With so much advice and guidance out there on having babies/being a parent/breastfeeding, you can feel overwhelmed. Sometimes there are aspects that are overlooked particularly in the first weeks. The reality of being a parent really hits you when you leave the care of the hospital, and the first few days are really about survival, getting through each new task unscathed. You have so many thoughts going through your head and many new responsibilities to navigate as a new parent and realistically survival begins as soon as the little one is born!
The hospital and baby care
For us, the first part of survival with a newborn meant staying in the hospital overnight. Every hospital is different, but the support and advice we received were second to none. We had a lovely midwife who was with us from our arrival at the hospital, and a great team of midwives and medics who came in to help deliver Mini G. You always pack your bags for this moment, not knowing how long it will be - Will it be straightforward? Will you get the birth plan that you're hoping for? In the end, nothing really matters as long as you have a healthy baby which fortunately we did. As soon as the baby is born instinct kicks in and you focus on what is best for the baby and what they need, so if this means a night staying in then so be it. You then think about how will you survive if it starts to cry, will you be able to provide the form of comfort it needs? The gentle manner of the midwives means you navigate these initial fears successfully and you can focus on the joy of having your new arrival in your arms and those safe precious moments before you enter the wider world.
Spending a night in the hospital with a newborn baby is always going to be interesting, with people going in and out of the ward all the time and midwives popping in to ask questions which when your in such a daze, you just can't remember the answer to, even when it's the simplest of questions. At the end of the day, it is a place where you are safe, and a place with lots of support on hand.
Bringing home your newborn, especially your first child, is such a special moment but be prepared, it probably won’t really go as you plan! For example we were organised and not only took several outfits with us but had going home outfits for Mini G, but sadly we were affected by three factors: the heat, it was so hot that the family knitted outfits would have been too much, alongside the fact the sizes we had were a bit too small since we had a big baby (cross those legs ladies - at 9lb 9 oz!) and then there was the fact poo leaked out of the nappy causing a last minute change. So after changing our little man, we put him in the car seat, which you must have whether your walking home or not.
Now, most people practice putting the seat in and out of the car but not testing out the height adjustments and straps - we were one of those people! However, on putting our baby in, we and the hospital were unhappy with how the straps sat on the little one and so we had to resort to Google and Youtube for answers. Eventually, we discovered a further adjustment, which we (and the midwives) weren't aware of and then we could go home.
Nappies, Nappies Nappies
Okay so we all know that babies are nicked-named poo machines, well newborns are more like water pipes. Most nappies now have a wetness indicator down the nappy, a line that changes colour to indicate how wet the absorption filling of the nappy is. The first 2-4 nappies are the hardest for so many reasons, you're tired, inexperienced and it’s like a sticky marmite goo and trust me, everyone hates it. It’s so sticky and goes everywhere and damages baby-grows. Now is the time to learn and learn fast the longer you leave the bottom exposed to the air the more likely you’ll have to clean up far more than just a nappy, you’ll have to change the baby grow and the bedding since your new baby will use these as a nappy if you fail to put one on quick enough.
One of the nice things in those first few weeks home is everyone wants to visit and the good thing about family visiting is they will send you to rest, clean around for you, and cook meals. We also had a group of friends that visited and provided us with a week's worth of meals. This was fantastic and made getting used to those early days easier since we didn't have to worry about where our tea would come from. However, you are how you are regardless of who’s coming to the house, and you may wish to play host at some level. Also, you may find yourself frustrated with how people do things, or where they put things, so bear this in mind with having visitors for longer periods of time or visitors doing household jobs.
For us and other parents, we know of the current attitude to visitors is don't expect a restaurant-style service but instead, think more of a DIY system when it comes to food and drink and where you are likely to make one for the new parents as well.
It is amazing how you can sit and watch something for so long. Something that does so little and yet you are mesmerised. You may find in particular there are two reasons why you sit and watch your baby at night. First is the concern for your little one, and secondly is the fact the pure miracle of a new life lying in front of you that you have created, just leaves you speechless. But as new parents you must eventually drift off and have some sleep, otherwise, you can't survive the forthcoming day, and sadly the concern that something could happen to your little miracle that will last your whole lifetime. You have to come to terms and accept this in order to survive the stress of parenthood and to help prepare you for those times that things do happen.
Trying to sleep when the baby sleeps isn’t as easy as it seems, due to the worry about the baby sleeping, thinking that you must get the washing machine on or hoover the house to make sure it's tidy for family and friends. We decided to form some sort of routine to help with this feeling and in order to support mum. Daddy would take Mini G out of the house for as long as possible after a feed to give mummy the time and chance to rest and recuperate and if she wished to do household jobs. Sleep with a baby is done in short blocks, to begin with, however, it does get easier as you form a routine and as the baby gets older. Be prepared there will be stages of sleep regression at different points in child development to survive too, so sleeping will never be the same again!
