Every time a baby is born, so is a mother. I believe this to be true whether you have had your first baby, or your 6th. Each birth, each woman or birthing person, each experience brings new challenges and gives rise to new feelings. As a midwife, mother of 2 and hypnobirthing instructor, these are my top tips for new parents.
Know what normal looks like
Ah! Social media – how we love you! But, be mindful who you follow in your early days with a new baby. Sitting in your pjs at 3pm, surrounded by muslin squares, half drunk cups of tea and empty biscuit packets – with a baby firmly asleep on your chest because they simply refuse to stay asleep when you put them in their cot? That is the reality of life with a new baby for most families. We are carry mammals. It is the biological norm for our babies to feed often, to need close contact to feel safe enough to sleep soundly and to wake frequently. Understanding what newborn behaviour is usually like can be a lifesaver – yes it is hard to hold a baby for hours on end, yes it is hard if your baby wakes frequently to feed; but it is harder if you are fighting against nature. Harder still if you feel anxious that this behaviour means something is wrong, “I’m not doing it right”. Search your social media platforms for fourth trimester information, for International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, Midwives and other supporters of normal baby behaviour. Seeing other new families living your experience is affirming and will give you the energy and confidence to keep following your baby’s cues. Babies are instinctive beings – we can learn a lot from them! The Positive BIrth Company Postpartum Pack has 7 video workshops by experts who will give you information and practical techniques to help you navigate the first days and weeks with a newborn – a great place to start learning what normal looks like!
Pull up the drawbridge
My favourite piece of advice for taking a newborn baby home? A week in bed and a week on the sofa. Keep visitors to a minimum. Yes, everybody is desperate to meet your bebe, but if their visit means you feel you need to clear up, get dressed and you would want to leave the room to feed your baby then they need to wait a few days.
Adjusting to life with a new baby takes time. Recovering from birth takes time, especially if you have stitches that are sore, or are learning to breastfeed (and yes, it is a learned skill not an innate ability you are born with!). The Positive Birth Company refer to birth partners as keepers of the cave, and that doesn’t stop now. If you need to put off a visitor, let you partner communicate that for you. Before a visit, ask your partner to message your visitor and let them know anything that would help them to help you. Ideally visitors should bring something and do something! Anyone who loves you will understand and respect your need to enjoy your newborn bubble!
Give yourself a break! For many of us, especially first time around, we have ideas about the kind of parent we will be. Maybe we have been very driven in professionally, and look to apply that same drive to parenting. We sign up for baby music groups and baby sensory groups, and promise to meet friends for coffee. Then your baby doesn’t sleep, and nap time happens when you are supposed to be leaving the house. Newborn babies do not care about your schedule! When was the last time you didn’t sleep? Trying to carry on and meet commitments on no sleep is horrendous. Adrenaline and cortisol will carry you some of the way, but it doesn’t feel good. Cancelling plans, admitting that we can’t do it all – sometimes that feels like admitting defeat, like such a step away from who we were before we had babies. But I am here to tell you that resting is revolutionary! And I don’t just mean for you yourself, but for mothers and parents everywhere! Being able to say ‘this it too much’ is courageous and brave and we owe it to our children to say ‘enough is enough’ to the myth that mothers can do it all without there being an emotional and physical toll. Sometimes it is all too much, and sitting on the sofa with your warm snuggly baby is IMPORTANT WORK.
Ask for help
Got a toddler tearing around the house all day? Ask friends and family to take them to the park. Exhausted and feeding all time, but feeling stressed by the mess? When visitors ask ‘what can I do?’ don’t hand them your baby and then go and wash up, ask them if they would mind loading the dishwasher while you feed your baby. These people love you, they want to help. Let them! If you can afford to invest in a postnatal doula, or a cleaner, or anyone who can offer a few hours of support with cooking, cleaning, caring for your baby while you nap DO IT! Having help is not a luxury – it is a necessity. Caring for young children has always been a pack activity, humans are not solitary beings. At The Positive Birth Company we know it takes a village, our Village Hub has lots of free resources to help you throughout this journey.
Remember that your baby thinks you are perfect
There will be hard days. Caring for a newborn is hard. Parenting is hard. Adulting is hard! It is so easy to have a negative internal monologue, and that voice can be really loud on days where sleep is scarce and you have given in to things you never wanted to do. Using positive affirmations is a wonderful way to quieten that inner critic, and to help you remember that your baby thinks you are perfect. At The Positive Birth Company we produced our Words for Mothers cards in collaboration with our community, asking them for affirmation and phrases that they wished they had heard in the first days and weeks with a newborn. Displaying them around your home, where they will settle into your subconscious can be incredibly reassuring – any of you who have done our hypnobirthing course will know the power of affirmations.
Written by – Hannah O’Sullivan is a NHS Senior Midwife and Hypnobirthing Teacher, on behalf of The Positive Birth Company