Having a baby is a curious form of torture. You go into labour which can last hours or days and you experience childbirth which, depending on your pain relief choices, is likely to be the most painful experience of your life. Then, rather than having a rest from this ordeal, you are flung into a cycle which in theory only allows you to sleep for two hours at a time – assuming you are supposed to feed the baby every three hours counted from the beginning of the last feed and that the feeding plus faffing with nappies etc. takes an hour, leaves you just two hours to recuperate. How anyone manages it is a miracle.

I was relatively lucky going into it from a short labour and being used to some sleep deprivation (my ability to go to bed before 2am being almost non-existent even when having to get up by 8am to go to work), but it was still a shock.

So this is my guide for how to cope in the first few weeks.
Picture credit: The Telegraph

Live-in Help

It had been arranged that Julia, one of my bestest oldest friends who lives in the States, would visit for a few days as I came on the holiday before my maternity leave. But as it came to pass, Julia arrived on day three of being home with Elphie. There was a bit of a debate between us prior to her arrival as to whether she should still stay or encamp with her aunt and do day trips; I am so glad she stayed – I could not have done without her!

For those brief few days, Julia kept us fed; rubbed my back when I was upset about the midwives’ constant threats to send Elphie back to the big house due to weight loss; babysat while I went to pick up Fred from Sainsbury’s; and even changed a nappy!

Then a bit later when Fred returned to work, my mother was engaged to provide support and took over on the washing front (both the clothes and the dreaded bathtime); cleared out the jungle that was the garden and planted some new flowers; and made sure I was fed.

Asking for help

As a new mother it is easy to try and do everything for your baby, and to feel it should be you and only you providing everything for them – but if you do that you’ll exhaust yourself.

Get Daddy to take over when the going gets too much – I remember Fred waking up to find me sat up in bed doing nothing and on asking what I was doing, answering that I was summoning up the energy to change her nappy. Now if I feel too tired I just wake him and order up a nappy change!

Equally with feeding, sometimes if my milk supply is low in the evening and Elphie has been on and off the breast every half hour then it’s nice to be able to give up and hand a bottle of expressed milk to someone to do the honours. This can also be ordered in the middle of the night when the going gets tough and it was a revelation when one of the midwives told me that the expressed breast milk didn’t need to be heated if she would take it cold (which she does)!

They’ll be there for you

Friends will offer to help – take them up on that offer and ask them to do any random task you are struggling to do. Anna & Gwilym were loaded down with cardboard and sent to the tip for instance, and Jocelyn rearranged some of our food drawers (dispensing with the food that went off in the noughties) while I snoozed.

Being cooked dinner can also help in the first few weeks – Gwilym and Anna cooked us a steak (and washed up!), Harriet brought round premade pizza and Anita dropped round a lasagne – for which we were very grateful. If Elphie had arrived more on schedule then we might have organised a meal train so the visitors would have had more quality time scheduled with Elphie and we’d have had more pie – everyone wins!

To do list

Have a to do list but only aim to achieve one thing on it per day – and if you achieve two give yourself a gold star. Getting out of the house in the first few weeks can be a mission in itself so something on the list might be as simple as “visit the park” (it took three days of attempts before we managed that one – achieved finally at about 9pm in the dusk and the spotting rain but achieved nonetheless).

Today I managed to return a dress – go me!

Ordering in

Thank heaven for the internet – I could not have done without the ability to order things online and have them delivered to my door.

Amazon has been doing a roaring trade from me with their free three month trial of Amazon Family with its free one day delivery and discounts on nappies.

Best laid schemes

Don’t sweat it. All those things you said you’d do that you end up giving up on (cotton wool and water were swiftly replaced by the Boots Baby Wipes suitable for newborns), don’t worry about it. All those things you really want to do (like natural breastfeeding) that you just can’t immediately – don’t lambast yourselves, just keep on trying. All those things you said you wouldn’t do that you end up doing (like co-sleeping), re-evaluate your original reasons for not wanting to and if they still hold just try not to do it again. In the meantime, if there is no harm done – why let yourself feel guilty?

It’s good to talk

Whenever it’s getting too much, you’re worried about something, or want advice, then reach out to your mummy friends. The great thing about parents of newborns is that there is no time that is too late to text – you know they will be up within three hours whatever the time of day! And parents of older kids are always willing to share their war stories and let you learn from their mistakes.

My NCT group use Whatsapp to keep a group message going on baby birth news, general advice, product reviews, late night moans, and to arrange meet-ups.

More randomly, strangers love talking to people with newborn babies and thus you can be provided with a wealth of knowledge in return. I spent half an hour today getting the lowdown on the local nurseries and primary schools from a random local mother of a two and four year old in JoJo Maman Bebe today. Apparently I need to add getting Elphie onto lists for these to the to do list!

As a lady with a toddler told me when I was carting an apoplectic Elphie around Whole Foods – it gets better. Elphie now has four hour stretches of sleep most nights and it is amazing the difference that makes.

Sitting here in the park with a sleeping baby in my arms, I have to admit, sometimes it’s pretty awesome.

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