7 Survival Tips for Brand New Parents
Well, lookit me, handing out parenting advice, almost as if I have even the slightest clue what I’m talking about here: LOLLOLLOL!
Full disclosure: Max turns 9 weeks old today, so obviously – OBVIOUSLY – I’m not really in any kind of position to be offering up parenting advice, am I? No, I am not. As we slowly start to emerge from the fog of the newborn days, though, I’ve been reflecting on the fact that, not only have we managed not to break the baby over the course of these last, crazy two months, Terry and I have somehow survived, too. I mean, we are but pale shadows of the people we used to be, and, “Wow, you look tired!” has replaced “Do you want another glass of wine?” as the phrase we say most often to each other (Well, that and, “Can you get me a bib and a burp cloth?” I was just saying last week, in fact, that if I ever write my memoir, I think I’ll call it, ‘A Bib and a Burp Cloth’…), but we’re still alive, is my point, and that’s about as much as we can hope for right now, isn’t it?
So, with the benefit of my full 9 weeks worth of experience (HAHALOL), here are the most helpful pieces of parenting advice I have to offer those of you who still have this stage ahead of you… and who know even less about babies than I do, obviously…
Stick to sleepsuits for the first few weeks at least
(Er, for THE BABY, I mean, although, if sleepsuits work for you too, then rock on, sister…)
If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably go into parenthood with a nursery closet filled with tiny little outfits, all freshly washed, ironed (Because ironing still seems like an option before the baby actually arrives, doesn’t it?) and ready to be slipped onto your little cutie as soon as he or she is out of the womb.
Yeah, just forget all of those outfits, guys: at first, anyway.
I say this with regret, because dressing the baby like a little bear, say, or maybe even a lamb (If you can find a hat or pram suit that doesn’t have ears on it, you’re doing better than I am, for sure. I don’t know why you’d WANT to, though?) was one of the things I was most looking forward to, but that was before I knew that the baby in question was going to have to be dressed and undressed at least eleventy-one times a day, and that getting him in and out of some complex outfit, while suffering from severe sleep exhaustion, would feel a bit like being a contestant on The Crystal Maze.
Now, as I write this, I can practically hear legions of commenters flexing their fingers and getting ready to tell me that THEIR baby only needed one change of clothes a week, and it was SO EASY that they basically had them in evening wear by the end of week one. It, er, wasn’t like that for us.
No, the first thing Terry and I learned about newborns was they need their nappies changed WAY more often than we’d ever have thought possible, back in those innocent days when I only packed a handful of nappies in my hospital bag. LIKE AN IDIOT. The first thing we learned about our specific newborn, meanwhile, was that he was born with the innate ability to know the exact moment you’ve finished dressing him, and THAT’S the moment he will choose to dramatically spit up all over himself, thus soaking his clothes, and requiring an immediate change.
On our first night at home, we went through 7 sleepsuits in the course of the night. SEVEN. I really wish I was exaggerating here, but nope: a combination of our complete ineptitude, coupled with sleep deprivation, his reflux (Which we didn’t know about then), and nappies which mysteriously kept leaking (And by “mysteriously” I mean, “We were obviously doing something wrong, although I have no idea what it was, because, I mean, HOW?”) meant that we spent that whole night feeling like we had somehow slipped into an alternate reality in which we would spent eternity trapped in an endless cycle of changing a baby’s nappy and clothes. It was no fun at all, but obviously it would’ve been even LESS fun if, rather than sleepsuits, we’d had him dressed in ACTUAL CLOTHES, with, like, buttons and straps and maybe even socks and other stuff to think about. GOD.
Luckily, we’ve gotten much better at dealing with all of this, so Max does generally manage to stay in the same clothes for most of the day now. We have, however, stuck with the sleepsuits: because dressing a wriggling newborn is, as I’ve said before, a bit like trying to put tights on an octopus, and ain’t nobody got time for that. So, Max DOES wear all of those cute little outfits I bought for him… but only when we’re going out somewhere. At home, he’s in sleepsuits most of the time, which is easier for us, and probably a bit more comfortable for him. Speaking of sleepsuits, though…
Buy sleepsuits which button up the front, and have built-in socks and scratch-mitts
You have two choices here: you can either mess around putting fiddly little socks and scratch mitts on your baby every time you have to change him, or you can just throw all of those little socks into the air and have fun trying to catch them as they fall – it amounts to pretty much the same thing, really. Alternatively, just do yourself a favour, and buy footed sleepsuits that have scratch-mitts built in, and rejoice in the extra seconds of sanity you’ll have bought yourself.
