Congratulations! After months of waiting, your bundle of joy is finally here. Now begins The Babymoon – the first couple of weeks of blissful elation as you ease gently into parenthood… apparently.
In reality, the Babymoon, although wonderful in many ways, is a huge culture shock – especially the first time around. Not only do you have the physical and emotional recovery from the birth to deal with, but also you must adjust to life with a tiny, noisy person who didn’t come with a manual. Unrealistic expectations of this time may well lead you to feeling overwhelmed (and those damn hormones don’t help either!). Following is what I hope will be a useful guide to getting through those first couple of weeks with minimal drama so you can focus on enjoying your gorgeous new baby.
Physical and emotional recovery
However your baby made their entry into the world, you’re going to need some serious rest and recuperation. Even a straightforward natural birth is the physical equivalent of running a marathon. If you had an assisted or surgical delivery, you will likely be feeling very battered and bruised.
I know it completely sucks when people keep telling you to rest. Furthermore, your entire world has been turned upside down, and you are probably craving some semblance of calm; of normal life. But please, for the love of all that is holy, take it easy. Don’t worry, you’ll be up and about again before you know it and having to deal with the housework, errands, taking care of the baby, and maybe even returning to work – for these short couple of weeks, put your feet up and accept every single offer of help you receive. If visitors want to do your laundry/dishes/ironing/etc, LET THEM. Most visitors would rather hold the baby and let you make them cups of tea than actually do something useful, so make the most of the helpful ones whilst they are around! If you are breastfeeding, you need to spend the first couple of weeks focusing on learning, with your baby, to nurse. Allow everyone to run around after you and try to enjoy it while it lasts. As a person who hates being waited on, I know it sucks. If you really feel you must get up and about, by all means do so – just be kind to yourself (and resist the urge to hoover).
Emotional recovery is not quite as clear cut as that, however. You are likely feeling a whole sha-bang of various emotions, as well as suffering the effects of the postpartum hormone shifts. You might be feeling elated, tearful, depressed, regretful, anxious, deliriously in love with your newborn or all of the above at once! It can get pretty confusing. I promise you it gets better. Right now you need lots of hugs, plenty of chocolate and a listening ear. It won’t take long for those hormones to settle down. Feeling low after the birth of your baby is totally normal, but if after a couple of weeks you are feeling like your mood is affecting how you are functioning day-to-day, it’s time to talk to the doctor.
Dealing with visitors
Everybody’s experiences of birth and early parenthood are different, but there is one issue that every new family must face – visitors.
They can be a huge help, or a huge pain in the backside. Don’t be afraid to lay down the law when it comes to pushy visitors. Remember, you are the ones who just had the baby and if you don’t want 45 people descending upon you at once, that’s your choice. Of course everybody is excited to see the new baby, hear about the birth and congratulate you – that’s a wonderful thing. But, people (family especially) tend to get a little caught up in their excitement and forget that you will probably be feeling very fragile at this time.
It’s also worth noting that having lots of visitors in the early days isn’t all that great for a baby. They are brand new in this world, and are still figuring things out. Newborns should be spending the vast majority of their time in the arms of their mothers and fathers. Theirs are the scents they are familiar with. Being bombarded with the smells of your parents, grandparents, siblings and neighbours could be confusing to a baby, especially when they are still learning to nurse. Babies are primal little creatures and rely on their nose to guide them.
Following are my top tips on how to keep visitors happy whilst preserving your own sanity!
- ·If you can (and of course, if you want to) delay visitors for a week or so, please do and don’t feel bad about it! Simply tell your awaiting families and friends that you are all feeling a little up in the air and would like a few days to get used to being a family. People might be a little miffed at first, but they love you and will lrespect your boundaries if you set them with kindness and understanding.
- When you do allow visitors over your threshold, try to keep them in groups of just one or two to minimise the inevitable ‘pass the baby’ sessions.
- If someone asks if they can bring you anything on their way to you, say yes, even if you don’t need anything there and then! Get them to bring things like toilet roll and maternity pads, as well as cakes, biscuits, bread, tea and coffee. These are all things you will need at some point, for you or your visitors.
