I’ve been a Mummy for almost 5 months to my gorgeous little son. It still feels slightly surreal to say “my son” and think of myself as a “mummy”. What did I think it was going to be like before our little bundle of joy arrived? Well, I was under no illusion that motherhood was not going to be a misty-eyed Johnson & Johnson advert. I have a nephew and a niece, and having looked after them, I knew that parenthood was going to be hard work. I was also well aware, that with my baby, I wouldn’t be able to hand him back over to anyone at the end of our time together.
I’m a pretty realistic person, and when I’m feeling particularly anxious about something I like to use the motto “Expect the worst, and anything less is a bonus”. With this phrase etched firmly in my mind, I made my peace with the fact that I would never sleep again. This was extremely tough for me as I LOVE my bed. I also convinced myself that I would be a vomit covered milk machine, living in the one, crusty tracksuit. I gave up all hope of any personal hygiene ever again. Basically, I envisioned becoming Mrs Twit as soon as the baby arrived.
So I’m pleased to tell you...that this was only partially correct!
Although I didn’t turn into Mrs Twit, all of these things did happen to a certain extent. There were days where I couldn’t shower until the afternoon, and my hair definitely spent far too much time unwashed in a bun on my head. There was also a large amount of large boobs being the centrepiece of our sitting room. I was also surprised at how you can get used to so little sleep and function normally.
But the thing that most surprised me, and made all the other issues seem to disappear, is the overwhelming love that I feel for my little son and our new family. It consumed me and overshadowed any tiredness or hunger or self neglect. I finally understood the horribly cliche saying that babies “make it all worthwhile”. He really did.
Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle every day. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Most days feel like a military operation just to have a pee. Some days I cry and get frustrated with him. Then spend the rest of the day with crippling “mum guilt” that I got frustrated with him, because I adore him so much. But we seem to be finding our way. In amongst all the stress and worry, there are amazing moments like him smiling, or our time at baby sensory when he laughs. I look at him happy and healthy, busting out of yet another sleepsuit, and feel immense pride that it’s because of us, his parents. Having muddled through motherhood for almost 5 months, when people now ask me how I’m finding it? I can honestly answer them “It’s really hard, but he’s amazing”
So, having made it this far on the biggest emotional rollercoaster of my life, I’m going to share some of my top tips for motherhood with you.
BE PREPARED TO FEEL UTTERLY UNPREPARED
If this is your first baby then prepare to feel like you have no idea what you are doing. But that’s OK. Antenatal courses like NCT, cover the birth and maybe a couple of hours on breastfeeding. Although the birth is obviously very important, in hindsight I wish I’d realised that it’s just a few days in the start of a very long process. It’s not until you get home that you are left alone with this tiny, completely defenseless person, whose only means of communicating with you is continually crying. It’s your job to keep baby happy and alive, and it’s overwhelming. No one warns you about this part. Ask for help when you need it, don’t ever feel like you’re overreacting or bothering people. Go with your instinct. Google Google Google. Ask other mums. I promise you that you will figure it out and you will be OK.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO RECOVER
In no other situation would you go through the equivalent of major surgery (or actual major surgery if you have a c-section) and not have a 6-8 week convalescence period. But becoming a mother means that your body goes through extensive trauma, and you’re then thrown head first into one of the most difficult jobs on earth! Be prepared to be sore, and hormonal.It’s really important to help yourself to recover. The things I found useful? Put good quality postnatal vitamins, painkillers and any other medications, next to the kettle or other frequently visited place. Invest in a good 1 litre water sports bottle that you can have on the sofa/bed next to you all the time without it leaking. A thermal mug with a lid is also invaluable to carry around with you. Tea/coffee will go cold and undrunk otherwise. You will need your fluids and caffeine. Also the longest phone charger you can buy, to reach wherever you may be stuck with sleeping/feeding baby.
