Sharing some of my experiences as a first-time mum in the hope something with resonate with someone and be an encouragement. I will follow on with some blog posts on some of the topics highlighted through this.
This is from a mum who has been there and essentially is still there, just in a different way with different challenges and joys.
It is such a joyful and exciting time being pregnant but also tinged with anxieties. Especially if you have suffered miscarriages. With my second I felt I was in this double-sided emotional state. So overwhelmingly thankful to be expecting but nervous to let go and embrace it just in case. Wanting it to never end, to savour and enjoy it but so desperately wanting all the haemorrhoids, heart burn and constipation to be over and wanting to meet my baby.
There is that longing to have other mum’s to be to openly talk about all you are going through. Searching for more information and advice on dealing with all the side effects of pregnancy, other than what you already know and have tried. Every time I smell peppermint or ginger essential oils I ‘feel’ that nauseating feeling of early pregnancy. In trying these remedies, they just made me feel worse. What works for some doesn’t work for others. Even looking at or eating honey dew melon makes me think of being pregnant. I ate masses of it!! Felt too sick to eat but needed to eat and even sips of water made me nauseas. Honey dew melon, Jacob’s crackers and Café Nero Decaf cappuccino is what I lived on!
Knowing what you actually need amongst the bombardment of equipment and choices but also wanting to enjoy and embrace all those cute, gorgeous things. This is where all your new mum acquaintances and friends come in handy. Ask them!!
The excitement of treating yourself to some unnecessary things that are just lovely to have. One of my favourites was my friend and I going to a boutique in Edinburgh and purchasing a very gorgeous maternity and feeding bra as a treat. Pregnancy massage is just the best thing ever!! If someone wants to get you a present for birthday, Christmas, baby shower etc, put this top of your list!
I searched for the right exercise class to support my body through pregnancy and birth. All I could find was alternative, lying down and breathing classes where everyone moaned about their midwife. As I midwife, I witnessed the difference the right exercise makes to pregnant women, through their pregnancy and in labour and recovery. I knew myself just how important it is and yet the provision just wasn’t there. I have always been an active person who enjoys the benefits of exercise and so it became my passion to one day start running exercise for pregnant and postnatal mum’s myself. You feel so much better when you move.
I also found it so frustrating as a midwife not being able to spend more time with my women going through movement and exercise for recovery and I did more of it then than women get now!
I had a head start in that I had lots of wonderful knowledge being a midwife that made such a difference to me but there is so much more knowledge that I now have that would have been even more helpful.
Looking back there are so many things I wish I knew at the time. They have been part of why I now do what I do.
Birthing balls are amazing!!! Get one now if you don’t already have one. Pillows, pillows and pillows. Your partner doesn’t get much of the bed anymore!
Even as a midwife we didn’t have the full picture of knowing the correct way to activate your pelvic floor and relax it working with your breath, rather than ‘squeeze release’ at the traffic lights. I have learnt so much since that makes perfect sense and determined to help all of you make this a part of your life.
My biggest things I wish I knew when I was pregnant is the power of a mug of hot water first thing in the morning 😊 before doing anything or eating anything. The right fibre to keep things moving. I bombarded my body with all the wrong fibre just making things worse and had no idea. I do now!! Swop those Weetabix and shreddies for oats and flax seed! Bizarre things to stand out on ‘what I wish I knew’, but seriously I have not forgotten the trauma of the above.
When people say to make the most of time alone and being able to go out to the cinema and for dinner, DO IT! Don’t ever feel guilty for afternoon naps or heading to bed at 8pm. Listen to your body. Slow down, make the most of those moments of peace and quiet.
Take this opportunity to build your ‘mum tribe’ if you can. Joining a class where you can exercise together, share your journey together and support one another when baby has arrived. Make it a priority to try meet up for a walk. They will be invaluable friends for all those early years. At the time I had my little ones there wasn’t really anything and NCT was way over my budget. It has formed a great passion for me to strive to help all of you build your community. So, it genuinely gives me happy tears when I see you all connecting and supporting one another. It is such an important part of my classes because I know the difference it makes on so many levels. We may not be able to have our breakfast and coffee mornings at the moment, but WhatsApp and Zoom is still there, and I love seeing you all support each other through these mediums. It will be an amazing day when we can all meet in person again.
Tell close friends how you are feeling and you would really value phone calls, messages and a visit when baby has arrived and you really need someone to come over and make you a cup of tea and just be with you. In your pj’s, with your boobs out and the house a tip. Ask her if you can be totally honest with her to call her if you just need a friend to come over and make you a sandwich for lunch. Wonderful friends popped over to do the ironing, mop my kitchen floor and drop off meals. I felt so guilty at the time. DON’T! Just be yourself. There will be plenty time in months and years to come to thank those people in other ways other than verbal. Chances are the people giving you this practical support know and understand and are not expecting anything in return.
Those early weeks as a new mum you feel so vulnerable it makes speaking up difficult, so it helps if you have spoken to friends and family about your support and feelings before baby arrives.
