How to survive the newborn period
Expert strategies to help cope during those first few days and weeks
By Practical Parenting team
November 11 2018
So you've arrived home with this little bundle you've spent the last nine months, desperate to meet. You've taken photos, introduced him to the relatives, but now what?
It's easy to be overwhelmed during these first few days and weeks and to feel like you're not sure if you're up to this new demanding role. But relax, we here to help.
1. IT’S ‘NORMAL’ TO NOT FEEL ‘NORMAL.’
Your first weeks as a new mother are a rollercoaster of emotions. 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 Mother’s Group echoes this sentiment. “It’s completely normal to feel as though you don’t know what you’re doing. Because you don’t,” she says. “We have this crazy expectation that motherhood is instinctual when in fact it simply isn’t.”
Feeling inadequate or like a complete novice who forgot to do their homework, 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 help this little person fall asleep.
Jackie Hall, founder of the Parental Stress Centre of Australia, 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 looks like they have a baby who sleeps or feeds well, doesn’t mean you are a bad mother,” says Jackie.
2. 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.”
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."
3. YOUR 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. While you may have envisioned leaving hospital in your pre-maternity jeans, the reality is that your body will take some time to adjust.
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.”
4. 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. 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.
“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, 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.