5 things I wish I knew when I had my first baby

5 things I wish I knew when I had my first baby.jpgThis post is part of the baby daze series. In the annual survey I ran last year, when I asked what topics did readers want me to cover, the baby stage came up as a popular one. Over the next month, I will be sharing some of my experiences with babies and some collective wisdom from the readers of Planning With Kids on adjusting and coping with life with a new baby.

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I was 26 when I had our first child. I was the first of my siblings to have a baby, one or two friends had also had babies, but they were in Mildura, so I had only minimal contact with them. So it is safe to say I was fairly inexperienced with babies when our son arrived.

There is so much about the first few months that I remember so clearly, other parts are (and were then) a blur. But I do remember wishing that I knew a bit more before the baby arrived. Here are five things I wish I had known before our baby was born.

1. You cannot predict how you will feel after you have the baby

Just prior to falling pregnant I made a change in career path and took up a new role completely out of my comfort zone so I could obtain people management experience. I really loved the role, so when I became pregnant I organised with my work that I would return three months after the birth. With the benefit of hindsight all I can say to that is WOW! From the minute he was born I knew I wouldn’t want to go back to work in three months.

So in those precious first three months, not only was I navigating how to be a mum, but I spent a lot of mental energy on working out how I could change the expectations of my work place. Thankfully they were accommodating and while I didn’t get exactly what I was after, I returned to work 4 days a week at around 9 months after our son’s birth.

On the other hand I know mums who after three months at home with baby, organised an earlier return to work than planned with their employer as they weren’t enjoying their time at home as much as they thought they would. Neither of these situations is better than the other, they are just different.

My advice: Allow yourself the greatest flexibility you can afford. You can never predict how you will feel those first few months postpartum. Flexibility gives you options to make sure you are happy. Happy mum = happy baby.

2. Babies don’t just fall to sleep straight away

While I would never have imagined it at the time, one my fondest memories of the first baby experience is of me crying to my maternal and child health nurse when she visited me at home the first time. Our son was a great feeder and loved to soothe himself with sucking.

In the first 36 hours we were home from hospital, I pretty much fed him non stop. I would feed him, burp him, try to put him in his bassinet to sleep. I would give him a little pat, walk out and pray he would go to sleep. He wouldn’t, he’d cry and make this sucking motion. I thought he must still be hungry, so I would feed him again. Then I would repeat this over and over again.

By the time the maternal and child health nurse arrived, I was utterly exhausted. I had showered, tidied the house and made sure I was presentable. I wanted to show her I was coping. Liz was her name and from the moment I saw her at the front door I liked her.

After the formalities she looked at me hard and said “How are you feeling?” I went to say “fine” but tears just poured out and I started sobbing. Explaining how he wouldn’t sleep and I was feeding all the time, I was exhausted and had no idea what I was doing!

Liz was amazing. She told me she always felt better when mums let her know how they were really feeling. She asked me lots of questions about what I was doing with our baby. She showed me some techniques to settle him off to sleep and explained that babies will cry a little before going to sleep and at such a young age are unlikely to go to sleep without assistance. Liz used a patting technique with our baby and he went to sleep within a few minutes for her and stayed asleep for the rest of her visit and another two hours after she left!

I couldn’t believe my baby was sleeping! I used her settling techniques and sometimes it took time to get him to sleep, but I didn’t automatically try to feed him if he cried a little and stayed with him to help him go off to sleep.

My advice: Getting a baby to sleep is harder than you imagine. Be prepared to try a few techniques to settle your baby and find something that works for your bub. Every baby is different and what works for one bub, may not work for another, so there is not point in comparing. Baby sleeping is not a competitive sport, don’t feel compelled to take on advice that sits uncomfortably with you.

3. It is not the time for new goals and projects

Prior to having the baby, I thought in my three months at home I was going to:

  • Sort out all of the photo albums
  • Write journal entries every day
  • Update my CV
  • Read a book each week

Again, I say to myself WOW! I am sure there are mums out there who manage/d to set goals and projects for themselves and achieve them in the first year of baby’s life. For me though I was on such a steep learning curve that all my energy went into learning to parent our beautiful baby. I looked at the boxes of photos and empty journals and would feel like I wasn’t achieving anything.

I had to let go of these projects and realise I had been misguided in setting them. I replaced them with far more practical and achievable goals like:

  • Having a shower each day
  • Leaving the house once a day
  • Having the evening meal ready before 9pm

My advice: Becoming a mum is a huge adjustment. Adding additional goals and workload at this time can be stressful and can have a detrimental impact on your self confidence. Give yourself space to enjoy this time without extra self imposed pressures.

4. It is only a sleeping problem if it is a problem for you

As a first time mum it super easy to become obsessed with sleep. The baby’s sleep, your sleep, the baby down the road’s sleep, your partner’s sleep, how your baby goes to sleep – anything to do with sleep really.

There is so much information out there now on baby sleep and recommendations vary wildly. Parents, parents in laws may have done things differently, the multiple midwives you saw in hospital could have all told you different things. Everyone has advice for you on how to make your baby sleep and as a new mum you are after that magic formula that makes baby sleep a breeze.

It wasn’t until I went to an information evening on baby sleep many years after my first baby, that I heard one of the best bits of advice on baby sleep. Someone in the audience explained what was happening with her baby’s sleep and asked the expert if she thought her baby had a sleeping problem? The expert responded with a question – is it a problem for you (she was rocking her to sleep)? The mum said no as she was happy to do it. The expert then said:

“It is only a sleeping problem if it is a problem for you.”

You often hear people say things like you are “creating a rod for your own back”, “you are setting up bad habits” or “you should never feed a baby to sleep”. I think this view isn’t helpful. No one knows your family’s situation. Certainly if you start certain sleep routines with your baby they will stick, but if you are happy with them (and they are safe!), don’t let others’ judgement bother you.

