Why it’s OK not to love the newborn stage

I remember in those early months with Archie so many people telling me, “enjoy it now, it’ll only get harder”, “wait until he moves, THEN you’ll feel tired”, “wait until you’re weaning, that’s a whole other ball game” and so on. And looking back, I’m shocked because that’s the last thing a first-time mum wants to hear. When things are feeling tough, being told the unthinkable that’s it only going to get harder is ridiculously insensitive and probably not true.  

newborn stage

I know that not everyone has a negative experience of the newborn stage but for those that do, it’s OK to admit it and it’s not something to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad mum or that you love your baby any less. Becoming a mum is a huge change to your life so it’s bound to take a bit of adjusting. I remember the endless guilt I felt because I wasn’t enjoying it “like I should” and it’s only now I can see that I had nothing to feel guilty about.

Dealing with so much change

As I came to the end of my pregnancy, my anxiety went through the roof because I knew the hardest bit was yet to come (and I’m not talking about labour!). But nothing could prepare me for just how much my life was about to change.

Before having Archie I was a marketer for a financial services company in London. It was a fairly high pressured job and I worked long hours on top of a 3 hour daily commute. I’ve always been someone who’s pushed themselves mentally so I enjoyed the complexity of the industry I worked in and the constant dialogue I shared with others in the company.

Going from this environment to: long days alone at home with a baby; feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by my new responsibility; scared to leave the house because of all the prep that entailed and worried about how I’d cope when I was out; the general feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing; a lack of adult interaction and overwhelmed by the constant lack of routine was a real struggle.

And in those first few months, my perspective was totally skewed from sleep deprivation. I couldn’t see the woods for the trees. It felt like my old life was a distant memory. Of course, I can see now that those hurdles were most definitely temporary and things settled down much quicker than I ever thought they would. But at the time I just couldn’t see things clearly.

My experience wasn’t helped by a few things – one being that my family lived far away and the fact I didn’t know anyone in my local area. My husband also works long hours so the days were longer for me at home too. Our feeding struggles and the effect that ultimately had on my bond with Archie also had a huge impact on how I was feeling.

But I honestly take my hat off to anyone who can go through the transition into motherhood without feeling that there are some elements they just don’t enjoy. In fact, I’d be amazed if there is anyone else there that feels this way, even if your experience is overall a positive one.

It’s a major upheaval to your life. And of course, it’s ultimately for the better and over the long-term you’ll forget how tough you even found it. But if you’re going through it now and you’re worried because you’re not enjoying it. Or that it’s going to get harder. Then please don’t. This stage is purely about survival and clearly you’re doing just that so give yourself a pat on the back. And know that this phase is just that. A phase. It will pass and in time you’ll have a completely different perspective to the one you have now.

 

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Tips for surviving the fourth trimester

I’ve mentioned before about my struggle with the fourth trimester and whilst I believe nothing can prepare you (and everyone’s experience is so different) I do look back and wish I’d done a few things differently. So, as always, I thought I’d share in case it’s useful for anyone else.

foruth trimester

I always knew the fourth trimester would be difficult and it’s one of the reasons I was so anxious in the latter part of pregnancy. But nothing prepared me for the physical and emotional strain it had on me when the time came.

As well as my struggles with breastfeeding (see post here), I was overwhelmed by the feeling of not knowing what I was doing and not feeling in control of what was happening. My life was being dictated by a tiny little human (!) and I felt lost without any structure to my day/night. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a control freak and I love routine so this was really hard to deal with. Not to mention the ridiculous number of hormones circulating in my body and a body which was still recovering from a pretty intense labour.

I felt like I was just about coping until my husband went back to work 10 days after Archie was born. Suddenly I felt solely responsible for keeping our precious baby alive and well and it all got a bit too much. Looking back there are definitely a few things I could have done to help ease the pressure:

