A new baby: The first three months

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The first few months of your first baby’s life are probably the most surreal you will ever experience. They are also some of the most amazing, but you might not be able to appreciate that at the time. You will experience the most profound joy, hope and excitement, but it may also be a time of pain, worry and fear. Not to mention the extreme tiredness.

When Baby Ben was born, I remember feeling very caught between wanting to enjoy and treasure each special moment, and wanting to get back to a feeling of ‘normal.’ The difficulty with that is that ‘normal’ will never be so again. Instead, you find a new normal. But not in those first few months.

If you’re like us, the first few days home from hospital will be very strange. You may have lots of visitors; you may have family who stay away for a few weeks until you’ve settled in. You are constantly experiencing new things, and you will worry about doing things right: does he need a clean nappy? Is he hungry? Why is he asleep? Why isn’t he asleep? I remember not wanting to sleep during the day because I didn’t want to miss anything. I also found that whenever I wanted to sleep, Ben would wake up and want feeding.

In those first few weeks, babies want feeding all the time. It can feel constant, and if you haven’t got your latch quite right, it can be very very painful. This is the time to get to an NCT Breastfeeding Supporter and get the support you need. If you need any more convincing, read this article from The Guardian. This is also the time to go to breastfeeding support groups, breastfeeding cafes and everything you can. The women there will be in exactly the same position as you, and you will bump into each other again and again as your children grow up in the area.

Some days, the only way I could stop Ben feeding and get him to sleep was to take him out, either in the pram or in the car. In some ways, this was great – it meant I got out of the house every day. It also meant I was taking some exercise, and starting to feel better about the delightful post-natal body. In other ways, I was worried – would he ever learn to sleep in his moses basket during the day? Would he ever have naps at home? I remember peeling potatoes with Ben in the sling, as we had friends coming over. That evening, after being awake all day, he fell asleep in the sling at 5pm and slept most of the evening while we had dinner.

I needn’t have worried. By the time he was three months old, he was napping happily in his cot, he had fallen into his own routine and he was only feeding every 3 hours.

In some ways, the first three months are easy: the baby generally sleeps when you take him anywhere, tiny babies are very portable, and you don’t need to worry about food too much, particularly if you’re breastfeeding. But in so many ways, the first three months are really hard, in my experience. And I had a baby with no complications. If your baby is premature, ill, colicky, has reflux or any other problems, you have my every sympathy.

Looking back, there were some things we did right, and some things I would have done differently. As best as I can, I’ve tried to summarise these into a list below.

Before your due date

  • Food: stock up your freezer with meals, bread, milk, soups, even cakes which can be defrosted and prepared without any hassle.
  • Nappy changing: set up your changing station with cotton wool, nappies, changing mat, nappy rash cream as your due date approaches.
  • Clothes: fill your drawers with clean baby clothes. They need to be washed even if they are new before your newborn wears them.
  • Pram and other equipment: have a practice to make sure you know how it works.

In the first few weeks

  • Accept all offers of help: we were cooked for by friends and members of our church for the first two weeks of Ben’s life. It was the most amazing blessing.
  • Aim to shower and eat three meals each day. Anything else is a bonus.
  • Accept that you will be feeding or holding the baby a lot. Make yourself comfy and give in to the TV.
  • Be kind to yourself. Take your medication, don’t sit awkwardly and lie down when you can.
  • Enjoy it as much as you can – take lots and lots of photos, including photos of you with the baby, and you with your partner and the baby as a family. If you can, organise a newborn photoshoot.
  • Don’t panic if you don’t have something you need. Many supermarkets are 24 hours.
  • If you are worried about the baby’s health, go to the GP. My GP told me that she would much rather I came in with Ben than stayed at home worrying.
  • Don’t worry about a routine. It’ll come when you’re ready.
  • Controversial, but… introduce a bottle and a dummy if you want your baby to take one. I’ve never met a baby who wouldn’t take the breast after having a bottle, but I have met lots of bottle refusers, whose mothers would love to have a break. The dummy was a bit of a lifesaver for us, as we used it to get Ben to sleep rather than him using me for comfort.
  • If someone asks if they can help, one good thing to ask them to do is to take the baby for a walk. This can give you and your husband some much needed alone time, even if it’s only for half an hour. If the baby is fed and comfortable, he will probably go straight to sleep.
  • Enjoy the perks of the newborn stage – spend lots of time in cafes, eat lots of cake, photograph each smile. It is a really special time.

