There’s a LOT of things I wish I had known in the first week of being a mum. Those early newborn days are TOUGH, but don’t worry – I’ve got you! Here’s my top advice for new mums to help you survive that first week and the tough early newborn days.
I recently discovered that back in the day, and in some other countries, you would stay in hospital for a good few days or even a week after giving birth – even if you’ve had a normal delivery. This time would be spent bonding with your baby, recovering from birth but most importantly – especially for first time mums like myself – learning how to look after your baby. You would actually be shown how to bath your baby. How to make up bottles. How to cut their nails. How to change a poopy nappy. All of the essentials to give you that peace of mind that you CAN look after your tiny little human and you’re doing everything right.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we paid for and attended an NCT class which was excellent but in the great scheme of things – putting a nappy on a doll is NOT the same as putting a nappy on a wriggly, crying baby after they’ve just been forced out of their happy little sanctuary inside your belly. So, the fact we were turfed out of the hospital pretty quickly after birth meant we were literally left to our own devices. The hospital just trust that you know what you’re doing, and all I can really say is thank god we did decide to do NCT, else we wouldn’t have had a bloody clue!
Whilst I do believe it’s true that your maternal/paternal instincts kick in, and there is of course an element of common sense too, there is definitely plenty of advice I wish someone had told me in all the glorious detail when I was a new mum. If you’re struggling and need a super quick 5 minute dose of happiness, check out my 5 top tips on how to feel happy.
For the mother: you’ve just given birth and YOU ARE BLOODY AMAZING. The female body is mind blowing. You have grown, carried and birthed a real live human baby! This is no easy feat, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
Now, I was especially guilty of not allowing myself the time to rest and recover immediately after the birth – so much so that I had a bit of an episode: I passed out and got taken back into hospital on my first night home. So my first nugget of advice: allow yourself the time to rest and recover. Remind yourself it is OK for you to have a sit down with a cup of tea and just relax. Take naps at any given opportunity. If you can, ask friends and family to visit and whilst they’re cuddling your beautiful little creation – go and sleep! No one will expect you to ‘host’ them – this is your first week of being a mum. After all, they’re not really there to see you – they’re there to cuddle your newborn!
For the partner: don’t be a hero. Help the mother, of course, and let her rest and recover, but just remember that you are no good to her and the baby if you’re shattered, too. I think we, as a society, forget that the birth can take a toll on the partner, too, and sometimes emotional or mental exhaustion can be just as deliberating as physical exhaustion. Take your naps where you can. Don’t be a hero and try to ‘power through’… you’ll only come to regret it when you crash and burn from overdoing it.
Another of my best pieces of advice for new mums – accept help. If someone offers to pop round and cuddle the baby for an hour – say ‘yes please that would be lovely’. Then run away for a shower or a nap. Let your guests make YOU a cup of tea. Someone wants to batch cook you some spag bol? Take it. Trust me. Accept all and any help you can get – and don’t be scared to ask for it if you need it, too. We wouldn’t have been able to get through those first few nights at home if it wasn’t from the help of our family. No one will judge you as a new mother, I promise – there’s plenty of time to be judged later on in your life! Try not to worry if you don’t have too many ‘mum friends’ to help out straight away during the early days – there’s plenty of time for making mum friends in the future!
Those first few nights were tough. We quickly learned the hard way about the reality of the fourth trimester… Arthur refused to sleep anywhere but on our chests, being cuddled. We took it in turns staying awake to look after him, we had a solid 6 hour shift pattern going on and we loaded up on a LOT of Nespresso pods. I remember thinking ‘how are we going to get through this?’, ‘what am I going to do when Taylor goes back to work?’, ‘is he ever going to sleep on his back in his bed?’. No one had actually warned me that babies spend the first few days/weeks only sleeping being cuddled – I naively thought they would just immediately be able to sleep on their backs, so when he wouldn’t settle on his back, I panicked and thought it was going to be like that forever.
But alas, do not fear – he slowly but surely spent longer and longer on his back and one night (I think it was in week 2 eventually!) it just seemed to suddenly ‘click’ and he has slept on his back in his bed every night since.
When Arthur did start sleeping on his back – even if it was just in 20 minute stints in those first few days – I had this weird fear of sleeping when he slept. I guess it was a combination of a few things – the flashbacks (read on for more about that), a worry that I wouldn’t wake up if he stirred or cried and wanting to just stare at him all the time because sleeping babies are SO DARN CUTE.
In reality, you will burn out if you don’t sleep when baby sleeps. My advice for new mums – get over any fears like that as soon as possible. Every time the baby sleeps, try and put your head down too. As long as you’re following safe sleep guidelines, nothing awful will happen. Your baby will be fine. You will wake up – trust me, those maternal instincts are STRONG and your body just ‘tunes in’, especially in that first week of being a mum. So much so, that if I was having a nap on the third floor of our house, I would still be able to hear his tiny little cries downstairs, even with the doors shut.
Once you’ve done it once, you’ll wake up and realise baby is okay, you’re okay, and you’ll be fine from then onwards. It’s one of those things where the sooner you do it and get over the fear to sleep, the sooner life becomes a LOT easier.
Whilst postnatal depression is becoming more commonly spoken about, one thing I wasn’t expecting, nor did I even think was a possibility of experiencing, was PTSD. Post traumatic stress disorder when relating to birth can also be called birth trauma and it is REAL. It is common, it is not spoken about enough and it is scary. This is such an important piece of advice for new mums: whilst not everyone experiences birth trauma, it is definitely something to be aware of, so you can more easily pick up on any symptoms, should they arise.
For me, it resonated in flashbacks. Really intense, horrific flashbacks that left me too scared to close my eyes and try to sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I was back on the delivery table in the height of our traumatic labour. I was waking up in a sweat panicking, thinking it was happening all over again and then taking a few seconds for me to realise that I was actually home, safe in bed, and my baby is healthy and sleeping soundly. I am, however, one of the lucky ones – the flashbacks slowly became less often, and eventually, mostly diminished completely.
I found that being open and honest really helped. Talking about it helped it seem less scary. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and family who are overly supportive, but if you’re not quite so lucky – there’s a ton of help available. Talk to your community midwife, health visitor or contact mind or another similar service. Ring the hospital and ask them to point you in the right direction for a service that can help in your local area. Reach out to other mums on social media – there’s a whole community of mums meddling through the mess together.
So there we have it – my best advice for new mums surviving those early newborn days. Just remember – everyone’s experiences are different and if you are struggling with anything at all – reach out to someone. Heck – even reach out to me! I love chatting away with other new mums on instagram, so come and find me @Jodetopia. We’re all in this together, after all (no High School Musial pun intended, I promise).