Life with a newborn: looking after yourself
The early stages of parenting a newborn are extremely physical and emotionally draining. During this time, your wellbeing is just as important to your baby’s growth and development as it was during your pregnancy.
For some mothers, postnatal hormones create a sense of euphoria and a surge of energy that can dramatically subside in the first week. Being aware of this can help you manage your time and energy better, and confirms that what you are going through is normal.
I recommend four key strategies for managing this time:
1. Look after yourself - get extra rest when possible
Be kind to yourself. Both you and your newborn will need extra rest and this will be so much easier if you have an extra set of hands. Whether from a qualified person, a close friend or a family member, ask for and accept help so you can build up reserves. You don’t have to do it all on your own.
However, if you are without help, try to rest when your baby sleeps. Resist falling into the trap of ‘I’ll just do the washing/mop the floors, etc.’ and then have a lie down — in the first few weeks there is no guarantee how long your baby will sleep. Rest first, chores second. A mini-nap can do wonders to replenish energy.
2. Worry less about doing things the ‘right’ way
Don’t worry about doing things the ‘right’ way. Practice, trial and error, and don’t expect perfection from yourself or your baby. Try not to feel guilty if sometimes you get it wrong or think you have got it wrong — remember there is no right or wrong way to parent.
Besides, babies are endlessly forgiving! The fewer expectations you place on yourself — and your baby — the better your experience will be.
The biggest change will be the pace at which you live — everything now takes longer than you expect. Gone are the days when just hopping in the car and driving to the shops takes 20 minutes — it will take you all that time just to get into the car!
Remember what doesn’t get done today can always wait until tomorrow.
Try not to be over-ambitious. And don’t feel beholden to arrangements. I believe it is always a new mother’s prerogative to change her mind. Parenting isn’t about achievement — it’s not a competition!
3. Ask for and accept offers of help
It is not a failure to ask for help — on the contrary, it demonstrates that you know your limits and are able to respect them.
Your partner can be your greatest ally. Remind yourself that he or she is learning along the way and that this is new territory for both of you. It is inevitable that you are both feeling sensitive, insecure and, as a result, are judging yourself and each other. Both of you anxious to do the right thing and fearful of failure.
Most partners want to be involved but feel they simply don’t know how to help. To them, it may seem you are constantly occupied with parenting tasks that cannot be outsourced so easily.
4. Pay attention to your feelings
Showing your emotions, being upset and feeling worn out are all relevant in building your relationship with your newborn and finding your way together. It’s also okay to admit that when your baby is crying and inconsolable, you might not feel in a loving or nurturing mood. Bonding isn’t just about the good times and the cuddles — it’s also about navigating your way through the tough times.
And here’s some more advice I have to help you look after yourself:
Adopt an ‘It’s Okay’ mantra
- if the house is a mess
- to be in your PJs at 3 pm — or all day
- to stipulate visiting times
- to turn away visitors if you’re not up to it
- to refuse to wake your sleeping baby just so visitors can have a peek
- to ask house guests to wait on you, rather than the other way around
- to request visitors to wash their hands or use hand gel before holding your baby
- Take your time
- As much as possible, stay calm and be patient
- Surround yourself with good friends and supportive family members
- Ask for help, don’t wait for offers
- Don’t feel you need to present yourself as a ‘perfect mother’ — she doesn’t exist!
- There’s no such thing as a perfect baby either
- Don’t feel beholden to arrangements — it’s okay to say no
- Cut yourself some slack
When making decisions
- always work within your limits and not those of others
- be consistent, think it through and follow it through
- it’s about matching your needs and your baby’s needs
- assess your challenges with an open and objective mind
- when you get things wrong, don’t be too hard on yourself — mistakes help us learn