Useful Tips for First-Time Mothers
Congratulations! You Are Now a Mother!
With a mixture of trepidation and excitement, you have been waiting for this moment for the best part of nine months. Sometimes you have felt elated and bursting with love, hope and joy. At other times you have almost feared the change. You are saying goodbye to the old 'you' - the 'you' who could do, within reason, whatever you liked. You could stay out late, sleep in, spend your hard earned money on whatever you chose. There were spontaneous weekends away, wild parties, romantic moments locked away with only the two of you. But that's all changed now.
What Happened to the Old You?
All of a sudden, you are no longer the old 'you'. You are entering another phase of your life and, whilst you are looking forward to it, it's hard not to feel unsure of the unknown. After all, you have responsibilities now, lots of them. You are responsible for the life of another person. You are responsible for caring for that little person; for drying their tears and making them laugh and keeping them clean and nourished. You are now a mother.
Let me just say that, for the majority of women, becoming a mother is the most wonderful thing they will ever do. When your newborn baby is placed in your arms you are looking down at a little miracle. A baby is born loving its mother; it does not have to learn this. And a mother's love is strong and unconditional. So, of course, is the love of a father, but for the sake of this article, I am going to concentrate on motherhood.
It Isn't Always Easy—Especially When You Are On Your Own
Before your baby is born, it is very easy to imagine an idealistic world in which you and your child float happily along like white, fluffy clouds in the bluest sky. However, being a parent isn't always like that. In fact, at times it may seem that it isn't ever like that. The thing is, babies often do not respond in the way that you would like. Perhaps he has been screaming his head off all morning and nothing you have tried will placate him. You have rocked him, cuddled him, fed him, changed his nappy and yet nothing is working. You are starting to feel as though your brain is going to explode. It isn't your fault and very often has little to do with being inexperienced as a parent. Perhaps he has colic, in which case the screaming can continue for what seems like forever. (Despite numerous over-the-counter remedies I have never been able to cure my children of this problem.) Or perhaps he just isn't happy and you really can't work out why.
For many new mothers, crunch time begins when her partner goes back to work and her little bubble of mummy, daddy and baby is ever so slightly dented. When it was the three of you, you were novice parents together, muddling your way along and marveling over the beautiful human being you have both created. You had another adult to talk to and to enjoy the special moments with. Probably you shared tasks, like changing nappies, washing clothes, bath time and comforting your little one. Now you are on your own and suddenly it all seems very daunting. Or perhaps you are a single parent and you have been on your own from day one.
I remember clearly the day I was left alone with my first child after three weeks of family bliss. He cried for hours and I sat with him trying in vain to soothe him, wondering if I would ever have a moment to get dressed and clean my teeth. Of course, when my other half was at home all I had to do was pass him over. That practical solution had suddenly disappeared.
Don't Feel Guilty
Don't worry about putting your baby down sometimes. He may cry and scream - a lot. It's what babies do. Some babies don't seem to mind spending a bit of time cooing in their baskets or baby chairs. My own, however, found it completely offensive to be put down for even a second! But putting your baby down for a short time while you get dressed, clean your teeth, make some breakfast etc. will not scar him for life. He will not come to any harm and you will feel a whole lot better when you are ready to face the day and not lolling about in your pyjamas with your hair resembling a bird's nest.
Perhaps you are used to the structure and routine of work life? You like to be organised, you like everything to be 'just so'. You make plans and try to stick to them and it always used to work. Now, suddenly, it doesn't. Babies don't care about plans and routines. They don't care if your house looks as though its been through an earthquake, or if none of the washing up is done or if the carpets haven't been hoovered for days. A baby will not look around the room and think 'Oh, why doesn't she tidy up? Look at the state of this place!' A newborn baby doesn't want you to do anything but be with him.
However, you can't help looking around your humble abode and feeling stressed by the mess that is piling up everywhere. Some people don't mind, but it can be hard if you are one of the people who is used to having everything 'just so'. Even though I'm not exactly the organised type, I still felt a bit like this when I had my first son, but by the time I had my second, several years later, I had discovered a secret to making life at home easier.
The Secret to an Easier Life—Buy a Carrier!
I bought a baby carrier with some vouchers someone had given us when our second son was born. it was a Baby Bjorn carrier, and definitely the best baby product I have ever owned, although I know there are many other great brands available now. You can use the Baby Bjorn from birth (from 8lbs upwards). When they are small they face you, snuggled into your chest which is exactly how a newborn baby likes to be. As your baby gets older you can turn him around so that he can look out and see what's going on around him. You have both hands free so that you can potter about doing whatever you need to do and your baby will be peaceful and content. Just think about all those pictures you have seen of women in Africa carrying their babies on their backs while they work on the land and go about their daily lives. They obviously do it for practical reasons, sometimes within hours of giving birth. Babies like the movement and it usually sends them to sleep after a while.
Stuck at Home and Feeling Lonely?
