How can you ever really prepare for motherhood? Sure, you’ve gone to the prenatal classes, decorated your nursery and you might have jumped on the hypnobirthing bandwagon, but what about when your baby – the entire human being that you have just birthed – arrives?
No one tells you to prepare for the bleeding, the lack of a pelvic floor, the intense emotions that will wash over you in those first few weeks and the fact that you will only ever dress your newborn in onesies.
To find out exactly what those expecting need to know, we asked mothers to give us a little insight into what they wished someone had told them when they were pregnant, below.
Take those pelvic floor exercises seriously
“I can’t run. I can’t jump. Well I can. But if I do, my bladder quickly shows me its disapproval. It’s a nightmare, it’s debilitating. And it’s embarrassing. Why? Because no one ever told me just how seriously I should take my pelvic floor exercises – both while I was pregnant and also, for the months after my three natural births.
“While I worried about stretch marks and which buggy to buy, what I should have been thinking about was my pelvic floor. So, mums to be, I’m passing this to you. If you’re standing at the bus stop, if you’ve got five mins, hold in your bladder like you’re holding in a wee. Do it multiple times daily. Do pilates during and post birth – otherwise 10 years on, like me, you may be scared to sneeze in public. And it so easily could have been avoided.” – Deborah Joseph, Editor-in-Chief of Glamour.
Be prepared for how overwhelming the first weeks can be
“I really wished someone had told me that labour was the easy bit. I felt really ill-prepared for everything else that followed. Taking a newborn home from hospital at 2am (!) and being completely responsible for a new life felt so overwhelming. We were struggling with breastfeeding, timings, new feelings, new sensations in the body and the reality of taking care of a baby who was completely dependent on you.
“The ‘baby blues’ was only really briefly mentioned in antenatal classes but I remember the first time my husband left my son and I alone to pick up some supplies, I was so fearful and panicked for his well being as well as ours. I really wasn’t ready for these unfamiliar feelings or the isolation that followed and in hindsight wish I’d gone much easier on myself, had more family around and not tried to follow the ‘rule-books’. Thank goodness for walking in the local parks though, that really helped my sanity and anxious feelings.” – Hana Sutch, Co-founder & CEO of Go Jauntly.
It’s okay not to love every single minute
“I wish I’d been told it’s OK to not love it every minute of every day, and miss little bits of your old life – it doesn’t make you a bad mum or mean you love your baby any less!” – Vicky Baggott, owner of Hubalu.
Onesies are all you need for newborns
“You won’t dress your baby in anything other than white onesies with poppers for at least the first three months of their lives. You will be constantly changing them as nappies leak or they spit up their food, and you will want a constant stream of easy to whip on and off onesies that are soft and the same.
“So save buying any gorgeous clothes for at least 3-6 months at the earliest. And if friends and family are wanting to buy the baby clothing as gifts, it’s so important to check which season they will be in at the age. I had my baby boys in autumn and was gifted so many gorgeous knitted woolly jumpers aged 3-6 months by the time they were old enough to wear them it was warm and they were in t-shirts.”- Camilla Newman, Publishing Director at Glamour.
You can expect bleeding for up to six weeks post-birth
“I have five children ranging from 2-21 years of age, having given birth to my first at 18 years old. It wasn’t until I became a midwife and had more children that I really began to realise how clueless I really was as a first time mum. One of the biggest memories I have is thinking ‘why didn’t anyone tell me I was going to bleed for six weeks after having a baby?’. I honestly thought that it would be over and done in the first 48 hours and no one ever told me any different.
“I didn’t attend antenatal classes back then but I’m not sure I would even have gained knowledge about what to expect postpartum, as so much emphasis is put on the birth. It’s not just me though, I once had a mum call the postnatal ward from home panicking because she thought she was haemorrhaging as she was still bleeding after three weeks. Postpartum bleeding is now one of the things I make sure I talk about, to all of the clients that I care for and on social media.” – Marley Hall, midwife and educator (@midwifemarley).
Your life will change drastically (for the better)
“I wish people had explained to me that – for most of us – life changes radically when you have a baby. I think I thought the baby would just slot in around our lives, but everything changes, not in a bad way but it does change.
“I went from jetting off around the world for work to it taking me an hour to even get out of the door with my daughter! No more lazy blissful lie ins, no popping out for a drink after work – my days, my life really, revolve around my children. But honestly, no one tells you just how much you will love them, and it’s a shift that just works. But I do miss those lie ins!” – Diana Massey, Operations Director of The Massey Partnership.
