No-one can tell you what life will be like with a new baby. You may think you have a good idea and smile when people warn you of the endless crying, the sleepless nights, the tenth diaper change of the day, etc. But until you have experienced it, you cannot truly appreciate what it feels like. Women who once restructured multi-national corporations before lunchtime are reduced to quivering wrecks, still not dressed by midday and incapable of hopping out to the store for a carton of milk. If this happens to you, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
When you think about it, it’s not surprising that parenthood isn’t always the endless bed of roses that we dreamed it would be. As a new mother, you have just been through the physically and emotionally exhausting experience of carrying a child and giving birth. Your hormones are rapidly adjusting to new levels. You may be recovering from surgery or stitches, bothered by after pains, and trying to establish breastfeeding when your milk has not come in yet, while suffering from complete sleep deprivation. New fathers, too, are often juggling sleep-deprivation and a sense of helplessness while also trying to balance the demands of paid work and the needs of their new family.
Daily life with a newborn can be chaos. Not only are you so tired that you can barely open your eyes, you can find it hard to get dressed because every time you pick up a garment, your baby needs her diaper changed again. You mean to take a shower, but then your baby starts crying. You’re so busy breastfeeding, you forget to eat breakfast. You forget your own name.
The newborn “baby days”, as you get to know this new person and his/her habits and character, can be a stressful time even if you are still carried along on a wave of delight and joy at your baby’s arrival. Some days, the relentless nature of the responsibility and the sheer drudgery of getting through household tasks don’t allow you to relax and enjoy your baby as you want. Although things will gradually settle into more of a pattern and routine, if you’re finding it difficult to cope in the first few weeks, here are some ideas from other parents to help you get through:
Go for a walk
Sometimes, the long stretch of time in a day can be more manageable if it is broken up. If you plan to go for a short walk, whatever the weather, every day, this may stop you from feeling like the four walls are closing in on you.
Don’t try to do too much
If you’ve always had high standards for housework, accepting that they may need to slip in the early weeks can relieve the pressure on you. Just remember: your newborn doesn’t mind if there are crumbs under the toaster.
Find some company
Some women stay in touch with other new moms they have met through antenatal classes, and this can be a valuable way of socialising, sharing experiences, and providing the babies with some company, too. If you don’t know any other new parents in your local area, going to a parent-and-baby group for the first time can be very daunting. You might fear you’ll be the only one turning up there with milk stains down your front and permanent bags underneath your eyes. You might imagine that everyone else will be calm, controlled, and managing much better than you are. It’s only when you get there and find that there’s someone even more harassed than you who has a baby who sleeps even more badly than yours that you can begin to share the experiences of new parenthood with other people going though it just like you. Ask your health visitor about the groups that meet in your area and make the effort to go along. Loneliness can be a real problem for many new mothers. A touch of adult company and some friendship can be a lifeline.
Take up any offers of help
If someone offers to get you some shopping, say yes. If someone offers a hand with the ironing, say yes. All of these things can help. And if you have visitors, don’t make them tea, ask them to make you a cup of tea!
Set some time aside for yourself
A piece of advice often given to new mothers is to “sleep when the baby sleeps”. While many new parents find that they can’t relax enough to fall asleep themselves while the baby is napping, they can award themselves a break. “Instead of using every spare minute to catch up on laundry,” says Jan, “I would refresh myself every day by doing something just for me. Whether it was washing my hair or putting my feet up and reading a book, or calling a friend for a chat, it was a way to remind myself that I still had a life. It helped me keep myself together.”
The good news is that things will get easier as you get to know your baby and discover what he/she likes and dislikes and how he/she needs to be cared for.
Although life changes forever the moment you became a parent, the stresses of the first weeks do not last all through babyhood. If your baby hasn’t “settled” yet, we hope he/she happily will very soon.