Save yourself going mad – these are the essentials, as compiled by experts (i.e. other parents). You’re welcome.
Don’t try and get your baby into a routine
You’ve read Gina Ford, the Baby Whisperer and Rachel Waddilove, and you know that Routine is A Good Thing. Well yes, but don’t kill yourself trying to regiment your newborn’s every waking hour from day two onwards. You’ll only get yourself into a total state when they’re not doing everything they’re supposed to, and you’ll miss out on that gorgeous newborn sleepy cuddly phase as a result. So let them snooze on your chest, stick them in a moses basket in the corner of the sitting room while you watch TV and take them out and about if you feel like it – this is when you can do all those things with no long-term adverse effects.
Although trying to establish a 7pm bedtime can’t hurt
If you do one routine thing, make it a lovely bathtime/bedtime combo. Forget wrestling them into a dark cold nursery by 7pm on the dot all alone at this stage, but take advantage of bathtime, which is just lovely – get in with your baby and enjoy the skin time. Wrap your little one up in nice clean PJs after and enjoy some cuddling before settling them down somewhere afterwards – as mentioned above, a moses basket in the corner of the sitting room while you eat supper is fine at this stage.
Sleep when the baby sleeps
Everyone will tell you this, and you will ignore it. Don’t. Yes, a sleeping baby is an opportunity for you to email another set of friends some cute pictures/catch up on the thank you letters/have a bath/cook dinner, but it’s also the only chance you will have to sleep uninterrupted. Make the most of it. Never again will people be so indulgent of your taking a snooze in the middle of the day. The thank-you letters can wait.
Breastfeeding is hard
Post-birth, the midwife will shove your baby firmly onto your boob and he or she will (hopefully) start frantically sucking. It will tickle a bit, the midwife will tell you you’re doing brilliantly and you’ll feel like the ultimate earth mother/goddess. Three days later, your milk comes in, your breasts will look like something more often seen on Page 3 and suddenly it will stop tickling and start hurting. That’s ok, it’s normal. Persist.
The wise and wonderful Tracy Hogg, aka the Baby Whisperer, advises giving it 40 days to establish breastfeeding. That’s a long time, but if you want to do it, it’s worth perservering. If it’s really not working, don’t sweat it. Yes, everyone will tell you that breast is best. But if you’ve put the hours and it’s horrible, you’re hating it, don’t feel guilty to try the odd bottle – and it’s definitely worth having a couple in the house just in case. Even just getting your partner to do a 10pm formula feed so you can get to bed a couple of hours earlier might just help you stay on the right side of the line between sanity and madness. And if you’re happy, your baby will be happier too.
Get your partner to help with the night feeds
Regardless of whether you’re going bottle or boob, getting your partner to do a 10pm feed from fairly early on is a good idea. Not only does it remind them that they’re in this too (as well as giving them the opportunity to bond with your sweet bubs), but you can grab a bath and get to bed a bit earlier. It also gets your baby used to taking a bottle – crucial if you ever want to leave the house without him or her for the next year or so.
Take every offer of help you can get
If someone offers to cook you dinner/clean your house/work their way through your ironing basket, don’t be all British about it and politely refuse. Embrace the offers with open arms. They will soon dry up. And you can always pay them back when they have babies themselves.
Stay upstairs/inside for a week
When I had my first baby, in America, my crazy hippy midwife, who was an absolute gem, didn’t let me go downstairs for a week. She said it was so that my hips didn’t come back together wonky from going up and down stairs, but there was definitely a mental thing going on there too – something about just cocooning myself with this new little person and not worrying about the world. And it was amazing. A friend organised a food rota so we were cooked for for a whole fortnight; my husband filled in with all the other meals and daily requirements and my baby and I just pottered around upstairs in our own little world. Even if you can’t do that, just staying at home for a week makes a difference. Don’t kill yourself trying to get out and about. Nobody’s going to give you a medal and you’ll only exhaust yourself.
Swaddling and dummies
If you’re struggling to settle your baby to sleep, these two things work: swaddling and dummies. A swaddle is basically like a baby straitjacket – you can even buy ones with special flaps and pockets so you can just wrap your baby up like a little insect in a cocoon (try the Miracle Blanket, available from Amazon). It will help your baby to stop jerking itself about and make it feel safe and still in the womb. Pop a dummy in (brilliant for sucky babies who want to be on the boob all the time) and they will conk out. Don’t be snobby about the latter – most babies will wean themselves off a dummy, given the chance, within the first six months.
Dare we say it, putting your baby to sleep on his tummy will not kill him, and will probably help him sleep better too. I had two colicy, windy, screamy baby boys. With number one, I wedged him on his side, which helped. With number two, I just stuck him on his tummy. As soon as I did, he stopped screaming, and started sleeping.
Everything is just a phase
Remind yourself of this truth at about six weeks in, when they’re supposed to be smiling/sleeping through the night/not screaming for three hours solid at 7pm any more. This too will pass. And when it does you will look back on this time with infinite wisdom and a knowing little smile. You will get through it.