As if it's really that different...
EVERYONE tells you how much your life is going to change once you have a baby and do we believe them? Pffft do we heck! Then what happens? This tiny little person arrives into your life and the reality hits you that this small person just took away your 'normal' life and spare time but how? By cluster feeding for 8 hours straight, crapping it out 10 times in a day whilst puking all over your cashmere. Nice.
Research has shown, a quarter of new mums feel lonely after the birth of their child, which is understandable particularly once their other halves have returned to work. It's no surprise given it's hard enough to find time to change yesterdays knickers let alone, get showered, pack the baby bag, feed and redress baby and make it to Costa to meet your non-mummy friend during her lunch break for 20 minutes. During those precious 20 minutes, you have managed to order a coffee, feed the baby (AGAIN) and half paid attention to your friend's gossip from work whilst sipping now lukewarm coffee before your friend has to dash back to work and it's all over. Sounds exhausting just reading it, let alone doing it!
Don't think it sounds that bad or think I am exaggerating - I am not! The key to tackling this is education. I do not mean classroom learning but listening to other peoples experiences and actually taking it in. Do you have any Mummy friends now, or a sister/cousin who has kids? How do you think her life looks? I am also talking about the Mum's doing it themselves - not the lucky one's who can afford paid help at home. Believe what they are telling you and expect life to change dramatically. It's not a bad change but for those who are not great with change or very adaptable - you need to get talking! If new mums speak to their friends and family members who have been through the same experience, they can set realistic expectations about the baby in tow period. You will soon learn that you don't need to sweat the small stuff and that your expectations do not to be as high as you think they should be. I had made a whole rota for my family after birth made pre-birth - when baby was going to eat, sleep, play. When I was going to work, do the laundry and make dinner. I think after day one, I'd spilt so much expressed milk over it (which I sobbed so hard about - expressing Mummies will know!) that the whole thing got thrown in the dirty nappy pile in the corner of the room. I learnt that my house was not going to be pristine, my work be up to date and baby well fed and cared for all in the same day and keep it up across the week. So I had to decide what was more important to be that came in the order of Baby, Work and then House. Plus on top of that I still wanted to be a good wife, not live on takeaways and find some time to shift this baby pouch of a stomach.
A lot of people don’t speak out about the isolation they experienced on maternity leave. Being open and honest about this experience allows others to help you if you are a new mum, and helps other new mums know what to expect. There is also a huge social pressure that everyone feels to 'appear' to be coping with this new life. I HATE THAT! I am all for honesty, get some Mummy friends who are on your wave length, who you can be honest with, down a bottle of wine with and cry with. That is so important. Where to find these people? It's a matter of trial and error I find. I move around a lot, so I am always having a make new friends locally. I find them on Facebook Mum's groups, forums in the local area and at baby groups. You need to be putting yourself out there and I generally learn after a coffee meet if she is going to be my 'breed' of Mum or not.
The UK is a lonely place to be having a baby in, in other cultures, new mums are nurtured and looked after for several weeks after birth by the extended family. Due to changes in social circumstances, for example living further away for families due to work, and women waiting longer to become a mother due to their careers. 25% of Mum's don't have ANY family living near to them - no family support network. I lived in another county when I had my first, after my in laws visited us for 2 weeks I cried so hard the day they left that I demanded we pack up and return home ASAP and that's what we did. That's how much I felt I needed my family around me. I never once called on my Mum to come and help me, but knowing that I could made all the difference. Not having any family nearby to babysit or give you an hour to do whatever you need is isolating and causes increased feelings of loneliness. So I say again, put yourself out there and make some Mummy friends ASAP.
What causes PND
Postnatal depression (PND) is more common than people think, and affects 1 in 10 new Mums. 1 in 4 new Mums feel like they are not coping well. So it is really important to know the signs of what PND looks like and how to avoid it.
Huge changes in your life alongside having a baby can influence PND - moving house, relationship breakdown, changing jobs - so try to keep things as calm as possible in the weeks leading up to and after having baby.
Isolation and loneliness can enhance PND - so make sure you get some local friends/family who you at least talk to everyday if not see. If PND takes hold, you will not want to be seeing people and will become withdrawn.
Changes in appetite - make sure you are eating, I am not asking you to be mega healthy (but it helps!) To think well, you need to eat well.
Loss of sex drive, it may well have happened during pregnancy - I took some serious persuasion to do the deed in my later trimester but it should return around 6-8 weeks PP. PND will lessen your desires, so keep an eye out for that.
Sleeping issues and not because baby has you up all night. Being sleep deprived doesn't help you think straight anyway but those suffering with PND find it hard to go to sleep, their minds constantly going normally with worries and concerns, another thing to pay attention to.
Thoughts of self harm or about harming the baby - this is in more severe PND cases but any of these thoughts need to be relayed to a doctor/midwife/health visitor or partner ASAP. They are not your rational thoughts, you will NEVER be judged by a professional for thinking these things, they will just help you in anyway they can to make you feel better.
To avoid PND it is crucial to identify it early, both by the you yourself herself and by your support network, or the medical professionals involved in your care. It’s also important to be realistic: PND is nobody’s fault and it just happens. If it happens to you, you and your partner shouldn’t blame yourselves. You should seek support, like you would for any other illness.
Sleep or lack of it!
Lack of sleep is one of the hardest things new mums have to get to grips with. We are told to sleep when the baby sleeps but this nearly NEVER happens. I found myself lying there knowing that I hadn't done yesterday's washing up, that the nappy bin was full, I had 5 emails to reply to and the milk was a day out of date - really relaxing! So what can you do to get more zzz's?
Even though babies sleep for 18 hours a day or more (yes 18 hours!), it is incredibly difficult to get a good amount of quality sleep. Once you have learnt babies sleep pattern a bit better, you can know when they are going to be having a 20 minute catnap and when you have 2 hours to get sh*t done. Use the 20 minute naps to do the washing, have a shower etc. Use that long nap to snooze! If you have some support around, once baby is fed and settled give them the monitor and go to the spare room and count some sleep. Non-interrupted sleep for 1 hour is going to be better than on/off sleep for 2 hours.
Putting the teabags in the fridge and crying over spilt milk..
Baby brain and the baby blues, are very real. I got to day 3 with my first and sobbed all day long, I thought I had PND but I didn't - it was the baby blues - which is generally just a hormone shift as the milk comes in. There is nothing you can do about it, just stock up on the tissues, tell your partner to ignore anything you say to them for the coming days ahead and wait for the light. If symptoms are still there after 2 weeks, get some additional support but keep talking to your partner/friends/family whilst you are going through this hormone change so they too know how you are thinking and feeling - they too then can look out for any changes.
Supporting new (and new again) mums is important. We all have a responsibility to look after them. If you know of a new mum, check in on them. If you’re a new mum yourself and you’re struggling, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. Contact Mumsupport, talk to your partner, a friend, a neighbour, your health visitor. There’s no shame in putting your hand up and saying, ‘I’m finding this bloddy hard.’ We all do.