Expert / 28 September, 2020 / Professor Amy Brown
Having a new baby is a tremendous period of excitement and change – but one where it’s all too easy to lose sight of you in all the chaos. Often, we spend so long planning for the birth, we don’t even really think about what being a new parent will be like. Ok, so we might have picked out a pram, maybe even got around to painting their room, but how often do we spend time thinking about what we as new parents will need? So much of the focus is on our baby that we forget, or don’t realise that we need support, care and looking after too. So, here are four things to think about to help you thrive during that first year:
When we think about having a new baby, we may feel a whole range of emotions, many of them positive. Baby cards, adverts and gifts tend to focus on all the good things, congratulating us on our new beautiful bundle of joy. But whilst we may love our baby very much, it’s also normal for the experience of caring for that bundle of joy to bring us negative emotions too. Anxiety. Feeling overwhelmed. Scared we might break them. Wanting a break. Shocked. Grieving for our old lives.
These emotions are all so normal yet how often do we really talk about them? Instead of really saying how we feel we post on social media about being #soblessed or not wanting to miss a second … when in fact we’d give anything for a peaceful nap. But when you open up to other new parents, you start to realise that actually, most other people are feeling this way too. After all, what other ‘job’ would you ever have, especially one that is 24/7, where you were delighted in every second of it, even though your co-worker regularly cried, demanded food and repaid you with dirty nappies?
Saying this, know when something is wrong. If you find yourself particularly miserable, anxious or angry do speak to your health professional or a counsellor. The period after having a new baby, for both women and men, is one of the most common times to experience a mental health difficulty. Don’t be afraid to talk. There is help out there.
As soon as you send out that announcement that your new baby is here, I bet you’ll start getting the texts… ‘when can I come and see the baby?’. It’s understandable that everyone wants to meet your new family member and newborn babies are so special. But what about you? You’ve just grown and birthed an entire new human being, but who is prioritising and nurturing you?
In amongst all this chaos it’s really important that you find time to look after you too – to rest, recover and simply get to know your new baby. This is absolutely not selfish; in many cultures around the world, communities come together around the new mother and baby, caring for her and letting her rest. New mothers receive food, massages and gentle rituals… not a demand for a visiting slot and a cup of tea. By all means, have all the visitors you want but to your schedule. Rest when you need to rest. Don’t feel you have to put on a show for them. And certainly don’t be the one making everyone cups of tea.
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Having a baby can be a big strain on your body. You have grown and birthed and may now be breastfeeding a whole new human being. That’s going to take some work – and the human body cleverly appears to prioritise the baby in all of this. You’re also likely exhausted and maybe not taking care of yourself. This means that dietary deficiencies and other conditions such as those related to the thyroid are more common in new mothers.
If you’re feeling particularly exhausted, achy or your hair and skin are in poor condition, don’t just take this as a sign of being a sleep-deprived mother. Do speak to your GP and ask for tests. Some common deficiencies after birth are vitamin B12 and iron – both of which can leave you feeling terrible.
Also, think gently about your recovery. Eat well if you can, choosing nutritious foods that will give you energy and make you feel good. Don’t be afraid to take the time for some gentle, strengthening exercises that help you feel more like you. There are some great postpartum exercise classes out there and things like yoga can help you feel stronger and more together. This isn’t about ‘getting your postnatal body back’ like magazines suggest but regaining your strength and wellbeing.
If you have a partner, then you haven’t just become a new parent yourself, you’ve become new parents together. Your relationship with each other will likely change during the first year as you adapt to your new roles. You might connect on a much deeper and different level, but you may also be arguing far more. The first year of parenting is a major time for arguments amongst couples, with the most common being around sleep, money, sex and household chores. You’ll probably find you get too little of three of those and there’s too much of another.
On a serious note, do talk to your partner. One of the biggest bones of contention is that often women become responsible for the ‘emotional or unseen load’ of parenting which refers to all the little things you do every day that maybe aren’t so obvious but make the obvious things possible. So things like realising what you need to change a nappy, going out and buying it and having it within easy reach … so the nappy can be changed. Your partner may have changed the nappy, but you’ve done all the other things that make it possible.
Try to be kind and calm. Easier said than done when sleep deprived, I know. Look after each other. Connect and be together even if sex is the last thing on your mind. Talk and make space for each other, even if it’s in hushed tones whilst your baby sleeps for now, rather than your favourite restaurant. This will change, it will get easier over time.
So those are four of the most important things to think about as a new parent. My main message? Don’t be afraid to put yourself first, you matter too in all of this and you deserve to rest, recover and thrive alongside your baby.
Article by Amy Brown
Let’s Talk About The First Year of Parenting by Amy Brown is published by Pinter & Martin
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