This post originated from an email I sent to a few of my pregnant friends a couple of months ago. While it was still fresh in my mind (and rapidly coming up to their due dates) I wrote down some of the things that I learned about babies that I found most useful. I hoped it would help them on the steep learning curve that is becoming a parent for the first time.
So I thought I’d share my thoughts with you too. If any of you are expecting your first child soon, it may come in useful! Please note that every baby is different and what worked for me might not work for your baby. Also, I am by no means a childcare expert, nor do I have any training whatsoever. These are just based on my experiences with my baby twins (who are now approaching 6 months old).
If you are intending to breastfeed, think about what you will wear for nursing in advance! I totally didn’t give it a moment’s thought and all the dresses that I usually wear (I love dresses) are totally inappropriate for breastfeeding (no access to the critical areas!). Luckily a friend of mine gave me a bag of second hand nursing tops – a total lifesaver! I would say that you don’t need specialist nursing tops (although they are very convenient) but loose tops and buttoned shirts work just as well. It’s worth just thinking about how it will work before the baby comes along!
I’d also recommend that you read a couple of baby books, just so you’re not totally unprepared. I read ‘A Contented House with Twins’ by Gina Ford and ‘The Baby Whisperer’ by Tracy Hogg. I would say that I took some tips from each but didn’t follow either religiously (see my point about this later on). It’s just nice to have some idea of what to do! I have also found the babycentre website to be very informative, and ‘Baby Love’ by Robin Barker is another great reference book (although not the sort of book to read from start to finish before the baby comes along, more one to dip into when you have questions you need answered).
The first few days
Newborn babies do not have a hunger reflex. This was something I didn’t know. Therefore, at least to start with, you have to impose a feeding routine on them to make sure they get enough milk/colostrum (I fed mine every 3 hours). I found that both my babies (and one in particular) were very sleepy for the first few days and it was really difficult to get them to wake up enough to feed! So to start with I would just do what I could and assumed that they’d drink more at the next feed because they’d be hungry, but that wasn’t the case. My babies lost about 9% each of their body weight in the 5 days I was in hospital (standard time for a C-section in Hong Kong) which isn’t actually that uncommon, but I feel like I could have reduced the weight loss if I’d have tried harder to get them to feed. Be prepared to be mean to wake them up if you need to! Water on the hands and feet, tickling, blowing and removing clothes all help.
For the first month or two, be prepared to throw everything you’ve read about babies and structure/routines out the window. I just found that mine were just too little and new to cope with anything like this, and I wasn’t the sort of person who could impose it on them! I did try to have a pattern to my day, just to have something to aim for, but at the end of the day you just have to do whatever works for you and them in order to get through the days. For the first couple of months, you can’t spoil them by holding them too much, rocking them to sleep etc. so just try not to feel guilty and concentrate on loving and looking after your baby!
Using formula vs breastfeeding is a contentious issue. I’m very happy that my babies are majority breast fed and have been from birth (apart from anything else, formula is extortionately expensive in Hong Kong!), but they have also had formula pretty much every day since birth. I did feel guilty about giving them formula to start with but now I’m much more relaxed about it. Formula fed babies still thrive and you just have to do whatever works for you. I give my babies formula for a number of reasons including the fact that it took my body a few months for the milk production to settle down so sometimes I just didn’t have enough milk, my husband likes to feed the babies at least once a day and we take it in turns to do night feeds, and to start with it was a way of bringing their weight up as I was getting the hang of breastfeeding. I tried pumping a bit but I found it hard to get the ‘let down’ so hardly any milk came out to start with (although that’s not the case now) and I just didn’t have the time or energy for it! I know some of my friends exclusively breast fed their babies for a long time (including all the night feeds) and felt very guilty at the thought of giving formula, but sometimes it is just more practical to do so and your baby won’t be any the worse for the odd (or indeed most or all) formula feeds.
