During pregnancy, I read loads of books about the birth, breastfeeding and looked into products recommended by other mums.
I didn’t really do any reading on what life was going to be like with a new born. I don’t think anyone ever does do they? And to be honest I don’t think any amount of books can prepare you for the ride and I guess, that’s mostly because all babies are so different. What works for one doesn’t for another and what one mum might swear by is no help to another.
I’m generally quite a confident person, and have been lucky to never really experience any kind of anxiety or felt any pressure from peers or social media over any aspect of my life. Until I became a mum.
It started so well…
The first two weeks of Harrison’s life were fairly ‘normal’. I chose to breastfeed and on the whole, this went well. He fed A LOT! I would always be asking midwives etc in hospital if it was normal for a baby to be feeding so much those first few days, because I felt like he never left my boob. Every time, they would reassure me that it was totally normal, and that feeds would start to space out once my milk came in.
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After those first 3-4 days he started feeding every two hours or so. Between feeds, he would sleep pretty much wherever we put him; in the pram, the moses basket, or on us if we wanted a cuddle. We even went out for lunch when he was ten days old and he slept through our whole meal. Dare I say it: I felt like it was easy and we were winning at parenting life!
Suddenly, things got harder
But then at three weeks, things hit hard. My once very content, happy to sleep anywhere baby suddenly became very, very needy. I didn’t understand what had suddenly gone so wrong – it was a huge shock to the system.
He wasn’t like this before, what had changed? I put him down for a sleep and he woke within about 5 minutes crying. He cried when he was in the pram, he cried in the moses basket, he cried pretty much anytime he wasn’t with me. Car journeys were horrendous as he screamed the entire time.
I couldn’t put my baby down for a second
Harrison had been born via emergency caesarean section after preeclampsia that lasted four weeks post delivery and anaemia, so to say I wasn’t feeling my best was an understatement; I was exhausted and totally overwhelmed. My partner had just gone back to work after paternity leave, and I honestly didn’t know how I was going to cope. My Mum was my saviour came to help me for a few hours each day. I couldn’t put him down, even to make or eat my breakfast. I spent all day, every day, holding him and trying to eat scraps of food where I could.
As Harrison wouldn’t go down at night time, we ended up co sleeping for a short time which was something I didn’t want to do but I desperately needed some sleep. Many people choose this confidently, and that’s wonderful – but it just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t sleep as I was terrified I was going to hurt him.
Every other mum seemed to have easy babies
I felt like everywhere I looked, other mums had really easy babies. They didn’t cry, they could put them down whenever they wanted, they slept wherever, and I just didn’t understand why Harrison was so difficult. I asked health visitors, friends, family and they all pretty much said that it was just being a baby and he would settle soon.
But this just didn’t feel enough of an explanation for me. I felt like something was wrong. Surely not every baby was this fussy? Why did I see all babies on Instagram behaving so well, with mums doing so many things that I couldn’t? I started feeling really insecure, and my confidence was knocked. I started having major anxiety about the thought of leaving the house on my own. I even felt too embarrassed to have visitors at one point because he was just so difficult. I didn’t want anyone, even my closest friends see me struggle.
Google became my best friend
Although I had (and still have) the most amazing support network of family and friends, Google became my best friend at this time. I happened to stumble on a blog called ‘The Fourth Trimester’. Wow! It was like reading a blog about my own baby! Maybe I wasn’t the only one?! Maybe my baby wasn’t broken?! Maybe Harrison was just experiencing the fourth trimester after all!
The theory of the fourth trimester is that babies are actually born ‘too early’. Lots of babies go through a transition phase in their first 12 weeks of life. As parents you might experience fussiness, crying, needing more cuddles, feeding lots; it was everything I was experiencing with Harrison. I guess we have to remember that our baby has been warm and cosy for nearly ten whole months. Being fed constantly, and never experiencing that feeling of hunger, or thirst, before. Never experiencing being cold, and away from human contact. Never experiencing ‘quiet’, as they would have heard the rush and gush of the placenta, and our heartbeat. When you think about it, it must be pretty scary and quite a shock to their little systems.
Babywearing saved me!
Once I had read and understood more about the fourth trimester, I felt like I could understand Harrison’s needs more. Before, I was so hung up on not being able to put him down – now, I decided to embrace it. Babywearing became my best friend. I invested in a sling and this became my saviour for those first few months. He was literally in it from the moment he woke to the moment he went to bed! But do you know what? He was happy, and because he was happier, I was too.
It took the stress out of everything. I was definitely that mum pushing around an empty pram and baby wearing. I don’t know why I bothered with the pram to be honest – it came in handy for the shopping though! I felt suddenly able to achieve things in my day; like make and eat breakfast! I remember feeling so proud when I had cooked dinner ready for my partner to come home and managed to whizz the hoover round too. These little things meant I just felt like I had a little bit of me back rather than being stuck to the sofa all day with a baby.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing
It wasn’t all plain sailing; I ate most meals over his head, dropping crumbs all over my poor boy, and I dreaded the day when the sling needed a wash. I had moments where I thought I would never be able to put him down and he would be in the carrier forever. Car journeys were still difficult, but I found a way to keep us both happy. My confidence started coming back, and my anxiety around going out almost disappeared. Most of all, I no longer felt embarrassed about having ‘a difficult baby’.
As Harrison grew older, I was able to put him down on the floor to play while I hung the washing out, or sit him in his rocker chair as he would watch me cook dinner. Once he was old enough to sit up, he loved his pram and I could choose to put him in it to go for a walk. It just took time and patience.
Those early days are a distant memory now
Believe it or not, by six months old he was in his own room, sleeping through the night in his cot. After all those struggles we had had, I thought i would never see the day! He is such a happy and confident little boy now those early days feel like a distant memory, and sometimes, I even find myself missing them. I would love to lie on the sofa all day with him now and cuddle, but there is no chance of that now he is a busy, happy little boy who is into everything!
Remember that what you see on social media isn’t real life. Most people only post their ‘best bits’, or highlight reel of their one good hour in a day. You won’t see that mum struggling to shower, or get ready before she left the house. All mums struggle with something because life with a new baby is tough. We are all juggling the day, balancing our baby’s needs. It could be feeding issues, sleeping issues, illness issues and more. Life with a baby is tough.
The Fourth Trimester is REAL
If you are in those early days and feel in despair, my advice is to take your time. The fourth trimester really is a thing. Don’t worry about giving too many cuddles or ‘spoiling them’ (I really dislike that expression). Do what you need to do for you and your baby. If that’s lying on the sofa all day, cuddling and napping when you both can, then that’s what you should do. I put so much pressure on myself; but who was I doing it for?
That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing some of the more difficult times, so that it might help one mummy out there who is having a tough day. I set up my Instagram account, ‘The Baby Guidebook’ to help other mums with tips to survive the fourth trimester too, so follow me on there, if you need some friendly support.