I have now been a mother for an incredible 7 months and I thought that I should share some wisdom that I have aquired along the way. Remember, this is from my perspective with baby V. With another baby, under other circumstances, the advice might have been completely different!
- Bring a note book to the hospital! The night after giving birth I could not sleep, high on adrenaline and I really wanted to write down my experience and thoughts… those loose pages where I jotted down my thoughts are still to be copied into my pregnancy diary!
- Don’t focus too much on the sizes mentioned on the baby clothes that you have. They might fit much earlier than you expect, and if you save them for later, they will end up being too small and never worn (one of the things that stress me the most – the clothes that V never wore or wore once). V is at the moment wearing clothes for 9-12 month olds!
- Wrap-around onesies, at least for the first 4 months! Don’t even try to pull something over the baby’s head in the beginning – the baby will scream, you will sweat and panic and finally give up. All those over-the-head onesies that were never used… I still believe that the hole for the head was too small on some of them (expensive and cute from Le Petit Bateau but what can you do?)
- Make sure that the clothes are stretchy – at least in the sleeves, otherwise you will end up with the above situation (screaming baby, sweating and panicky parent)
- T-shirts are useless for babies!! Every time you will lift / hold your baby, the t-shirt will end up in the baby’s armpits and leave the belly bare. Short-sleeved t-shirts are ok over a long-sleeved onesie, as long as it is stretchy…
- Don’t listen to the “Sleep when the baby sleeps”-advice, it will just stress you and make you wonder when you will eat and shower!? Of course once you have managed to get a bite to eat and you are clean[er], do have a nap or two!!
- Learn to feed the baby with one hand so that you can eat and drink (only cold drinks, in case you spill!) at the same time (at least if you have a marathon-eating baby like I did). I ended up with a massive cold around Christmas and had to learn to blow my nose with one hand too, more difficult than you might think!
- Make sure that everything essential is within your reach before starting to feed the baby: mobile phone, water, tissues, book, remote control / computer etc. I got a negative remark from an unknown blog reader about not focusing entirely on my baby when breastfeeding but the thing was that for the first 2-3 months I was feeding baby V more or less non-stop… Nowadays I can’t do anything while feeding as V gets extremely distracted! We haven’t watched telly in the last two months, and we can hardly even talk while V is at the breast because he wants to join in the conversation!
- Don’t be cheap; invest in a really really practical and easy-to-steer pram! We didn’t and I have used two really crappy second-hand prams that made me want to scream every time I used them! And take into account where you are going to use it: in the city / countryside, on the bus / car (once you have put a pram in the car, you don’t have space for anything else!!), snow / rain / sunshine, shopping (some prams have tiny baskets underneath for carrying stuff and nowhere to hang shopping bags) etc. And make sure the pram fits in the elevator if you live in an apartment building! I assure you, the pram can be the best or the worst investment you will make for the baby’s first year!
- The best advice I got… to remember that the first few months will pass and things will be easier after a while! Now when I look back, I wonder how I survived at the same time as I am being nostalgic… V was so tiny and I can’t believe how fast he has grown and developed into this wonderful little person who smiles, laughs, “talks”, touches my face and grabs my hair really hard!
- I found that reading was a good way to stay awake during the night feeds! If I didn’t read, I would fall asleep and then V would fall asleep as well and wake up hungry again after a while…
- Listen (or read) to people’s advice but then make up your own mind. V slept in our bed until he was 4 months old when I decided to try to make him sleep in his crib next to our bed. I know that we are very lucky as he didn’t even need one night to adapt to sleeping on his own. When he wakes up at around 05-05.40, I put him in our bed and he falls right back to sleep. It’s really cosy to wake up together in the mornings but I am also grateful that he sleeps most of the night in his own bed. Only problem is that I wake up during the night and desperately look for him in our bed, thinking that I have lost him or that he has fallen on the floor!! It’s a reoccurring nightmare, which makes a bit of a change from my previous frequent nightmare of the ceiling falling down on me!
- Let the father take care of the baby as well!! And try to refrain from criticising / correcting the way he does it! The three days V spent in the hospital in Spain in December was a great exercise for both O and I, as O spent the nights with V while I slept at home. It was the first time since V was a week old* that I slept without him and I thought that I had lost him when I woke up (see above point about V sleeping in his own crib). O realised how it is to sleep lightly and wake up every time V cries a little… I think that [most] men are programmed to sleep through the babies’ cries when they know that somebody else will get up and take care of them.
