Surviving Early Motherhood
I remember being pregnant with my eldest, basking with visions of cosying up to my new-born in a fuzzy glow of love and warmth as I breezed through the first few weeks of my baby’s life. However, the reality was somewhat different to say the least. After speaking to many women subsequently through my working and personal life I absolutely know I am not alone! What we expect from the first few weeks of motherhood and the reality is often somewhat skewed.
Yes, it will be amazing, life changing and wonderful however sometimes it will also be exhausting, overwhelming, confusing and possibly upsetting.
Throughout the years…
… reflecting on my own experiences and experiences of mothers I have had the privilege to support during this time, I have noticed the trick to enjoying the first few weeks of your baby’s life is to keep your expectations at a reasonable level. Accept that the beautiful moments will be tainted through lack of sleep, your own pain following the labour, and perhaps anxiety at being a new mum. It will not be a bed of roses every moment of the day and it is OK that you feel the prick of those thorns every now and again, it is not anyone’s fault and new mothers shouldn’t beat themselves up about it. The phrases “I love my children” and “Motherhood can be a right ball ache” are both relevant and one does not contradict the other, they can absolutely stand side by side within our vocabulary.
For a lot of mums, a reality check also tends to hit home around the time you lay your beautiful new baby in their beautiful new cot. Until now, you’ve felt prepared. You’ve bought all the must-haves, read the books, been to the antenatal classes and now it’s time to actually live the plan…and you’re a nervous wreck.
Here are a few tips that I have accumulated along the way, some from my own experience and some from watching courageous mums navigate their way through the fog, to help you throughout the first few days and weeks:
1. Be Organised
It is equally as important to have all the baby paraphernalia to hand as it is being ‘emotionally organised’ also.
Just like a birth plan try making yourself a ‘postnatal plan’. Who would you like around you during this time? What can you do to replenish your needs? Make sure you are not pouring from an empty cup and plan some things within the first few weeks to help nourish YOU emotionally and physically. Also take the time whilst still pregnant to find your local mother and baby groups, write a list of new (possibly necessary) contacts – such as feeding advice lines, health visitors etc. Trying to navigate this in postnatal fog is 1000 times harder!
While you might have envisioned yourself maintaining your domestic goddess status after your baby arrives, cleaning won’t be an option for a couple of weeks. In fact, it will probably be the last thing on your mind – so either get comfortable with the inevitable mess, enlist family or friends to help clean, or hire a cleaner for a week or two. You deserve it!
3. Eat Well
Keeping you and your partner’s energy up with nutritious meals is a must. Good nutrition will help with your healing, is essential for breastfeeding, and will help to keep you going when you’re lacking in sleep. Having friends or your partner cook some healthy meals and freezing them in advance of the baby’s arrival will prove to be a real lifesaver.
4. Block Out The World
Allow yourself time to cuddle and just be with your little baby, without trying to think of ‘things to do’. There’ll be so much time in a few weeks to start revving up into your old organised self, but for now, let go and be content to just lie/sit with your baby while you both get to know each other. Like any new meeting you will need time to get to know your baby and develop that relationship, take the time to nurture that experience.
5. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep!
As tempting as it is to have some ‘you’ time when baby’s napping, getting some sleep yourself is always the better option. Napping as much as you can throughout the day ensures you won’t get exhausted and over-wrought. Make some time for yourself to have that candlelit bath or a read in the evenings when your partner’s at home and can give you a break.
Many women think they’ll immediately want to show their baby off to friends and family, but for many new mums, the very idea of someone else encroaching on their little haven feels like a violation. Try not to feel any pressure to see anyone, and certainly don’t feel like you have to act the host should you have visitors. Give yourself space and wait until you feel ready to start seeing people, friends and family will understand. However do make sure that you find the time to talk through any emotional upheaval you may be going through.
7. Ride The Roller-coaster
Your emotions are probably going to be all over the place for the first few weeks after giving birth. There’s those post pregnancy hormones to deal with, in addition to the upheaval of having a new person in your life, not to mention the physical and emotional recovery of giving birth. So it’s OK not to feel happy all the time – in fact, it’s completely normal to feel a little down at times. The new sense of responsibility can also be overwhelming, so take it easy on yourself – mentally and physically.
Do try to stay vigilant of your moods if you’re tending to feel low for more than a week or two at a time – you could be suffering from postnatal depression and require more support. Tell others how you’re feeling – they may be able to help in some way. Call upon your ‘village’ when necessary and if you haven’t found the people within your village yet have a think about who they might be and take a moment to reach out.
Do not sit in silence if you are overwhelmed. Speak to your health visitor, midwife or GP if you do need extra support and see the links attached to this blog for further information on postnatal anxiety and depression.
8. Try Not Worry
It’s very likely that you and your partner will become obsessed and/or anxious surrounding some aspect of your baby’s routine. For some, it’s pacing up and down your sitting room with baby over your shoulder in a desperate bid to get that last bit of wind up so everyone can go to sleep. For others, it’s the incessant rocking to get your baby to sleep. Whatever it is, know that this too will pass as the weeks and months go on. And finally, I know this will be told to you until you are blue in the face but things really do get easier!