My advice: While on some sleepless nights in the baby’s first year, it seems like this stage of life is never going to end but it does and it goes relatively quickly. Be comfortable with the sleeping set up of your baby and go with your instincts.

5. Being tired makes you cry

According to the United Nations sleep deprivation is a form of torture. I can clearly remember being so tired that I would cry over very simple things that normally wouldn’t bother me – for example I did literally cry over spilt expressed breast milk! There is however obviously a difference from crying due to mental health issues (if you think this might be you, please see a medical professional for help) and crying from being over tired. But it has been proven that sleep deprivation does make you more likely to cry:

Biomedical researchers have identified four biological mechanisms that function as catalysts influencing the amount of tears we will shed at a given time: genetic influences, dietary factors, hormone levels and circadian rhythms (we are more likely to cry if we are sleep deprived and at certain times of day). {source}

My advice: Sleep deprivation is incredibly tough. Nana naps are an amazing antidote to sleepless nights. Really try to sleep when baby is sleeping during the day to catch up.

So what would you add? Would love to hear what you wish you knew before having your first baby!

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Comments

  1. says

    Fantastic advice. I remember my old boss, a neonatal psychologist, used to say that we are asking the wrong questions about getting the baby to sleep. The real question is how can we make sure mum is getting enough sleep to cope with the demands , which brings me to my suggestion. Say yes to help, ask for help. Family, friends, neighbours. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about people usually love to help out a new baby and mum. Also, Dads who spend more time with their babies bond better but sometimes they need encouragement!
    And don’t worry about the housework, enjoy the moment whenever you can.
    Okay, so my one suggestion turned into four. Oops !

  2. says

    This is a great post and after having my third baby 4 weeks ago, the advice is still just as timely because you can fall into the trap of “I’ve been here before, I can take on some projects since I know what I’m doing’ but every baby is different and you don’t know how you will cope after each addition to your family. Thanks for the great read Nicole. :)

  3. Emma D says

    My Health Nurse reminded me that your (sleep) routine comes from what you do more than half the time. I had been going for 100% of the pattern I wanted, so to hear that was a huge relief for me. I re-set my effort to 75-80% of the time (my comfort zone), & then just let life stuff happen. It’s like Groundhog Day, u get to try again the next day :) I did try to set a start time to the day, to create a rhythm, but again w flexibility. I tried things that connected w me.

  4. stephanie callaghan says

    Yucky I’m afraid, but……wish I’d been warned that mums 1st bowel movement after birth is TORTURE! (and lots of my friends agree). With my 2nd and 3rd babies I made sure I had some medicine, (check it’s safe for breastfeeding), to soften the movement. Made things a million times better! :)

  5. Nay says

    All this advice is great for new mums and mums adding another little bundle to the family. On the bowel movement comment I had no trouble and it didn’t hurt at all lol I’ve have had a natural birth with lots of stitches and a csection and fine with both. That first pee though ouch!! The advice I got from the midwives is to take a bottle of warm water into the bathroom with you with a squirty end and use it on your stitches when your peeing it dilutes it so it doesn’t sting as much.

  6. Melanie says

    Night time routines EVENTUALLY happen, make that routines in general! I had a clear image including bathing, feeding, bedtime all before 7/8pm. So funny! More like a random sequence of events that differed every night and resulted in my little one falling asleep, usually on me, between 9 and 11pm. I worried that it would create an issue down the track but around 12 weeks he magically fell into a routine which was more predictable each night and he even started to fall asleep in his cot around 7:30pm! This really didn’t have much to do with me and I could have saved myself a lot of torment if I didn’t worry so much about a ‘good routine’. My advice is to focus on enjoying the time with your tiny new being, especially in the first few months, rather than whether you’re doing things right. Chances are you’re doing everything just fine!

  7. Beverley M says

    Ha! I literally cried over spilt expressed milk as well.

    We were still in the hospital; I’d had a c-section, and my milk wasn’t coming in. I’d just spent probably 20+ minutes pumping and managed to get this little cupful of milk out, went to feed it to the baby (out of the cup, that’s how they did it!) and she kicked it or flailed her hand or something, and it spilled everywhere. After that I called the nurse every time to get them to give her the cup of milk, until she and I got it figured out and she could just get it “from the source”

  8. Ellen says

    I totally agree with what you have written. I had our first in Canberra, away from every support network I knew and I was forced into learning how to be a mother by myself (actually, a good thing though!). I remember thinking my life was supposed to look like a Huggies ad, but it didn’t! The tiredness is what kills me the most, I am a visual person, so get quite stressed when things are in disarray, so learning to cope with my own expectations and adjusting them as required has been one of the biggest things I have learnt. The other thing that I now know is that being pregnant is exhausting, and that I simply have to rest and take it easy, even when things feel overwhelming or out of control (a lot of the time lately – baby #5 on the way!) One other thing I never expected was simply how much I would LOVE them! It changed my life, they changed my life!

  9. says

    I too fell into the trap of making an extensive new goal list prior to having my second child. Since this was my second time around and I “knew” what I was doing I figured this would be the “perfect time” to start major home, creative, and business projects. Boy was I in for a shock!
    After I came to my senses and adjusted my thinking, however, I was able to get a few of the most important projects I had in mind done. So, my advice is set realistic goals. Babies are not “hard” to care for, but they do take ALOT of time. You may not get to accomplish a new project each week, but you may be able to reach a few realistic goals by the end of your maternity leave.
    And remember, even if you can’t accomplish your to do list, that the most important “goal” is caring for and getting to know your precious new little one.

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