The newborn stage passes so quickly, but in the midst of it, it feels like it will never end, and that motherhood will be an endless cycle of feeds, baby sick and nappies. Strangely, when I look back, it’s definitely not the sick and the nappies that I remember! Enjoy your baby and be kind to yourself. The days are long but the years are short.

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My NCT Experience

When you announce a pregnancy, people start using this strange initialism: NCT. They talk about their NCT classes, their NCT friends, and ask if you’re going to ‘Do NCT.’ 

After a few weeks of confusion, you find out that NCT actually stands for ‘National Childbirth Trust,’ and, generally, you sign up for their courses. Thousands of people, usually couples, usually fairly affluent (the courses cost around £150 per person), complete their antenatal courses each year, and they can be very helpful. All of the course attendees will be expecting their babies around the same time, and, in my experience, it tends to be the friendships that are formed with these people and their babies that are the legacy of attending the NCT courses.

Over the last few months, criticisms have been raised about the NCT antenatal courses. Kirstie Allsop spoke on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ Programme and claimed that the NCT was ‘politicised’ and ‘dogmatic.’ Her twitter comments about the charity resulted in a maelstrom of comments, both positive and negative, about the NCT. A frequently occurring theme was that women who had to have intervention during childbirth, particularly caesareans, felt like failures.

To some extent, I can relate to this feeling.  Before Ben was born, I had attended the NCT classes, the NHS antenatal classes and Pregnancy Yoga. All three promoted childbirth being as natural as possible. Massage, water and Gas and Air where the suggested methods of pain relief. In the NCT class we had the time to practise massage, positions for birth, and to discuss the different stages of childbirth. I wrote my birth plan and prepared to use all my techniques during labour and delivery. I was convinced that I wanted as natural a birth as possible, and wanted to avoid an epidural at all costs.

In many ways, I think this approach was good. During my pregnancy, I wasn’t really worried about the birth. I felt that I had prepared almost as fully as I could. I was feeling positive about it, and the mantra my Yoga teacher used ran through my mind: your body is designed to do this. When labour started, yes, I was anxious, but I was also excited. I’d been waiting 9 months for this.

However, labour and childbirth doesn’t always go to plan. I laboured for 37 hours to bring Ben into the world. Gas and Air made me vomit, as happens to a lot of people. I didn’t like the woozy feeling they gave me. When I was finally allowed to get in the birthing pool, I hated it – it was too hot, I couldn’t get comfortable, and eventually, it made the contractions slow down. Like many, many women, I needed intervention, and Ben was born with the aid of a suction cup.

I admit, I did feel disappointed, and a bit of a failure. I had wanted to do it as naturally as possible, and it didn’t work for me. I also felt a bit silly for not requesting more pain relief, but the midwives were keen for me to give birth as naturally as possible. The ‘natural as possible’ message seems to come from the NHS and the NCT. 

Following Ben’s birth, we struggled to breastfeed, even though I was very keen – determined even – to breastfeed. A friend recommended visiting an NCT Breastfeeding Supporter, and this was where the NCT came into it’s own. I had been seen by midwives and health visitors, and each one had told me that the latch was fine, and that the pain would soon go away. It didn’t. The NCT Supporter had the time to sit with me, make sure we got the latch right, and I can honestly say that without her, we wouldn’t have breastfed for much longer. It was the best thing we could have done in those early days.

As for the rest of our group, only 1 of the 4 of us had the water birth we all hoped and aimed for. One had a caesarean. Two of us are breastfeeding. We all meet up each week, and that support network is the best thing that could have come out of the course. Our babies are all the same age and going through the same things. Knowing other parents in the same situation as you is invaluable in the first few months.

