Having a baby was a huge shock to the system – no matter what anyone says to you, that new bundle you think will gracefully make its way into your life, absolutely turns your world upside down, around and up again.
1. To accept that the first 2 weeks will probably be a bit shit…
I remember the first 2 weeks being a lot more traumatic than people led me to believe. I was ready for this baby to arrive and for the lack of sleep, and even the visitors. I was not ready for all the emotions that came with it all.
I didn’t know that babies are supposed to sleep all the time in those early days. My mum joked on day 4 ‘Does this baby ever wake up?!’ and I promptly burst into tears.
I didn’t realise that doing simple tasks would be so hard. The aftermath of birth is all blood, big paper pants and the inability to stand up or sit down – it’s those last couple of inches as you ease in or out of the chair that get you! One midwife said to get a jug of water and pour it over my ruined lady-parts every time I went to the toilet. So I got the jug, I sat on the loo, and promptly poured water all over the bathroom floor. I still cannot work out the level of physics required to get everything at the right angle.
This is your most vulnerable time as a new mum. There was not one rational hormone running through my body. Day 3 when the milk came in I laughed and sobbed all day and then ate three dinners. THREE. And all the time, my husband and I were terrified that we couldn’t keep this scrap of meat alive if we took our eyes off him. In the end, my mother-in-law took the baby up to bed, put the baby monitor on one side of the room, and whispered ‘Can you hear me?’ My husband and I looked at each other, weary with relief and said ‘Yes’.
2. To remember that ‘This too shall pass’…
No matter how hard you try to get into a routine of feeding the baby or getting them to sleep, there are times when it just does not come together. It was hard when my friend’s baby started sleeping through the night, and for no apparent reason my baby would just not go without that early morning feed.
It’s easy to believe that this is it; that your baby won’t find a regular sleeping pattern, that they will always wake up at night, that this life is never ever going away! But, it’s not true. A friend once said to me ‘It gets better I promise!’ and I used to cling to this every time I felt myself slipping into the pit of sadness and self-doubt, where I’d think to myself, ‘I can’t go on like this forever – what have I done?’
The thing is, every issue rights itself; you will eventually get some sleep, and it will get better because ‘This too shall pass’ – and probably in a couple of weeks. Hang on in there!
3. That breastfeeding is not for everyone and that’s OK…
Let me be clear. Breastfeeding was one of the most painful things I ever had to do both physically and emotionally. In the end I breastfed both my babies, but the early days were hellish. Baby number 1 wasn’t bothered with feeding and lost too much weight in the first few days. It took him and I ages to work out what ‘angle of dangle’ worked best.
Baby number 2 was too ‘sucky’ – and aggressively drank so much that she brought it back up almost immediately. I learned I couldn’t over-feed her as she just puked up what she didn’t need! I also had two bouts of mastitis which was no fun at all.
In the end, after the 3-4-month mark, I started giving them formula as well as breastfeeding. I wish I had not felt the shame of doing this in the early days. I felt so much pressure to breastfeed that I felt a failure, and for some of my friends this pressure led to desperate cycles of shame, not producing enough milk, more shame, and less and less milk.
You must do what is right for you and your baby. You know what that is. Trust and back yourself to get there.
4. To pack sandwiches for any hospital visit…
As a new mum the number 111 is never far away. In the first week of having baby number 1 he rolled down my leg – but I was so distraught I rang the midwife and said, ‘I dropped him!’ which of course I hadn’t, but off to A&E we trudged. (The baby was fine – not bothered in the slightest by the way!)
Then there was the time the girl-one bit her tongue aged about 18 months and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. That was fun (not).
Then there was the time the boy-one got really hot, and we weren’t sure what to do.
Then there was the time I was convinced the girl-one was deaf, and I needed to sort out her hearing (turned out she was just ignoring me).
In all cases – we were basically sent home from the hospital thinking ‘I knew we didn’t need to come’.
But – let’s get real here; as a new mum you will want to be cautious and when you ring 111 they will often suggest taking the baby to the Doctor, or the hospital. And while you think ‘Ugh it’s going to take ages’ you go anyway just to be sure. And you are not alone!
We did it enough times to know – that you gotta pack some sandwiches!
5. To use your baby as the guide…
In those first few weeks, months, years – there are many times where your mind can wander to thinking ‘Am I doing this right?’ or ‘Am I good enough as a mum?’ and that is where the stress, the pressure, or the anxiety sometimes can begin.
My husband was a rock for me at each of those moments and would regularly say ‘Use the kids as your guide’. He’d tell me “Look at them; they are healthy, they are happy, they are great babies – you are doing a great job.’ And he was right.
You know your baby better than anyone. Of course, you can read, learn, and use the tools around you to help. But they are just that – tools. Only you can write the rule book on how to raise your baby. Trust your gut and go with it.
Kate Cocker is the CEO of two humans, mother of business “The Presenter Coach”, and is constantly trying to work out what on earth is going on in this ridiculous thing called life. You can find her spreading joy on her podcast “Everyday Positivity”.