Spending every weekend meticulously poring over your birth plan and dreamily imagining those first, precious moments after meeting your former belly dweller? You’re certainly not the only one! The average first time mother spends a considerable amount of time planning exactly how she wants her birth and first moments to unfold. While this is a completely acceptable way to while away the weekends, it’s not a bad idea to start hatching a plan for how you’ll manage AFTER the post-birth hormones have started to subside and you find yourself back home with a brand new baby who, annoyingly, doesn’t come with a manual! Before you run screaming to the nearest computer to Google ‘how to survive your first month as a mother’, relax, we’ve got you covered.
There are a number of key physical and emotional changes to expect as you start down the parenthood path. We’ve spoken to the experts and gathered together a bunch of strategies to help you manage, even if you’re running on little to no sleep.
It’s ‘normal’ to not feel ‘normal’
Your first month as a new mother is a truly magical time. Equal parts shock and awe with a healthy dose of sleep deprivation and fluctuating hormones thrown into the mix, it can be very normal to feel as if you’ve really got no idea what you’re doing.
Kirstin Bouse, Clinical Psychologist at Life Resolutions Morley and founder of The Conscious Mothers Program echoes this sentiment. “It’s completely normal to feel as though you don’t know what you’re doing. Because you don’t,” says Kirstin. “We have this crazy expectation of ourselves that motherhood is instinctual when in fact it simply isn’t.”
Feeling inadequate or like a complete novice who forgot the pre-coursework can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when you’ve been a completely competent adult for years on end. When you’re struggling to get your head around your new normal, thoughts as to your competency as a parent may also try to sneak in. Not feeling as if you’re very good at being a mother can be frustrating and disheartening, especially when you’re already fragile from lack of sleep, learning how to breastfeed and working out how to assemble your stroller single handedly.
The best way to manage? Jackie Hall, Founder of the Parental Stress Centre of Australia, author and counsellor cautions new mothers to not buy into the ‘perfect mother’ myth. “One of the best ways to eliminate the fear of being a bad mother is to stop comparing yourself to other mothers. Just because another mother has a baby who sleeps or feeds well, doesn’t mean you are a bad mother,” says Jackie. “Mums need to learn how to be their own internal measure of what makes a good mum and learn to live up to their own standards, rather than comparing [yourself].”
The ‘baby blues’ may pay a visit
If you find yourself sobbing on the couch for no apparent reason around day three to four post-birth, fret not. “Most women have the baby blues,” says Kirstin. “It’s a hormonal thing.”
The best way to manage? Kirstin recommends being prepared and acknowledging the baby blues without placing too much emphasis on their power. “It’s a balance between expecting the baby blues but also not inviting [them] as a guest for a long stay holiday,” says Kirstin. Enlisting your partner and explaining about how you might feel and what they can do in advance can also be helpful. That way, if/when the blues do strike, you’ve got someone in your corner who can remind you that this phase is fleeting, while offering the extra reassurance and support you may need. If you feel like the blues are overstaying their welcome or you just aren’t feeling yourself, don’t ignore it.
Kirstin recommends sitting down with your partner or a trusted friend and explaining how you’re feeling. “Sometimes talking things through will make a huge difference and put any worries in perspective,” she says, “but if that doesn’t make a difference and you’re still feeling the blues for two weeks or more, talk to your GP or child health nurse.” Postnatal Depression and/or Postnatal Anxiety are both conditions that can be successfully managed with the right help and support. There is no reason to try and push through feeling miserable.
Boobs and bottoms: The post-baby body
If you’re staring at the mirror and wondering who owns that slightly rounder, softer belly and the (much) larger breasts and who also appears to be wearing your nursing singlet and harem pants, fear not. Yes, it’s you. And yes, your body has changed which can be tricky to get your head around, at least initially. While you may have envisioned birthing your babe and leaving the hospital in your pre-maternity jeans, the reality is that your body has just experienced a life-changing series of events and will take some time to adjust.
The best way to manage? Jackie recommends focusing on the positives and reflecting on just what an achievement it is to grow a healthy, happy baby. “Learning how to be grateful for the things your body does, rather than how it looks, can go a long way in dealing with the post birth body,” she says. “Each stretch mark, each part of our body represents the enormous journey you’ve just been on to create this little being.”
Getting to know your partner as a parent
They say that seeing your partner doting on your child is a surefire route to warm and fuzzy town. And while there’s plenty of truth to that, the arrival of the newest member of your tribe can shake things up more than you ever thought possible.
The best way to manage? Being prepared and realistic as to how things might change, at least temporarily, is the best way to ensure the sailing is as smooth as possible when you’re knee -deep in newborn.
“It’s normal for relationships to change after what is often the most life-changing event that anyone can experience,” says Kirstin. “Talk about this beforehand.” It’s also important to recognise that both you and your partner are new to your roles as parents. Your baby doesn’t come with a manual and it takes time to get to know them and yourself as a parent. “Take one day at a time, create a bubble for you and your partner and baby to live in [as you] get to know yourself as a mother… and get to know your partner in his/her new role,” says Kirstin. The more you can share the experience with each other, the better. Enjoying the good moments and sharing the tough parts is what will help build the foundations of your relationship as parents and help keep you connected in the long-term.
Your new ‘social life’
Whether you were a social butterfly pre-baby or someone who preferred a quiet weekend at home, the concept of your time no longer being your own can be a difficult one to wrap your head around. Long held social rituals often become impossible to manage, for the first few months anyway, and the strain can show on your friendships.
The best way to manage? “Some couples and friendships adapt naturally,” says Jackie, “but other times there needs to be that deliberate conversation about what has changed and how the relationship can adjust.” Kirstin echoes that sentiment and recommends finding a middle ground between choosing activities from your ‘old life’ that you’re still able to manage and creating new ways to stay connected. “The thing that helps friends stay connected is to either re-connect with traditions you always had or make new ones.” Whether Sunday morning coffee was your thing or a weekly movie night was your favourite way to catch up, reassess and work out how these activities might be able to fit into your new life. “If you can’t [do these things as frequently] it doesn’t mean you can’t do them at all,” says Kirstin. “If going out for coffee is something you can only manage once a month that's fine. It will give you something to look forward to and it can become ‘your thing’ that connects you.” Learning as you go, adjusting your expectations and remembering that this current phase won’t last forever (as hard as that is to do) is key.