- Allow yourself time to rest. People will understand if you need to put them off, or even if you cancel their visit at the last minute.
- Charge your partner with the task of making sure that everybody washes their hands when they enter your home.
- Ask your visitors to bring your family some food. People love to be able to do something useful and having proper home-cooked meals available will be a real godsend.
- If a visitor asks if there is anything they can do to help, don’t be afraid to delegate a household chore! Most visitors will be more than happy to spend 15 minutes hanging out the washing or tidying up the kitchen.
- When you hand the baby over for a cuddle, use that time to do something for yourself (shower, use the toilet, put your feet up and drink a cup of tea) rather than for rushing around trying to catch up with the housework
- Don’t be afraid to ask for privacy when you need to nurse. Nursing in the early days isn’t as simple as discreetly lifting your shirt and popping the baby on – it can take time, and is usually much easier when everything is hanging out! If you feel uncomfortable doing this in front of your visitors, kindly ask them to allow you some privacy, or take yourself off to a quiet spot to feed in comfort. Don’t rush on their account! They are visitors in your home, yes, but you don’t have to entertain them.
- If you’ve had enough of people calling and showing up at your door, simply change your answerphone message to something like “Sorry we can’t answer the phone right now, we are very busy with our new baby and taking some time out to bond as a family. Thanks so much for calling, leave a message and we will be in touch soon.” For those who insist on turning up unannounced (my pet hate), pop a simple note on the door that reads “Mother and baby are resting, please call again another time.”
- One of the best tips I was ever given was to stay in your PJ’s and dressing gown when visitors are there. Dressing gown signals that you are tired and are waiting for them to leave so you can go back to bed. Normal clothes signal that you are back to normal, and therefore able to run around making everybody cups of tea.
Your postpartum body
In the first couple of weeks after giving birth, your body will resemble something like a deflated balloon. You will almost definitely still look a bit pregnant (or a lot pregnant), and your feet will probably swell up like you’ve never seen before – this part shocked the hell out of me with both of my babies! I knew you were supposed to swell up during pregnancy but nobody told me to expect that postpartum! In addition to this you will probably be feeling pretty sore down below (be it an achy, post-birth vagina or a caesarean scar!).
You will also be losing blood, called Lochia, which can last for up to 6 weeks after the birth. This can be heavy, light or something in between. For most women it is heavy over the first few days, then gradually tapers off and stops completely within a couple of weeks. With blood loss especially, you need to keep an eye on things. If you lose any clots that are bigger than a 50p piece, especially if that loss is accompanied by dizziness or sickness, you need to contact your healthcare provider. Also, it can sometimes be cause for concern if you stop bleeding and then start again, so let somebody know if that happens to you.
It is normal to feel a little woozy and off-colour after giving birth, but try to listen to what your body is telling you. If you are worried, please seek further advice.
Bonding with your baby
It is normal to feel very up-and-down after the birth of your child. You’ve likely read about the incredible feeling you get when you hold your baby for the first time, but not everybody experiences that all-consuming rush of love for their babies the moment they are born. You might do, or it might not hit you for a few days. In fact, it might not hit you like the proverbial ton of bricks at all – it may be a slow, gradual falling-in-love that takes a few days or even weeks! Try not to put too much pressure on yourself. You’ve been through a hell of a lot to give birth to this tiny creature and it can take time to adjust to parenthood. It is also completely normal to love the baby, but to not be in love with them at first. It will come. Make sure you get to spend lots of one-on-one time with your baby to help you get to know them properly. The blissful babymoon can be peppered with anxiety because you may find it hard to decipher your baby’s cries. Take a deep breath and tune into the quiet voice within – that’s your intuition, your mother’s instinct. It will fare you better than any baby advice book, blog post or well-meaning relative.
Seasoned mamas, what tips or advice would you offer a new family to help them get through the first couple of weeks? Please share your wisdom in the comments below!