A woman's maternity leave doesn't just exist so she can sit around looking at photos of her new baby all day - there's a lot to recover from after the birth!
From the physical experience of labour and birth and the challenge of breastfeeding, to the new duty of caring for a small child, there is a great deal to take on, as a New Mum in the Early Weeks.
However, finding small things that begin to give your days with your new baby some shape, can really help to make you feel like you're making progress as a new parent.
Why routine is good for you
Two things to get straight right now: we're not referring to things like sleep routines laid down by celebrity parenting experts here; neither are we suggesting that you need to have the sharpness of an army general – days in your PJs are fine by us!
What we do mean, is that creating small routines which help you get essential house and parenting work done, plus building in some undemanding 'me-time' can really help you begin to move forward rather than every task feeling like yet another chore.
Any small daily or regular duties or habits you build up are a contract with yourself, no-one else, so don't feel you've let anyone down if a day or even a week goes by and you haven't ticked a box.
Instead, change your routine if you find something is becoming awkward, it doesn't make you happy, or you don't have time for it anymore.
Find what works for you
Many women have either newfound friends through birth class groups or relatives and mates who have babies a similar age to their own. Meeting friends at home or out can be the regular 'appointments' you need to give your week structure beyond change nappy, feed, sleep, make food, change nappy etc etc.
However, whether you live near lots of women in a similar situation to you or not, here are a few small ideas that you could either try, or change to apply to your own circumstances.
- Buy some bathtime treats - Yes there are many, many days after you've just had a baby, when you want to just slob around all day in your PJs. Unless you have to be somewhere fast, that's fine, especially if you've had a wakeful night. However, when you do feel roused enough, having a bath or a shower really will make you feel 100 times better. You don't have to blow the budget on expensive toiletries, but finding a bath foam or a gorgeous soap and shampoo that you love not only makes your bathtime more of a treat, it's a great way of taking a simple pleasure in an everyday routine.
- Put some joy in your cupboards! - No matter how much of a social whirl your life is or was pre-baby, you will inevitably be at home quite often over the next few months. (If you already have children, all the more reason to need your home to be a refuge not a jail!) You won't always have time to make yourself great lunches when there's no-one else around to hold the baby or do the cooking for you, so think about some of your favourite snacks (trying to make some of them healthy, at least!) and keep some in the cupboard. If you're breastfeeding, you'll need more calories anyway, so sneaking a Chunky Kit-Kat and a coffee in front of your favourite TV show isn't going to have the parent-police breaking down your door!
- Try to find the fun in nappy changing - It seems a messy task now but just wait until six months when your child is eating solids! Nappy changing can be back breaking, it can be a tetchy affair for your baby, and it can take forever if a runny poo has leaked or your cute little darling decides to wee when the nappy's off! There are a few things you can do.
Firstly, if you live over more than one storey, have a changing mat upstairs and down so the duty can be done without too much grief.
Secondly, take pleasure in sorting your kit – coloured muslin clothes for drying baby's bottom or finding a changing bag you really love to keep all the bits and pieces in. You don't have to buy a new bag for changing, just dig out something that you used to love from the back of the wardrobe and keep your cotton wool and wipes in it. Getting organised will mean there's less start-up hassle everytime you get down to it.
And thirdly, find songs or rhymes or even chatter that you can easily amuse your child with. It'll soothe him and you'll begin to find that the routine turns into a mantra that gets you through the task in no time.
- Give yourself small expeditions to go on - You don't have to get fit and in shape the moment your child is born. However, exercise as we well know, has a feelgood factor attached to it. A short walk to the park, the choice to walk not drive to the baby clinic, a mission to walk to the post office to buy stamps or to shop locally for fresh foods rather than going for a major session at your supermarket – all of these get you out of the home and into the fresh air.
Admittedly, there are days when you look at the rain clouds and just the thought of getting your baby all dressed up to go out seems not worth the bother, but like a good bath or shower, you'll be glad you did once you're out. Plus research suggests that getting out and about in daylight can help your baby to sleep better at night, as well as the obvious benefit from fresh air for your child as well as you.
By adding a regular treat like always going the same route past a shop that sells fruit you love or a newsagent that stocks your weekly magazine, you can create a small but positive feel about your mission. Or, for example, you may never have been a regular at your local library, but if you make it your goal to once a week borrow a different book you've always wanted to read or a DVD to watch, you've got a new path to tread!
- Roughly map out your day - In the early weeks you may well not have a sleep routine or a feeding regime you need to clock-watch for, but having a rough plan of your day will help you build a loose structure that enables you to get things done. This will be personal to you, but lunchtime feeding and naps will be a part of what you plan, as will the 5 o'clock blues.
It does vary, but even in young babies, the 5 o'clock slump can really bring you and your child down. It might start at 4.30pm in your home, or at 6pm, but basically, it's that end of the day when you're tired, he's getting more tired and probably hungry again, you're beginning to think about other things which need to get done such as making dinner, and by which time you and your baby have spent all day together quite possibly with little other company for amusement for either of you!
If you find yourself desperate for hubby to walk through the door by 5pm, try to remove some of the more arduous tasks from that end of the day. You can't expect to be a super-Nigella wth a fridge full of fabulous meals, but if you find you have more energy in the morning, try to stick to meals that can be cooked then left to be heated up at dinner time. This gives you and baby time to slouch instead of being stuck in a kitchen when both of you are grumpy.
Another idea is to bring bathtime forward. If you baby is getting restless, run the bath half an hour earlier than usual. Bath time can feel like a hassle for you but if you relax into it, sing a few songs about ducks or gently splash the water your baby will really chill out and ultimately you'll feel better too.
- Make an appointment with your telly - We're not trying to turn you into a slob or anything… but if there is a show on the television or even the radio that you enjoy or have discovered since going on maternity leave, treat yourself to this guilty pleasure! Washing will eventually get done, there will be time to get the groceries in, and rarely does a favourite show last longer than an hour, and if having a new baby gives you the excuse for anything, it's that as a new mum, you deserve to give yourself this small joys in life!
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