DON’T FEEL GUILTY. Those first weeks can be a blur and feel totally overwhelming
and exhausting. You need space to just adjust to your new family and have all your focus on you and your baby. Not worrying about turning visitors away or taking people’s advice to not offend them. That balance between not being lonely because everyone is giving you space but also not being overwhelmed by visitors turning up wanting to cuddle baby when what you really need is sleep, a shower and some food and someone to look after you. The best gift a friend ever brought over was a punnet of chopped up fruit. You can eat it one handed while feeding, it is delicious, no prep and healthy!
Stock up your freezer with baked goodies, snacks and meals. Let people know what how they can help. Talk to your partner about the support you feel you need and get him to share what things he is looking forward to, what scares him. What his expectations are of the reality of what it will be like. Then you won’t be navigating the unexpected quite so much in your relationship when you’re exhausted, hormonal and in need of care. Don’t assume your partner knows how to support you and know that he also needs to know and prepare for the reality of life with a new baby. I am incredibly blessed to have a husband who really just gets stuck in. One of the most helpful things he did was picking up our babies when they woke, pass them to me to feed and then change and settle them after a feed. Because he can fall asleep in seconds when he has to get up, but I take forever to be able to get to sleep again when I’ve been woken up. We are a team. Yes, he had to go back to work and function, but you also need to be able to function as a new mum. Life changes for both of you.
Put aside all the expectations we place on ourselves to be up and out the door or dressed by 10 am. I always told my women this as a midwife but found it so hard to take my own advice. It is overwhelming having advice coming at you from all sides. Go with your instincts. My little boy fed constantly for 6 months and cried a lot. He was tiny when he was born and had a lot of catching up to do. My instinct was to curl up and just feed and feed and feed and to pick him up when he cried and feed him (even though I was exhausted and also desperately wanted a break with my hands free and to have an undisturbed shower). I knew when his cry was for hunger, when he was overtired, when he was wet, when he had a sore tummy. I had every person all around me telling me not to pick him up, he’s just fed, he's using you as a dummy, don’t feed him again. It was very distressing as I felt I was being judged and I was letting everyone else around me down, being made to feel like a failure as a mum every time I just had to pick him up and feed him. I felt no one understood or believed me when I said I know he needs to feed and it’s not just comfort (how they suckle is totally different- you’ll know). Feeding them to sleep at night is a wonderful thing and they sleep better and so do you. It’s not spoiling your baby and causing long term problems.
What I am getting at is follow your instincts and seek advice and support from people who you know will support you and help you however you do things. Supporting you is different to telling you what to do. You need not feel unqualified to follow your instincts. You may be a first-time mum, but you are a mum and you’ll get to know your baby and your baby’s needs and cue’s and that not every baby is the same. Not every parenting style is the same. It doesn’t make it wrong.
I remember wanting to be out and about as quickly as possible. (Even though it's the opposite of what I told the women in my care) Wanting to just feel a bit ‘normal’. Try not to compare yourself to those around you. Once I was so desperate to get out the house and go out for a drink, I arrived at the shopping mall, popped baby in the pushchair, walked through the doors and just stood there. I was so exhausted I could barely stand up, let alone walk straight. I turned around, got in the car and drove back home. In hindsight I wish I had phoned a friend and asked if they had a moment to pick up a Starbucks take out and pop over for a visit. BE BOLDER! I didn’t want to bother people.
We all have different birth experiences, different recovery experiences, different support networks, different babies, different ways we want to be a mum. It doesn’t make one more right than the other. Different, not right or wrong. I knew this then and believed it but in that vulnerable state as a new mum I let it get the better of me. In hindsight I would write it out in BOLD beautiful letters and post it on my wall!
Find someone you can be open and honest with. You will have days of feeling awful, overwhelmed or can’t stop crying and you will have days of pure joy where everything feels great. That’s okay. If you are feeling persistently down and unable to cope have a person ear marked that you can tell and ask them to support, you to find help. There are so many changes we go through. Our hormones are going crazy adapting, we are sleep deprived, our identity has changed, our relationships are different, our lifestyle is changing. It’s good to talk and it’s okay! Write down those people or a helpline that you know you can call when you are feeling depressed, tearful, down, overwhelmed, anxious.
One of my favourite memories from those first few months was my friend and I booking in for discounted, taster postnatal massages at the Clarins beauty room in Debenhams. I would sit outside with both our babies while she had her treatment and then we would swop. Bliss!
Those friendships from before baby was born are so precious. I found tots groups so overwhelming. I would turn up to get out the house and in the hope of meeting other local mums and sit there surrounded by chaos and everyone in their little cliques. As a new mum you feel so vulnerable it is hard to step out and make the effort to chat to someone new. For other mums those tots’ groups have been a lifesaver and they have made some of their best friends.
Build your support and your mum tribe now!
There will be a separate blog on those essentials for the 4th Trimester and how you can prepare for being a new mum honestly and practically in my 4th Trimester sessions and 1:1 recovery prep session. Watch this space :)