If you’re pregnant, you’ve likely read and learnt a lot about pregnancy and birth, but perhaps haven’t given as much thought to what will happen once the baby arrives. As a mother myself, I’ve thought back to those early days (and long nights) and pulled together some top mum-to-mum (and mum-to-dad) advice to help you through those first few weeks.
1. Allow others to help you
Your only job those first few weeks is to feed and care for your baby. Nothing else. Don’t be afraid to ask people to help you when it comes to other jobs and tasks. If family or friends are visiting, allow them to make the tea, ask them to pick up essentials on their way over and let them clear up the dishes in the kitchen. Accept offers of hot meals delivered to your door or having groceries picked up – people genuinely want to support and help.
2. Sleep when your baby sleeps
Your newborn baby will sleep a lot – around 18 hours a day. But your baby will need to feed very frequently for the first few weeks, which means you won’t be getting long stints of undisturbed sleep for a while. It can be tempting to use the time that your baby is asleep to do chores around the house or catch up on emails and text messages, but try your best to turn your phone off and lie down as often as you can. As well as needing energy to look after your baby, you’ll also be recovering from labour, so sleep is essential to help your body repair, recover and heal.
3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
With a new baby to look after, it’s easy to forget about your own diet and adopt unhealthy habits such as snacking and relying on takeaways. But it’s really important to maintain a healthy diet after giving birth. It will help to keep your energy levels up so you can cope with your baby’s needs, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
You’ll also need to replenish some nutrients lost during pregnancy and birth. Your iron stores are likely to be low so include iron-rich foods in your diet, such as red meat, pulses, beans, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables. Folate is an essential vitamin for women, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Folate-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, oranges, bananas, beans, nuts and fortified breakfast cereals. Also, because developing babies during pregnancy have a high demand for omega-3 fatty acids, your own stores may be low after you give birth. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids comes from oily fish. But if you don’t eat fish, red meat, eggs, linseed or flaxseeds, soybean oil, rapeseed oil, tofu and walnuts are all tasty alternative sources.
4. You will cry a lot...and then some more
Having a baby is an emotional rollercoaster and during that first week it’s not uncommon to be laughing one minute and bursting into tears the next. The ‘baby blues’ is common, affecting up to 80 percent of women, often creeping in around three to five days after giving birth. Experts don’t know for sure what causes the baby blues, but we do know it’s a time of great change, physically, hormonally and emotionally, and a likely cause of conflicting emotions.
If you feel like sobbing, sob. It’s OK to cry and not know why. It’s OK to have feelings of dread or fear, even though you love your baby with every inch of your body. Know that it’s normal and it will pass – the baby blues isn’t an illness. However, if you continue to feel low, be sure to talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP.
5. Recognise postnatal depression
Going back to my previous point, it’s really important that you seek help and support if you continue to experience feelings of depression, anxiety or hopelessness following birth. Make sure you speak to someone – your midwife, health visitor or GP. Depression and anxiety affects 15 to 20 percent of women in the first year after childbirth, so you certainly aren’t alone. Recognise your symptoms – don’t dismiss them or try to hide them. You might want to talk to someone you trust first, perhaps a friend or family member who will support you to get the right help. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has further information on postnatal depression.
Above all, don’t put too much pressure or expectation on yourself. It’s a time of great change and adjustment, and emotions will be running high. A new baby is exciting but challenging, blissful but exhausting. Be kind to yourself and to your partner, and try to enjoy those early moments with your new baby – they pass far too quickly.
The Imperfect Parent guide
We have created The Imperfect Parent, a guide with advice and top tips to help mums and dads embrace faults and doubts around parenting. The guide also provides advice on how to deal with the anxiety of being a parent and aims to lessen the stress that comes with the idea of parental perfectionism.
Click here to download your copy of The Imperfect Parent.
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