Becoming a parent for the first time is probably the most overwhelming thing that will ever happen to you. You may have spent 9 months preparing for your new arrival but if you’re anything like me, that first night at home with your newborn will be absolutely terrifying. And it may even have you questioning your life choices.
When Toby was born we spent one night in hospital before coming home. I had never changed a nappy before, never fed a baby, never tried to get a baby to sleep… In fact I’d only held a baby a handful of times and Barry had never even touched a baby before!
I’d read all the books though, and we’d been to NCT classes together but we really had no idea what we were doing. I remember that first night at home, sitting on the sofa at 4 am with a baby who screamed every time we tried to put him down and just thinking that I had no idea what I was doing. If I’m honest, even after being a parent for nearly six years, I still don’t really know what I’m doing but I thought I’d share a few of my top tips for surviving the first year as a new parent.
Sleep deprivation is the hardest thing
This may seem obvious but sleep deprivation is brutal. The thing about losing sleep is that it makes everything else harder too. I don’t think anything can really prepare you for the first few weeks (or even months or years if your children are anything like mine!) but I do have a few suggestions to help you cope.
- Sleep when they sleep – this is easier said than done, especially a bit later when you may well be trying to keep your house running and perhaps looking after other children too but in the early days you really do need to try and get sleep whenever you can.
- Sleep in shifts. When Toby was first born Barry used to get up to keep me company during night feeds, and as much as I appreciated his support we quickly realised that there was no need for us both to be awake. Although Barry couldn’t do the actual feeding he could take over once the feed was done, and that way we both got some sleep at least. You obviously need to do what works for you but try and make sure you both get some sleep, even if neither of you are really getting enough.
- Do what you need to do to get some sleep. Whether that’s co-sleeping or putting the baby in his own cot find what works for you. Toby was such a noisy sleeper with his reflux that he actually went into his own room in a full size cot (like one of these cots for sale from Kiddies Kingdom) at 6 weeks old, but Gabe just wanted to be next to me so we co-slept for most of the first year, and he still finds his way into our bed half the time now. Please make sure you always follow safe sleep guidelines but with a bit of experimentation you should be able to find something that works for you.
- Accept it. Neither of my boys slept through the night until they were two and half, and often Gabe still doesn’t at nearly 4 years old. But one of the best things I did was just accept it. At some point I decided there was no point fighting, they would sleep eventually (and at nearly 6 Toby is a great sleeper now), and just accepting that made it so much easier for me to cope with.
You are not alone
Having a baby affects everything and one thing you might find difficult is changes in your friendships and even family relationships. It might depend what stage of your life you’re at when you have a baby – I was lucky in that some of my friends from before children were having babies around the same time as me so we were off work at the same time and still able to spend time together. But if that’s not the case for you, remember you are not alone.
When the boys were little we didn’t have any family nearby so I had to rely on friends to keep me sane. Making new friends is hard at any time, and I’m not saying it’s something I was brilliant at but here’s a few things I did to help.
- Go to prenatal groups or classes. One of the best things we did was go to NCT classes before Toby was born. If you can afford it then I really recommend them. Not only did we get lots of practical advice about birth and looking after a newborn, but I made a small group of friends who all had babies at the same time. It meant we were all on maternity leave together, we were all having the same struggles, and there were people who I could talk to who were going through exactly the same things as me. When I was pregnant with Gabe we didn’t do NCT classes again but I went to pregnancy yoga, and again a group of us kept in touch and met up regularly after our babies were born.
- Go to baby classes or groups. When both boys were very little we went to Baby Sensory classes – I found going to an organised class easier because I didn’t have to try so hard to talk to other mums. I never really made any close friends through these classes but it was nice to have somewhere to go every week where I saw the same faces and had people to chat to.
- Go online. Sometimes even getting dressed and getting out of the house with a baby is too much of a struggle. At those times online groups can be a lifeline. I found some local Facebook groups where I could chat to other mums, and also specific groups that were relevant to our situation. So I was in a couple of reflux groups, cloth nappy groups and then some blogging ones too. Whatever your interests or struggles there are Facebook groups there that will help you find like minded people. I don’t think I would have survived the last 6 years as a parent without the support of all the people in my phone.
All children are different
Again this might seem like I’m stating the obvious but it’s so easy to get caught up in comparing your baby to others – whether it’s friends’ babies, apps that tell you what milestones they should be reaching, or even siblings. I know I was guilty of expecting my two boys to be exactly the same, especially as they looked so alike when they were born! And although they are similar in lots of ways they are very different too.
- Remember all babies develop in their own time – but if you are worried about something your baby is, or isn’t, doing then speak to your health visitor or GP.
- Don’t feel guilty. This is easier said than done I know but you have to do what works for you – I felt enormously guilty about not breastfeeding for longer than about 6 weeks with either of the boys. And for breastfeeding Gabe for longer than I did with Toby when friends around me were still going months or even years later. But they are both happy and healthy, they won’t remember how they were fed, and feeling guilty isn’t going to change anything.
Your children will love you no matter what
I have been a parent for almost six years now and I am still learning every day. There are days when I think I’ve nailed it; I don’t shout, nobody cries, everybody is well fed, I’ve played with the boys and they have gone to bed with smiles on their faces.
There are other days when I lock myself in the bathroom to eat chocolate and just hope Toby and Gabe aren’t killing each other!
But no matter how well or badly I think a day has gone, my boys always love me and I love them. And when it comes down to it that’s all that really matters.
Do you have any tips for new parents? What do you wish you’d known before having a baby?