Nine things we wish we’d known before having a baby
If you’re expecting your first baby, there’s a good chance you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information coming at you about ‘getting prepared’ for the birth, bringing baby home and all the challenges that this crazy thing called parenthood may throw your way.
Oh, and you’re probably sick of being told to ‘sleep while you still can!’. (What IS it with everyone’s need to fill first-time expectant parents with fear about sleep deprivation?)
Over on Instagram, we have a wonderful community of parents with an honest and supportive approach to sharing pregnancy, birth and parenting advice. And we recently asked our followers a question: if you could go back to when you were expecting your first baby and give yourself some advice, what would it be?
Here’s what the fabulous Pattie & Co. parents told us.
1. Everything is a phase, and every phase passes
It’s a fact universally acknowledged that babies are masters of the curveball: the minute we think we’ve successfully navigated one challenge, along comes a new one to test us!
The good news is, pretty much every tricky stage we go through with babies is just a phase. These phases do eventually pass, and we do eventually come out the other side. It can be hard to call this mantra to mind when you’re in the thick of cluster feeding, teething or a sleep regression, but if you can, dig deep and repeat ‘this too shall pass’ to yourself a few times. It really does help.
2. Breastfeeding isn’t easy. It can take a while to get into the swing of it.
This was a common theme among the answers we received. When I was pregnant, I felt like all the information I was given about breastfeeding made it sound like something that just magically happens: baby is born, independently finds their way to the boob, latches on like they’ve been doing it forever and feeds beautifully.
While this might be the case for some, it certainly wasn’t my experience. And having since had this conversation with lots of other mums, it seems it’s not the experience for many of us.
If you’re thinking you’d like to give breastfeeding a go, it’s worth knowing that it’s often something that takes time and perseverance. You and baby are both learning – it’s something neither of you have ever done before, after all! If it doesn’t go smoothly from day one, don’t panic. Go easy on yourself, seek advice and support from experts if you’d like some (this NHS guide is a great place to start) and just take it one day at a time.
3. Your baby is their own person. They don’t follow a manual, so just get to know your little one and go with it.
A big thank you to Claire Milligan for this golden nugget of advice. It really resonated with me, because when my son was a baby I became so acutely aware that he was sleeping less and feeding more than the books said he should, it drove me to distraction. I felt like I was doing everything wrong and I was constantly battling to get him to do things differently. I wish I'd had the confidence to just tune into him and my instincts and trust them to tell me what he needed.
As a new parent, it’s easy to get drawn into ‘comparisonitis’ and worry that your baby isn’t following the same path as others or doing what the books say. But remember every baby is different, and the ‘right’ way is the way that works for them and for you.
And, whatever you do, avoid the temptation to fall down an internet rabbit hole with every little question or concern (I speak from experience here!). If you do have any worries at all about your baby’s development, make your GP or health visitor your first port of call, not Dr Google!
4. It’s okay to say no to your in-laws visiting on the day you come home from hospital
Or anyone else, for that matter! And this doesn’t just apply to the day you come home – during those first days and weeks you have absolute power of veto over all visitors and arrangements.
It’s natural to want to show your baby off and introduce them to the special people in your life, and if you feel ready it can be wonderful to have a house full of loved ones admiring your baby. But if at any point you don’t feel up to it, don’t be afraid to say so and call off any planned visits. Most people will absolutely understand how you’re feeling – especially if they’ve been parents themselves – and will have no problem rescheduling.
Another top tip is to prioritise visits from the people you know will be helpful and bring food, shopping or generally do something useful while they’re with you (like putting the vacuum round or cuddling your baby while you have a shower). If you suspect anyone will linger for hours and expect a constant supply of tea and biscuits, their invitation can wait! 😉
5. You might sweat a lot at night after giving birth
Kelly, a mum of one from Devon, told us that postpartum night sweats came as a huge shock to her:
“In the weeks after having my little girl I experienced postpartum night sweats. And when I say sweats, I mean SWEATS. I had no idea it was even a thing and was totally unprepared for it! After speaking to my GP and other mums I soon realised it’s totally normal and very common. So don’t be alarmed if this happens to you!”
