So, daddy's gone back to work and suddenly its just you and the cute little alien? Don't panic! Ali Horsfall has got it covered!
So you’ve grown a baby and birthed a baby all by yourself (go, you), but hands up who reckons that looking after a baby is a two-player game? If you’ve already suffered the experience of frantically trying to dismantle the pram in a car park while holding a crying baby and needing a wee, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about.
As your partner’s paternity leave finishes and he heads back to work (boo), it’s time to take a few deep breaths and trust that you and your baby will be just fine as a double act. Armed with a few dos and don’ts from mums who know, flying solo Monday to Friday needn’t be scary.
You’re in mama-protector mode from the moment that you leave hospital, so being cocooned at home feels a lovely, safe place for you and your new bundle. The heating’s cranked up, the fridge is full, and you and your baby can enjoy getting to know each other. But as you wave your partner out the door after a week or two of family time, for you, leaving the house any time soon can still seem near impossible. Your newborn will be feeding around every two to three hours (from the start of a feed) and will like to stay close to you as he sleeps (for up to 18 hours out of 24), so the first month is all about bonding with baby as you slowly gain your mum skills from the ground up
‘As time goes by, your confidence in your ability to interpret your baby’s needs will grow,’ says health visitor Sarah Beeson, author of Happy Baby, Happy Family (£9.99, harpercollins.co.uk). ‘As you get more practice at caring for your baby, it will become a little easier day by day, and you’ll feel less anxious about getting things right and more able to go with the flow.’
‘I was totally besotted when Jacob was born, but our first day alone together came around too soon,’ says Helen, whose son is now ten months. ‘I was terrified, convinced that I couldn’t cope alone, and begged my husband to stay off work for another week or two, but he couldn’t. However, I loved it once I’d got my confidence.’
…AND VENTURE OUT
Believe it or not, there will come a time when you’re ready to brave it and go out alone with your baby. GULP. Don’t be alarmed when you discover that the prep to get out the door – feeding, doing a nappy change, feeding again, snuggling them up in the new pram or carrier – takes most of the day, because along with the fretting comes a new sense of purpose. Leaving the house is A Big Deal – wahoo!
After three weeks indoors Hannah, whose daughter is now seven months, found their first trip out daunting. ‘The world seemed fast and noisy with a tiny baby. But although it was only a tenminute walk to the clinic to get Ellie weighed, that bit of fresh air and activity felt good. I made myself go out every day after that, and I began to relax more and more each time.’
So start small, plan your route well and seriously don’t stress about getting yourself ready. On those early outings, a big coat and a quick slick of lippy will disguise a multitude of new-mum sins.
Recovering from birth and caring for your newborn is nothing short of full-on, both physically and emotionally, and it makes perfect sense to grab any help you’re offered, especially if you’ve had a C-section. Let a friend bring you lunch and don’t stop your mother-in-law from cleaning the house when she visits (it’s not a diss on your housekeeping skills, trust us). Knowing someone’s popping over can be reassuring on the days when you’re struggling and it’s only 9am. Use these respites to jump in the shower or to offload your emotions with someone who cares.
...BUT DON’T DISTURB
Of course you’ll want show off your new baby to the world (hey, everyone, look what we made!), but too many visitors in those early weeks can add to the exhaustion, especially if you no longer have your partner around to act as the gatekeeper. After a whirlwind of well-wishers, you’ll probably be dying for some quiet one-onone time to really get to grips with your baby’s needs.
‘I loved that everyone wanted to come over and meet Alfie, but I definitely preferred the visits to be kept short and sweet,’ says mum Jayne. ‘Trying to get him to latch on with a small crowd watching was stressful. Plus there are only so many cups of tea I can drink or times I can retell my birth story.’ So give friends and family a visiting window, or let them know when you need to go off for a nap with baby. They won’t be offended.
SET SMALL GOALS…
It will take a few weeks for the truth of motherhood to hit you. And then, despite naturally being utterly in love with your newborn, the realisation that this is a 24/7, all-consuming job can be overwhelming. But you can help yourself adjust to this massive life change by taking things one small step at a time.
‘Remind yourself that it’s Ok – and necessary – to focus on this new aspect of your life and make it your number one priority,’ advises Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No Cry-Sleep Solution for Newborns (£12.99, mheducation.co.uk). ‘Tending to a newborn properly takes time. So instead of feeling guilty or conflicted about your new focus, put your heart into getting to know this new little person. The world can wait for a few weeks,’ she says.
Set yourself one small task each day to complete – just putting on one load of washing, making a call or paying a bill may seem a bit lame, or even lazy, but really, it’s enough. Eating can be a chore too, so use time in the evenings when your partner’s home to make sure you’ve got your breakfast, lunch and snacks sorted for the next day. You need to look after yourself as well as your baby.