  • Accept that it’s just a phase and it will get easier – this is probably the most important and something my mum told me a lot but I just couldn’t see the woods for the trees at the time. Your baby will change quicker than you can ever imagine and I can assure you there will come a time when things feel so much easier. Parenthood is all about riding through the changes – nothing stays the same for long so when things feel too much just be reassured that it won’t last for long.
  • Remember you’re not alone – the support from your family and friends will be a massive lifeline – don’t be afraid to ask for help or to tell someone you’re struggling. Finding mummy friends with similar aged babies is also really helpful – just having that reassurance that you’re not alone in your thoughts/ feelings will be such a godsend.
  • Have a breastfeeding back-up plan – health professionals (and probably many others) will tell you that if you really want to breastfeed you can. But what they often forget is that there are 2 parties to satisfy here and you can’t always predict what your baby is going to do or how you’re going to feel when the time comes. Have a back-up supply of things you will need to bottle feed (bottles, steriliser, and formula) just in case.
  • Be kind to yourself – when you’re feeling overwhelmed imagine what you would tell a friend in a similar situation and tell yourself the same thing. Often we’re so much kinder to our peers than we are to ourselves and now is not the time to be self-critical.
  • Try and find just a little bit of time for you – I know it will seem almost impossible but even just giving yourself 5 mins in the day to enjoy a hot coffee will make such a difference to how you feel.
  • Get out of the house as often as you can – don’t go overboard with this one because you can definitely overdo it but just going for a 15 minute walk and getting out of the house will make the world of difference to how you’re feeling.
  • Don’t just eat junk food – it will be very tempting to eat everything in sight and you will no doubt have a treat box next to your bed for the night time feeds (I’d recommend this if not!) but try to make sure you have some fruit/ veg in there too because it will only make you feel worse in the long run.
  • Invest in some easy meals – whether you batch cook and freeze before baby arrives or buy ready meals to have on hand it will make your life so much easier in the first few weeks not to have to think about what to cook.
  • Believe in yourself – no one knows what they’re doing – even if they look as if they do. You are just as capable as everyone else so just keep the faith and believe in your own ability. Yes you’ll get things wrong but so does everyone. There will be plenty of differing advice/ opinions from those around you (including health professionals) so you can rest easy there isn’t a right way of doing anything! Have the confidence to do what you feel is best and don’t be afraid to go against the crowd.

You may be thinking I’ve missed one important one – the magic word of SLEEP! But I’m pretty sure I don’t need you to remind you to sleep when you can because you will be doing it already 🙂

If you’re pregnant and have read through to the end then thank you and I really hope I haven’t scared you. It’s tough but also a really precious time. You’ll soon look back and think where did my baby go?! Why didn’t I just embrace the chaos and every sleepy cuddle whilst I had chance?

10 things I would tell my pregnant self

With pregnancy comes a whole host of emotions. As much as it’s one of the most exciting times of your life, it’s easy to spend a lot of time worrying about things that are largely out of your control. Here are 10 things I would tell my pregnant self….

pregnant self

  1. Forget about your due date – this is so much easier said than done but if you can find a way to relieve the pressure of your due date then your last few weeks of being pregnant will be a much more enjoyable experience (Read my earlier post – The Waiting Game – to learn from my mistake on this!).
  2. Set up all “baby” equipment and practice, practice, practice– trust me, there is nothing worse than venturing out for the first time with your baby and realising that you can’t put the pram up/ down. Or needing to sterilise bottles/ breast pump and getting into a state because your sleep-deprived mind can’t read the instructions. You might feel silly doing it without a baby in tow but it will be a lot easier than trying to work it when said baby is there with you, and mostly crying at you in frustration (babies are not overly patient in my experience!).
  3. Try not to stress too much about labour – whatever happens you will find a way of getting through labour – whether that’s with pain relief or without, vaginal or C-section, home or hospital birth and so on. None of it really matters in the end as long as you and your baby are OK. And as much as having a rough plan of how you’d like it to go is useful, it’s most likely going to deviate away from that at some point so try to just go with what happens in the moment and be confident in your own ability.
  4. Enjoy the time before your baby gets here – sometimes it’s easy to think solely about the future when you’re expecting but it’s also important to live in the here and now. Your world is about to be turned upside and there are a huge amount of positives that go along with that. But there’s likely to be a few parts of your “old” life that you’ll miss – time to yourself, date nights with your partner, lie-ins etc. – so try to just enjoy those last few moments as much as you can.
  5. Don’t underestimate your instincts – this goes for both during labour and when your baby is here. You know your body and your baby better than anyone so trust your gut no matter what anyone tells you.
  6. There’s no need to over-plan – I remember visiting a number of nurseries when I was heavily pregnant and spending so much time worrying about how I’d cope when I went back to work. And I hadn’t even met my baby yet! Just take each stage as it comes because you may feel differently when it actually happens and no one can predict the future.
  7. The hardest trimester is yet to come – this isn’t meant to scare you but just a reminder that you’ll go through a lot in the fourth trimester – your body will still be recovering, you will deal with a ridiculous number of hormones and you will be trying to work out how to keep your baby happy (/alive). Be kind to yourself. Accept it’s not going to be an easy road but that it’s just a phase and it will get easier.
  8. Remember you’re not alone – sometimes it feels like you need to do everything yourself to be a good mum but it’s just not true. You will need the support of your family and friends. Whether that’s physical support through helping with day-to-day tasks or mental support by being someone you can talk to. Finding mummy friends with similar aged babies is also really helpful. I’ve made a couple of life-long friends in my NCT group who have saved my sanity on many an occasion and just having that reassurance that you’re not alone in your thoughts/ feelings will be such a godsend.
  9. Have a breastfeeding back-up plan – health professionals (and probably many others) will tell you that if you really want to breastfeed you can. But what they often forget is that there are 2 parties to satisfy here and you can’t always predict what your baby is going to do or how you’re going to feel when the time comes. Have a back-up supply of things you will need to bottle feed (bottles, steriliser, and formula) just in case.
  10. Believe in yourself – go into motherhood with confidence, knowing that you can do this. Yes you’ll get things wrong along the way but so does everyone. There will be plenty of differing advice/ opinions from those around you but have the confidence to do what you feel is best and don’t be afraid to go against the crowd.

