While I was in those very early stages with my new baby, I found myself reaching for online forums, baby apps and parenting books to answer the myriad questions I had every day about my new baby. Though I did find some good bits of advice and reassurances here and there, for the most part, the message was predominantly just get through it. So I wanted to pay a little more attention to that stage and provide a short series on how I survived life with a newborn, starting with Mum, then Baby and finally Breastfeeding.
I am writing this at 11 weeks postpartum and so I have some sympathy with that message of ‘just get through it’; when I look back, even though it was just a few weeks ago, it all seems a bit of a blur! However, during that time, I felt this newborn stage just wasn’t very well documented. When you see any advert for baby products, it inevitably has a six-month to one-year-old baby who is sitting up, playing with toys and looks ridiculously huge (do any other new mums with a newborn look at a six-month-old and think “how do they get that big?!”). But I get it, though we all know our baby was the cutest from day one(!), advertisers aren’t as keen to use the tiny, squished and wrinkly visages of the freshly squeezed out baby!
I also think there is an unspoken rule that no one talks about the first few weeks with a newborn because IT’S HARD and we don’t want to remember it! It’s a mere flash in the timeline of a parent so it’s easy to just say knuckle down and get through it but when you’re in it for the first time in your life, it does not feel like just a brief thing at all! So below are some of my experiences and my tips for mums to hopefully help you survive the first few weeks with a newborn.
How to survive the first 8 weeks of life with a newborn
How to manage meals with a newborn
I pretty much survived off Nutella and M&S triple chocolate granola for most of the early weeks with my newborn. If you don’t like those things, find what you do like to eat and have at it – you’ve earned it! I was also coming off the back of gestational diabetes so I was making up for lost chocolate with a vengeance! Obviously, I don’t recommend constantly eating unhealthily (and having had gestational diabetes, I have a newfound appreciation and sympathy for those having to test their glucose levels indefinitely), so I also lived on freezer food that I had prepared when pregnant. When I did finally have a freshly cooked meal with fresh veg, it tasted amazing!
So make life easier for yourself and leave guilt at the freezer door by stocking it with anything that just needs reheating or bunging in the oven. And if you want to eat Nutella with a spoon straight from the jar: go for it!
How to have a day off
It happened to be my 30th birthday at about week four postpartum and, while other people might be having big celebrations for that milestone year, it paled into insignificance after the birth of my first child! However, my family organised a little day out for me to have my nails done and enjoy a nice pub lunch. They all came along so there was an army on hand to look after Rowan while us ladies got pampered. It was the first time I was really away from him and it was just for a 30 minute nail treatment, but it did help to make me realise that I could be out and about and doing something for me. It also helped knowing that:
a) Rowan was just fine being held and prodded by others for a short time;
b) that a nail treatment was enough to feel pampered without my still tender abdomen or wonky pelvis feeling overstretched,
c) there was a world out there that I would gradually rejoin and the sleepless nights and lack of mobility wasn’t forever!
So although you may not have a handy milestone birthday as an excuse, get your family and friends together to help get you out of the house and have a bit of a YOU time while baby enjoys being doted on by others!
Why you should manage visitors
I did see a lot of this advice in the last few weeks before I gave birth, but wasn’t necessarily very good at implementing it once the time came. No one tells you how hard it is to say “no” or to turn people away. Everyone just wants to celebrate the new arrival and to see this precious thing that is so brand new to the world, and you want them to see it too. But you’re knackered, probably in pain and very emotional; you need to rest and having visitors, no matter how close a relationship you have to them, is not restful (unless they are that special kind of visitor who holds the baby while you shower, cooks you dinner and cleans up!). The main thing I struggled with when we had lots of visits early on was that I really didn’t get much time actually holding Rowan unless it was to feed him; so everyone else got to cuddle him while he was sleeping and being cute and then as soon as he cried he was passed back to me. Then when the visits died down and it came time for my husband to go back to work, I felt I hadn’t had chance to bond with Rowan as much as I would have liked before suddenly being left alone with him all day.
