i felt the urge to write a blog post today, so here i am...
as we are now officially out of newborn phase and into regular baby phase, i wanted to write something about what it's like living life with a newborn. partly so i don't forget the cuteness, but mostly because i want to help anyone who is about to enter this phase by giving my tips and advice and share links to useful info.
i don't think there's any way of really being fully prepared for having a baby (i know that's cliche but it's also true), but i do believe that the research and reading prep i did before having our boy held me in good stead to tackle things, because i didn't feeling completely clueless. so here are some of my favourite things i discovered...
1. firstly, i would recommend going to an ante-natal class before you have your baby.
you'll learn lots and you might meet some new friends. we did this, and although there was lots of stuff we already knew, it helped give me some much-needed confidence for the birth day and for motherhood. there was also someone on hand to ask questions to, someone who has heard birth and motherhood stories from heaps of other women.
2. talk with your partner about your expectations. and keep talking.
one of the best things we did after our classes was to talk through things to make sure my husband and i were on the same page when it came to looking after our baby. we would try and talk through real life scenarios so we knew where each others boundaries were. most of these scenarios were to do with making sure we got enough sleep, as well as how we could best look after and serve each other through the first few weeks when we were tired.
and we do continue to keep role playing; 'so how clean do you expect the house to be when he starts crawling?', 'i'd like for you to be home to be able to read a book to him before he sleeps, is this realistic?'
this mitigates unnecessary arguments, and also there's not a lot of time to have these conversations when the baby arrives, so you'd end up needing to make a decision fast.
3. it's ok to sleep in separate rooms.
one of the main things we discussed a lot was how we would optimize our sleeping so we both got good sleep without either of us feeling alone. we tried a few different things out practically and then eventually decided that the best thing for us was that we'd fall asleep in the same bed, with our boy in a moses basket in our room. then when he woke up in the night, my husband would get up and change him, whilst i expressed a little milk if necessary, went to the bathroom, had some water (and often a little snack) and prepared my cosy pillow nest for nursing. then my husband would bring me our son so i could feed him and he would go into the room next door and sleep for the remaining hours before his alarm went off.
this meant that i felt loved because i could go into nursing with a mindset that my husband was there for me and cared for me, instead of being in a totally different room and feeling abandoned (which we spent 2 nights trying and was pretty horrible).
4. expect nights to be long to begin with, but know that they will get better.
to begin with our son woke twice a night for a feed, once at 1am and then again at 5am. he would often be awake for 2 hours in the night too before going back to sleep again. i occupied myself with instagram and youtube videos whilst he was nursing, which was taking 45mins to 1hour (20-25mins per side) and then i would spend the other hour lying on the bed watching him kick about on my husband's side of the bed.
it took until he was 10 weeks old to understand the difference between day and night and that he should start sleeping longer at that time, so we spent quite a number of weeks up in the night. and yes, 10 weeks is pretty early and we feel really grateful and blessed by this. at first it was midnight to 5am, then has edged back little by little until he can now sleep from 10pm to 7am without waking at 17 weeks!
5. make things comfortable for yourself.
i spent an inordinate amount of time on the sofa with the television on in the first few months. until he was about 15 weeks old he would take 45 minutes to up to an hour to feed, and he would feed every 3-4 hours, and every 2 hours some days (on growth spurt days). and when nursing you don't really have hands to do anything with; so i set up a little area on the sofa, with my good nursing pillow, a large glass of water, my phone, some snacks and the remote.
i also made sure that i had really easy nursing clothes for home, that were comfy but classy. i have a couple of pairs of yoga trousers which i love, and then i just use the simplest nursing bras and then floaty tops which i can lift up. lots of women recommend getting really nice pyjamas that you could open the door to the postman in, and i agree.
it's important to feel like you look nice to keep your own self-esteem in a good place, as well as looking nice for your partner. in fact, i made time for making myself look good by asking my husband to look after our boy in the evening whilst i had a bath, shaved my legs, did my hair and painted my nails. i probably only did this a handful of times those first few months, but it was really important to me.
i also kept a blanket and a cushion nearby for moments in the days when i needed a nap, during those first few weeks he would just fall asleep and then i'd get my head down as soon as i could, because i didn't know how long he would sleep and 10 minutes was better than no minutes of extra sleep! i certainly didn't sleep every time he slept, but i made sure to get in at least 6 hours of sleep in a 24 hour cycle and then to rest my body the majority of the day.