I found breastfeeding is really hard. A 1 hour NCT session taught me very little in comparison to the long painful journey that I endured until we finally got comfortable at about 8 weeks. Milk Spots and breastfeeding support groups are your new best friend. Even if you aren’t struggling I highly recommend going to your local Milk Spot as soon as you can for support. They will assess your technique and check baby, and catch any feeding issues before they become a problem. Plus they are full of other local mums to network with.
BUILD YOUR NETWORK
Having other local mums around you with babies to chat, cry, discuss and socialise with is vital. No one will understand you like another new mother. Your partner, friends, and family will be working as normal whilst you are on maternity leave. You need your network around you, so as soon as you’re able, start getting out and about and building that network. Start a Whatsapp group for your antenatal group (no one else will be awake at 2am during feeding for moral support). Sign up to the Mush app and start connecting with people. Sign up to Mummy Buddies. Find your local children’s centre and get their timetable, and start going to baby groups. Sign up to the Hoop app for local baby activities. Other mums are also an excellent source of information for activities to go to. Don’t be shy, you’ll find all other mums extremely friendly and supportive-we are all in the same boat and all looking for mum buds!
GET A ROUTINE
As soon as you’re able, get out and about. Find yourself some baby groups, baby sensory classes, mum & baby exercise classes. Get yourself a weekly routine of things you do to get out the house. We aim for one thing every week day. It will rapidly expand your network, keep baby stimulated, and can be lovely bonding for you and baby. Our favourites: Bach to Baby, mum & baby pilates and yoga, baby massage, Buggy Fit, Aquatots, Mush meet ups, Heartbeeps, Whizzy Wonders, Pram Chorus, baby cinema, mum & baby wine tasting (yes, this is a thing!). There’s also lots of walks/drinks/brunches/lunches with my lovely new mum friends. If you’re on a tight budget with maternity pay, enquire at your local library and children’s centres what free sessions they have. Days spent in the house with a baby can be very lonely and very long. You’ll feel so much better and confident the sooner you get going. The feel good endorphins you release from some exercise or a good singing session (even if it is nursery rhymes) will make the world of difference. If you’re thinking that you can't/don’t like singing...I give you a month max, before you're hollering The Wheels On The Bus at the top of your voice!
LIVE YOUR LIFE
If you had plans before baby arrived, try to stick to them. Summer weddings were a particular issue with us. But we bit the bullet and went to all of them. Our baby attended his first wedding at 1 week old, and we were so glad that we did it. We were surprised how easy it was with all the helping hands. Plus, everyone coo-ing over our baby made us feel super proud, and we felt really confident afterwards that we could take him with us to events.
You could easily spend thousands on baby equipment. If it’s your first baby, it’s so difficult to know what they will need, use, or like. Babies are all different, so what equipment works for one, another may hate and make them wail like you’re torturing them.
Things that have been a lifesaver for us:
Grobags. These are amazing.They keep babies snug and safe (we got ours when baby started kicking his blankets off over his head and giving me repeat heart attacks). You can feed in them, so invaluable for undisturbed cosy night feeds. Grobags prevent the whole babies-eyes-pinging-open-and-starting-to-scream-because-they’ve-touched-the-cold-cot-sheet scenario, whenever you try to put them back down. Make sure you buy a couple to rotate in the wash, as they get grubby and milky quite quickly from feeding.
Hot water bottle. Our house is chilly. We wrap baby bath towels around the hot water bottle, and prevent the baby-gets-out-the-bath-and-starts-screaming-because-it-thinks-it’s-in-the-arctic. We also put it in the grobag before dressing, and in cot before lying them down to warm everything up a bit.
Play gym mat. It takes a few weeks before they show interest in these but when they do it will change your day for the better! Gives you valuable time to shower, go to the toilet, put your 100th load of laundry on whilst knowing that baby is safe. These also really help with development and coordination. Just be prepared to have the slightly irritating tunes on loop for the next few months.
