How to survive the first three months of parenthood

September 25, 2014

tiny baby

As Rachel will testify, I found the first weeks of parenthood more difficult than I had anticipated. A busy person by nature, with a relentless job, I somehow imagined my life experiences up until then would equip me for the demands of a baby. Ha. Instead of the idyllic scenes I had pictured – me curled up in front of the fire with the baby, a pot of mulled wine bubbling away for visitors – once I got Oscar home, I found myself almost paralysed, and just waiting for someone to tell me what to do next. Every move I made brought fresh questions, uncertainties and anxieties.

Getting to the twelve-week mark of parenthood is a seemingly unachievable milestone when you’re in the thick of those first few weeks. Friends have told me that it all blurred into what seemed like one continuous day for them – understandable if all you’re managing is a few cat naps in each 24-hour period. Even though I did eventually get my head around the day-to-day of motherhood, a couple of months down the line I still couldn’t imagine ever again doing even the simplest of tasks easily – showering, putting on a coherent set of clothes, and popping to the shop all seemed titanic feats.

Fear not: it gets better. In six months you will look back and wonder why you found going for a wee so difficult. In the meantime, en route to the three-month mark, here are a few tips for warding off insanity.

Nicky and Oscar

Always check that both boobs are covered when answering the door or leaving the house. Since I was breastfeeding, it soon became second nature to have one or even two boobs al fresco. I’d be so busy wrestling to expel air from my gassy newborn, or frantically casting round for a muslin as milky sick poured forth, that my naked breasts often got overlooked. It was the same with friends who got into expressing milk – there they’d be, wandering around the house in a cut-out bra with two pumps attached, not thinking twice when the postman knocked…

Of course you won’t use a dummy! But buy one just in case. Trust me, thirty years of aversion will vanish in about 20 days. The Americans call them pacifiers for a reason. Apart from the moustache-adorned dummy my work colleagues gave me when I went on maternity leave, we had none in the house when we brought Oscar home. Cue a late-night dash to the supermarket by my husband just days later, while I paced around at home with a red-faced baby in one arm and a baby book in the other. On the subject of which…

Handle baby books with care. It’s easy to get yourself in a tizzy through advice overload. I had Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book, Secrets of The Baby Whisperer and What to Expect: The First Year within reach at all times, and although in the run-up to giving birth all their advice made sense, once I had a screaming child in the room and was operating on very little sleep, nothing did. At that stage, the overriding message you absorb from these books is that you are doing everything catastrophically wrong and stockpiling future problems for yourself and your baby. Take a step back. Breathe. Just do your best. It will all be fine.

In those early weeks, plan just one goal per day. Sure, just a few weeks ago you could multi-task effortlessly – and you will again. But for today, perhaps all you will do is order some groceries online, make a doctor’s appointment, or take dinner out of the freezer. I even considered putting a washing load on as one task, and hanging it out as another – managing both in one day was cause for serious celebration. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t done, think about what you have achieved: you have kept your child alive for another day.

Take it easy on yourself – and the baby. One bad day is not the end of the world. Your baby will eventually go to sleep and when they wake up it will be as if you’ve pushed the reset button. They won’t remember any of the angst or desperation that went into getting them to sleep. They won’t turn round when they can talk and say, ‘Do you remember that day when I wouldn’t go to sleep? You thought I had wind? Well, I was hungry. You disappointed me.’

Join NCT. Whoever said that money couldn’t buy friendship was wrong. NCT classes might be expensive, but they are worth it for the mini community with which they provide new mothers (and fathers). I suddenly had five new friends who lived just streets away and were going through exactly the same madness as I was. We traded pictures of poo atrocities, messaged each other in the small hours and dragged ourselves out for coffee the next day. It was bliss.

Forget about skincare, flossing and your five a day. Just survive and return to all that in three months’ time. All the things that used to affect your skin – zero sleep, a shoddy routine and tonnes of sugar – can’t match the might of your post-pregnancy hormones. Plus, your body shrinks in spite of the food you throw at it – so if you’re up at 3am and ravenous, by all means hit the biscuit tin.

Sleep when the baby sleeps. Controversial, this. I wanted to scream in the face of anyone who suggested it to me. It sounds easy, but when you’re overtired you get wired, and it becomes almost impossible to sleep. Especially when you have no idea how long your baby is going to sleep for. There’s nothing worse than collapsing into bed and sinking into a blissful sleep, only to be roused again after 10 minutes. However, if you can catch up on a few z’s at any time, ditch everything and snooze at will.

Tiny baby

Practical tips to make life easier in the first three months:

  • Keep a muslin in your pocket: I would sit down to feed Oscar and without fail forget to grab a muslin from our stockpile. He would, of course, puke all over me or the sofa.
  • Find a launderette near you: if you don’t own a tumble drier, don’t have any outdoor space, or have your baby in the depths of winter, chances are you will have more laundry than you have space to hang it in. I bundled up my wet washing, wheeled it down to the launderette and had a piece of cake in the nearby cafe while it dried.
  • Keep drinking: I made up a litre of squash every morning as soon as I could and made sure I had finished it by the evening to avoid terrible headaches.
  • Shower before your partner leaves for work in the morning. It’s the hardest thing in the world, especially if you only got back into bed at 5.30am. But if, like me, you can’t face the day without a shower (read: your unwashed hair is too greasy to present to the world) and you can’t reliably get your baby to nap, then get ready to face the day before your man leaves the house.
  • Ask for help. Take visitors up on their offers for help, enlist any family or friends you have living close by, and get your partner to do a night feed so that you can rack up a few hours of continuous sleep. Trust me, four solid hours’ sleep after four weeks of fractured nights feels like a day in a spa.