So, my experience of NCT is mixed. But I’m really glad I did the course, and would recommend it. I think the NCT does need to think about how it prepares women for childbirth and caesareans in particular, but so does the NHS. Ultimately, you want to go into the experience of labour and childbirth with the most positive attitude you can, and aiming for a natural childbirth does help you to do that. 

So I did NCT. I’m still a member of the NCT. I’d just advise women to take it all with a generous pinch of realism.

The Hospital Bag

When you’re pregnant, you attend antenatal classes. At these classes, they all tell you to have your hospital bag packed. At the good classes, they give you a list of things to put in it.

At home, you find your bag. You lay out the things on the list. You realise that in many cases, you need the things on the list now, as well as in hospital. What do you do?

That’s the thing about pregnancy and birth: the only thing that is predictable is that it will be unpredictable. Particularly with your first child, you don’t know what you’ll be like, especially in labour. I had done the yoga, the NCT classes and everything in between. I had written my birth plan, created my playlist and done a practice run to the hospital. I had heard about women who bake cakes to distract themselves from contractions. I thought, yes, I will do that. I could just imagine pottering away in the kitchen with a quick break every 10 minutes for a contraction.

Yeah right. While I was in labour, I was so anxious, and felt so sick, and the contractions were so painful, baking was the last thing on my mind. I lay on the sofa for most of the day, timing contractions and trying to focus on the Olympics.

By the time we got to hospital, I was already exhausted, having been in labour for 20 hours and not having slept at all. At that stage, I had no idea I had another 18 to go.

However, there are some things which did really help me, and some things I should have forced myself to do or take with me, which I will note here.

Hospital Bag: Labour

  • Prepare to be in for quite a long time. You may need several changes of clothing.
  • Think about what you’ll wear in the birth pool if you plan a water birth.
  • Have at least 2 playlists or CDs: one for energy, one for calming.
  • Energy gels are useful for a boost.
  • Proper food is even better. Get your husband or birth partner to remember when you last ate, and encourage you to eat every few hours. Sandwiches, cereal bars, fruit, especially dried fruit, salads etc. are all good. Have some food in your bag for emergencies, but get some made fresh when you’re preparing to go to hospital.
  • Think about the kind of water bottles you like to drink from. We had a sports-type cap bottle, which I hate drinking from. Next time, I’ll bring a cup. And some squash.
  • You might need a warm jumper or blanket – I remember being very cold during the night in the hospital, and couldn’t get warm at all.
  • A hot water bottle – this was an absolute lifesaver.
  • Yoga breathing techniques – I did these all the way through, and it was the best thing.
  • 1 first outfit (vest and babygro and hat) for the baby.
  • 2 nappies for the baby.

Hospital Bag: Post-partum

For you:

  • Night dresses, dressing gown etc – prepare to be in for at least 2 days. I resisted buying more than 2 nighties before the birth, but I ended up with 4 maternity/breastfeeding night dresses, and each was well-worn by the time I could fit back into my normal pyjamas. I also heard that dark colours are useful.
  • Phone charger
  • Camera
  • Kindle – there’s not much to do in a hospital bed when the baby is sleeping.
  • Cardigan to wear over your nightie
  • Slippers
  • Some nice ‘treaty’ food e.g. chocolate biscuits – you might get hungry at strange times.
  • Your usual toiletries – just buy extras, you’ll use them up eventually.
  • Plus all the other bits and pieces they tell you on the course.

For the baby:

  • Several outfits (vest and babygro) in Newborn size – babies often wee all over themselves in the first few weeks so have a few changes.
  • Hat
  • Nappies
  • Cotton wool
  • Disposible change mats – we didn’t have a changing table in our bay, so I had to change nappies on my bed.

When you go into hospital, just take your ‘Labour’ bag with you. Leave the others in the car. Then get your husband or birth partner to bring the other bags up with you.

We were in hospital for 2 days after Ben was born, and it is one of the strangest times in your life. Having your home comforts with you does make life easier.