As you may have noticed, I’ve had a little break from blogging which came courtesy of a little baby who arrived in May 2014. I have discovered that nothing prepares you for your first child. Absolutely nothing. Not even over a decade and a half of attending births, treating pregnant women and looking after new mothers. But, having said this, I do think some extra bits of information would have really helped! As I navigated the first three months of my child’s life, I discovered things through trial and error, through investigation, and through tips from friends and family that really helped me cope. As a practitioner, and as a mother, I want to share with you what I’ve learned in the hope that it makes your life just that little bit easier too. I’ve split my advice and suggestions into four sections; general, sleeping, feeding, and playtime and will post up each section one by one in the next few weeks as I have time to edit them.
Each of the following four pieces comes from my own purely subjective experience, and any links I provide or recommendations I make to products I’ve used are made without any financial interest on my part. While I am confident each of you will find your own way with your baby over time, I hope that these thoughts, pieces of knowledge, observations and recommendations help you to have the easiest time possible.
I have worked in this field for years, observed countless clients and all my friends, and read every book I can get my hands on about sleep, baby physiology, and parenting a young baby and child. I’ve synthesised this information in order to parent my own child as lovingly, effectively, and securely as possible and begin to share this information with you here under the heading “General Information.” The next installments will be on the subjects of Sleeping, Feeding and Playtime.
1. First, and most importantly, DON’T TRY AND DO BIRTH ALONE! And, by alone, I mean without a Birth Professional. I’ve spent almost 20 years working in this field, and everything I’ve seen or experienced myself tells me that your money is never wasted if you employ preferably an Independent Midwife, or, a Doula.
This professional help will set you back about £4,000, a qualified Doula around £700-£1,000 and a trainee Doula under the supervision of a very experienced Doula in the region of £150-£400. I have always said tomy clients that I wouldn’t expect them to go unprepared into a courtroom to experience a life changing event without a lawyer, so why go unprepared into the biggest event in your life without a competent guide? Instead of subjecting yourself to the vagaries of the NHS, employ someone who knows the business of birth, who gets to know you and your partner, and who can support you through this event, provide you with advice, act as your advocate and generally be a spare pair of competent and supportive hands.
2. Being a new mum is hard. About three or so days after you’ve given birth you’ll find yourself weepy and feeling a bit down. These are called the ‘Baby Blues’ and are not Post Natal Depression. In most cases it will pass within a day or two. In my experience, the feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted peaked at about 6-8 weeks and things get better from there. By the time you hit three months you’ll feel completely different, and, believe it or not, you will be able to comfortably cope with a full day on only a few hours’ sleep if your baby isn’t sleeping through by then.
3. If you have a partner then discuss with them BEFORE you have your baby what sort of parenting style you want to have. I cannot understate the importance of agreement and consistency on this between you and your partner. You need to be clear what your expectations of each other will be as you will not have the time or energy to have these important discussions once your baby is born.
4. When your baby is born, above all, be kind to one another and try your best not to compete about whom has had less sleep (this is harder than you’d think!). The nicer you can be toward one another, the more energy each of you will have to support one another, making a virtuous rather than vicious circle.
5. Start as you mean to go on. If you want to have some type of routine, have this in mind before you give birth. You won’t necessarily be able to apply a routine from the very start, but at least you will know what you are working towards. If you have no idea what sort of routine you want to get into then you will find it more difficult to get one established as your baby gets older. There are lots of different approaches to routines, but my overwhelming advice would be to pick one that you think will work for you and try to apply it in a flexible manner that is realistic about the needs of you and your baby.
6. Cutting and Cleaning nails: use baby scissors, and start doing it while they are awake, as soon as their nails need cutting (once long enough to cut, every 3—7 days) so that they are used to it as they grow. If you clean their nails with a soft baby toothbrush while their hands are submerged in their bath and the dirt will come out easily. The same applies to feeding them a multi vitamin (which is a good thing to do daily. I found that the children’s multivitamin liquids on the market were full of oil and additives; an adult multivitamin liquid such as Biocare Multisorb can be used by giving a child’s dose through a syringe squirted into your baby’s mouth.
