At Home With a Newborn – Surviving the First Few Weeks

Newborn 5

I can’t quite believe I’m writing this, but my baby boy is now THREE MONTHS OLD!! How the eff did that happen? I feel like I gave birth to him yesterday, and yet somehow I no longer have a newborn. I now have a bonafide little child, all full of smiles and giggles and the makings of a someone who wants to start getting active – god help me! It’s been the most incredible experience, becoming a mum. Full of challenges, tears (some Bailey’s, but mostly mine…) joy and excitement. Nothing comes close, but while it is the most irritating thing to hear before you have a baby, I now find myself regularly telling people that they just can’t imagine what it is like until it happens. No matter how much prepping you do, no matter how many books you read, nothing can prepare you for the utter chaos that descends on your life the moment you bring that tiny little person home with you. Of course, that doesn’t mean there is no point at least trying to get ready, and some of the little nuggets passed on to us by friends who had recently been through the experience were a god send in those early days, so in the interests of passing on the baton, here are the things that helped to keep us sane during the fourth trimester!

Don’t rush out and buy loads of ‘stuff’…

We got told about 100 times before Bailey arrived that you really didn’t need a lot of stuff in those first few days, and we found out quite quickly that this really is true. I’d love to say we took all of this advice on board, but in truth we learned it the hard way, because Bailey decided to turn up early when we were not quite finished with a house extension! The day we brought him home from the hospital we had no carpets, no nursery and all our furniture was piled up in either the kitchen, the garden or the bathroom – the only places that weren’t due new flooring!! And I’m not recommending that you do this – in fact, I’m recommending strongly that you DON’T, dealing with this situation when the day 3 baby blues kick in, you’re struggling with breastfeeding and you haven’t really slept in three days is not fun. I’d go as far as to say it’s hell on earth! – but it did make it really apparent to us how little a newborn actually needs. Basically, a car seat, a moses basket and blanket to sleep in, a changing mat and sundries and about a million muslin cloths is all we really had to hand while the house was in utter carnage. And that did us just fine. He didn’t need a nursery – he is sleeping with us for the first 6 months. He didn’t need lots of clothes – we were gifted so many anyway and it turns out he was too small for most of them so we were able to choose ones that actually fit him! He didn’t need toys or activity centres because he could barely stay awake longer than half an hour at a time! And this bought us time to really get to know what our life looked like so we could make proper decisions about what we actually needed rather than what we expected to need. I’m really glad we didn’t spend a lot on all the ‘must haves’ the baby books recommend because we would definitely have ended up not really using lots of them. For example, I haven’t bought a breast pump yet, because breastfeeding (eventually…) took off well and so far I’ve been able to get by using a Haakaa (a device you attach to your breast while feeding on the other which essentially collects any surplus milk you lose when you ‘let down’) so if and when I do purchase one I’ll know it’s the right one for me and my situation.

Newborn 4

Pre-prep food…

One of the things I really struggled with in the early weeks was remembering to eat, which is essential at the best of times, but certainly when you are sustaining an additional human being! I breastfed from day one and during his cluster feeding periods he could be feeding as often as every 45 minutes, and preparing food when you have a little one physically attached to you is no easy feat! Dan was obviously a huge help when he was on paternity leave, but after he went back to work I had to get smart about making sure there was food available that I could easily warm up or eat one handed, otherwise I’d end up not eating at all. At first this meant I ate a lot of junk, and my waistline hasn’t quite forgiven me yet, but I’ve found my feet with it now. Fruit is a great quick snack to have on hand, and I tend to cook extra for dinner so we always have leftovers in the fridge that I can quickly reheat. I also prep granola with yoghurt and berries the night before so I can grab it in the morning and eat it in bed while Bailey settles in for his first feed of the day. Thankfully he feeds a lot less frequently these days, but I can’t always guarantee he’ll have good naps so these are habits I’m sticking with for now!

Newborn 6

Invest in a slow cooker…

Along the same lines, if you don’t have one of these, get one! Bailey tends to have his longest and most reliable naps in the mornings, so this is the perfect time for me to spend some time preparing dinner. That of course wouldn’t work under normal circumstances, unless you wanted to eat all of your evening meals out of the microwave (no judgement if you do, by the way, but cooking has always been a bit of a passion of mine, so it’s something I wanted to make sure I kept up) So particularly on days when I think we might have things to do in the evening, or if Bailey has been fussy and I think he’ll resist sleeping later in the day, I throw something in the slow cooker early on and I can be safe in the knowledge we’ll have a proper hot meal that night regardless of what other dramas the day throws at us! Now, if I could only get Bailey to allow us time to actually eat it at the same time as each other….