(Now that we have Max’s fingernail situation under control and he no longer wakes up looking like he’s been in a bar fight – other than on those mornings when the health visitor is coming to see him, obviously – we prefer to leave his hands free, so he can practice using his fingers. For the first few weeks, though, we’d regularly have to revoke hand privileges to stop him scratching himself, so those suits were perfect…)
Still on the subject of sleepsuits (You can tell I don’t get out much these days, can’t you?), I also recommend the type that buttons or zips down the front, rather than the ones that go over the head, and then button up around each leg. Might just be me, but I find the first kind much quicker and easier to pop him into: he does have some of the over-the-head variety, and they look adorable, but I always find myself reaching for the front-buttoners first when I’m dressing him, so the other kind only get worn when those are in the wash, really.
I have one final piece of parenting advice on the subject of baby clothes, and then I’ll shut up, I promise…
Stick to a single colour of baby clothes
If you were to judge the size of our family purely based on the contents of our laundry baskets, you’d probably assume we had six children at least, THAT’S how much laundry Max manages to generate. A lot of this is due to a) reflux and b) general ineptitude on our part, obviously, but even so, in the early days, I found it really useful that all of his sleepsuits and burp cloths were either white or pale grey, so I could just throw them all into the machine together, without having to worry about a rogue red sock or whatever turning everything pink.
We’ve now branched out into clothes in different colours, thanks to my mum, who bought me a box of Colour Catchers. I’m pretty sure I’m the last to the Colour Catcher party, here, but, for the benefit of the uninitiated, you just throw one of these in with your wash, and it’ll soak up any dye that runs, so your whites remain white, even if you wash them with brighter colours. They’re genius, seriously: I mean, just think of the world of brightly coloured sleepsuits that will open up to you once you have these in your life! #NEVERLOOKBACK
So, that’s the baby clothes sorted. Now for the adults, and my main piece of parenting advice here is this one:
Wear clothes you can also sleep in
Everyone tells you to “sleep when the baby sleeps!” I’m NOT going to tell you that because, if you sleep when the baby sleeps, you’ll be sleeping for, like, 20 hours a day or something at first, and you’ll get absolutely NOTHING else done. For me, a better piece of advice is to simply sleep when you CAN, whether that be a quick nap on the sofa, or a couple of snatched hours in bed, in the middle of the afternoon.
We’ve now gotten into a routine where we have a slightly more normal sleep schedule, and with that has come the ability to wear “real” clothes again, but seriously, at first you’re just in survival mode, and anything goes. I’ve never been a fan of sweatpants or leggings (In fact, until I got pregnant, I didn’t even OWN any sweatpants, and the only leggings I had were activewear), but I fully embraced them in the first few weeks of new parenthood, glorying in the fact that when I got out of bed after that afternoon nap, all I had to do was quickly run a brush through my hair, and I looked … er, I’m not going to say I looked “presentable” here, because, yeah, I can still only DREAM of one day reaching the giddy heights of “presentable”, but I at least looked like I was DRESSED, which was SOMETHING, at least.
Seriously, though, this was important to me, because I really hate the thought of spending the whole day in my dressing gown, especially when there’s a steady stream of visitors constantly popping around to see the baby. My sweatpants/leggings outfits weren’t much better, in all honesty (And I use the word “outfits” in the loosest possible sense of that word…), but it was good for my mental health to feel like I was at least wearing “real” clothes – and it was even better when the opportunity for sleep finally presented itself, and I didn’t have to go and change my clothes before taking full advantage of it.
(I’ll just quickly add here that I WAS obviously still changing my clothes on a regular basis: I’m not quite THAT lazy…)
On the subject of visitors, though, here’s a piece of parenting advice I was given, but totally ignored:
Look after yourself as well as the baby
This was one of the many ways in which we totally messed up, so, you know, learn from my mistakes here, people – I feel like at least SOMEONE should benefit from them.