7. Don’t wait to start your day. As soon as it is possible in the morning, even if it is really early, have a shower and have something to eat. You can go back to sleep later once you’ve had a shower, but if you miss your shower window you’ll feel worse during the day and you won’t be able to comfortably get out when you want to do so. Also, if you are a makeup wearer, put it on in the morning as it will help you feel more yourself (your old self that is!).
8. Eat a lot of healthy food; you’ll find if you eat lots of simple carbohydrate and sugar you will run out of energy and really struggle to lose weight in the post-partum period. While on paternity leave, it is your partner’s job to feed you so you can make milk to feed your baby. Do not diet if you are breast feeding. If you eat well the weight will just fall off, and if you don’t eat you feel mentally and physically worse and will be more likely to snack on simple carbs and refined sugar. Once your partner goes back to work, use an afternoon on the weekend to cook in order to make sure you have food you can easily assemble or heat up during the week. As a guide, each meal should have the following:
- Lots of protein (with the exception of soy which you shouldn’t be eating as it negatively impacts on your hormone levels) in the form of grass-fed, organic meat, poultry and game, wild fish, and organic free-range eggs. Tinned small fish such as sardines are a quick and easy meal on toast and are an excellent source of protein for lunch.
- Lots of fresh salad vegetables with a good quality olive or avocado oil and some balsamic vinegar on them. Lots of steamed vegetables with a knob of raw butter and some sea salt.
- Complex rather than simple carbs; wild, red or brown rice, sweet potato or squash, spelt bread, rice noodles, red/white/black quinoa, barley cous cous, corn or vegetable pasta. Stay away from white carbs such as potato, bread, pasta and white rice.
9. You will be dry when you are breastfeeding due to the particular kind of oestrogen your body produces. Your skin, hair, nails – indeed everywhere and every bit of tissue will suffer. You may find that you initially need to use a lubricant such as Sylk (which is a chemical-free option) during sex. Take lots of extra vitamins, being especially careful to include oils – I think the best kinds are Green Pasture Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil Capsules, Biocare Mega GLA, and Vertese Omega 3, 6, 9.)
10. Understanding your baby: “Dunstan Baby” is an amazing tool. This is the name of a DVD which was put together by a lady who has what she calls a ‘photographic memory for sounds.’ She has defined a few sounds which all babies make, and these easily identifiable noises will help you understand what your new baby is saying. We found that our baby only made three of these sounds, but it helped us greatly to know what we needed to do for him and when.
11. The most chemical-free wipes I found are called ‘Water Wipes’ and are made of water and 1% Grapefruit Seed extract. They are completely brilliant, and you’re not exposing your baby’s skin to all the toxic chemicals which are in most wipes.
12. I suggest, where possible, you bulk-order the cosmetics and skin care you usually use, both so you have enough, and so you have a duplicate pair. In the first few months, having a daily shower may well seem like an achievement, so you might discover that finding the time to obtain cosmetics or skin care items is asking too much!
13. Your baby is largely made of cartilage, so when you move him, don’t freak out when you hear slight cracking noises (which sound particularly loud in the middle of the night when you are breastfeeding) – you haven’t broken him!
14. Keeping them the right temperature: the rule of thumb with babies is that they need one more layer than you do. But, if you find your baby is moving around all over his crib during his sleep, this may well mean that he is cold and needs an additional covering. Use sleeping bags, not blankets, as this means that you’ll never have to worry about finding them with their head under their covers. To check whether they are warm enough, feel their calves and forearms, not their hands, feet or chest.
15. Buy a light, foldable, weather and waterproof jacket (I recommend Musto) as there will be days when it is raining but you will have to get out of the house or lose your mind. This will help!
16. Get the right equipment. There are different priorities for different bits of equipment for your baby. My priority for a car seat was safety and easy of getting in/out of the car and so I used a Maxi Cosi Cabrio fix. My priority for a pram was something light that I could open with one hand so I used the Babystyle Oyster 2. You can get plastic connectors that allow you to use many types of wheels with many types of car seats.
17. Here’s a list of places to buy good quality clothing and items for your baby from:
- Mimos BabyPillow
- ClevamamaBath Towel which is designed to be worn as an apron so you can bathe the baby and take them out and wrap them in this towel without them having to be put down or needing another person to help.