Intense emotions are completely normal
“I wish someone had told me about the continuing intense emotions of motherhood. Not the initial rollercoaster in the first few weeks of postpartum. I mean the guilt, the worry, the intense love and frustration.
“I would also say to never wish away your baby’s first year. We are all guilty of thinking ‘when will I hear them say mamma’, ‘why are they not walking’ ‘will I ever be able to go to the loo on my own again?’. It all goes ridiculously fast and before you know it they’re in secondary school and you have a whole host of worries you don’t want.” – Sima Sthanakiya, founder of The Curious Pixie.
Take is easy for the first few months
“Don’t push yourself in the first months after giving birth. If you want to breastfeed the best thing you can do is stay put, eat plenty of wholesome food and drink lots of water and milk yourself. If you get dehydrated this can contribute to a shortened supply. So drink plenty. Also, breastfeeding is about supply on demand. So the more you feed and the more you pump, the more milk you will have.” – Claire Wares, Advertising Director at Glamour.
Indeed, women are offered support, love and care throughout pregnancy. However, as soon as we give birth all that focus is diverted to the baby. Whilst our baby is worthy of all this attention, our society has forgotten how to nurture the postpartum mum; this leaves her exhausted from birth, sleep deprived and sometimes physically or emotionally traumatised. Meg Murray Jones launched Postpartum Plan to change this. Postpartum Plan is a holistic online programme for new parents, laying the emotional and physical foundations for a lifetime of parenthood. It brings together a support team of experts that all new mothers should have access to; women’s health physio, yoga and breath-work instructor, nutritionist, postpartum doula and more.
Here, Meg explains her top five tips for postpartum recovery which have been translated into five core pillars within Postpartum Plan so that you can support yourself during such a life-changing time.
Dedicate Time for Your Mental Health and Mindset
We recommend daily breath-work. Isn’t it amazing that the one thing that we do subconsciously has the power to heal us from the inside out? Yet how many of us really pay attention to our breathing? Try the simple breathing technique of breathing in for 4, hold for 4, breath out for 4 and hold for 4. Do this for 5 minutes every day for a week and notice the difference in your outlook, stress levels and sleep patterns.
Move Your Body
New mums are told not to do any exercise until their 6 week check but this does not mean that you cannot respect your body with gentle movement. Try mindful movement with a child’s pose. It seems low impact but that does not mean low results. Reach your arms forward and as you breathe in feel your ribs expand outwards; as you breathe out reach your arms gently forward so your fingers move further away from you. You should feel a gentle stretch through your shoulders (stiff from feeding and lifting) and your back which has been under immense pressure in pregnancy and birth.
Focus on Your Physical Recovery
When a professional athlete injures themselves they get a structured recovery programme; when mothers give birth they leave hospital with their beautiful baby but little else to support their own healing. Next time you go to the loo, can you sit there for 20 seconds longer than usual? New mums don’t realise that they rush going to the toilet and, therefore, don’t empty their bladder properly. This will really help your body relax and heal.
Reflect on your Journey
Reflective practice works both ways; thinking retrospectively about your birth or even just your day, and as a strategy for planning for the future. So, with this in mind, a daily reflective practice can teach you about yourself, your baby and lay the emotional foundation for a lifetime of parenthood.
Can you try writing how you are feeling today? It doesn’t have to be long or neat; real emotions are neither of those things! Writing encourages the body to process emotion in a way that typing on a phone or computer just can’t do. I promise you that journaling is one of the best forms of free therapy out there.
Nourish Your Body
Did you know that labour burns 100 calories an hour? And that the process of pregnancy and birth can deplete the mother’s body of vital nutrients to ensure your baby’s health?
Food provides and fuel your body needs to recover, replenish and restore post birth. The right nutrition postpartum is vital for your physical and emotional recovery and your long-term energy levels throughout the lifetime of parenthood. Laying the right foundations in those early days can have a remarkable effect on your recovery in the months and years ahead. However, it is hard to find the right answers when there is so much information on the internet.
One great bit of advice from our nutritionist is to reach for dark chocolate and green tea together when you have a sugar craving. The mixture of the two help to balance blood sugar and reduce the need for more sugar later on. Plus, dark chocolate can increase endorphins which helps with tiredness and with your own breastfeeding.
Take in the small moments
“I never realized how quickly they grow and develop into their own beings – someone once said to me enjoy them between 7-11 as these are the easiest years, post-baby phase and pre-teenage dramas, which struck me as odd at the time. But now with teenage years incoming I get what they meant. It’s so hard to see clearly sometimes when you are in the fog of parenting, careers, marriage, home making and now homeschooling, but the cliches are true, they really do grow up fast and within 10 years they’re half stepping out of the door into their own lives.
