They say the days are long but the years are short and there is absolutely no human experience that will make these words ring more true than having a baby. While every day may feel like a constant, relentless series of feeding and nappy changes and hoping for the best after carefully (carefully!) putting your baby down for a nap, one day you open your eyes and three months have passed. And your baby is growing out of their first round of tiny clothes. And those first days of no sleep, fuelled by adrenaline and hormones and love and fear (and night sweats!) seem like they were years ago and yesterday at the same time – the memories hazy, coloured with rose tinted lenses and blurred by lack of sleep. And that teeny tiny floppy little baby is holding their head up, catching your eye and breaking into the most heart-melting, eye-watering smile.
The learning curve is steep, with every moment of every day brining a new challenge, a new series of decisions and new wave of love to knock you to your knees. You’re making thousands of micro-decisions doing a job you are not qualified for in any given hour. So by the time you reach the 3 month milestone, you feel like you’ve earned your parenting MBA. You feel like you’ve lived an entire lifetime – and you have! But you know that just around the corner you’ve got the school of sleep regression, teething and solids to get through. And that’s just the first 6 months. Like I said, it’s relentless.
Having very recently celebrated my graduation from the 3 month maternal school of life, I feel that sharing 3 things that I would do all over again, and 3 things I would change next time is only fitting.
3 Things I would do all over again as a first time parent
1 Have my mom come as soon after the birth as possible
Everyone has differing opinions on when, and if, you should have your mother (or your partner’s mother) come for the birth of your baby. Some people say they loved having the first few weeks alone with their baby and their partner, while others say the help when they came home from the hospital with a newborn was indispensable. I fall into the second group. Having my mom around to reassure me at 2am when my tiny tiny newborn was screaming and take him from me at 6am when my eyes were blurry with lack of sleep was everything I needed in that tender time.
2 Not stress too much about what the books say
In fact, I tried to avoid reading the books at all. The one book I decided to read during my pregnancy was Emily Oster’s Crib Sheet, which I highly recommend. Other than that I knew that reading a million parenting books would make me way too anxious, so I committed to relying on my instincts until such time as I felt I needed help. Despite these efforts, my social media algorithms did their very best to bombard me with Reel upon Reel claiming “3 things you NEED to know about infant sleep” and “why getting your baby into a routine from day 1 is ESSENTIAL”. But I wanted to take my time in getting to know my baby’s natural rhythms and seeing what he needed from me before putting any added pressure on myself to get them into a routine set by the internet. This proved to work just fine for us, and I’m grateful I didn’t add to my load during such an overwhelming period, when I was already just trying to keep myself and my infant alive. I watch for sleep and hunger cues, encourage naps on the go and feed on demand, and while I’m able to do things this way – and they’re working – I’ll continue with what feels natural.
3 Take extra care of my mental health
I was hyper-aware of the signs of post-partum depression and anxiety, since depression has been a huge part of my life since I was a teenager. I made sure to change my meds to a pregnancy safe alternative (prescribed by my doctor, of course) as soon as we decided to have a baby and knew I would be taking them while I breastfed too. There is so much going on for a new parent, and so many hormonal, lifestyle and sleep changes, that becoming overwhelmed is easier than ever. As soon as I felt able, I started exercising – just walking on the treadmill or baby wearing on short walks around the neighbourhood and taking my baby out for a short while every day. This all really helped me to stay on top of my mental health.
Bonus: Babywearing and fighting with my husband
When August doesn’t want to be put down or when I need my hands free but also need to keep an eye on him – babywearing. It’s like magic baby dust! He absolutely loves being in his carrier and this is always where he has his best nap of the day. Fighting with my husband may sound counter intuitive, but there has never been a more stressful time in our relationship in the 10 years that we’ve been together and we’ve never had more valid reasons to fight. We’re both learning on the job, we’re both tired, we both feel we’re doing everything we can. It’s really important for us to communicate when one of us needs something or needs to air something, so it’s useless to try to avoid fights or keep the peace. We fight it out and then it’s over. And if it comes up again, we fight about it again. As long as we’re not silently building resentment, we’re fine.
3 Things I would do differently as a first time parent
1 Take it slower in the first couple of weeks
I think it’s pretty common to want to feel as normal as possible in those first couple of weeks after the birth of your first baby. I was washing and blowdrying my hair, heading out grocery shopping and turning down some of the help I was being offered by my mom and my husband to prove to myself (and to them) that I could handle it. Looking back, I should have used this once in a lifetime period not to prove that I didn’t need it. I wish I had rested and nested and stayed in bed with my baby more.
2 Done more research on breast pumps
I had an entry level single Medela pump that I didn’t really even know the name of until I needed to start using it to pump colostrum and encourage my milk to come in at the hospital. My baby went through numerous cluster feeding spurts and I couldn’t physically keep up with breastfeeding him for so long, so frequently, so I started trying to supplement with one bottle a day around 10 weeks. I was pumping with 24mm flanges up to 40mins per side for a total of about 50-80ml. Then my friend kindly gifted me her Spectra 1 with 15mm flanges and my output went up to 180ml – 250ml with just 30mins of pumping.
3 Eaten more food
Keeping up my own feeding schedule along with breastfeeding my baby on demand meant I was often just grabbing whatever I could get my hands on whenever I had a free moment. Then we went away for the holidays and our accommodation’s chef meant I was getting a huge breakfast, cooked lunch and nutritious dinner every day and my milk production went up so much! I realised immediately that I needed to eat a lot more to keep myself healthy while keeping my baby fed.