Many new parents have never held a new-born baby until they hold their own. For two or three days you’re in the maternity ward surrounded by nurses, doctors and both new and experienced mothers, and then suddenly your brand-new family is home alone – and you have no idea what to expect.
Becoming a parent for the first time is both a beautiful and daunting experience, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s a perfectly natural reaction to the biggest responsibility you’ve probably ever had.
It’s also a time of sleep deprivation, hormones, not always knowing what your baby needs and in-laws who want to see you and baby when all you want to do is sleep.
Here’s the good news – every new mother has had a similar experience to what you are going through right now, which means there are some tried and tested tips to help you get through this.
1. Stay calm
This is obviously much easier said than done, particularly when hormones and sleep deprivation are involved, but it pays not to get worked up by the little things.
You’re already not getting enough sleep, and it’s tough to rest when you get the chance if you’re anxious, nervous or excited. It’s also a vicious circle – sleep deprivation will be the thing that most likely causes you to sweat the small stuff, and the anxiety of worrying about everything will lead to more sleep deprivation.
It’s therefore important to get into a routine of resting when you can, even if that just means sitting down, having a cup of tea and putting your feet up. The more you learn to relax, the more it will become a habit.
2. Remember that breastfeeding is a learned process
Mothers and babies are not automatically masters of breastfeeding. It’s a learned process that takes time for both of you. You need quiet time to get used to each other. Baby needs to feel safe and you need to be calm. Trying to breastfeed for the first time in a house full of people can be distracting. Instead, get comfortable in a nice quiet spot and enjoy getting to know your baby and helping them to latch and suckle.
Never feel too shy to ask for help. There are lactation specialists who will come to your home to help you. You can find a lactation consultant in your area on www.expectantmothersguide.co.za. You can also reach out to friends who have children – they’ve been there and they know what you’re going through.
3. Your first few weeks should be for your new little family
Everyone is excited to meet your baby, and they should be. There’s nothing like a new addition to the family.
It’s important for your home to be quiet and calm for the first few weeks though. An onslaught of visitors will add to your already sleep-deprived state. You need to rest when you can, not be entertaining people, and your baby is also used to the calm comfort of your womb – too much stimulation will disrupt his or her sleep patterns as well.
Your baby is going to be around for a long time. Let friends and family know that you look forward to welcoming them into your home in a few weeks’ time.
4. Accept any help that comes your way
The best gift when you first come home from the hospital is the gift of food. The last thing you want to be doing in between feeding, bathing and putting baby to sleep is trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Stock your freezer with home-cooked meals and accept any help that your family offers. If your mother or mother-in-law is staying with you, you can even ask them to help with general household chores so that you can focus on your new-born.
5. Help your baby develop a regular sleep pattern
Most new parents don’t realise that new-borns only stay awake for an hour at a time. The problem is that brand new babies aren’t good at putting themselves to sleep, and the more tired they get, the harder it becomes for them to fall asleep. This results in crying infants and frazzled parents.
One way to avoid this is to pay attention to how long your little one has been awake and put them to bed when it’s been 60 to 90 minutes since their last nap.
You can also watch out for tired signs, which include yawning, frowning, absently staring, crying and jerky movements.
Your new-born baby will need some help falling asleep as well, so don’t feel bad if you have to feed, rock or cuddle your baby to sleep. However, if they are happy, fed, calm and ready for bed, don’t be afraid to put them down awake and see what happens. Every baby is different, and you’ll figure each other out as you go along.