- Merino Wool onesie for wearing inside a ‘gro bag’ and over a cotton onesie to keep them warm in winter.
- Although synthetic these gro-bags are lovely and this doesn’t matter too much as you’ll have cotton on their skin so they won’t get sweaty.
- These alternate makes are less flexible in terms of shape, as the above ones have arms which unzip, leg holes to turn them into suits rather than bags as they get older (so you get that much more use out of them) and are travel-friendly.
- Verbadaut do great clothes including organic cotton onsies (as to John Lewis) and a large assortment of everything you’d need from room decoration to furniture. They are heavy on the marketing, but this is one of the rare occasions where one doesn’t mind as their discounts are excellent and their returns are unquestioned. They are also one of the few places which do clothes for premature babies.
- Duns SwedenPremature Baby Clothes (just in case your little one turns up early).
18. Populating your baby’s gut – this is one of the most important things you can do for your baby: if your baby ends up being delivered by C-section, it is really important to get Probiotics into both of you, as not only will the baby’s sterile gut not have been properly populated with the necessary bacteria through a vaginal birth, but you will be given antibiotics which will further clear out your gut, leading to your baby being more likely to develop thrush, asthma, excema, allergies and you to have mastitis and other digestive issues. It is also important to get as much of your bacteria onto and into the baby for the same reason.
- Probiotic for baby.
- Probiotics for mum can be taken in the form of fermented foods with each meal such as Sauerkraut, or even better, a sachet of Biolatte Original emptied into a small glass of water, left to ferment overnight, and drunk first thing in the morning. Tasteless, effective and cost effective.
- Strange as this may sound, if you have an elective C-section, leave a swab inside your vagina for two hours before you are due to go in, and use it to smear on your baby and a little bit inside his mouth. If you end up with an emergency C-section, this can be done just with your fingers or with a swab as soon as you find out what is happening. Better a little than none at all! By the same token, you and your partner should lick any nipples on bottles the baby uses, and indeed smear your saliva on the baby’s body and on fingers the baby sucks. Any way you can get your bacteria into your baby will benefit them.
19. This is a great app for Android which functions with your partner’s phone as a mobile monitor.
20. This is a useful app for Android which tells you what to expect from their behaviour and milestones week to week. This also comes in an expanded book form which I found useful.
21. This is a lovely sling, although best in cooler weather.
22. You will need a lightweight, portable, baby chair. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use the toilet or shower without another person in the house!
23. The Angelcare Digital Movement Monitor is a great buy. It includes a screen with night vision which shows your child even if the room is pitch black. I found this really useful in determining whether I needed to go in to him or not depending on his body language and demeanor. For example, I know when he turns his head to the side, even if he is still crying, that he is on his way to sleep. If I hadn’t seen this, then I would assume that he was crying because he wasn’t able to sleep and might well have gone in to get him up, thereby not allowing him the time and opportunity to settle himself.
24. I bought most of my pregnancy clothes from either ASOS or Seraphine. You will initially need nursing tops, but when you have lost weight and want to get back into your own clothes, you can do this and still be able to easily nurse by using one of these vests. You can then pull up your non-nursing top, slip open your vest and bra and feed very discretely.
25. Finally, here are three books we found really useful in knowing what was coming up week to week, guiding us practically, and thinking ahead about what was coming up as our baby grew up so we could parent him as effectively and with the best communication possible.
- WonderWeeks. This book also comes in an app, but the book is more detailed.
- Dream BabyGuide. This is a bit of a tomb, but well worth reading sooner rather than later. Our baby has been able to learn things now which will come in handy later, such as putting his legs down when we go to change his nappy, not expecting to be picked up unless we say ‘up up’ to him so we can move around him without him screaming to be lifted, and learning what ‘let go’ (good for those of us with long hair!) and ‘gentle’ means so that we don’t have issues with nappy changing or handling later on:
- Commando Dad. This book was a manual of practical advice on topics such as changing a nappy and how to deal with his umbilical cord and more:
I wish you luck on your journey, and look forward to sharing my next instalment on the controversial topic of ‘Baby Sleep’ with you soon.
All comments, questions and suggestions are welcome.
Thank you for reading.