Write down somewhere what gifts people give you when your baby is born! We received so many presents but being very busy and sleep deprived at the time, we have no idea who gave what. If you gave us something for the twins when they were born then we thank you very much and we really appreciate it!
As you get over the first few days and weeks, you start to learn interesting things about your babies. For instance, they are fluff magnets! I don’t know where it all comes from! In the creases of their skin (especially the hands) they just seem to accumulate fluff – so bizarre. I was forever cleaning them out, although it seems to have calmed down now.
Also, regularly clean in the folds under the chin(s) and behind the ears. Vomit accumulates here and it goes crusty and stinks! Such an awful smell!
Another random thing I learned quite recently is that babies don’t sweat (although they do feel clammy sometimes so I don’t know how that works). So if your baby has a damp back when they wake up, unfortunately it means they have weed everywhere and not that they’ve got too warm!
If you are breastfeeding, you may find that it takes a while for your milk supply to settle down. I really wanted to breastfeed my twins as much as possible but at one stage I just wasn’t producing enough milk for a full day. I found that drinking loads of water and taking fenugreek tablets really helped. With the fenugreek, you need to take 2-3 capsules three times a day (i.e. quite a lot) – if you only have a little it doesn’t have any effect but I found when I took this much I was overflowing with milk! I didn’t have to take the tablets for very long (less than a week I think) to boost production enough to feed the twins. Your body makes as much milk as the babies drink so I guess eventually my production would have increased on its own but the fenugreek helped speed things up.
When the babies were really young we used a white noise YouTube video to help calm them to sleep. Some people swear by it (or a vacuum cleaner or hairdryer, which make a similar sort of noise), and whilst I think it did help a little, I’m not sure exactly how much effect it had on our babies. But to this day we find that shushing loudly in their ears helps to calm them. The theory is that this sort of noise reminds them of being in the womb (which is apparently very noisy).
I read somewhere that no baby fits one of the parenting books exactly, and I personally agree with this. I think it’s good to read some books so you can make an informed decision about how you want to structure your days but you need to figure out what suits you and your baby and work around that. For example, Gina Ford’s books set out a very rigid routine for the day. I thought I liked the idea of a routine before I had babies (don’t let them rule the roost!) but once they came along I realised I just couldn’t do it. Apart from the fact that I couldn’t figure out how on earth you’re supposed to make a baby sleep when you tell it to, I’m just not the sort of person who can stick to times that precisely. I tried but then I’d realise that I was running late all the time! So I have taken the rough structure of the day that Gina Ford suggests but I ignore her timings. My babies nap when they get tired so the timings of their 3 naps a day can vary by up to an hour. But they do always go to bed in the evening at roughly the same time. Anyway, my point is that I think having a repetitive structure to your day is good for the babies but how that works out in reality will vary depending on your and your baby’s personalities!
One of the hardest aspects that I found of becoming a parent is that I have very little time to myself any more. Before the babies were born I had several months when I wasn’t working so I had all day to indulge myself with my jewellery and this blog and anything else I chose to do, but of course that came to an end once the babies were born! Now they nap fairly consistently during the day so I get a little time to do the non-baby things that I want to do, but I guess as they get older and sleep less that’s going to reduce again. Also, I think if you go from working full time to looking after a baby then it must be quite a massive lifestyle change. I believe a lot of women struggle with this, but it helps if you are expecting it and have thought about it in advance. I guess you have to figure out how you can still get some of your favourite activities into your week and otherwise try and embrace this new lifestyle. Making other mummy friends definitely helps as it’s quite social and a nice way to spend time so that it’s not just you and your baby all day long. I try and meet up with people once or twice a week (some are mummy friends, some are just friends who don’t work full time) and we go to a couple of baby groups once or twice a week.
So, like I said, these were the things I found most useful when looking after my newborn babies. I hope you find them useful if you are expecting a baby! Please leave a comment below if you have anything to add that you found really useful too!
Thanks for reading!