6. read the books, but don't expect your baby to be like anyone else's baby.
i did a lot of reading before baby was born. i wanted to understand a lot about what to expect from him, and how he would develop with how much sleep he needed and how much he should be nursing and how long. however, these books ended up being more of a guideline for us.
i particularly read Gina Ford, who recommends a particular schedule for mum and baby. we did it for a day and it was perfect, but then the second day was a nightmare. so, we took the info we needed and then moved forward. we learnt to take things at his pace, and be relaxed with how quickly he was accomplishing 'goals' with sleep and eating.
7. eat really good food and drink a lot of water.
if you're breastfeeding then this is essential, but all mums should eat well to maintain their energy levels for their baby. it seems bizarre to feed yourself badly and then expect yourself to perform well for your child. i suppose a whole blog post about breastfeeding foods would be useful, but for now here's a list of snacks i keep on hand for when i need to eat something and don't have time to prepare anything: fresh fruit, dried fruit, fruit purees, soy yogurt, cartons of thick chocolate almond milk, individually wrapped packets of biscuits or cakes (our organic food store nearby stocks lots of healthy options), smoked tofu on crispbread and hummus on crackers.
also, fennel tea has been crucial - in Belgium it's a big deal with nurses and doctors, they even will say 'have you had your fennel tea?' if you seem to have a low supply. also lactation cookies were very important to keep stocked in the freezer, and my mum would make a big batch each time she came - i like the recipe on detoxinista, but feel free to try out different ones.
one of the most important things for any hospital bag and the weeks after is a huge water bottle, i got a large purple Klean Kanteen and made sure to keep it topped up.
8. get out of the house.
this has been such a crucial one for me and also our whole family. for those first few weeks when we were in neonatal our son wasn't allowed out, so we had extra enthusiasm to get him fresh air once we got home. we were advised that for the first couple of weeks that it was best to put him in a baby wrap, but we did also use our pram. in those first months our little boy would sleep as soon as he started moving in anything, so it became important not to keep him in them for too long because otherwise he'd not quite figure he was hungry because he was so comfy and warm.
but then, it's just good for the brain to get out the house, walk around, breath in the fresh air (and the rain if you live in Belgium like I do!) and be near people if you can. i often found a 30 minute walk down to my local square did the trick, and it was great for getting him to sleep in the afternoons when he was getting a little bit grumpy.
9. use your phone to track your baby.
this is one for other geeks out there. i found the Baby Tracker app really helpful, because i could log every single piece of info and run things on timers, so for example, i would know that it had been 1hr 37mins since his last sleep and he was likely getting tired again. or that it was 3 hours and 31 mins from my last diaper change so i should probably have a think about changing him. i would know that he'd spent more time feeding on one breast than the other, or that i started on the right side last time so i would need to start on the left side this time... this app was insanely useful when i was really tired and my timings were really off because i was exhausted.
10. ask for help.
a great thing for keeping up your mental strength when you're low on sleep is to make sure that you ask for the sort of help you need and not the help you think people want to give you. for example, people bringing round food for you, hot if you need, or at a specific time, is actually helping them to help you better and will make them feel happier too. asking for people to come over and just talk to you, even if they may not get cuddles with the baby because he is nursing or sleeping, still blesses them and you so much.
for those first weeks baby was either nursing or asleep all the time so i felt a lot of guilt asking people to do things for us because he wasn't really that interactive yet and was generally indisposed! however, at some point i just had to get over that guilt and ask for help anyway because i was exhausted.
it's also important to ask your partner to do things for you when you need. i can't count the amount of times my husband would come home from a 12 hour day in the office and then i would ask him to stop at the shops to get a list of things as well as then come back and cook and serve dinner and then hold our baby boy whilst he was wriggling and grumpy. but he appreciated that i knew what i needed and asked for it, so we could work together.
