so I could start getting some sleep myself.

I wish I’d spoken to her earlier as her advice proved invaluable; I wrote about it in an article in the Telegraph at the time.
Here are Rachel’s tips to get through the first days of new motherhood:

 

Don’t turn breastfeeding into a battle

Many women don’t anticipate how difficult it can be. If you are struggling to get your baby to latch on, you’re in pain or you’re having milk supply issues don’t delay before seeking help. If your health visitor or midwife aren’t helpful, contact a breastfeeding counsellor or call me!

Be strict about visitors

In the early days its your husband or partner’s job to monitor visitors to ensure they don’t completely over run you in those first few days. Likewise if your mother or mother-in-law is suffocating you, it’s his job to (politely) ask for some space.

Accept all the help you can get

When (capable) people offer to help out with washing, cooking, looking after other children, say YES. But don’t whatever you do find yourself in a situation where they’re sitting on your sofa holding the baby and you’re making them tea!

Hold on to your baby

It’s only natural that your visitors will want to hold and cuddle your newborn baby but be warned; if your baby is passed around like a parcel all afternoon you’ll be left with a tired, irritable and over stimulated newborn that is never going to settle.

Put your feet up

This is not as obvious as it sounds as mothers feel an overwhelming pressure to get on with their lives and start taking their babies out and about. In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with a bit of old fashioned confinement – I’m not saying you need stay at home for two weeks but definitely for the first 48 hours. Put your feet up when you’re breastfeeding and let your mother push your baby out in the pram. If you don’t pace yourself, in six weeks you’ll be utterly shattered.

Don’t stress about baby kit

You won’t need much in those first few days – if your buggy hasn’t arrived yet or you haven’t had time to build the cot it isn’t a problem. All a newborn baby really requires is nappies, wipes or cotton wool, baby gros, vests, a Moses basket, sheet, blanket and a towel. And if you’re going to swaddle your baby (see below) you’ll need a shawl or a large muslin.

What routine?

Your new mum friends might be fretting about feeding times and sleep patterns but in the early days I’d shy away from any notion of routine and focus on demand feeding your baby until your milk has come in and your baby is naturally taking feeds every three hours. Concentrate on giving good feeds that fill your baby up as much as possible!

Wrap it up

While I wouldn’t recommend a routine in the early days, when it comes to putting your baby down to sleep I suggest wrapping them up in a shawl or muslin (swaddling) and putting them on their side with a rolled blanket behind them to keep them in place. Your baby will sleep much better and feel more secure wrapped up well. I like to use a cotton shawl or blanket, the size you would use for a Moses basket (around 70 by 90 cm). *Instructions on how to swaddle below

Turn down the heat

Mothers often worry about whether their newborn baby is to hot or too cold. The most important thing is not to overheat your baby! It is much better for a room to be a bit cool than too hot. I think around 16 to 19 degrees is perfect. Feel the back of your baby’s neck to check their temperature; this should be nicely warm, not hot and sweaty.

Keep a bottle handy

Even if you’re breastfeeding, make sure you have a bottle with a newborn teat in case of emergencies. In my experience there is absolutely no harm at all in topping up your baby with a couple of ounces of formula to help them (and you) sleep for a little longer. Feeding a little formula won’t stop you from establishing breastfeeding and in many cases it will make the first few weeks so much easier.

Enjoy your baby!

This is the most important point. Don’t be hard on yourself if it takes a few weeks (or longer!) to get into the swing of things. Every mother is different; some are happy to demand feed whereas others are happier once they’ve got a routine in place. You mustn’t let yourself feel guilty about anything.

Try to relax as much as possible: remember, babies are tougher than you think – they’ve been surviving since time began.

 

* Rachel’s swaddling tips 

Fold the blanket in half to make a triangle. Lie your baby on his back in the middle of the triangle, with the point of the triangle under his feet, making sure that his head is just above the top of the blanket. To swaddle with both arms in, place his arms by his side, wrap one side of the triangle over and tuck it underneath his body. You then have him nice and secure.

I sometimes swaddle with one of both hands near their mouths. To do this lie your baby on her side, again in the middle of the triangle. Gently bring one or both hands up towards her mouth and wrap the upper side of the traingle around her back and tuck under her tummy. Then bring the bottom side of the triangle up and over her back and tuck under her body. This will make her feel snug and secure and lets her suck her fingers or hands if she wants to.

 
  • Rachel Waddilove has written two books for new parents: Sleep Solutions: Quiet Nights for You and Your Child, The Baby Book: How to Enjoy Year Once. She’s available for telephone consultations and as a maternity nurse. 
  • For more information see her website www.rachelsbabies.com . For the Telegraph article on baby sleep, click here

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