Many first-time mothers experience feelings of loneliness. Perhaps your parents and extended family live a long way away? Maybe you are the first in your group of friends to have a baby? There is no doubt about it, having a baby can profoundly affect friendships. When your life changes and your friends are carrying on as before, it's easy for you to start drifting apart. It isn't anybody's fault and it certainly doesn't mean your friends don't like you anymore. It's simply a case of you having less in common right now. Let's be honest, talking about babies just isn't very interesting when you don't have any of your own. And from the other viewpoint, listening to your friends wittering on about the nights that they enjoyed without you is not a lot of fun either. You know what they say - 'you just had to be there'.
So what is the solution? Days spent sitting alone wondering if you will ever have a proper conversation with an adult again? Waiting for your old friends to get on with it and produce some sprogs of their own? Watching the clock, waiting for your partner to arrive home from work so you can tell him all about your day of nappies, crying and mind-numbing daytime TV? No, the solution is to get out there and make a new network of friends.
Making Friends Is Easy
It's true. Making friends really is quite easy when you are a mother with a baby. Even if you do not know a single woman who has given birth, if you are in the right place and you do not have three heads and a look of daggers about you, other mothers will talk to you. Don't forget, lots of women will be in exactly the same position as you. Most mothers love to get into a conversation about their babies, and they will be genuinely interested in hearing about yours. You already have one major thing in common and when you first get to know someone that's half the work already done. You just have to be brave and go for it - rest assured, your new venture into motherhood will be much improved once you have!
Mother and Baby Groups
A great place to make friends with other women with babies are mother and baby groups. Most towns and cities have several to choose from and you can take even very young babies there. The one I attended was suitable for toddlers but had a baby corner complete with its own suitable baby toys. All the mothers of babies (most of the other children there are aged one to three and a half) sat around in a little group enjoying a chat. Don't feel shy, people will talk to you and it will be good for your baby too. A smile and a 'How old is your baby?' goes a long way. Babies enjoy stimulating surroundings from quite a young age and it's a good chance to swap stories and experiences. Whatever anxieties you have there is bound to be someone else with just the same issues. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved. There are also other groups which are more baby based and don't have the older ones rushing around, which might be a better option - you can ask your health visitor for details on groups in your area.
If you are in the UK, something else to consider is the NCT (National Childbirth Trust). They run coffee meetings for new mothers who live in close proximity to one another. Their website contains lots of information about groups in your area. Personally, I have never been to an NCT event, but I do know lots of people who have and they continued to meet as friends a long time after the children had started school! NCT also arrange additional social events as well, such as days and evenings out.
Getting out and about is really important. If you are feeling a bit lost and alone, having somewhere to go will not only give you a chance to chat with other people on the same level, but it will also make the day feel shorter. Let's face it, if your partner leaves the house at 8.30 in the morning and doesn't get home until 6.00 (like my own), that is a lot of time to spend on your own. Of course, you love your baby, which is the main thing. However, meeting other parents will give you a new lease on life, even when you are exhausted from all the sleepless nights! What's more, your child will grow up with little ready-made friends.
From my own personal experience, I have made three really good friends from going to the local mother and toddler group. I did not actually set out to do this, because this was my second child and I already knew a lot of mums. I joined the group when my baby was about nine months old purely for his own benefit and made friends with three other mums with children of the same age. We are still in contact nearly ten years later!
You Can Find Other Mums Online Too
Mumsnet is a website where you can chat to other mums about all kinds of things. They have forums where you can chat and ask questions and they can also help you to 'meet-a-mum' in your area who is looking to meet other new mothers. This is a really good idea if you are feeling a little apprehensive about going to a baby group for the first time alone—walking in with someone else somehow seems a whole lot easier. Of course, you could just invite your new friend round for a coffee and a slice of cake, the invitation is sure to be reciprocated.
We Always Seem to Bicker!
You never used to argue much, but now that your little bundle of fun has arrived it feels as though you as always bickering. Don't worry, it doesn't mean you are heading for the divorce courts unless you let it get out of hand. It's just that the arrival of a baby does put a lot of strain on even the most stable of relationships. Don't forget, you are both adapting to a massive change in your lives. Probably you're both exhausted and a lack of sleep does funny things to people, particularly if it is prolonged. It's almost impossible to imagine exactly what is it like caring for a newborn infant unless you have been there before.
When you feel yourselves about to snap, try to take a step back before you say anything. The early days do not last forever, and though you may be feeling as though will never have a decent nights sleep again, things will gradually improve. You can buy books which can give you advice on subjects like settling your baby into a sleep routine. Two of those are Gina Ford's The Contented Baby's First Year and Raising Happy Children by Jan Parker and Jan Stimpson. These are the two books that I had, but there are many more.
Do What Feels Right For You
With many aspects of bringing up a baby, there are no right or wrong ways. You just have to do what feels right for you. I read the books on sleep routines and then ended up not following any of them. Sleep routines are quite structured but they do work for many people. As long as you put your baby to sleep on his back, in his own bed without a pillow and the correct amount of blankets (to help prevent SIDS), the rest is up to you. Experts will recommend that you put your baby in his bed awake so that he gets used to falling asleep on his own. I completely failed at that because my own always became upset and I caved in. Instead, I rocked both my babies to sleep in front of the television and then put them in bed.