So visits are a bit of a mixed bag: you want to see people and for them to see you and this wonderful new being you’ve brought into the world, but you’re also at a pretty crazy time in your life and so a sudden influx of people can add pressure rather than relieve it. You don’t necessarily need to shut people out completely but just make sure you communicate. I know it goes against polite British convention to do this but tell them to wait a little longer if you just don’t have the strength that day or, when they are there, tell them to make the cups of tea, or bring lunch, or just pass the baby back because you fancy a cuddle before he demands to be fed! The polite Britishness goes both ways and it’s likely that your guests are as unsure about what to do as you are and may well appreciate being told how to help!
I’m a bit of a pushover and always want to please and/or pretend everything is ok, but I do wish I’d asked for help more, so don’t be afraid to speak out. It’s an intense but, mercifully, short period where you need the help of others so use it!
Don’t ‘exercise’ but do go for walks
You’ll probably be advised by the doctors not to exercise until you’ve had your six week postnatal check up with the GP. So don’t. Don’t feel you have to be up and at ’em before you’re ready. Let your body do its thing and heal (and it does heal amazingly quickly so you’ll be back on the fitness train before you know it). But being confined to the same four walls of your house day in and day out can make you a bit stir crazy, so – if you feel up to it – try going for a little, easy stroll with the pram just to give you and your baby some fresh air and a change of scenery. Make sure someone comes with you to do any heavy lifting!
When I think back to how my level of mobility in those first few weeks I realise just how much my body was knocked back. Not only was my abdomen tight and bruised from the cesarean, but I was still waddling like I was nine months pregnant because my pelvis needed to realign itself. But that first bit of fresh air and leg stretching did my brain a world of good (and didn’t hurt my body either) because I took it easy and just went a couple of hundred yards down the road and back. These short strolls will soon turn into longer jaunts so don’t rush into proper exercise; we spend so much of our lives trying to figure out how to find an exercise regime we can stick to, so for once don’t stick to any and just find an easy going way to get out of the house and into the fresh air!
Learn to multitask at speed
One of the biggest changes I had to get used to with life with a newborn was how brief any activity away from Rowan was before I was feeding or changing or holding him again. Any time he went to sleep I would rush to the loo, then empty and load the dishwasher and maybe just have time to make a cup of tea before I would be resigned to sitting on the sofa again for another 40 minutes of breastfeeding, or carrying him around to try and sooth him to sleep. I am also a bit of a clean freak so seeing the house get more and more untidy was stressful (yes, all the advice says forget about the cleaning in those early weeks but when you’re stuck in that same spot all day you kind of want it to be clean and tidy so you can feel a bit more relaxed!). And there were occasions when Rowan would cluster-feed on and off for hours and I felt so stuck.
So in the end I got very good at doing things at speed (within the physical confines of recovering from the cesarean!) including wolfing down food, quick cleaning and tidying sessions to just make the space feel a little less cluttered, and the occasional 20 minute speed sleep (although I’m pretty terrible at napping in the day so it was more just ‘resting my eyes’ than actual sleep, but it did help!). I also got very good at multitasking including breastfeeding while making lunch and holding him while going to the loo (the lack of dignity you experience in pregnancy and birth continues!). So if you’re struggling with suddenly having very little free time to do simple things like brush your teeth or eating, just hone in on your multitasking skills and channel a bit of Forrest Gump to tackle jobs at speed!
Game, read and surf the web
Following on from making the most of the small gaps in the day when you don’t have a baby attached to you, when you do have to be in that one spot on the sofa for hours on end, find an activity you enjoy doing that you can fill that time with. I played on the PS4 and completed a whole game, I read and finished books within a few days and I got a very fit thumb from all the internet scrolling I did on my phone. The gaming and reading was especially good as they are immersive and my brain could be kept entertained while my body did the hard work of recovering from surgery and feeding my baby. So if you’re reading this pre-baby, have a think about what books and magazines you’d like to get through and, if you like gaming, find an in-depth game that you can take your time to complete.
So those are just a few tips that I found helped me to cope mentally and physically in those early weeks with my new baby. If you’re reading this as a mum past 8 weeks postpartum, what tips or tricks do you have for surviving those early stages? And for any about-to-be-new-mums, I hope you enjoyed this post and now have some ideas for yourself! Just remember, we all go through it and we all get through it – there is light at the end of the tunnel! You got this!