In the first week of Max’s life, we had visitors every day, which would’ve been fine, obviously – we were excited to introduce Max to everyone, after all – but, combined with the general chaos of having a newborn to look after, it did leave us feeling a bit like we didn’t have a second to ourselves. Our schedule was all over the place, and every time we sat down to eat or drink, either the baby would start crying or the doorbell would ring, which ended up meaning the baby got looked after, but we didn’t: to the point where Terry ended up with gout, brought on by the fact that he just wasn’t drinking enough. WHOOPS.
I actually feel really stupid even writing this, because it’s one of those things I’d have rolled my eyes at before I became a parent, thinking that SURELY TO GOD you still have enough time to DRINK – I mean, FFS, it’s a baby, not a freaking war zone or something. I remember at one stage, though, I’d just taken Max upstairs to change him after one set of visitors left, when I heard the doorbell ring again, and I honestly almost burst into tears. We hadn’t eaten yet that day, I’d had about two hours worth of broken sleep the night before, and I REALLY needed to go to the bathroom – which I’d been putting off for at least 20 minutes at that point because there was always something more urgent requiring my attention. Like I said, it sounds absolutely ridiculous when you write it down, but, at that moment, I totally got why so many new parents complain about not getting even a second to themselves, because it really did feel like that.
(It, er, turned out to be the postman at the door, by the way. You get my point, though…)
When we realised Terry had gotten sick due to lack of hydration, I wasn’t surprised, but I was pretty annoyed with myself for getting caught up in the whole, “I can’t ever put the baby down, and I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom now, WOE IS ME!” thing. I mean, it DID feel like that at the time, but it’s just not true to say you can’t possibly look after yourself AND a baby: of COURSE you can. It just so happened that we did a spectacularly bad job of it, and that was partly due to the pressure we put on ourselves to be constantly available to visitors, with the house tidy and us all dressed and ready for whatever time people were due to turn up.
It was just too much in that first week, when our schedule was totally out of whack, making it easy for us to forget that we hadn’t eaten, say, or done any of the other things you need to stay on top of to remain healthy. So my main piece of parenting advice here would be to look after yourself, and limit the amount of visitors you have if necessary: people WILL understand that you need a bit of time to adjust to your new normal first, or that the house might not be immaculate when they do turn up.
Along similar lines, meanwhile:
Don’t be afraid to accept help
I’m really lucky in that I have a LOT of support as a new parent: Terry’s at home all day, for one thing, and my parents live just a mile away, and are more than happy to help out whenever we need them. I honestly don’t know how I’d have coped without this support: seriously, solo parents are basically superheros to me, not even joking.
The thing is, though, like many people, even although the support is available, I’m not always good at asking for it, so when Terry got sick and wasn’t able to move around much without being in excruciating pain, I felt like I should just be doing everything myself, like some kind of superwoman or something. I’m definitely no superwoman, though, and by the end of week 2, I’d been forced to realise that, so I accepted my mum’s offer to take some of the laundry off my hands (Oh, and I also accepted the awesome bowl of mac n’ cheese she brought up – thanks, mum!), and I also got my parents to come up and sit with the baby for a couple of hours while Terry caught up with some work and I had a much-needed shower.
I always feel guilty about asking for or accepting help like that – I REALLY felt like I was failing hard at life in those first couple of weeks – but it was very, very necessary, so, while I know not everyone is fortunate enough to have people nearby who can step in when necessary, if you do have people offering to help, my best advice is to take full advantage of it!
Finally, one last practical piece of parenting advice:
Keep baby supplies all over the house
This is probably more useful to people who’ve had c-sections, or who have otherwise limited mobility, but I found the stairs a bit tricky after my surgery, and didn’t want to have to be running around all the time, so, for the first few days, we set up mini baby changing stations, with things like nappies, wipes, etc in our 3rd-floor bedroom and ground floor kitchen as well as in Max’s nursery, which is on the second floor. It meant that, wherever we were in the house, we always had easy access to the things we needed for him, and once I was up for the day – or had gone to bed for the night – I didn’t have to keep going up and down stairs to change the baby.
As I said at the start of this post, as a first-time mother, my parenting advice is very much of the, “Here’s what I learned the hard way,” variety, and I know there’s a ton of stuff I still have to learn, so go on, hit me with it:
What’s your best piece of parenting advice for someone with a newborn?