The other week in clinic a lovely patient came in to see me 5 days after having her first baby. She needed me to check her episiotomy stitches.
“Sorry…” she said as I started the examination.
“O, don’t apologise, these examinations are an absolutely normal part of my job” I interrupted trying to lessen her awkwardness
“Oh, I know that. I’m sorry I’ve not had time to shave my legs” she replied without a hint of irony.
And she’s not the first new mum to apologise to me for similar reasons. I have ladies who come and see me within 3 weeks of giving birth worried they don’t feel like themselves and worrying they can’t manage to juggle the baby and “normal” things. “Normal” things seem to include shopping, coffee, making dinner, waxing…
In many cultures around the world for example in India, after having a baby the women adopt a period of rest for as many as 40 days during which time they rest and are pampered: they call this postnatal confinement. They are not supposed to do any physical work, and they are allowed to recuperate and simply look after their baby. This gives them a chance to physically and mentally recover from pregnancy and labour.
In my opinion, this is such a fabulous idea that I’m trying to adopt it as an annual event for myself without the birth, baby, pregnancy or breastfeeding bits.
On the flipside, in the UK, us mums try and push ourselves far too hard after birth: this starts the moment that placenta is delivered when we’re kicked out of hospital often before the epidural has had a chance to wear off and sent on our way. We expect to be back in the shops, back in the gym, even back in the sack not so much as a fortnight later.
***Newsflash*** you don’t need to achieve anything in the first 8 weeks after having your baby
The thing is after having your first baby – there is no “normal”. The reason for this is that there is actually no time for normality. Feeding, changing, washing muslins and generally cooing over a baby takes 25 hours a day and there is little room for anything else. Plus, you also need time to nap if you are going to recover well from your pregnancy and birth. So if you are pressurising yourself on top of that to make plans or worry about bikini waxing, you are pushing yourself far too much.
Every single mum experiences this craziness after giving birth. It is not just you. It’s vital to remember this as you can be fooled into thinking it’s only your baby that takes every waking second of the day to look after. It certainly isn’t. This is very normal and is absolutely nothing to worry or feel guilty about.
I admit, it is quite surprising just how much time looking after a newborn takes but that’s how it is, and you’ll enjoy yourself far more if you accept it. When you see a photo of a celeb who’s just given birth remember: she has staff, a great deal of airbrushing and she is probably still feeling shattered.
I have a mantra for new mums I see at work: if you’ve brushed your teeth by the time you go back to bed at the end of the day, you’ve won and should award yourself a gold star. If you’ve made yourself a sandwich plus had time to eat it, you’re an over-achiever in my opinion.
Your postnatal period is a time to embrace tracksuit bottoms, daytime TV, your sofa and online grocery shopping. This is why you spent the last few months of your pregnancy “nesting” – so you can enjoy and relax in your nest.
Crucially, when you are sleep deprived and recovering from labour, it is not worth wasting what vital precious energy you have on anything other than yourself or your baby. Visitors can make their own tea, and yours for that matter.
There are no rules on what you should be doing but here are my rules to protect new mums from overdoing it:
· Say ‘yes’ to all offers of help – some of us aren’t very good at accepting help. We think we should be coping all by ourselves. That’s fine in theory but if someone says “let me hold the baby while you have a shower/snooze/sandwich/browse on MyBaba” the answer is always ‘YES’.
· Embrace online shopping in all forms – there is a reason the internet was invented. Lugging a newborn baby round Waitrose is not fun. Having everything delivered to the house is.
· Be discerning with your guest list – only guests bringing food or happiness should be allowed in.
· You must have no guilt regarding what you should be doing. Ignore thoughts along the lines of “I’m a terrible wife/daughter/friend as I only have time to look after the baby.” You should be doing NOTHING other than looking after a baby.
By Dr Ellie Cannon
Keep Calm, The New Mum’s Manual is available now to order on Amazon.