Looking after yourself
Your baby is the most precious thing you’ve ever had, but you come first. After all, if you’re feeling shattered and incapable you won’t be able to do what you really need or want to for your baby. So:
*Don’t be hard on yourself emotionally. You’ll slowly learn that your baby won’t break if you put her nappy on wrong, or explode if you take too long to do up the poppers on her sleep suit and she doesn’t know any better than you how she should be bathed or fed. In short, the right way is your fumbling, inept, loving and slowly evolving way.
*Care for your body. It’s taken a big hit, but while it may be floppy, stretch-marked and super-sized, your body still deserves your undying gratitude. You’ll look six months’ pregnant at first, as it takes six weeks for your womb to shrink back and you probably won’t get anywhere near your pre-pregnancy jeans for a while. Exercise is a good idea after your six-week GP’s check, but wait longer if you’ve had a caesarean.
*Give yourself some ‘me’ time. This is a great idea in theory though not always easy in practice. In the early weeks, when we need it most, we’re too shattered to care and may not know who ‘me’ is any more! But once you can manage it, regular baby-free time is very beneficial. So meet those friends, watch the telly when your baby sleeps, or treat yourself to a good supper when she’s down for the night.
*Grab yourself some rest. Tiredness is a major part of the new parent experience and sleep deprivation is a form of torture. So if you don’t want to go crackers, take daytime naps and share night time wake-ups with your partner. Even if you’re breastfeeding, you can express some milk so your partner can do the odd night feed.
*Look after your relationship. It’s easy to put it on the back burner in the crazy early days of parenthood – and leave it there. In essence, all relationship experts say the same thing on this subject: don’t. Do however recognise that new parents lie a lot about their sex lives (it’s okay, no one else is having it either). But sex isn’t the real problem anyway, it’s communication. Sharing baby-related tasks can really help: most dads want to be hands-on but they need us crazed new mummies to relinquish control.
How to cope with…
All babies cry. Some do it a lot. Crying is her only way to communicate and we know it’s not bad and that babies – and you – aren’t to blame for it.
But coping with the crying can be tough. Working out why she’s crying is handy (Hungry? Wet? Bored? Teething? Ill?), but just as often babies cry for no discernible reason.
There are lots of ways to comfort your baby. Try:
*Different holds (the belly-down flying position – one arm under her furthest armpit, the other between her legs and on her tummy – is good, especially for windy babies)
*Jiggling and/or singing
*Putting her next to the washing machine on spin-cycle (yes, seriously).
But if you’re feeling really desperate, put her somewhere safe, go into another room and do whatever it takes for you to calm down. Don’t feel guilty: this is far preferable to shouting at or – God forbid – hurting your baby out of pure despair.
Breastfeeding is definitely worth a try. It can protect babies in the short and long term from all sorts of illnesses, including childhood cancer, obesity and allergies. But although it may be natural, it’s not instinctive – it’s a skill you have to learn. The one golden rule is that if it hurts, you’re not doing it right.
You can get help and support from:
*Your hospital’s breastfeeding specialist (‘lactation consultant’)
*Your health visitor (get the number through your GP’s practice)
*The NCT helpline: 0870 444 8708
*Association of Breastfeeding Mothers helpline: 0870 401 7711, www.abm.me.uk
*La Leche League helpline: 0845 120 2918, www.laleche.org.uk
Bottle-feeding requires equipment. You’ll need infant formula, bottles with newborn teats and a steriliser to keep all your feeding equipment clean. The midwife will show you how to give your first feeds. As for when and how much to giver her, the best and simplest advice – whether breast or bottle-feeding – is to ‘feed on demand’, meaning when your baby tells you she’s hungry.
Solids. You can start introducing solids at six months. Weaning isn’t rocket science, but can still have its hurdles. Just remember, older babies are designed to eat real food, and need to gain all the nutrients they require. Just follow Government leaflets and stay calm.
A newborn needs about 16½ hours sleep over 24 hours in the first month and will wake every two to three hours to feed. By six months she’ll sleep for about 14 hours, of which 11 to 12 will be at night.
Although many babies start to sleep through the night around six months, it can take longer. If you can help your baby learn very early on how to settle herself back to sleep, you’ll have more peaceful nights than if you need to pace the hallway 48 times before she’ll nod off.
We all become obsessed by developmental milestones. But beware of competitive comments from others such as, ‘Well mine were all playing table tennis before they were six months old.’ Babies develop at very different rates and yours will do things when she’s good and ready.
Most of us are so busy trying to shape our babies into mini-Einsteins and pre-register them for Sanskrit classes that we forget to just enjoy them. But the best way to ‘develop’ your baby is to simply have fun with her. Talking, reading (see www.bookstart.org.uk), singing and just hanging out together and chatting with other people will teach your baby much more than a developmental DVD ever could.
Your essential baby care crash course
Here are three important skills to help get you and your baby through the first 12 months:
1. How to change a nappy
Baby poo can come in a range of colours (including black and yellow) and may happen several times a day.
*Lay her on a towel and take off her dirty/wet nappy. Hold her ankles together and gently raise her bottom. Wash with cotton wool dipped in warm water. Pat dry with cotton wool, a soft towel or muslin.
*Hold her ankles up again and slide the back half of a clean, open nappy under her bottom.
*Fold the top half up on to her tummy and secure it using the sticky pads from the bottom bit. If it’s on backwards, who cares? At least it’s on. You can always get a midwife to check it when she visits.
*Wash your hands.
2. How to hold your baby
Again, there’s no right or wrong, just what suits you both. But make sure one of your hands is behind her head and shoulders for support.
3. How to bathe your baby
There’s no science to bathing your baby: you just have to keep her clean and not drown her! Until she’s eight weeks old, warm water is enough, but you can use a mild baby wash later.
*Check the water’s not too hot by dipping your elbow in. It should be body temperature and no hotter. Babies can scald very, very easily.
*Slip one arm under her neck and shoulders and hold under her armpit so she won’t slide under the water.
*Gently scoop water over her using your free hand.
*Pat her gently dry, dabbing into all the creases.
Remember: never leave your baby alone in the bath for a second, even if she can sit up. Babies and toddlers can drown in just an inch of water.
For more on what to expect and how to cope when your baby is born, check out Practical Parenting magazine each month