WORDS FROM THE WISE: what no one told us about having a baby...
Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
Recently I asked our wonderful support group, the Little Ones Village, what they wish they'd known before they had their babies and the answers came flying in!
The experts have spoken - to you. For you. For all you mummies (and daddies) who are about to be parents, who are parents, who might even be second or third time parents. This is the wisdom our Village would like to share with you, in their own words:
This is a precious and challenging time as you adjust to a life where you are bound to another human being in a way you hadn't quite experienced before. Couple this with raging hormones and an incredibly sore, recovering body. These exhausting few weeks can be really tough but also really rewarding.
"You literally cannot describe or imagine how much you can love something until your little one arrives."
"I wish someone had have warned me about how much discomfort you're in for days/weeks after bub is born following a vaginal birth. Everyone warns you about labor pain and recovery pain after a C-section, but no one warned me about the swelling and pain after a vaginal birth. I was shocked and unprepared."
"Take advantage of those first few weeks and the smell and feel of your baby! They'll never be that little again. If that means you have to snuggle them in bed all day, do it. Let the others in your house look after you so you can bond with your new baby".
"You may not feel that overwhelming sense of undeniable love from day 1. And that's OK! It will come and you're not a bad mum."
"I wish I knew about the baby blues. The after pains of labour with stitches etc. That it's OK to cry and ask for help."
"It is normal to take time to bond with bubs, it is ok if it does not happen straight away. Talk with someone about it - your partner, maternal health carer etc."
Whether you're breast or bottle feeding, it can be difficult to get it "right". For a natural process, breastfeeding isn't without it's challenges (or discomfort) and it is important to have people around you who will help you and support the decisions you make for your baby in a non-judgemental way.
"I wish I'd know about tongue and lip ties...and what to look out for as paediatricians don't always check...made the first 8 weeks of breastfeeding hell."
"I wish there wasn't such a big stigma around how you choose to feed your baby. I think mums have enough to worry about as it is! Surely as long as your baby is being fed and is happy and healthy, thats all that matters?"
"I wish someone had told me how hard breastfeeding is. All you get told at antenatal is that 'it is the most natural thing in the world' and therefore when you're faced with the reality of a baby who won't latch you end up feeling like a failure so early on in your journey of motherhood."
"I wish I'd been told that its OK to have to give my baby a bottle... I didn't realise I was starving my baby in the process of trying to find a good breastfeeding attachment. My poor boy was up all night crying due to hunger. Once I gave him a bottle top up he was not only much happier but also learnt how to mould his mouth around my areola rather than nipple sucking."
"Babies have a crazy feeding frenzy on the second night. Growth spurt actually means feeding for like 7 hours straight!"
"I wish I'd known that when cluster feeding goes past 'normal' you could have other feeding problems. (Ties, reflux etc.) All of our sleep issues developed around poor feeding - I now feel like I missed out on a lot of joy in those early days simply because I was ignorant of so much and I was drowning because I didn't know what to do."
"Wind! I never realised how much affect it could have and I just assumed they could burp straight away!"
"As a breastfeeding mother, I was told NOT to give a bottle in case of confusion. I wish I had just introduced a bottle early because my LO now refuses and I have tried EVERYTHING! Feel like if I got it in earlier it would have saved a lot of stress."
"I wish I'd been told how uncomfortable breastfeeding can be to start with. I feel like no one told me that or emphasised it enough! But also that it goes away so you just need to grin and bear it."
"I wish I'd known that milk literally comes spurting out of your boobs all the time (and at random times and places)! Invest in a LOT of breast pads and have some good thick nursing bras!"
Sleep is as much a nutrient as milk for your wee one and it is a very delicate topic for a new mum! Some babies will sleep all the time, some won't ever sleep. There are certainly things you should know about baby sleep so you are prepared for what is to come.
"I wish I knew that babies have specific awake times!! And that they need to be taught how to sleep. I wish I knew what their tired signs were. I wish I knew everything about sleep and that newborns only can stay awake for a little while!!"
"Newborns have a very short awake period and under and overtiredness have much the same symptoms."
"I wish I'd known just how many factors affect a baby's sleep and that if your baby isn't napping or sleeping well there are things you can do about it! You don't just have to put up with sleep deprivation - nobody gives you a medal for continuing to be sleep deprived when there are solutions."
"Not all newborns will sleep. I wish I'd known how to support my newborn's sleep right from the first hour of birth. Our LO arrived 7pm and I had two all-nighters in hospital where he didn't sleep at all! So much for sleepy newborn. I totally didn't know what to do. I thought babies would just sleep when tired."
"Just because a baby isn't yawning, it doesn't mean they're not tired!!! How I wished I didn't just go by tired signs and knew about awake times. I thought bubs would tell me when she was tired but I always put her down too undertired or overtired, which resulted in very little sleep for 6 weeks!"
"Watch whether your baby is overstimulated because everyone wants a squeeze, cuddle or smile when you go out. It's a bit of a trap to get caught up in and it's incredibly hard to recognise and say 'sorry everyone she needs a sleep now', to take her off whoever has her and put her down THEN AND THERE because you will pay for it later on."