As a parent, your thoughts can be your own enemy and it can take real strength to survive them, not only daily but in the long term. 'Am I doing it right?' is a constant nagging question going through your head, even though you are putting the best interest of your child first, as much as you believe you can. You worry about what's going to be said when the health visitors or midwives come to visit within 24 hours, 5 days and 14 days. Then there's the question what if I have to go back to the hospital or to clinics for whatever reason? There is real pressure on. Will my child have put on enough weight? Will I be ticking all the right boxes and will I remember how many poo's mini g has done or how long did he breastfeed for? Hidden thoughts can be a real minefield. Avoid googling problems, just speak to a friend, go to the GP or call 111 as they will put your mind at rest. Remember it's your child and you know when something isn't right. Survival with hidden thoughts, therefore, relies on communication. Everyone who visited us was brilliant, they listened to our thoughts and feelings no matter how silly they were and comforted and advised us as required. People really should make the most of any services offered, even if it's minimal.
During our first weeks with our newborn, we had several return visits to the hospital and to clinics for mini G for a variety of reasons. He had a few different tests and several blood samples to be taken, which was very stressful for us all. Most people think that the first time your child will be 'jabbed' by the doctor is at the first set of immunisations around 8 weeks, so you have a bit of time to prepare for it. That's not the case even before a child leaves the hospital they will require jabs- vitamin k and a heel prick test to begin with! Our poor newborn must have felt like the tourist guy from the film 'Speed' when they start to head back to the airport and he responded with 'aw I've already been to the airport'. Mini G saw more parts of the hospital than we knew about, but probably nowhere near what some children have to see, and we were lucky after only 1 night in the hospital we were able to go home and just had to return each day for the checks.
As mentioned previously, some people wish to keep their house fairly organised even with a newborn. Some people may survive with some mess, however, for us, our survival has resolved to include better household management! Mum makes the most of those five minutes of downtime from baby when it's asleep to do bits and pieces; she says that having a tidy house helps her feel less stressed as a mum. One of the biggest things that have changed since becoming parents is the washing. When you have a newborn your washing machine won't know what's hit it, but fortunately for us, as we have had good weather, we have been able to dry the clothes outside - giving that lovely fresh smell to the clothes and an opportunity for some perfect pictures of little clothes hanging on the line.
Who could survive without friends? Well, we certainly couldn't! There's not only the current friends you have but also making new ones through antenatal classes that you have to consider. Generally meeting up with friends should be done sooner rather than later, especially friends or people from NCT/Antenatal groups. Meeting up with parents when you have a newborn really opens up conversations. It makes conversation with a complete stranger easier when you have something in common, both of you have a new life in your hands to look after. Any advice from a friend in the same situation is brilliant and at the end of the day, your friends are there to support you so make the most of them. After having your child, there are more opportunities to make friends with a vast range of parenting groups. The main thing is survival as a new parent isn't about going it alone, you don't have to. You are likely to have people around you that will help wherever possible and you can make new networks of support for yourself whilst also encouraging friendships with others and social skills for your little one.
We will always remember telling our parents and our in-laws about them becoming grandparents and sharing the excitement, but the first time they got to see our child, is a moment we will treasure forever- the smiles on their faces and excitement of holding their grandchild in there arms for the first time, unbeatable! One of the best ways to save these memories is through photos, and boy have we been taking loads of photos in the first few weeks of our newborn's life. It is these photos that can help lift the mood when trying to survive the rough days. We also felt it was essential we include our family in sharing these precious moments, so resorted to using an App since social media has a lot to answer for with its fickle nature. Watch how many friends you have on Facebook increase or decrease. Most people are delighted for you when you post your pregnancy news, you get 100s of likes or comments on the announcement of the arrival but then are likely to be annoyed by the constant baby pictures if posted too regularly. Try to save some memories for your new family since not everyone is interested in your day to day life, even family members. As new parents, you are proud and want to share your newborn's life, but how to survive being overwhelming? Well, to overcome this we have been using a fantastic App called Tinybeans which allows us to upload as many pictures as we want in a diary style format and share this with immediate family members so they can control what to look at, how much to look at, and when.
Finally, in the first few weeks of our newborn, we have found the little freebie samples are essential for survival and worked best as emergency spares! The free samples of nappies, the wet wipes and even the nappy cream are the perfect size to sit in a pocket or in changing bags, and that way when you either forget the wet wipes on a changing station or run out of nappies, you have your ‘emergency spares’ to get you through getting home or to the shops. Some people use these as their main outing kit, but we found we survived best on our trips out with a much bigger supply (at least 6 nappies in nappy sacks and a packet of at least 24 wipes, alongside this backup). Do, however, remember to replace them if you’ve used them as you are likely to need your ‘spares’ again.
So there you have it, some aspects of our first few weeks with a newborn, and some of the things that helped us survive. At the end of the day, everyone's experience of those first few weeks will be different and we all want to do our best for our child or children. Remember every moment with your child is precious and you are surviving every day by doing your best!
Kindly written by Mark and Sarah from New Parents Journey UK