Author: Leisl van Zyl
By some miracle, I managed to deliver a 4.2kg baby elephant. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen – in fact I rather embarrassingly remember crying out those exact words as soon as I held our son for the first time. I was exhausted – it was a 23-hour labour and he finally graced us with his presence close to 2am.
Role forward twelve hours later…. We’d had all the various check: baby was ok, I was ok, and so they were ready to discharge me from hospital. I should mention that we lived in London at the time, so things work differently on the National Health Service.
After facing the rather daunting task of getting a new born into the car seat and then the seat into the car, we arrived safely outside our front door. I remember that for some reason, the house which we had lived in for a few years, suddenly looked different to me. Now, we were starting our new life as a little family.
The first thing awaiting us was my Step-Dad, who opened the door the minute we had turned the ignition off. He was a bundle of nerves and had tears in his eyes – already full of love and emotion for a baby whom he was yet to meet. Once we had gotten over the euphoria of introducing our new baby to my Mom and Step-Dad, I warily and gently sat down on the couch and looked at the little bundle in the arms of his adoring Nana. I thought to myself – now what?
The first few weeks seemed to pass in a cloudy, exhausted haze. With baby feeding every two hours; a Mommy recovering from the labour process; and a Daddy who had limited time off before going back to work, it is a time which needs some careful thought. First time parents often think about and plan up to the baby’s arrival but it is worthwhile to discuss what happens afterwards.
Here are some reflections and top tips from our personal experience:
There are some practical things you can do, like make sure you know how to get the car seat in and out of the car and how to sterilise bottles and mix formula. These are tasks that your partner should be equally confident with. No doubt you have spent time organising the nursery, but make sure your partner knows where everything is too.
Fill the freezer and stock the pantry
Making food will be the last thing on your mind once baby arrives. Batch cook and freeze (if you have the energy while heavily pregnant) or ask family members to provide for you in advance. Buy healthy snacks – chocolates and biscuits can become an undeniable craving when you’re up feeding baby at 3am.
Curb the visitors until you feel ready
Besides the obvious of being incredibly tired and recovering post birth, the first two or three weeks are an incredibly special time for parents to be able to bond with their new baby. You may not want that time crowded with visitors. Be honest and open about who you would like to visit in those early days. Having visitors daily can add unnecessary pressure, because there is a high likelihood that you may want to be in your pyjamas and take a nap while baby is sleeping during the day.
Have numbers of people you might need to call for support
Babies unfortunately don’t arrive with a manual. You may need some professional help or sources of advice. Breastfeeding, for example, can be surprisingly challenging. Beyond your Mom and BFF, you may need to call on the help of a midwife or other health professionals other than your GP. Ask your doctor for recommendations.
Be kind to yourself
I had my first baby at the age of 35. Despite having some life experience and a successful career, I felt totally out of my comfort zone. Whilst all the focus is on making sure baby is doing well, you also need to look after yourself. Little things can make a difference, for example – making sure you are well hydrated (look up the jungle juice recipe if you find it hard to drink water all day) and eat healthy meals and snacks. I continued with vitamin supplements but you may need to adjust what you have used during your pregnancy. Some prenatal supplements may contain too much iron. While iron is often depleted through loss of blood, it can also cause constipation – something which you really want to avoid postpartum! So again – seek advice from your doctor.
Postnatal depression has thankfully, become a more talked about condition. It can start at any point post birth and can come on suddenly or gradually. While the ‘baby blues’ in the two weeks post birth is more common, new research in indicating that it can often kick in around 6 weeks post birth, once the new mom is spending more time alone with baby. Take some time to research the signs and symptoms but also recognise that in addition to being mentally and physically exhausted, your body is going through enormous changes (including hormonal) so it’s totally ok to have a cry every now and then. Mine was on day three when my milk was coming in.
Let your partner play their part
My husband, was the first to put a nappy on our son and the first to dress him. It was the same when our daughter arrived last year. As a new parent, your partner will also be riding an emotional rollercoaster and facing a steep learning curve. Give them the chance to learn and co-parent from day one. I can honestly say that I would not have survived the birthing process or the parenting in general, without his unwavering support.
Whilst the first few weeks can be exhilarating and daunting, I was lucky enough to have a Mother and close friend who reminded me to have faith in myself. Your confidence as new parents will grow a little each day. Enjoy the ride – it is the most beautiful journey!
Note from the author: This is written from my own personal experience and reflections. Please do join the conversation and share your own tips and experiences.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional - please always consult with your doctor for medical advice.