When I first learned I was pregnant, the feeling of delight was swiftly followed by one of panic. It was one thing to look after myself. But being responsible for a whole other little being? Was I ready for that? Over the following months, I read countless books to prepare myself for motherhood. The truth is, nothing does – and there are a few things I wish I’d known as a new mum.
1It’s ok to ask for help
This has to be top of my list. I felt I had to be superwoman – coping with a new baby, running a house and going back to work part-time when she was just 12 weeks old. Admitting I couldn’t cope just wasn’t an option. Instead, I sank further and further into post-natal depression while maintaining a breezy, motherhood-is-easy-look-at-how-well-I’m-doing exterior. It took an eagle-eyed health visitor to spot the truth. I’m so glad she did.
If we break a bone, we go to the hospital to get it fixed. Why should our mental health be any different? When I finally broke down, there was a wealth of support waiting for me. The moral of the story is – if you’re struggling, speak up.
2Baby vests are made that way for a reason
This is one of those things it seems everyone knows, but nobody tells you. It’s so obvious once you realise – and it’s genius. I always thought those funny ‘envelope’ necks on baby vests were some time-honoured design quirk. They looked a bit odd, but hey, they did the job.
It was years later, after I’d successfully seen both kids through babyhood and into the school years, that I learned why they were shaped that way. It’s so, if they’re covered in food, vomit, or the contents of an exploded nappy (diaper), you can peel them down over baby’s shoulders rather than dragging wet and dirty fabric over their precious heads. Who knew? Everyone except me.
3Don’t feel guilty about your choices
When my son was born, I was desperate to breastfeed. I was convinced it was the best thing for him. Unfortunately, although Mother Nature provided me with ample equipment, she didn’t manage to finish the job. There just wasn’t enough milk.
He cried with hunger, I cried with agonising pain, and it was a generally miserable few weeks for both of us. Eventually, as it was clear he wasn’t gaining weight, I was persuaded to give him a bottle. He never looked back. But even though there was a good reason for bottle-feeding, I still felt guilted by the ‘breast is best’ brigade.
You know what? You don’t have to justify your decisions or answer to anyone else. Whether it’s circumstance or your personal preference, you do what’s best for you and your baby. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about that.
4You really don’t need all that ‘stuff’
It’s easy to be seduced once you start looking at baby things. Soft, fluffy towels in pretty pastels. A different outfit for every hour of the day. Miniature Ugg boots. (For heaven’s sake. The child doesn’t need shoes until it starts walking. It’s easy to be wise after the event.) Moulded plastic toys for every occasion. A car seat. A spare car seat in case there’s an accident — a spare spare car seat in case you leave one at Grandma’s.
When I was pregnant, I was obsessed with making sure I bought 20 muslin cloths for when my baby was born. That’s what the magazines said I should have — twenty muslin cloths. I imagined plucking a fresh one each day from a pristine pile to dab at minute spots of spit-up. (Here’s a tip – it’s rarely a spot, and a towel is more robust.)
There’s no denying cloths are useful. But they don’t need to be muslin and you don’t need 20.
5Not everyone knows how to change a nappy (diaper)
The technique seems obvious, doesn’t it? Slide them into place and fasten them at the front with the sticky tabs. (I’m talking disposables here; I had my kids before we all realised how environmentally unfriendly they are. Yes, I’d do it differently now; don’t judge me.)
The first time we left our precious bundle with babysitters – another couple who were our good friends – we weren’t overly concerned. We’d shown them where everything was, clued them up on what to expect, and we wouldn’t be gone long.
Soon after we got home, Junior started crying. When I went to change him, I discovered his nappy (diaper) was on back to front. Our friends didn’t know which way round it went, despite the pictures of jolly waddling ducks on the waistband. Nor were they the only ones; it happened again a few weeks later with different people. Fact – sometimes you need to state what you think is blindingly obvious.
6Trust your gut
‘Instinct’ isn’t something that was suddenly invented (except as an aftershave by David Beckham). It’s what we had to rely on before we had technology and a world full of armchair experts we could talk to over the internet 24/7. (“Is it ok to drink a whole bottle of wine in an evening? I know, I’ll ask the members of my local Facebook group.)
If your baby is crying incessantly and your gut tells you there’s a real problem, it’s probably right. Don’t take the chance – call the doctor, go to hospital or whatever. Don’t worry about being a nuisance. How much worse would you feel if it turned out there was something seriously wrong?
7They grow up too quickly
Everyone will tell you this, and you won’t believe them. All you know is you’re not getting enough sleep, every shirt you own is covered in regurgitated milk, and you still can’t fit into your favourite jeans.
Then one day, you turn around to find your child tapping you politely on the shoulder and asking if they can make you a cup of tea (or, if you’re lucky, a gin & tonic).
Please, make the most of every moment: treasure playing with bubbles in the bath, the smile on their faces when they see you in the morning, and the sweet smell of clean baby skin during bedtime cuddles. Those days do disappear before you know it.