What would you add to these lists? What was your biggest challenge in the first three months?

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    Reply Sabrina September 25, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    This is brilliant Nicky! You more than survived the first three months. I second all of it… And I’d say a lot of it still applies after 9 months. In fact my only other advice would be to not get too fixated on the 12 week milestone. Everyone told me ‘you turn a corner at 3 months, everything gets so much easier, colic goes, crying subsides, breastfeeding is quicker and painless, babies start sleeping better…’ In hindsight it probably did to some extent, but when my 16 week old cherub was still having daily meltdowns and refusing to nap, I remember feeling very disconcerted. But it was just normal cranky baby behaviour! I shouldn’t have expected a complete metamorphosis.

    Oh and my one bit of practical advice: invest in a good hooded raincoat. It makes the desperate ‘my-baby’s-going-mental-I-MUST-get-fresh-air-and-perspective’ walk in the pouring rain much more pleasant when you don’t have to wrestle a pram and brolly at the same time ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Reply Rachel September 28, 2014 at 7:10 pm

      Love this comment Sabrina! I have to admit, the idea that things get miraculously better at 3 months did not work for me either. It wasn’t until he started sleeping through the night (at about 8 months) that I started to feel sane.

    Reply Nora November 27, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I’m currently nearly 7 months in and think this is all spot on! I had different baby books, but eventually decided they were all just stressing me out. (I had one called Your Baby Week by Week which seemed really good at the beginning, but eventually just told me lies about how much my son was supposed to be sleeping.)
    I had promised myself I was going to sleep when he slept, but found he was either sleeping on me or it was my only chance to have a shower, something to eat, etc. So I think sleep when you can is a better policy!
    Re the three months milestone, I definitely felt a change around that time – but it was us coming out of a fog of panic and sleep deprivation and beginning to get the hang of the whole thing, rather than a big change in my son. (Am glad I hadn’t realised that was what was supposed to happen – as it definitely didn’t!)
    Now off to buy a raincoat with a hood …

    • Reply Nicky November 27, 2014 at 3:46 pm

      Hi Nora, thanks for your comment – I know what you mean about the sleep lies they tell you in YBWBW, ha ha! I agree with you – I can definitely see the sense in sleeping when the baby sleeps, but for me it was too tempting to actually try to achieve something in the day, however small. Also, I was scared that Oscar would only sleep for 15 minutes – just time for me to fall into a deliciously deep sleep that he could rip me out of with his screams… Congrats for having things figured out by the seven-month mark – I’m finding that I get calmer and more rational with each passing month, thank goodness!

    Reply Debbie Lucas May 17, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    It’s funny how you somehow manage to adapt to your new responsibilities, even on 2 hours of sleep a night. Your zombie self moves from one task to the next in order to keep your little bundle of loveliness happy, fed and clean. I found that exercise helped me to cope with the stress as well as improving my fitness to meet the physical demands of looking after my baby. Books and the internet only help so far with knowledge, the rest is just intuition and trial and error! Whenever you doubt yourself it’s worth remembering that you’re only human and being the best mum you can be. Be a little bit easier on yourself and accept that we all make mistakes – that’s how we learn. In time the worry will fade away as you enjoy watching your baby grow into a beautiful little person.

    • Reply Nicky May 25, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Thanks so much for your comment Debbie! Oscar is now 17 months old and I have relaxed a lot more since those first three months, thankfully… I also found sport was great for getting in some productive me time. And it’s true what you say – it’s all worth it as you watch them grow into little individuals! x

    Reply Lucy Slade July 14, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    I received some invaluable advice from my midwife with baby number 3. She told me for the first 21 days hold your baby as much as you like. Fantastic! I had permission just to be mummy, and I knew my role for the first three weeks. Midwife’s reasoning being baby has been with you for nine months, and the world is a big enough shock without being separated. After that, get your routine, put baby to bed, and stick to it. Could be because she was number 3, but Zoe was by far the easiest baby, and sleeping through after just six weeks. Got to be worth a try! And my top tip, which sounds obvious, but in the sleep deprived, am I doing it right, my baby doesn’t do that world of motherhood it’s easy to lose sight, is don’t put your baby/child/toddler to bed unless they’re tired! I spent many a year battling with a 7pm bedtime, baby number 3 asks to go to bed at 8pm. Later than I’d like, no battle and she sleeps ‘like a baby’!

    • Reply Nicky July 25, 2015 at 4:06 pm

      Oh thanks so much for this comment – I want more children and I do wonder a lot whether I unwittingly exacerbated some of the challenges I faced around naps and bedtime at the start by over-thinking it. I’m already nostalgic for the tiny-baby phase (although toddlers are a lot more fun) so love the idea of three weeks of cuddles! Great comment, great advice ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply Collette @ family life and me January 7, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    This is brilliant. So funny but so true. You try to enjoy the first 12 weeks but it’s so hard. You do anything you can to!

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