Why “breast is best” didn’t work for us

Whilst pregnant with Archie I knew I wanted to breastfeed but I was quite adamant that I wouldn’t put pressure on myself in case it didn’t work out. Fast forward to 2 weeks after his birth and I felt like I had no other choice.

feeding bottle shallow focus photography
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Breastfeeding a very hungry baby

Following Archie’s birth we stayed in the hospital for 24 hours and during that time I was given an amazing amount of breastfeeding support. I left feeling fairly confident that we had the latch right and that breastfeeding would actually work out for us. I remember feeling relieved as I know there is a lot of research to say that “breast is best” and, like every mum, I wanted the best for my baby.

Unfortunately I was completely naive to the fact that it’s not just about getting the latch right.

A few weeks into exclusively breastfeeding, “cluster feeding” was becoming a daily occurrence. Every night Archie would feed continuously from around 2pm to around 1-2am. In fact my hungry little monkey would scream the house down unless he was attached to my boob or asleep! This was “fine” (I use the word loosely!) until my husband went back to work and did his usual 14 hours a day, meaning he got home and I’d barely had a drink or anything to eat, having been “chained” to the sofa all day.

I found the crying extremely hard to deal with.  I felt like it was a reflection on me. Like he was constantly angry at me because I couldn’t satisfy him. Like I just wasn’t good enough.

Although it was only a few weeks, it felt like a lifetime and I feared this was my new life now. Add in (what felt like) a million hormones and a body which was recovering from an intensive labour and I’ve never been more of an anxious wreck.

But despite all of this, I was convinced I didn’t have a choice. Scared I would be a failure. Not as good as the other breastfeeding mums.

This blurred vision wasn’t helped by several health professionals who urged me to keep going, using phrases like “if you formula feed your baby it’s like giving them McDonalds”, “give your baby a roast dinner, not a Big Mac” (yes this was said by different people not just one).

The road to combination feeding

Luckily for me, I had a family who could see the impact this was having on me. The shell of my former self I had become. And not only that, but the unhappy baby I was trying (unsuccessfully) to satisfy. About 4 weeks in, my husband couldn’t take it anymore – he went into the kitchen, made up a bottle of formula – and ultimately made the decision that I couldn’t bring myself to make.

The transition to combination feeding wasn’t a smooth one. Archie’s tummy struggled with the different consistency of formula and experienced horrific wind and reflux. It was excruciating watching my baby in pain and the guilt I felt “because it was my fault” was unbearable.

A couple of weeks in though and we finally got into the swing of things. That’s when I realised the impact the experience had on my bond with Archie. I was finally starting to “like” my baby which I know sounds so awful but it was hard to like someone who just screamed at you for the majority of the day.  And the change in him was profound – he was so much more content and didn’t spend every minute of his day feeding or screaming for food. Don’t get me wrong he still fed a lot and I spent most of my time breastfeeding or preparing bottles but he was definitely happier and it felt more manageable.

The end of breastfeeding

About 10 weeks in I still had a very hungry baby and I was quickly losing faith in my milk so I was topping up more and more with formula. Shortly after, Archie refused to breastfeed and it was a difficult pill to swallow but it was clear what he was telling me. Initially I felt some resentment. Why didn’t my baby want my milk anymore? Why did he not want that comfort from me at least?

But ironically as we moved to formula feeding I felt the bond between us grow and grow. It no longer felt like a battle – him telling me he was hungry and me not being able to satisfy. I could see his personality developing and it was then I realised that there are so many more ways in which I can provide for and comfort him beyond that of feeding.

The right to choose

I’d be lying if I told you it was a perfectly happy ending and I was at peace with our feeding journey. I look back and I’m disappointed that I wasn’t further supported by the health professionals. I was told that if I moved to formula then my baby might prefer it and refuse my milk which horrified me at the time. But as my mum rightly highlighted, so what if he does, doesn’t that just mean you’ve made the right choice?

And that’s just it isn’t it? We live in a day and age where we’re lucky enough to have a choice. Why isn’t it acceptable for you to choose what’s right for you and your baby? Instead I experienced so much guilt and felt like a failure. Something which, even with the perspective I have now, I still find lingers. Because ultimately does it matter how you fed your baby as long as they’re happy and thriving? And as long as you’re happy and coping?

Personally I think not. As mums we’re the ones that know what’s best for ourselves and our babies. Sometimes we just need some encouragement to embrace that during a time when everything else feels out of our control.