My approach to babycare…
…isn’t about ‘coping’, it’s about helping you gain the confidence to raise your baby in a healthy and fulfilled way. That’s not to say you won’t experience the rough and the smooth – weathering the trials along the way is how you learn. As a first-time parent, achieving that calm confidence can be challenging, but as time goes on your confidence will grow as you settle into your new role.
1) The first few days
“I’m just back from hospital with my new baby and everyone is giving me different advice. I keep thinking I should know best… Help!”
The fact is that everyone does have advice, especially the people who’ve done it already. We take advice from close friends and family because we know they have our best interests at heart. So, pick the advice that really resonates with you.
You’ll know best, but don’t expect to know everything. As a new parent, it’s all new to you! You’ll need to learn and discover by reading, asking the people around you, and by a bit of trial and error, too. You just can’t skip that stage of parenting. But don’t forget that your common sense will help you. For example, when you leave hospital with your newborn and it’s cold outside; you’re going to want to wrap her up to keep her warm, aren’t you?
To start with, your newborn will sleep anywhere up to 22 hours a day, and you just need to be there to meet her most immediate needs – which are to feel warm and loved, and to be fed and heard.
One thing I would say, however, is to watch out that you don’t overload yourself with advice by asking too many people their opinions, too much of the time, or you’ll find it very difficult to know what you want to do.
“How do I know my baby is getting enough milk when she feeds? How long should I be feeding for and how do I know I’m actually feeding correctly?”
The key to breastfeeding correctly is knowing how to position your baby at the breast so she can latch on and take your milk properly. Hopefully you should have been shown how before leaving hospital. If not, seek help from your midwife or health visitor, and my book will help you too.
For the first few weeks you’ll be feeding on demand, for 30-40 minutes at a time, then every two hours or so. Your baby will let you know when she’s had enough by letting go and falling asleep.
As with all aspects of parenting, your confidence with feeding your baby will build as it becomes more familiar to you, and as you begin to know what to expect and can see the outcomes. You only begin to learn what your baby needs because you spend more time with her. This feeling of knowing what to do is instinctive for some parents, but for others it’s more gradual. Don’t worry, though, it comes to all of us.
Mum’s story: “I relied on breast instinct to help me out with feeding. I soon learnt that when Callum started taking milk properly, my breasts would become much softer. How my breasts felt became my barometer for whether he was feeding enough.” Karen Foster, 32, from London, mum to Callum, 4 months
“How can I tell whether my baby has burped enough?”
Babies are very much like us in this respect! We know what it feels like when we need a burp – we’ll rub our tummies or drink something fizzy to burp it out. With your baby, her legs come up, one shoulder goes down while one comes up, or she arches her back, makes faces or pulls away, because her natural instinct is to allow the air to come out. She’ll also make an irritable, agitated cry.
When she’s done a burp, if she’s still arching her back or doesn’t look fully content then there’s more to come. An older baby (from 6 months) will quite often turn her face away mid-feed. When that happens it’s often because she needs a ‘pit stop’ to let what she’s taken in go down and for a burp to come out.
“My baby is often grizzly, and most of the time I don’t know what’s wrong. It makes me feel like a bad mum – how will I know how to soothe her?”
Firstly, let’s deal with how to know what’s wrong. You need this mental checklist of things that may be making your baby cry:
- Does she need a feed?
- Does she need a nappy change?
- Is she cold?
- Is she tired?
- Is she overstimulated?
Go through and eliminate each option until you get an idea of what’s behind her crying. If you’re still having trouble, it’s sometimes best to simply put her down in her cot and walk away, giving you both a bit of space.
Secondly, there’s the issue of becoming more confident about knowing what she needs. To do that, keep what I call a ‘baby log’ – a record of what your baby’s done. This needs to include info such as:
- The time of her last feed
- How long she fed for/how much milk she drank
- When she last slept
- How long she slept for
- When she last did a poo
There’s so much overload as a new mum and it’s easy to forget what you’ve done, when. Keeping a record means you’re more informed about what could be making her cry. As a result, you’ll feel more confident about the decisions you make. For example, you’ll be able to say, “I know she’s not hungry because I fed her 20 minutes ago.”
Mum’s story: “The best piece of advice I was ever given was that sometimes babies cry for no reason. And as long as she’s fed, changed, not ill, but still crying, pop her in a safe place to let off steam for a minute and have a break rather than getting stressed.” Lorna Majors, 24, from Cheltenham, mum to Annabelle, 3 months
5) Knowing her needs
“My 4-month-old baby seems to change all the time. Just when I think I understand her patterns and we’re in some sort of routine, it all seems to change.”
You have to accept lots of change in the first year – if you don’t, then you’re in for a tough time! Sleep, mental stimulation, feeding and play all run parallel to one another, and they all connect and have an impact on each another. When babies are young there’s no routine (despite what other mums might tell you about their baby). It’s very changeable because it’s when you’re feeding on demand, and to start with this will probably be every two hours, then every four hours. Then you start introducing solids, first in the morning, then in the afternoon as well. Once you’re into three meals and five milk feeds a day territory, you’re into what I call a ‘proper’ routine – and that’s when you can expect things to be more consistent for a longer period of time.
