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I know everyone tells you the same thing, but nothing really prepares you for the transition from adult responsible for only themselves, to parent responsible for another life. When you find out you are expecting, you are hit with a variety of emotions – and that’s before you even take into account pregnancy hormones!
Excitement, anxiety, joy, worry, pride, overwhelm – seriously those emotions are up and down like a yo-yo – and it’s completely understandable. After all, you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done before and no matter how many books you read, how many kids you babysit for, nothing prepares you for being a parent until you actually are one.
That said, there are things I picked up along the way that I wish I’d known beforehand…and some things that people did tell me that I wish I had listened to (among the piles of terrible, unsolicited advice that also comes with being pregnant).
Elise was born in December 2017, just over 3 weeks early and I was the dictionary definition of burying your head in the sand. I’d tried to read a few books, but it was mostly how to deal with labour and pregnancy rather than how to actually look after the baby and what to do when you get home.
The pregnancy and labour bit I’d just accepted for what it was – it was happening, get over it. And no, you could not convince me to ‘prepare’ by watching episode after episode of One Born Every Minute or telling me your labour horror story – it’s happening whether I like it or not, so leave me in ignorant bliss please!
Anyway, I digress. Here’s the advice I would give to new mums.
The tiredness you feel during those first few weeks is like nothing you’ll ever experience. And lets be honest, it’s pretty stressful for Dad too so you can’t expect him to just pick up all the slack. Batch cook and freeze lots of meals you can just defrost and reheat. Lasagnes, curries, stews, bolognese etc. Trust me, your future self will thank you for it. And while we’re on the subject of before baby arrives – tackle any projects you’ve been putting off (or get someone to do them for you) because believe me, it becomes a million times harder to do them when baby is here.
Don’t just have one spot with nappies. I’m sure you’ll set up a lovely changing station but having things in just one location is inconvenient. Keep some upstairs, downstairs, in your changing bag, in the car just in case. Same with dummies, blankets etc. Make your life easier.
If you read my ‘essentials you don’t need’ post, you’ll know I just don’t see the point in a Prep Machine – if you get one great. But what about when you’re out and about? You can’t take it with you. And night feeds – are you going to cart it up and downstairs every day? For me the solution was a flask. I’d boil the kettle and fill it, and it would be good for a few feeds. It’s also handy for sterilising dropped dummies when you’re out and about. And for cleaning baby’s eyes with cotton wool if they get a bit gunky (allow to cool a bit obviouly). We always made sure the flask was topped up and with us wherever we went, and we’d take it up to bed at night in a basket with bottles and formula too.
You might also find it handy to premeasure formula into tubs and keep some in your changing bag.
Don’t wait until baby’s nearly outgrown their size. Rotate clothes regularly and get the next size ready. That way you can see what you need and if they are any gaps to fill you can ask for specific gifts when people ask what they can get for baby come Easter, Christmas, Birthdays or just because.
If you don’t want to go to baby groups – don’t! I know it feels like the world expects you to and you might try to persuade yourself baby will miss out if you don’t but honestly most groups are just for mums to meet mums and have a chat – if that’s your thing great! But if like me, it’s your idea of hell don’t sweat it.
I took Elise to swimming and messy play – because these groups weren’t to sit around and chat but to engage the babies and teach them new skills. Elise has not missed out because we weren’t at a group several times a week. In fact she is flourishing. If you decide not to attend groups, engage with your baby yourself. Make eye contact, facial expressions and have conversations – it doesn’t matter that they can’t talk back yet. You are enough.
That said, make sure you do arrange to see people in lieu of groups – be it family or friends. Talking to your baby is well and good but you do need adult conversations too! And also, don’t be afraid to keep doing things you and your partner did before baby – go shopping, visit family, eat out. Elise is fabulous in public, we can take her anywhere and have done from a young age, I’m not saying that to brag – I’m saying get out with baby as soon as you can, otherwise you’ll put it off and it’ll become a big deal.
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When Elise was young I felt like I had something to prove – I wasn’t working and therefore I should have all the time in the world to look after her, myself, the house, to cook, clean, walk the dog and everything else. I quickly found you can’t do it all. If someone offers to watch the baby for an hour so you can sleep, do a load of washing for you, cook you a meal, let you have a bath in peace – say yes! You are not a failure for accepting help, and you’re not a martyr for refusing it. New babies are hard. bloody. work. You will need help! Say yes and be grateful.
Have a night where someone else takes over so you can have a soak in the bath, wash you hair, shave your legs, apply moisturise, give yourself a facial – whatever. Just take an hour or so doing something that makes you feel you again. When you become a mum, that’s suddenly all you are. Remember you were a person before baby, and you still are. Obviously baby is a priority but that doesn’t mean you don’t matter all of a sudden. Self care is important, now more than ever. You can’t pour from an empty cup as they say.
