Life does not have to unravel completely when your baby arrives. I discovered (mostly too late!) that there are things you can do to preserve your sanity and make life a lot easier.
Here are 14 tips to help you through the first few months.
1. Find a mentor
This could be your mother, sister, colleague, friend or health visitor. Mine was an old friend who’d had a baby a few months earlier. While she’s not someone I see a lot, she just seemed to “get” how I was feeling. Her recommendations about kit/ books/ expert advice were invaluable and she was always there to commiserate and offer moral support.
It’s probably best to have just one or two mentors, otherwise you’ll get caught up in a crossfire of conflicting advice!
2. Call in the professionals
If sleeping/ breastfeeding/ your emotional state/ is an issue, consult an expert. And if you don’t like what they say, go to someone else. When I was struggling with breastfeeding, the advice from the local support group (“try some skin to skin contact, my love”) didn’t help but an appointment with expert Clare Byam-Cook did. Meanwhile a friend was able to settle her colicky baby after a phone consultation with Alison Scott-Wright.
Bear in mind there are countless companies out there preying on helpless new mothers
3. Do whatever works – up to a point
Dummies, rocking your baby to sleep, white noise….. if it works for you, keep doing it. A friend of mine swore by a conveyor belt that rocked her pram so she didn’t have to. My saviours were: swaddling (maternity nurse Rachel Waddilove showed me how to do it), a cot positioner from Red Castle (£29.95) and a Moulin Roty comforter (£19.95) with velcro loop for the dummy, so I could easily find it in the cot.
That said, when investing in baby kit bear in mind there are countless companies out there preying on helpless new mothers and their “miracle” products and services are no substitute for getting to know your baby and how to settle them on your own.
4. Rest up
This is easier said than done but you need to recover mentally and physically. Accept all the help you can get and if your baby takes a bottle, suggest your partner does a few night feeds. If things get really desperate, hire a night nanny for a few nights. They’re expensive but no more so than a night in a good hotel and it’s not as if you’re going to one of them any time soon.
5. La Pause
A tip from across the Channel; French mamans don’t rush to pick up their babies when they cry at night. Instead, they pause and observe them for a brief moment before cuddling them. This, according to Pamela Druckerman in her book French Children Don’t Throw Food, gives you a chance to read your baby’s body language and work out why they might be upset (hungry, windy, etc). In the mean time, left alone, they might “self-soothe” and go back to sleep. Not everyone’s cup of tea but it helped me.
6. Don’t expect too much from your baby
If your baby feeds or sleeps brilliantly one day, don’t expect them to do the same the next. Likewise, don’t count on them cooing adoringly at your friends; they might well scream. When you take them out in the pram, pack for every eventuality, that way when they throw up all over their pristine outfit, you won’t be quite so devastated.
7. Keep the right company
If you go to mummy-baby-yoga and it’s terrible, don’t put yourself through it again. The same goes for any baby class or mothers’ meet-up. These things are meant to be fun for YOU – your baby isn’t going to notice whether they’re there or not. Likewise, ban yourself from seeing anyone who makes you doubt your parenting abilities or panic about your baby’s development. AVOID.
8. Have a moment to yourself
New motherhood can be stifling: you’re always with your baby. Time to yourself is such a healer. Leave your baby with the person you trust most (partner, mother?) and go for a quick tea/ walk/ shopping trip on your own.
9. Don’t be a slave to your baby
Try to fit your baby into your life (as impossible as this might sound!). Take them for walks, to the shops, out for lunch or dinner with friends. Don’t worry if they’re not sleeping when they’re meant to be – day time naps take ages to get established and it’s much more important to be out and about bonding with your baby. Remember though, if it all gets too much and you want to cancel an arrangement last minute, don’t feel at all guilty.
10. Have another purpose in life
Be it a box set, an amazing author, a website you love, or a film, anything to distract yourself from motherhood.
11. Indulge yourself (and your baby)
Buy that face cream or those sunglasses. You totally deserve it. And don’t worry about spoiling your baby too – it’s part of the fun of being a new mother. I bought Hector a complete outfit from Petit Bateau in tiny baby size – ie he’d grown out of it within a couple of weeks – but I don’t regret it. It reminds me how small he once was and I even managed to squeeze Alfie into it too for a couple of days.
12. Cut corners
Thank God for Charlie Bigham’s Thai green curry, GU puddings and M&S dine in for £10 (with that bottle of wine, crucially). All these things make you feel like a domestic goddess but don’t require a recipe book.
13. Go on a date
Take the baby too if it means you’ll actually go! It’s good to get out in the evening like you used to, although if you’re anything like me, you and your partner will spend most of the evening comparing baby pictures on your phone.
14. Write it off
When a day goes badly… your baby doesn’t nap…. feeding is a nightmare…. your baby is still in their bouncy chair at 10:30pm….. put it behind you, and start afresh the next day.
Every new mother has days like this – and things do get much easier.