The first few weeks of having a baby are hard. “Yeah I cried every day” was the helpful text from one of my mum friends when I told her how surprised I was that no one had told me! I decided to embark on preparing my pregnant friends for what was coming. Here’s the guide I emailed to one of my best friends, a few weeks before her due-date.
Here’s the advice list I promised. Remember, someone else could tell you the exact opposite of every single thing on this list. And they probably will, so you have to find your own way. For me, asking friends what they’d done and reading forums helped me to understand my options. I hope this list helps prepare you, or at least gives you some options.
The Early Chaos
For the first two to four weeks you have to do whatever you can to get through. Sometimes it will feel really hard and other times you might be lucky and think you’re coping well. Just take it a day at a time. And get out of the house a bit.
Don’t worry about any of that great parenting you were hoping to do with the baby. Turns out I didn’t speak any French to M or read any books for quite a while! There’s plenty of time for that, or plenty of time for feeling guilty about still not doing that. Just focus on the baby, and you, eating and sleeping.
I read a lot of books on sleep (Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child is good). I also read a lot online so my advice on sleep is taken from lots of places. It’s impossible to get a real picture though because every baby is different and M was pretty good at it. Oh, and also reading as much as I did will drive you insane. This is the advice that worked for us…
During the first few weeks get the baby to sleep however you can. Rock them, hold them etc. There are no sleep crutches or risks of “spoiling” as they can’t form habits so early. Do the whole putting them down in slow motion and tiptoeing backwards out the room thing, or just cuddle them and put Netflix on.
I recommend you get a swing. We had the Fisher Price Little Lamb one donated by a friend of a friend. Even if they hate it the first time, chances are they’ll soon love it and it will put them to sleep better and more conveniently than you can. Ours was insane anyway, half broken and sounded like a torture device, but even so, when I passed it on to a friend, her review was: “wow I can eat breakfast again!” Ours was the only reason anyone got any Christmas presents last year as I did it all online while she was in it.
At about 4-6 weeks start trying to put the baby down drowsy but awake sometimes. This may take some practice and you don’t have to do it every time. It’s an achievement if they go to sleep without you, so celebrate that! It does help in the long run if they can self-soothe though. A friend told me recently she wished she’d done this more as her daughter never slept well. M is pretty good at putting herself to sleep and we never did any crying it out. I guess this could be a coincidence, but it can’t hurt.
Practice “The Pause” as it’s called in the book Bringing Up Bebe (recommended read too by the way and more entertainment and interesting than instructional). I didn’t realise this is what we were doing at the time, but we didn’t go straight to M when she cried, even in the night (mostly because we were too lazy to jump up and still naively optimistic she would go back to sleep). Obviously we did when she was very newborn, but after that we would leave her for 30 seconds or so, then if she didn’t go back to sleep, give her a dummy and a rock before resorting to feeding. We still do this, with perhaps a one-minute wait now.
Dummies are good. I had a total chip on my shoulder about them and my mum took issue with it, but I’m glad M took one to help her sleep.
Don’t worry if the naps make no sense and aren’t consistent. I was really obsessed about getting her on to a nap schedule but she’s never been great at it. Not all babies are consistent. Try to count up the hours of sleep over a 24 hour period. I think they recommend more than 15 hours initially. We got 14 on a good day after the first few weeks. She still has different length naps from one day to the next! Having a rough guide of only keeping them awake for a certain amount of time, usually 90 minutes (see Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child) helped a lot though.
In the US they swaddle young babies, so we did that and it worked for us with Little Miss Windmill Arms. The swaddles I bought you for your baby shower were a life-saver for us!
Routines v On Demand
I really would personally recommend using a loose schedule of feed, awake, sleep once you’re able to. We did it from pretty early with Baby Wise (controversial book but everyone I know personally who has followed it has loved it) as a guide. We started at loosely every 2.5-3 hours and kept that for a long time before moving to 3 hours. We weren’t super strict and didn’t do it by the clock at all until 12 weeks. I would say it was a ‘routine’ rather than a ‘schedule’. For me, a schedule made everything seem okay and organised. Also I could still organise doing stuff because I knew what time she’d want to sleep! She seemed happy with it too. People are very adamant about routine vs. on demand though, so you should just do whatever seems to work for the baby and fits best with you. And don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong!