"I think just the importance of sleep in general! It might sound simple, but not one of our baby classes or other parents ever spoke about how much sleep babies need, what's normal and what's not, circadian rhythms etc. We learnt how to swaddle but not what to expect sleep-wise."
"I wish I knew about how much sleep a baby needed and that if there were problems with their sleeping that something else might be wrong! Also to trust yourself. If you think something is up, it probably is."
Everything will change when you have a baby. Your roles in your relationships will be re-defined as you both try and figure out where you now fit together as a family. It can be tough on even the most watertight relationship but at the end of the day, you're both in it together - you're in up to your armpits!
"I wish people had told me how constantly consuming it can be to be on alert for someone else 24 hours a day. That going from a husband and wife to a father and mother you'll both have to find your new identities and your life will be so very different in these roles but to embrace it and support each other - especially as a working mum; it's hard to get used to a new role of being a caregiver."
"Caring for a new baby will always realistically fall more to the mother - especially if breastfeeding. This can be hard to deal with because is just doesn't seem 'fair'. I always told my husband when our babies were young that I would keep them alive, if he kept me alive. That seemed like a good compromise!"
"Breastfeeding is a solo job. Parenting can't be 50/50 when you're spending hours feeding a new bub. That was a shock for me as I assumed my husband and I would share the load while we were both at home for the first little while."
LOOKING AFTER YOURSELF
You have the most important job - keeping another human alive! But you also have to keep yourself alive too - and this means tending to your physical needs and also your mental/emotional needs. It's ok to ask for help. It's ok to take a break.
"Don't feel guilty asking for some help so you can have some time for yourself, even if it's just having a relaxing bath, reading a book or going out for a meal with a friend. I always felt with my first that I should be the one there 24/7 because if not, what would people think? I didn't want them to think I couldn't cope."
"Stock up the freezer before baby comes with pre made dinners packed in single servings. Delivery services are your new best friend - groceries, Menulog, UberEats etc. You'll be too tired to want to go to the grocery store. Same goes for your partner, especially if their work schedule is hectic, like my husband's is. Grocery delivery means that he spends more time with bub rather than the supermarket. If anyone offers to help, say YES!! Give a basket of dirty laundry to a relative (or someone you don't mind seeing your undies) and have them bring it back clean."
"You're not expected to know everything and it's not an admission of weakness to accept help from others who have two or three or more kids! They are instantly more experienced simply because they've been through it already, so listen to them and don't be scared to ask for their help."
"I wish I had never thought that motherhood was easy. I have honestly underestimated how hard in general motherhood is. It has definitely changed me as a person and I have changed the way I think about things. It is very hard to ignore other people's judgement."
"It's ok to sit in your pj's all day for the first few weeks because you've got enough going on learning how to be a mum without bothering about stupid stuff like house work and showering and getting dressed! Embrace the mess! And if you can't embrace the mess, give everyone who comes to see baby a job to do. It's ok to say no to visitors."
"You can be one of the most confident people in the world and nothing will make you second (and third) guess yourself more than having a baby. Simple things like should we bath them now or later sent me into a frenzy! It's ok to make mistakes. You and your little one are both learning. Always be kind to yourself; you need to look after yourself as a priority too!"
HELPFUL BITS AND PIECES
Anything you can do to make life easier on yourself - DO IT!
"I wish I knew that a play mat and toys are too much stimulation for a newborn, causing them to be over-stimulated and very hard to settle come nap time. New surroundings and faces are enough stimulation for the first 6-8 weeks!"
"I wish someone had told me about the Wonder Weeks (or growth spurts, fussy periods etc) and what happens. I wish someone had told me the doctors and nurses expect a call from a frantic mum at 5 weeks because the majority of babies are at their most fussy, sleepless and clingy point then. It's normal and no we are not doing anything wrong. That our milk is fine at this point."
"It's normal for babies to be fussy for a period each day BUT if your baby is hard to settle, doesn't sleep and screams a lot ALL day it is likely not 'colic' and should be investigated."
"Make a conscious effort to get photos of mum and baby - you're always taking them but hardly in them!"
"Do not get hung up on ideals of what you think a baby should be doing and judge your own baby by its own merits - my baby would not sleep anywhere but a sling or baby carrier for all her day naps until she was 12 weeks old and even though I'd read about the 4th trimester I didn't expect that to be my baby."
"Read more about babies and what they do - I never knew they could get so easily overstimulated because while I was pregnant I was too busy ready about pregnancy!"
"Find a group of like-minded mothers to support you. We're so lucky here in the Little Ones Village, we have thousands of mums all on the same page as us and the support in here has been incredible. I honestly couldn't have survived without this village to help me raise my child!"
Hopefully our Village had shared something you've found helpful. If you need help with getting your baby's sleep on track, like these mums did, our Sleep Programs have all the info you need AND you'll gain access to this amazing bunch of mamas.
Read In the Aftermath of the Village and Why is my Newborn NOT Sleeping for more parenting and sleep advice.