6) Getting her into a routine
“How can I second-guess the routine that’s right for my baby? Should I be trying to react to what she’s doing or should it be led by me?”
Take your baby’s lead when she’s very young. But once you start weaning your little one and she starts to need more stimulation, you’ll see more structure in her day. When that happens, notice the times when your baby’s more, or less, active, and use those times to your advantage. Work with her body clock. When she’s about 6-8 months, you can start to implement proper, timed sleeps. When it comes to any kind of routine for your baby, you need to bear in mind that you’re putting things in place because it’s good for your baby, not you. And as she gets older it’s not about putting her down to sleep because ‘you need your evening’, it’s because your baby needs her sleep. Sleep is crucial for babies’ health and development. You want your baby to wake up and get the best out of the next day, because when she does it’s rewarding for her, but also for you.
Mum’s story: “I found giving Lauren a chance to have let-off-steam-time in her baby bouncer before winding down for bed was a good start to getting her tired and into her bedtime routine. I figured it was a bit like me going to the gym.” Stella Givens, 31, from Essex, mum to Lauren, 5 months
7) Introducing a bottle
“I’ve been breastfeeding but feeling exhausted, and think it would help if I bottlefeed too so my partner can get more involved. However, I’m finding expressing difficult. How can I avoid feeling guilty about bottlefeeding?”
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with mixing breast and bottle. If introducing bottlefeeds helps you then do so. The key words here are ‘help me’ and ‘guilty’. If something’s helping you, why should you feel guilty? Where’s the guilt coming from? If it’s because you feel you’re not giving your baby your ‘all’, then trust me, you are. If you’re having your needs met, then ultimately you’ll also have a happy, contented baby, and that’s the most important thing here. When it comes to expressing, when are you trying to do it? Some mums find the best time is in the morning, when they wake up feeling relaxed and rested. I’ve seen some mums choose some awful times to try, when they’re so busy or stressed they can hardly sit down in one place, let alone focus on expressing!
Expressing will be hard if you’re not supporting yourself to do it. If you’re feeling stressed and guilty, it’s going to affect your milk flow.
8) Night waking
“My 8-month-old baby wakes twice in the night for feeds. She’s feeding well during the day, so how do I stop her craving these night feeds? I feel I don’t have the confidence to stop them…”
The important thing is to make sure you have a consistent food plan during the day. When you know your baby’s had what’s necessary during the day you’ll know night-time feeds aren’t needed and have become a habit. You’ll know when it’s just a habit – for example, your baby may take just a small feed and then wake again a bit later and take a bit more. When that happens, you can put in place the following to help her sleep through the night:
- Make sure you put her in the cot while she’s awake. If she gets used to falling asleep in your arms, she’ll become fretful when she wakes if you’re not there.
- Make sure she has at least two sleeps in the day – one in the morning, one in the afternoon – for one or two hours. And don’t worry, it’s normal for sleep to be disrupted at around 8 months, and again at 13 months. This can be resolved by putting sleeping techniques in place.
Mum’s story: “Charlie used to be a nightmare when it came to waking up for night-time feeds, but we soon discovered that by giving him just a little water when he woke up instead, we weaned him off his need for midnight milk.” Sarah Abrahams, 26, from Luton, mum to Charlie, 6 months
9) Keeping her clean
“How much do I need to worry about keeping my baby and her environment clean? She’s always sicking up on her sleepsuits and putting everything in her mouth. I’m really worried about germs harming her.”
I do think there are some hygiene basics you need to cover as a parent. As a general rule you should keep your kitchen and bathroom clean. Keep your floors swept and clean once your baby’s mobile, and wipe down your baby’s highchair after every feed. I’m afraid I’m going to be tough here, but you can always find the time – you just need to prioritise and structure your time so you build in the things you need to do. Common sense and basic hygiene dictate that, of course, you should change her if she sicks up on her clothes. And, yes, it’s common for babies to put things in their mouths, so I always give plastic toys a wipe down once a week. I put cuddly toys in the washing machine regularly, too.
10) Keeping up with other babies
“My friend’s baby is miles ahead of mine in terms of development. It’s making me feel like I’m a useless mother.”
The theory can say one thing but in practice, development doesn’t always happen in textbook order. With lots of babies I’ve been with, some are sat like Buddha with a mouth full of teeth, while some are really mobile but haven’t started teething at all! Things happen in different stages and at different times. Define what you mean by ‘miles ahead’. There are guidelines for what’s normal, so if you really feel something’s not quite right – for example, if your baby’s not sitting at 10 or 11 months – talk to your health visitor or GP.
We can’t help but compare ourselves with other parents and other children – it’s a kind of general measure and you can definitely learn from that. But at the same time you should focus on keeping your own baby on track. You’re enough for your baby. The more you are a source of knowledge, the more empowered you’ll feel, and your confidence will only grow.
Jo’s top tips:
- It’s important not to become obsessed over issues like cleaning – as time goes by you’ll grow in confidence and learn how to prioritise and focus on your baby.
- Don’t try to think too far ahead with your parenting. Looking forward to her toddler years is only likely to create anxiety, so stay in the moment and concentrate on enjoying the now.