I realised with my second son that, contradictory to the books that say you should put your child in a quiet room, he was more relaxed when there was a bit of noise around him. In fact, when he woke in the night we had to resort to playing his unusually loud cot mobile (with no volume control) for hours on end. He would not sleep without it!
'You'll Make a Rod For Your Own Back!'
That's what so-called helpful people will tell you if you don't follow a proper sleep routine. However, my older son used to get into our bed every night as a toddler. He did it for so long we thought he would never stop. Then one day he did, just like that. My younger son would only sleep if he fell asleep downstairs and was later carried up. All of a sudden he decided going to bed awake was ok after all.
A relaxed parent makes for a relaxed baby. If a routine works for you, that's great. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter. Just do what you have to do to muddle through. After all, if you are tearing your hair for hours because the routine just isn't working, you might as well be doing something else instead!
Nothing Lasts Forever
It's true. Nothing does last forever. All of a sudden, when you are least expecting it, you will wake up one morning and realise that your baby has slept through the night—or, at least, most of it. At first you will dash over just to make sure he is still alive. I mean, why hasn't he kept you up all night? What's happened? Surely there must be something wrong with him?
But no, he's perfectly fine. He has just entered another phase of babyhood. The different stages of a baby's life move along quickly - just look at the difference between a newborn and a one-year-old. If you are faced with a particularly difficult phase, try to stay relaxed and tell yourself that it won't last. By the time you have your second child you will already know this, but it with your first it can seem as though nothing is ever going to change.
Breastfeeding Just Isn't Working
You really want to breastfeed your baby. Everything you read tells you it is the perfect start to your baby's life. Breast milk contains antibodies which protect against infection. What's more, it is tailormade to suit your baby. When the weather is hot, your milk will adapt to provide adequate hydration for your infant.
But What About If It Just Isn't Working Out?
Many new mothers become convinced that their newborn infant simply isn't getting enough milk. 'He's hungry all the time,' or 'He's never satisfied', are two of the most common complaints. However, it is actually very uncommon for a mother not to have enough milk. The first milk you produce will be colostrum, a yellow-y, watery milk that is ideal for your baby's first needs. Sometimes, if you have a cesarean section like I did, it can take a little longer for your milk to come in, but don't worry, it will.
When you begin breastfeeding your baby will spend a lot of his time suckling. Some mothers think this is because their baby is not getting all he needs, but this is usually not the case. Babies have to suck frequently in order to build up your milk supply. Basically, the more they suckle, the more milk your body will make. Babies may also suckle for other reasons, such as comfort.
You can ensure you have good quality milk for your baby by eating healthily and by eating enough. This is not the time to be dieting! A breastfeeding mother needs around 800 extra calories per day. Don't forget, you are supporting two of you, still!
It's Just Too Painful!
Sometimes a mother will give up on breastfeeding because it is just too painful. I fed my first son without any problems, but when I was feeding my second son I went through a phase of several days when it was complete agony. Every time he wanted feeding I would have to brace myself for it. My nipples were really sore and the midwife explained that the best thing to do was to rub a little breastmilk onto them. Apparently, this is the best healing treatment.
I didn't want to give up breastfeeding, so I persevered and the problem went away. if you are in the same position, it is definitely worth trying to carry on for as long as you can. I breastfed my son for a long time and never had any problems again.
Any amount of time that you spend breastfeeding is worth it. Even if it is only a couple of weeks, that is better than nothing. Your baby will still get some of those precious antibodies. Many women continue breastfeeding for a year or more, especially at night, although you should not feel pressured to do that if you don't want to. You can combine breastfeeding with bottle feeding if you choose, though you should wait until your milk is well established before you do this. Or you can try expressing breast milk and storing it if there are times when there will be other people looking after your baby. Personally, I struggled to express enough breast milk to make it worthwhile, but I do know people who expressed milk very successfully.
If You Want To Give Up Breastfeeding, That's OK Too
A happy mother bottle feeding is better than a miserable breastfeeding one. Your baby needs a happy mother and whenever you choose to make the change is up to you. Just let me give you a piece of personal advice - I waited too long to introduce the bottle to my second baby and he was having none of it! It's easier if you introduce a bottle when they are fairly young, even if it is just now and then. My son never had a bottle and became very angry at the sight of it.
Your Baby Is a Miracle!
All in all, becoming a mother is probably the most wonderful thing you will ever do. Nothing compares to the bond between a parent and a child. A mother's (and a father's) love is strong and deep and those first months with your baby will leave you with memories to treasure forever. As your child grows up, you will think back and wonder whatever happened to those very special baby days. (Of course, older children are great too!)
Postnatal depression is a medical problem that requires advice from a doctor. If you think you have any problems which are more serious than those mentioned here, you should consult your GP or health visitor.