11. know that it's all just a phase.
it's important with all things to remember that everything inside a baby is growing and learning, so every day is very different from the next. which means that tomorrow might bring a new type of giggle, or it might bring pain from teething. whatever it is, new things are exciting, frustrating and very tiring for your baby to learn... i've found myself saying so many times to my boy 'oh, it hurts to grow doesn't it?' when he seems to be in pain for no obvious reason.
breastfeeding difficulties are also just a phase. it took me about 12 weeks to really get confident and comfortable at breastfeeding. and then on that 12th week i breastfed out at a cafe for the first time with my nursing cover. i spent lots of times those first weeks telling my very patient husband that i wasn't ready yet, but that i knew i would be soon and it would happen at the time it needed to. (eventually my mum came over and sat with me that first time in the cafe, encouraging me in the way only a woman can, so when i was getting flustered she could just smile at me and keep me calm)
any illness is usually just a phase too. our boy got a cold at 14 weeks which lasted for just a couple of days and then a drippy nose for a week or so. then he had a horrid fever and poorly tummy one night after a round of vaccinations. but it was only just one night. and we knew that at the time, so we loved him to sleep and said to ourselves that if we were fully present with him to help him then he would recover quicker.
12. cuddles are good.
very importantly, cuddles are the foundation of love in our house. if he's in pain or troubled or tired, there's nothing more soothing than a cuddle. which is why we love our CuddleBug wrap so much, because that means he's cuddled but my arms aren't about to come out their sockets. there were countless evenings those first months where he would just be overtired from the day and he didn't want to kick about (which he's always spent a huge chunk of the day doing) or to nurse or to sleep, he just needed a snuggle on mummy or daddy's tummy. and he loves being held tight so he can't move, so we also love swaddling him.
13. be present with your baby.
a little bit of gentle parenting has worked it's way into our parenting techniques, by making sure that we are responding to his needs and being present with him all the time. we are not helicopter parents, in fact we make sure that a huge portion of the time he's by himself trying out new things and kicking about on his mat so he can learn to do things by himself. instead we are watching him out the corner of our eyes and listening for subtle changes that indicate he's ready for sleeping or eating. because if you can learn the signals your baby is trying to give you early on then it will save a lot of frustration and you will have a more contented little baby.
14. expressing milk is a good thing.
i would always recommend expressing some milk, because it makes it easier for your baby to nurse and encourages more milk supply. i used to do it 3 times a day, for the first 3 feeds i would express a tiny bit from each breast (like 15ml per side) so they felt less like rocks and this really helped my baby latch on for longer, and get the right type of milk. this eventually went down to the first feed and the one around midday. then now i express about 50-60ml each morning on just one side.
this is great because then on hot days or days when he's frustrated he can have a bottle feed from his daddy in the evening if he needs it (though he seems to need it less and less, so lots is ending up in the freezer).
15. make your partner a priority.
i remember in my last trimester repeating to my husband 'i know that those first weeks i won't be able to focus on you, you'll have to really hold on in there because it might seem like i don't love you because i won't be able to show you as easily, but please love me anyway and help me and just be patient with me'. i recommend saying this to your partner too.
there were countless times when he would have a growth spurt (really i think the first 3 months are an endless growth spurt - they don't call it the 4th trimester for nothing) and be feeding most of the day, and i was so tired from nursing and holding him that preparing food was not really possible. my husband would come home to me still on the sofa saying 'i've been here most of the day', and he would graciously make me a healthy dinner and take our boy for cuddles.
also, make sure to ask your partner how you can help them to feel more loved. talk through things together, and support them in things that help them feel more energized. in our parenting partnership i make sure that my husband gets a good night sleep each night and that's about all i could do to help him those first weeks and even now it's our main priority.
i also had to get out my comfort zone at weekends and do things with my husband and our boy together, even though the comfort and routine of home was much easier for me. it was a good sacrifice for me to do something different, even though i would spend monday and tuesday with a cranky baby, because it made my husband so happy and helped enrich those first precious months with memories.
16. recovery isn't all that bad, but it's weird not being pregnant any more.
lastly, i should probably mention that you'll probably want to get a few frozen maternity pads going in the freezer and a little bottle of perineum spray, and then you'll be fine. i loved this blog post from passionate homemaking and my mum made up several pads that i just got out the freezer each day. i also had aloe vera juice in the fridge and was increasing my fibre intake because it's important not too strain anywhere in that area! also, get some massive black knickers, because that's all you'll want to wear.
so, that's that. longest post ever. but i wanted it to be juicy! and there's just so much to say. if there's anything you'd like to ask or a point you want to have expanded then please do just let me know, and i'll get an answer to you. thank you so much for reading all the way to the end! if you've made it this far you'll probably appreciate following me on youtube, pinterest, twitter, instagram or facebook, so head on over there to catch up with the latest things that have been going on.
much love, alissa x
ps. currently listening to kimberly snyder's beauty inside out podcast - love it!