Bouncer/rocker chair. Another piece of equipment that will give you a safe and stimulating place to leave baby so you can get a few chores done. I put ours in the bathroom and it gives me time to have a decent hair wash. These also have the magical power to soothe baby to sleep, which is reason enough to buy one for each room as far as I’m concerned.
Notebook and attached pen. I know this sounds silly. But with lack of sleep and lack of time to complete any one task at a time, your mind is going to become complete mush. And then mushier. Have a notebook, attach the pen so you can’t lose it and write down lists for everything! Write lists of what you need to pack for various activities, lists of what you need to buy, and endless to-do lists. Or you will forget. Completely. Organisation is key to survival.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
You will never put yourself so far down your list of priorities as when you have a baby. But try not to give up completely. You will miss your pre baby figure, and lovely pre baby clothes. But try to make yourself feel a bit better with some quick make up, and doing your hair. If you learn to do a quick updo like a braid or a bun then you’ll feel much better in yourself. I say updo, because my hair hasn’t been loose for 5 months. Otherwise it gets grabbed, pulled, tangled in fat fingers and rammed into a spitty mouth.
Try and get out onto public transport and driving as soon as you can. It builds your confidence and gives you much more freedom to go adventuring with your new little baby buddy. Take a friend/partner for the first few times if needed, but never be afraid to ask if there are people to help with the buggy.
Trains/Tubes-make sure you check before you leave that both your start and finish stations have lifts! I learnt the hard way and got stranded. Sometimes there may be someone to help you with buggy and stairs, sometimes (rarely) the guards will help you. Sometimes it’s just easier to go to a different station and walk slightly further to your destination. Use the trains disabled train carriage with lots of room for buggy.
Buses-Firstly, ensure your buggy fits on the front way, if not go on through the back doors. Buses can only take 1-2 buggies. If there’s already one on board, you may have to nicely ask them to move so you can both fit. Sometimes you may have to wait for the next bus (give yourself extra time for appointments, in case this happens) If there’s other buggies at the bus stop, prepare for some silent side-eyeing and slow edging towards the spot on the curb where you both think the bus doors may stop.
You have to get off if a wheelchair user gets on. They have priority for the space. I didn’t realise this (despite the huge sign) until someone explained it to me, as I stood looking very confused at a bus full of people and a wheelchair user all glaring at me. Lesson learned.
Driving-Prepare to feel like your head is going to explode when driving with your baby. Everything suddenly becomes a potential hazard, and you become completely paranoid. I’m still convinced that my baby will just fly out of his car seat for no reason, and I’ve watched every car seat safety video repeatedly on YouTube. They will cry in their car seats unless you have an angel baby. They get fed up. Our baby plays a game that is like a rubbish version of the film “Speed” and screams if we go under 10 mph. You can imagine how stressful journeys around London are! I’m convinced now that Baby On Board signs aren’t so people drive more carefully around you, it’s so they steer clear of your erratic driving and understand why you are singing your head off into the mirror like a crazy person. Speaking of singing, ensure you find “that” song that helps distract your baby when they’re losing their mind in the car seat. Something that you either sing, or ideally that you can play. Our favourites: Rupert & The Frog song, (works every time!), Sesame Street: Smarter, stronger, kinder song, and Wind The Bobbin Up
Ensure that wherever you book to eat/drink knows that you are bringing a buggy so they can seat you accordingly. If there’s a group of you, ensure that your venue actually has enough space for all your buggies, and book in advance so they can make space (if they accept your booking). Slings are brilliant for getting around this problem, as you don’t need buggy space BUT you’re then stuck with baby on your lap or in the sling if they fall asleep. This doesn’t make eating very easy, and you usually end up dropping it all over their heads. Or maybe that’s just me.
Slings are also really good for public transport, as you can just sit in a regular seat with baby and you get lovely cuddle time (I used the sling for all our vaccination appointment journeys, to soothe him afterwards)
I hope these have helped, and I wish you all the best on your journey through motherhood. No matter how you’re feeling, or how your day is going, don’t ever doubt that you’re doing an amazing job!