DO do a bedtime routine as soon as you can. Ours started about 4 weeks in when we picked a time – initially 7.30 I think – to do a baby massage, change into pyjamas and into sleep sack, and small bottle all in darker light before rocking and putting down to sleep. We’ve now replaced the bottle with reading a book. We couldn’t be bothered to bathe her every night (although we tell people the reason is to not over-bathe her skin…), but lots of people do a bath as part of a routine. Our routine worked for us and it’s M’s happiest time of the whole day. Just get a little routine that works for you all.
Breastfeeding can be really hard. It’s not your fault. Babies can be shit at it. The pain gets less, although I was lucky that it never hurt that much. Kelly Mom website is useful for breastfeeding advice. For me, in America at the time, lactation consultants were really helpful! I really would have given up pretty early on without the extra support I had.
Pumping does help your milk supply and makes it okay if your baby is shit at breastfeeding. It’s a total arse though. I was doing it 8 times a day for a while. It sucked! Get a double electric pump and a hands-free bra. I’d recommend the Medela In Style, but it’s not available in the UK, though I imagine another Medela is good. I still do it once a day to keep her taking a bottle and so I have a supply for nights out etc. But this is extreme and most people don’t do that, especially in the UK!
Give breastfeeding a month. I remember feeling like that was the longest time ever and I hated it so much. But at 3.5 weeks it got better. It then got worse again. But by 6 weeks I was on track and I’m glad I stuck with it. I’m considering giving it up now we’re at 6 months, but you can’t fault it for convenience.
Giving your baby a bottle won’t ruin breast feeding. It annoys me so much when people say that, especially when a friend told me this at 2 weeks in when I was feeling pretty low anyway. M has had one bottle every day of her life, all breast milk. We always did a small one last thing at night so she was used to the sensation and we could pump her a little bit more full of milk at night given she was so skinny. We also started doing a dream feed from a bottle around 10 weeks. She was already sleeping through but this gave us the chance to get more food in her.
Formula is not the devil! My slightly unconventional OB even said it was better than breast milk in developed countries – I think she was trying to be controversial. The only negative which no one mentioned to me, and I’ve now realised I should have taken into consideration, is that you pass immunity in your breast milk very well so can avoid passing cold/flu etc to your baby more easily. Do not have formula guilt. There are some times I wished I had just used formula and wasn’t tied in especially as we have had weight issues and I had no idea how much she ate!
Seven Essential Baby Purchases
These are the seven wonders that no new parent should be without…
Put them down on a playmat from really early on. I do love our play mat as it has a piano as a kicker board and she would just have the best time kicking it. We could leave her there for ages and even now she’s still quite happy to play on her own on it.
Get yourself an all singing, all dancing Playtech Logic Baby Gym with it’s very own kick board!
Bouncy or vibrating chair
A vibrating chair works well too.
This little beauty, known as the Fisher-Price Rainforest Friends Bouncer, has a gentle vibrate function (for the baby! Behave!) AND bounces.
Get the Wonder Weeks app to check out when developments will happen and to confirm there’s nothing wrong when your baby has a personality transplant.
Get the Baby Sparks app for things to do and games to play with your baby at different developmental stages. Great if you want some structure in baby play and don’t want to just do baby talk. Thinking of our husbands here 🙂
The BabySparks.com website has all the skinny on boosting your baby’s development and you can download the app from there too.
Get the Lifecake app if you want to easily have your photos stored into a timeline from your phone and shared with your family. It’s super easy! So glad I got this app. Have it installed now so you have photos from day one.
Get a white noise machine with a loud volume. Don’t use one on your phone unless you want to sacrifice your phone for hours on end.
You could just stand outside their bedroom door hoovering or you could get a Mybaby HoMedics SoundSpa On-The-Go Baby Soother/Sleep Aid and have a cuppa instead.
Get a ‘My Breast Friend’ feeding pillow. Way better than Boppies in my opinion for those early days. I have both.
The Multi-functional My Brest Friend Breastfeeding Pillow doubles as a pretty effective baby support chair too!
Everything gets better in two weeks. Everything is a phase. It seems incurable at the time but then it will get better.
There’s a 6 week growth spurt and wonder week at the same time and so 6 weeks sucks big time.
Apparently it is possible to die of sleep deprivation. But you won’t.
Chat to you soon!
I’m a new mum to one little girl, who is an American as she was born there but we are all moving back to be Brits before she starts calling me ‘mommy’. I’m excited to be able to share some of my WTF moments as I embark on this whole parenting thing.