“So take those moments to hug a little tighter, sneak in when they are asleep, take the day off to go to sports day and share those experiences – those will be the memories you cling onto when they have all but forgotten. I already know I’ll miss them when they’re gone.” – Camilla Kay, Beauty Director and Deputy Editor at Glamour.
Don’t pressure yourself to breastfeed
“How impossible breast feeding can be for some people and the guilt for not being able to. I had twins who are almost two now and it still makes me so sad I couldn’t produce enough for them for various reasons. It has NO impact on your bond as they tell you in my opinion, my boys are the biggest Mummies boys. I tried and tried to breast feed but I always had to top up with formula from day one. They were lazy feeders who lost a lot of weight and, being twins, small and tired, and would rather sleep. This naturally had an impact on my supply.
“I will always be grateful to the health visitor who came to see me at about six weeks who said that the only way I had a chance of producing enough milk for both was to feed them every three hours and the pump afterwards, day and night, and even then there was no guarantee I would. She told me straight that she didn’t think I should do that and that being able to get out in the fresh air and get as much sleep as I could was more important to my mental health.
“I would say there is so much on the market you’re made to believe you need as a new parent that you just don’t, but the Tommee Tippee perfect prep is the best bit of kit you can possible buy if you formula feed your children.
“I look back and wish I could have let go a little more, accepted more help, but your instinct is to want to do it all for them. Equally I wish I had been stricter and said no to visitors when it was just too much in the very early days.” – Emma Lee, PR consultant and mum of twins.
Invest in a good baby monitor
Everyone will jump at the chance to send you their newborn essentials shopping list, which usually consists of approx 837,493,840 non-essential items (including a rubber duck). But as someone who fell for all the lists and learnt the hard (and expensive!) way, I can assure you there are only a few key essentials that will last you through the early years. One of them being a good baby monitor – and I honestly think this is where you should invest. Sleep plays such a key part of our parenting journey and after trying out a plethora of baby monitors (from the budget to the overly complex), we settled on the Nanit Pro baby camera – an amazing does-it-all baby monitoring system that provides parents with peace of mind and fascinating insights into their baby’s sleep habits. It’s expensive but a worthy investment; it’s our most prized purchase after our buggy.
The Nanit Pro is a smart baby monitor billed by the company as, “part baby monitor, part baby translator, part sleep guru” and “the most advanced baby monitor ever.” Not only does it promise to provide you a crystal clear overhead view of your baby’s crib, it also offers sleep tracking and personalized tips to help you get more sleep for the whole family, and a built-in digital baby book that captures your baby’s greatest hits along the way. The brand dub the Nanit Pro the ‘Tesla of baby monitors’ so expect big things. Indeed, 82% of Amazon users rated it 5-stars for its ease of use and sleep insights.
Invest in a Dockatot
The first time around I was petrified to put my baby down – ever! But then I discovered The DockATot Deluxe+ dock – an award-winning multifunctional docking station for babies 0-8 months old. It is the perfect (v. aesthetically-pleasing) spot for babies for supervised lounging, playing, cuddling, nappy changes and tummy time. It is also the ideal setting for their Instagram debut and a place to pop them when you’re desperate for the toilet / some hands-free Insta scrolling.
Weaning isn’t scary!
It is not uncommon for parents to worry about the nutritional value of the food they are serving their children and little ones. The food children and babies eat when they are younger can really make a difference on how they eat as they get older. However, it’s important for parents to keep the pressure off for everyone, including themselves. “Think about what’s eaten over a week, not day to day and avoid coaxing little ones to eat or ensuring kids stay at the table until they’ve finished the meal,” suggests Charlotte Stirling-Reed, author of new book “How to wean your baby”. “All of this can impose negative associations around foods which is ultimately what we want to avoid if we’re trying to create little foodies.” Here are her top tips…
Eat with your baby – they learn SO much from watching you eat so bring them to the table early as much as you can and let them observe. This is why I love the Stokke Tripp Trapp so much as it allows baby to join you at the table EVEN before they’ve begun their own food journey.
Think VARIETY – research shows that variety, even from a young age, really matters and can encourage your little one to eat a variety when they are older too
Try not to stress – there aren’t really many rights or wrongs with weaning, as long as you’re offering appropriate, healthy, family foods to baby and avoiding salt, sugar, honey and choking hazards. See here for a list of what not to feed your baby.
Think of weaning as a bit of a journey, there will be ups and downs, good days and bad days and that’s completely normal!
Have fun with it. Messy, unpredictable fun!
Originally published in Glamourmagazine.co.uk