I was whatsapping an old school friend today who has just had a little boy, (we haven't seen each other since 2001) but thanks to the amazing world of Facebook we have connected again over the common ground of having had a baby in the past few months. I was advising her to make sure she gives her little boy a bottle of breast milk once a week so that they don't have world war 3 on their hands when suddenly she needs to go out and leave him with Daddy or Granny for a few hours.
It got me thinking about advice in general. And while I know that I have none of the answers when it comes to a lot of the tricky things that you need to navigate as a new parent; like the perfect latch or getting a baby to nap in the day, sleep at night or the very coveted and lesser spotted "baby sleeping through the night" there are a few pieces of advice that I feel I can give with utmost sincerity and confidence.
Reflecting on the past 6 months, these are things I know for sure.
1. Having a newborn that likes to only sleep on you all day (or night) is not only totally normal but wonderful. The best advice that my cousin Meg gave me when I confided in her that I knew we shouldn't be holding her while she slept, but that we were (a lot), was to just ENJOY it as it doesn't last for long. And how right she was! Pops never falls asleep on us anymore, and we miss it so much! I also think that when you consider how exhausted your body is from creating and birthing this tiny human, that Mother nature makes them eager to sleep on you, so that you (or your equally exhausted partner) are forced to be still and rest. I really think that is true - as I am yet to meet a newborn who doesn't like to be held while sleeping?
2. USE ALL THE NIPPLE CREAM, AFTER EVERY FEED. Have tubes of that magical ointment strategically placed anywhere where you are likely to sit and feed your tiny little human.
Mother nature certainly didn't intend for us to wear soft padded bras and clothes for our whole lives and then expect our nipples to survive a newborn suckling away for hours and hours a day for weeks on end. I used tubes and tubes of Lansinoh, and it's safe for the baby to ingest too. One day you will realise that you no longer need it anymore, but until that day comes - use LOADS of it, before your nipples get the chance to crack.
3. Ignore the naysayers. Pete and I had a wonderfully easy first few weeks with Pops. I really think that with my Dad dying on the day that she was born, and us flying to South Africa when she was 2 weeks old, that God kindly gave us a baby that slept and fed well. When people asked us in the early days how things were going and we answered that we seemed to be doing ok and that we weren't as exhausted as we had expected to be...they DELIGHTED in telling us how quickly things were going to change. That we were bound to be in for endless crying, fatigue and all sorts of trouble later. So much so, that soon Pete and I were answering our 'it's going ok, but...we're sure it's going to change soon' or 'we know it's just the honeymoon phase'.
I was answering my friend Sam with the new standardised answer above, when she said to me 'oh please, ignore all those people who say it's going to get worse, it's awesome, all of it!'.
Now Sam is no stranger herself to sleepness nights or the challenges of having a small baby, but her words comforted and reassured me so much in the beginning.
So if you are finding it (dare I say it) a little easier than you expected it to - then please ignore the people who want to rain on your good fortune and EMBRACE it all. You may have sleep regression or colic or teething or anything coming your way at any point. But if it's going well for now then just ENJOY it!
And if it's a whole lot worse than you ever expected it or dreamed it to be and you don't know how you going to survive one more day (me at 3 months), then please don't despair - it WILL get better and easier, I promise.
4. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, give one bottle of expressed breast milk a week to your baby between weeks 3 and 8. One a week means that it's unlikely your baby will become nipple averse (who even knew that was a thing pre motherhood!) and means that they won't refuse the bottle outright when you do need to leave them for a few hours at some point. After 8 weeks it's thought that your supply has established and your baby will love the boob so much by then that they are unlikely to prefer the bottle so you can pretty safely give more than one a week. We got lazy and didn't give her a bottle in weeks 6, 7 or 8, and then paid the price in week 9 when I needed to go to a hen party for a few hours and thought we should practice with the bottle a few days before. Poppy hated it so much that she began to scream when she saw it and it took days of practice (and advice from a lactation consultant) before she wasn't gagging as we touched it to her lips!
(I am obviously not a lactation consultant so liaise with with one if you have any concerns).
5. There are days when the hours feel like years. And you can't believe that you have to do this all again tomorrow. KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
When all you want to do is to lie on your bed and scroll aimlessly through instagram, and instead you are walking around the house showing your baby themselves in every mirror of your little flat for the 500th time, and listening longingly for Daddy to open the front door. Know that all over the world Mothers are doing exactly the same.
When it's finally time for Daddy to give her her bath, and you really really would love to take that 15 minutes to sit down for some peace and uninterrupted iPhone time, but you know you need to get the vanish out and scrub to try and save the latest clothing victim of your newborns poonami, and you feel a little annoyed and then immediately guilty about resenting that mustard stained project. Know that all over the world there are Mothers that feel exactly the same.
And if you've (GASP) had to throw away a victim of a poonami (that you had forgotten in a plastic packet in the nappy bag 24 hours previously), because you just know no amount of vanish or napisan is rendering that Mothercare vest all white again. Know that all over the world there are Mothers that have down exactly the same (please please say I'm not the only one?)
6. There are no better Parents for your baby than you. Even though some days you will totally doubt yourselves. Trust your instincts and love and care for your little person as best you can. Some days will go well, the naps and feeds will be seamless, you will get smiles and gurgles and rushes of love that you didn't know were possible. Others will be horrendous, there will be tears (baby and adult), exhaustion (again baby and adult) and your baby may have to have 2 baths and 5 outfit changes, while you realise that you haven't washed your hair for days - and that is totally normal.
I loved Jen Hatmaker's latest book, and she advises that as Parents in a world where so often we try to aim for perfection, we need rather to strive for "mostly good". Forget the perfect parenting pictures and anecdotes that people share, there is no more perfect parent for your baby than you. So let us all aim for the days and weeks to be "mostly good" and if they go better than that then BRAVO, but if at the end of day you reflect and it's been a shocker, write it off and remember that tomorrow is another day and we are really and realistically aiming for "MOSTLY good" anyway!
P. S I LOVE hearing about other people's advice and experiences as new Parents, please share any of your tips in the comments on Facebook or Instagram!