Stop thinking of time as ‘night’ and ‘day’…

We have been very lucky that Bailey has never been a terrible sleeper. We can probably count on one hand the number of awful nights we’ve had with him, and these days he often sleeps all the way from 10pm till 6am, or when he doesn’t he only really wakes once around 3 or 4 am. In those early days when he was cluster feeding though, we were up A LOT in the small hours, and it can be TOUGH. Sleep deprivation can do strange things to your brain and your body, and when you are already dealing with all the difficult challenges new parenthood has to throw at you it can all seem even more intense. One of the best bits of advice someone gave me was to stop thinking about time as night and day – now that I didn’t have a job to go to for the next 12 months the normal constraints of time no longer applied, so I didn’t have to go to bed at a certain time or wake up to an alarm. If Bailey keeps you up all night, she said, sleep late into the morning. Or if you feel like having a nap at 3pm, do it. Bed time doesn’t have to be at a specific time anymore – just go with it. This isn’t dramatically different to the old ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ advice, but for some reason it seemed to resonate with me better, as I’m sure it will with all the Mum’s out there who think, ‘BUT WHEN WILL I GET SHIT DONE??’ when someone offers it. I didn’t feel like I could sleep whenever Bailey slept, but it did really help to remember that I didn’t have to stick to a routine that was largely driven by getting up for work anymore.

Newborn 1

Find your own technique…

Now, I’m not trying to suggest you should ignore the experts, but the fact is, for everything you read that suggests one method, you will find another that completely conflicts it, so there really is no such thing as one ‘right’ way of raising a child. It will do you well to remember that all babies are different, and they change all the time, so even if you do find that one particular method of sleep training or feeding, for example, works for you one week, your baby might completely throw all of that out of the window the week after, leaving you wondering what the hell you did wrong. I wasted far too much of those precious early days in a state of anxiety, worrying that I was getting things wrong or wondering why my baby seemed different to all the ones I was reading about, and that is time I’ll never get back. I’ve found now that the best approach for me is to read a range of material and then look for the general consensus, but even then I take it with a pinch of salt. I’ve found what seems to be more helpful is to try and focus on learning about Bailey’s development and what changes he is going through so that I can use this to explain why he is behaving in a certain way or to try and work out the best way to tackle each new challenge. Since letting go of the idea that I should be following specific practices I’ve been able to relax far more and just go with the flow – something that I am certain both Bailey and I will benefit from in the long run!

Go out…

At the beginning, the idea of leaving the house with your fragile, tiny little bundle can be daunting, and it will undoubtedly take you at least an hour to get ready, with half your house in tow when you do it for the first time, but I cannot recommend getting out and about as much as you can enough. Not only is it good for you to get the practice in while baby is likely to spend most of it sleeping, it does wonders for your own well being and makes sure you are spending time with loved ones which is hugely important to help keep you sane. Dan and I probably spent more time in the pub while he was on paternity leave than we did for the whole of my pregnancy, and now that Bailey is starting to get to an age where that might become more challenging, I look back on those times as such happy ones. It really helped us to feel like ourselves again, and I’m hoping it will have helped to make Bailey used to noise and social situations so we can continue to do it as long as possible. Only time will tell how we do on that front!

Newborn 2

Go easy on each other…

I’ll finish up with the most important bit of advice – no matter how tough things get, try to remember how much you love each other and that that is the reason your little bundle exists. Having a baby will undoubtedly be the biggest strain on your relationship that you will ever experience. Sure, it will bond you in ways you never thought possible, but it will also make you question each other, test each other and at times, make you want to rip each other’s heads off! The dynamics of your relationship change immediately the moment baby arrives, because overnight there is suddenly someone else that requires 100% of your attention and you just won’t have the time or patience you used to for each other anymore. I remember being completely floored by the love I felt for Dan as I watched him cradle our boy and take such good care of us, but I also remember missing him intensely despite the fact he was with me every day for three weeks. I was exhausted, hormonal and he of course could not always guess what the right thing to do was when I had one of many meltdowns. I was so hugely grateful for the love and support he was giving me, but I also resented him for not having to breastfeed, not losing control of his body, being able to leave the house without having another person in tow at all times – all completely unfair but totally understandable emotions given the circumstances. Some days after looking after Bailey all day I just wanted to sit on my own in a darkened room for an hour or so and not have someone ask me questions or say my name – even the request for a hug felt like a demand on my body that I didn’t want, and that had to be hard for him – still is, I’m sure. But the intensity of that passes, and what we have now is so much more than we had before Bailey – it isn’t just love and friendship, it is a partnership, I know he is someone I can rely on above all else and that is an incredibly warming feeling. So it’s ok and completely normal to sometimes silently plot your partner’s death as they lie soundly sleeping next to you at 3am as long as it is a fleeting thought, just remember it isn’t really their fault that you aren’t – feel it, then let it pass!

Newborn 3

What are your top tips for surviving life with a newborn?

Love,

Sig

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