- Life changes with a baby but your attitude defines how much! If you think that you won’t be able to do anything with your baby – travel, go to a restaurant, breastfeed in public, have a social life, then you won’t… V has been to restaurants several times (mind you, mostly during the day and not the most fancy places), I haven’t noticed any disapproving looks from people when breastfeeding [discreetly] in public (cafés, restaurants, airports and airplanes) in Sweden, Spain and Belgium, visited two museums, taken the plane 12 times and travelled by metro / bus numerous times.
- Instead of dragging along prams, car seats etc when travelling, try to see if you can borrow the equipment at your destination. My parents’ neighbours, cousins and colleagues have lent us prams and my parents bought a second-hand car seat for less than 50 EUR on the Swedish web-site blocket.se. So much more practical to travel without all the extra stuff! Until now I have been able to carry V in the BabyBjörn when travelling with him. I actually just got another model (BabyBjörn Comfort carrier) as V is getting a bit heavy to carry without hip support. Buy the new Miracle model, which has that extra support! Also, you can buy diapers etc at your location so no need to bring more than enough for the actual travelling.
- Another piece of advice that I got at the beginning: don’t give up on your dreams! (from the psychologist at the hospital’s neo-natal unit) I desperately wanted to breastfeed but because V had to spend his first week with a c-pap (breathing pump), he couldn’t start nursing until he was one week old. I pumped every 3 hours for a week to stimulate the milk production and then tried to start breastfeeding my baby. With the help of a thin tube (straw) that I put in his mouth he got the breastmilk from the breast and formula at the same time. It was a frustrating time and I spoke to three lactation experts, drank lots of fennel tea and continued pumping as well. At the beginning of November when V was two months old, I realised that he had lost weight, and I felt like the worst mother ever. I had starved my child!! The advice I got was to continue breastfeeding but to start giving him a bottle of formula after every feeding. All of a sudden V’s weight increased rapidly and it was so much easier to feed him by bottle than with the straw! I was (and still am) fortunate that he accepted combination feeding – breast and bottle. Most babies don’t. I am really happy that I didn’t give up on my dream of breastfeeding but I also realise that the most important thing is that the baby gets enough to eat, and he / she doesn’t care if the food comes packaged in a breast or in a bottle. Sometimes I feel that I am “cheating” with bottle-feeding but I know that it is illogical and irrational to think like that. In Sweden breastfeeding is the [only] norm and I think that a lot of women feel stressed about not being able to feed the babies in the “natural / normal” way.
- Oh, and speaking of bottles – I spoke to some other new mothers the other day and they were shocked to hear that I don’t sterilise V’s bottles after every feed, and I don’t pre-boil the water for the formula. We were more cautious about sterilising in the beginning when he was small but my mother was told by a paediatric nurse that once the baby is a few months old you only need to boil the bottle every two days or wash it in the dish-washer. Maybe a very pragmatic Swedish attitude? 😉
- I read quite a lot before V was born, about giving birth, how to deal with a baby, the baby’s development etc but once he was here, I just did / do what I think is best. The same with giving birth, in the end we got so much support and instructions at the hospital from the midwife that I didn’t feel that missing the antenatal classes was such a big deal (scheduled for that last month of pregnancy, which I missed out on as V was born 4 weeks early). I do believe that reading made me more confident and calmer about the experience (and it made me pass the time during the summer when I was on bed rest).
Phew, that was a long list! I hope that it might help some of you out there, but remember: every baby is an individual and you will just have to find out what works for you and your little one!
V and I are off to Copenhagen this afternoon to meet up with three of my best girlfriends plus another baby, little Irish C who was born in November. We will miss our friend P No 1 and her A (born in May last year) who are not able to join us. A weekend with two baby boys; it will probably be a bit different from our previous girls’ weekends spent in Venice, the south of France, the Danish island of Møn, Brussels, and Geneva… Maybe next time we will meet in Washington DC as Irish O is moving there at the end of the month!
*) As V spent his first week in the neonatal unit. The second week in the hospital V and I slept in the same room, and the nurses actually recommended that I put him beside me in the bed when he was crying.