When you’re on maternity leave it’s easy to feel like most of the responsibility falls on you. Because Luke was working I wanted him to get a good nights sleep and therefore I put Elise to bed each night and woke up with her for feeds or to resettle her. Months down the line we both agreed it was something we’d do differently next time around.
In the Summer after she was born I would attend Yoga at 7pm on a Tuesday night. Elise would literally scream from the minute I left until the minute I got home because she wouldn’t settle for Dad. It created an unnecessary negative situation for all of us. Luke felt hurt that Elise didn’t want him and helpless that he couldn’t bear the burden for me. And I felt constantly knackered and like I didn’t have a break – even though Luke was more than willing. And believe me we persevered. But in the end she won. Not again!
I can’t remember if I did read this beforehand or someone told me, but getting straight into a routine was the best thing we did. In the early days (when she was in a Schnuggle bath) we would bath her every night at the same time, then feed her and get her to sleep. It didn’t matter than we knew she’d be awake in a few hours for a feed, or that she wasn’t sleeping through the night yet – I honestly believe enforcing that routine early on meant she started sleeping through the night at 10 weeks.
And dropping that night feed was an absolute dream. She has now been sleeping mostly from 6-6 from a very young phase bar a few developmental phases (like when she learned to roll over – completely disrupted her sleep) and when she was ill or teething. Though she doesn’t have a bath every night now, she knows PJs and a bottle means bed and will climb into bed herself when I take her upstairs.
After Elise had finished a bottle, Luke and I would text each other how much she had, what time and whether there was anything in it (when she had reflux we used gaviscon and would often try to wean her off it to see if it had improved so we recorded how much we gave her). This was so useful because when you are running on empty and haven’t slept, it can be hard to remember when the last bottle was. It was also helpful when the midwife or health visitor came out and asked what she was feeding and how often, and also when we saw the doctor or paediatrician about her reflux.
It’s also useful if someone babysits so you can tell them exactly when the last bottle was and when they can expect the next one. We probably carried this on until she dropped her night feeds, maybe even longer than that (she didn’t outgrow reflux until she was 9 months).
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This book was my bible – I recommend it to everyone and when I found out my cousin and his girlfriend were expecting I bought them a copy. Honestly, it was so spot on – if something didn’t seem quite right with Elise or I was unsure of something, I’d turn to her age week and it would all make sense. It tells you how much they should be eating, sleeping and other quirks and characteristics to watch out for at certain stages in their development. If you’re a bit of a worrier like me, it also puts your mind at ease when you think somethings wrong but then you read the book and realise it’s completely normal.
We are not a quiet household. The dog will bark if he hears another dog barking, or if someone knocks the door. I am quite clumsy so if I’m trying to be quiet you can guarantee I’ll walk into something or drop something. As a result, Elise is not fazed by anything. Loud noises don’t startle or upset her and I can even put the hoover around when she’s asleep. It also meant that she would sleep when we were out and about making life so much easier. It’s important to carry on as much as possible as you would before the baby was born.
Just because they turn their nose up at something once, doesn’t mean they don’t like it. Elise has never, ever eaten peas – and I’ve tried them more times than I can remember. Yet the other day, at 15 months she ate a plate full. Babies don’t know what they do and don’t like so don’t decide for them – you’ll only encourage fussiness at a later date.
I had 3 friends who also had baby’s within weeks/months of me, and at times it felt a bit competitive. Like they were hitting milestones before Elise and she wasn’t developing as quickly. It took me until her first birthday to realise that actually, I was in no rush to stop her being a baby. Though she took longer to do physical things like rolling over, sitting up, crawling and walking she absolutely thrives in other areas. All babies are different. One friend’s walked at 9 months, another’s ate finger food extremely well from a young age, whereas Elise communicated well from a young age. They all have things they do more quickly than others, and things they don’t. It’s not a race. Don’t let other babies development dictate yours.
It’s way too tempting to stay in pjs and rely on a tin of dry shampoo for a week, but like I stressed earlier – self care is important. It also helps knowing that you’re not completely indecent and braless if the health visitor turns up when you could’ve sworn she was due tomorrow (not that they’d ever judge you of course, but you’ll feel better in yourself!)
Be washed, dressed and ready to go just makes you feel more able to take on the challenges of the day. And properly dressed, unless you’re still recovering from birth put some proper clothes on. You don’t want leggings and slouchy clothes to become an integral part of your wardrobe. Remember you’re still a person with an identity.
I started Katie Saves while on Maternity Leave to document our adjustment to living on less. Now back in work - I blog about all things money with a little life organisation thrown in for good measure. Join me!