Pip’s birthday swiftly followed Elphie’s and accordingly, I have been reflecting over the past year. It’s true what they say: I don’t think anyone ever thought the first year of their baby’s life went slowly! Of course, there have been slow moments… very slow moments, but on a day to day basis it has gone by in a blink.
I second all of Elly’s advice and have a few bits of my own to add…
1. Go out every day
Rain or shine, strap on that sling or fire up the buggy and just get out. This was advice in turn given to me when I was pregnant and I actually listened to it for a change. Of course, it helped that Pip was born in summer when it was generally pleasant enough to head out, but by the time the colder months rolled around the habit was unbreakable.
There are several well-documented reasons why getting out of the house is so incredibly beneficial: it lifts your mood, exercise is great for you and fresh air usually calms both you and the baby. In addition, I found the need to be presentable to the outside world every day was a virtuous circle as I then felt more put together and in control of things, thus feeling better about myself = automatically presentable. Plus depending on where you live, chances might be high that you run into someone you know, and you don’t want to look a fright if that happens (well I don’t anyway!) On the very few occasions I have stayed at home with Pip all day, I have noticed a huge difference in both of our mental states. Grumpy mummy and grumpy baby… not good.
It is helpful to have a goal in mind rather than just aimlessly wandering around. When they get a bit older, playgrounds or soft play (as mentioned by Elly) are a good target. Otherwise, my daily free cappuccino from Waitrose is usually the first place to head. There’s nothing like the lure of a free drink to get you out!
2. Don’t be afraid to travel with a baby
The topic of holidays with babies may have been slightly touched upon already on this blog, so I won’t go on about it too much… except to say that my advice is just go for it. There are many things that seem frightening about travelling with a baby, such as the logistics of airports and the threat of screaming en route. They are frightening partly because yes, they do happen, and you’ve probably seen stressed families before, but also I expect because it is an unknown experience. The first time we went away, I spent about a week packing. The next time, three days. Now I’ve got it down to around… six hours. It does get easier!
For more information, see our posts, but really – how bad can it be? DO IT!
3. Try everything once
Continuing on our favourite subject of travel, I’m going to use the example of getting about more locally to illustrate this point. I know some mothers who have never been into Central London on their own with their babies as they are just too nervous about it. Now, I didn’t take Pip beyond Waterloo for a few months after he was born either, but the difference was that I had no reason to – I wasn’t about to go on a spontaneous jaunt just for the hell of it, not when I could walk locally to everything I needed – until Mr Cath’s Christmas party at his office. Correct me if I’m wrong (anyone who might know!) but I think this was our first trip on the tube together. And guess what, it was FINE. Unlike on the trains, there was no huge gap or step for the buggy, and I must say Canary Wharf station is a dream if you’re on wheels.
We have had horrid experiences since then of course – lifts out of order and not a friendly man in sight, delays, rice cakes strewn everywhere and crying during rush hour. Buses also have their stressful moments: a particular bugbear of mine is when the driver sets off while I’m still wheeling the buggy down the aisle. So dangerous! I have also heard worse bus stories, such as falling off and tipping the buggy and its contents onto the street. But I wouldn’t hesitate to get on one right now… because once you have done something, the fear lessens and eventually goes away. I was nervous the first time I got on a bus, but HAD to go to the town hall to register Pip. Anna came with me to help. We couldn’t get the brakes to work properly and it was a nightmare, but it was OK because there were two of us adults to deal with the situation. So that would be my top tip: take a friend the first time!
The thing is, the longer you leave it, the worse it gets and the more your mental block develops. I have this problem with driving. As previously noted, I have barely driven since Pip’s birth, for no particular reason except that I mostly just haven’t needed to. But now I feel nervous about the thought of getting behind the wheel, especially with such a precious cargo in the back seat. It is ridiculous I feel this way: I have been driving since 17 and have confidently driven a wide variety of vehicles including a large moving van from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side. The issue is entirely mental and at some point I will need to conquer it, but in the meantime learn from my mistakes and just get on with trying things out as much as possible!
4. Listen to your baby
From the practical to the slightly more abstract…
I think what I am trying to say is don’t assume that every cry means something negative that must be stopped immediately, for example hunger. While pregnant, I must have read/been told a thousand times that in the early days a baby’s cry is its only means of communication, but of course when that tiny squalling creature is there in front of you, you are not thinking “hmm, now, is that what you mean?” you are pleading “MAKE IT STOP!” When you are actually in that situation, it is very difficult to detach yourself and be rational – especially if you are breastfeeding, as your body may produce a very physical response.
Yes, I know I wrote this very post all about babies’ different cries, but that doesn’t mean I actually paid attention to any of it!
In the first few months, I therefore stoppered even the tiniest meow with my breast. It was only after weaning when the feedings started to settle down and my confidence increased that I began to “allow” Pip to cry/communicate a bit more. And I promise you it really wasn’t that bad. I used to not be able to put him down for a nap unless he was fast asleep as I was so terrified of the sound of his crying. Now, I put him down and yes, he cries – but the difference is, it isn’t even really a cry but more of a wail. And best of all, it gets quieter and quieter and stops within a few minutes. I wish I’d tried this much earlier, and trusted Pip a bit more in terms of his communication. I realise now that with a tired, pathetic, wailing cry – rather like wuh wuh wuh as opposed to aaarrrgghh! – the worst thing you can do is go in and pick them up as what they really want is to be left alone to go to sleep.
Obviously, your instincts have to come in a bit and if there is any hint of screaming or real tears, something is clearly wrong. I am not advocating any form of controlled crying or heaven forbid crying it out. Just yesterday, I put Pip to bed for his morning nap and he fell asleep after a few minutes of moaning about being tired. In the afternoon I tried again and was back in there within half a minute as he was not a happy boy at all. Turns out he didn’t want an afternoon nap after all, but chose to (mostly) happily soldier on until bedtime. I am finally learning that they WILL tell you!
So my advice, if any of that makes sense, is to not be scared of your baby’s cry – much easier said than done, but next time I’ll try really hard to follow this as it does make life so much easier.
Do not underestimate the mood-lifting powers of music: from the labour playlist to my current absolute reliance on 6 Music, having some good tunes in the background has done nothing less than keep me sane (along with tea and under eye concealer, which I’ve mentioned before). It is great to have as background during some seemingly interminable meals with Pip, and just generally around the house.
I would also ensure you have some musical toys for the baby – both instruments and pre-recorded stuff where you press buttons or whatnot. This Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes has been invaluable during recent nappy changes when Pip persistently tries to roll around, sit up, grab at what is happening down below etc. He now quietly lies there listening to “Mozart”. Great while it lasts… and as long as no-one tries to take it from him!