…OR JUST DO NADA
Everyone tells you to sleep in the day with your baby but at first I wouldn’t – I didn’t want to let anything slide,’ says Rebecca, mum to Stanley, four months. ‘I was even trying to work. After a couple of weeks on my own with him, though, I was so wiped out I just thought, stuff it, I’m shattered, everything else can wait. Once I took that approach, feeding on demand and being up in the night seemed more manageable.’
When you’re in the depths of sleep deprivation, try to remember that your baby won’t be a newborn for ever and you will get back on top of things.
KEEP IN TOUCH…
After a couple of weeks of intense feeding, cuddling and snatching just chunks of sleep, it goes without saying that you won’t feel remotely in touch with the outside world or your childless buddies, but staying connected can keep you sane.
‘I set up a broadcast list on WhatsApp for family and close friends, and send out a picture of Evie most days with a bit about what we’re doing. This means I’m not having to reply to lots of “How are you?” messages every day, but we’re still in touch,’ says Clare, whose daughter is eight weeks.
Also, a quick chat with a girlfriend about something totally not baby-related is the fastest way to unearth the old you. Dad’s probably feeling a bit like a zombie too, but doesn’t get the upside of seeing baby all day, so spamming him with pics and videos at work can keep him in the loop – especially useful when you’ve got zero conversation by the time he gets home. And, of course, he’ll be beyond thrilled to see the moment the umbilical cord finally drops off…
…BUT MAKE NEW FRIENDS TOO
As much as your long-standing friends are irreplaceable, it can still feel really lonely if you’re the only one of the gang who’s on maternity leave or with a tiny baby.
Making same-stage mum mates can be a game changer when you’re home alone – it’s your new social life, after all – and if you haven’t already bagged a set through an antenatal group, you might need to take the proactive approach, like Nadia, whose son Lennie is now one.
‘I sussed out a nearby coffee shop that was breastfeeding-friendly – with comfy sofas – and I’d go there whenever I felt hemmed in and restless at home, and just force myself to say hi to other mums. It helped being around other people, and I gradually bonded with some really cool girls that I’m now great friends with.’
Whether you’re Googling ‘is yellow baby poo normal?’, stalking your favourite Instamums or watching a YouTube video of breastfeeding positions, there probably won’t be a day as a new mama when the internet isn’t your lifeline. Yep, you’ll master that one-handed scroll while feeding really quickly. If you’re feeling isolated, connecting with other mums for advice and support can be as good as having a mum crew in your living room.
‘I follow a handful of mum bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers,’ says Eva, mum to Hattie, five weeks, ‘and when those girls are being brutally honest about the exhaustion, the sore nipples or how they start crying to their husband when he walks through the door, it makes me realise that I’m not doing a crap job and we’re all in the same boat.’
…AND GO OFFLINE
Saying that, nothing you read online will ever trump your own gut instinct when it comes to looking after your newborn. Sure, it’s useful to arm yourself with masses of info, but ultimately you’ll find a way that works for you, and every baby is different.
It’s also worth reminding ourselves that although a new mum’s life may look perfect when it’s styled up online, there’s probably a pile of pooey babygrows or a sink full of washing up just out of shot. The best use of social media will make you feel you’re connected, empowered and entertained, not inadequate. Maybe you should use this opportunity to take a smartphone hiatus? You’ve got that gorgeous little face to engage with now, after all.
‘For the first few weeks we were alone, I spent all my time just gazing at her – so many hours! Now that I’m back at work, I look back and can see what a precious, special time that was,’ says Kate, mum to Daisy, 20 months.
Phew, it’s such a steep learning curve, but the good news is that every day you spend with your baby, you know more than you did yesterday. And on the back of that knowledge you’ll create workarounds to help you cope alone. You might find your baby will go in the sling long enough to make yourself lunch, or that gently stroking the bridge of her nose will encourage her to close her eyes so you can both nap. You’ll also learn never to sit for a feed without a drink and your ‘stuff ’ at arm’s reach.
Lizzie, mum to Ben, now seven months, found everything hard at first. ‘Some days I didn’t even have time to wash, and that felt pretty grim. But I worked out a gap between feeds where I could pull him into the bathroom in his bouncer and sing to him while I quickly washed my hair. I’d have like, four minutes.’
…BUT GIVE IT TIME
No one expects you to nail this parenting lark instantly – your newborn is constantly developing and growing, meaning their sleep pattern, feeding frequency and even the colour of their poo will change from week to week. Yes, it’s a rollercoaster alright, but Sarah Beeson believes being relaxed and flexible is the key. ‘It’s paramount that you give yourself the time and space to develop confidence in yourself as a parent, and recognise your ability to tune into you baby’s daily needs,’ she says.
mum of twins Lottie and Lola, 12 weeks, thought she’d never be able to cope alone with two tiny babies, but somehow she’s managed. ‘It’s so intense without their dad’s help in the day, and I’m constantly learning what they both need from me. But our bond is getting stronger every day and I just love to see that happening,’ she says.