6. You won’t enjoy all of it. That’s okay and very, very normal.
There needs to be so much normalisation of this sentiment. Popular culture is overwhelmingly biased towards the narrative that having a new baby is a blissful time in our lives. And yes, lots of it IS amazing. But let’s be honest, the path to parenthood is far from easy – whether you’ve carried your baby for nine months and given birth, watched someone you love give birth or finally adopted your child after a lengthy application process or surrogacy journey.
By the time your little one makes their entrance, you’re likely to be feeling physically drained, emotionally overwhelmed and/or completely exhausted. And now you have full responsibility for this tiny, demanding human! Looking after a newborn is hard work and pretty monotonous at times, and it isn’t all enjoyable. New parents often feel guilty for thinking and feeling this, but it’s categorically okay – more than okay! – not to love every single second.
Do, however, keep in mind that if you experience prolonged periods of sadness, hopelessness, guilt or self-blame after you’ve had a baby, it could be a sign of postnatal depression. It’s important to talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor if you feel like this. If you’d like more information on PND, including sources of help and treatment, this article on the Tommy’s website gives a great overview.
7. Happy parents = happy baby
When you’re in that new-baby fug, it seems inconceivable that you’ll ever find time for yourself again. It’s common for new parents to feel guilty for even craving a bit of me-time, but putting your well-being at the bottom of the list benefits no one, least of all your baby.
Try and find little pockets of time to do something that’s not at all related to being a parent. It might be something as simple as a soak in the bath, a coffee and catch-up with a friend or ten minutes uninterrupted with a book. Taking a break from routine, even if it’s just a walk around the block, can make you feel refreshed and more like yourself.
8. Put a note on the door asking people not to knock or ring the doorbell
Trust me when I say you will feel an unprecedented level of rage towards any unsuspecting postie or delivery person who rings the doorbell and wakes your baby from their hard-won nap!
It’s best to try and avoid such scenes by popping an unmissable note on the door that politely asks people NOT to knock/ring the doorbell and gives instructions for where to leave any parcels.
9. Social interaction and support are more important than ever
This past year, lockdown measures around the world have forced countless new parents to cope with their newborn in social and physical isolation. This has taken its toll on the well-being of both mums and dads, but it has particularly affected new mums, with research showing the number of women with postnatal depression has tripled during the global pandemic (source: Independent, 21 June 2020).
Catherine Hendy, who gave birth to her rainbow baby, Felix, in November 2020, told us about her experience of having a baby during the Covid-19 crisis:
“It is so very lonely. I work as an assistant practitioner in a community team for the NHS, and from April 2020 I was forced to work from home. I really missed interacting with work colleagues and patients throughout my pregnancy, and on top of that I wasn’t even able to share it with my friends (a bunch of whom were also pregnant!). It was really hard, and I spent it pretty miserable, to be honest."
Now that normality is slowly returning (and we’re all keeping everything crossed it stays that way), new mums are thankfully able to access things like baby groups and antenatal classes again. They may be socially distanced for a while longer, but they’re still an opportunity to meet other parents, get out of the house and have some adult conversation (which can be in short supply when you have a tiny baby).
If group activities aren’t your thing, it’s well worth checking out apps like Mush and Peanut, which can connect you with other new mums in your area. You’ll also find loads of local and national parenting communities on social media, where there’s always someone to offer solidarity during a night feed, if you need it!
However you choose to connect with others – whether you rely on your existing friendship groups or want to find common ground with other new parents – the important thing is to make sure you have positive sources of support and interaction in your life.
A huge thank you to all the Pattie & Co. Instagram followers who responded to our question with such wonderful advice!