Updated: Jun 30
The original title of this blog was normal infant behaviour. But as I started to write it I realised that it’s not enough to just know what to expect your baby to be like. As a team when we talked about what we would include in this post many of us reflected on how it feels to be a new parent, especially for the first time. What would we like expectant parents to know? That parenting is hard & however prepared you feel, it will still potentially hit you like a juggernaut.
You feel what you feel
There's no such thing as a perfect parent
In modern western society, we're often not really used to being around small babies. When you find yourself pregnant, especially for the first time, there’s so much information on what you should and shouldn’t do it can be very overwhelming and feel like you’re being expected to achieve some kind of perfect parent status without any actual practical support.
You might be one of these people to whom parenting seems to come easy, you might have an instant rush of love as soon as your baby is placed in your arms, feeding your baby may go just as you hope, your baby may sleep for a good four hours every time and they may laugh and gurgle on their play mat whenever they're awake. Or any one or all of those things might not happen and that would also be perfectly normal.
When we see parenting represented on TV or social media it can seem like there are two extremes. People are either # blessed with a perfect baby and life or they are comically hopeless at everything. But the reality is everyone struggles sometimes. Everyone is trying to find their own way of parenting. It's completely normal to have some amazing moments and some moments when you just want to crawl back into bed and cry.
It's not always easy or fun and that's normal
So this series of blog posts (it turns out there’s just too much information to fit in one post) is our way of giving you a hug and saying you don’t have to do this alone and you will get through and find those moments of joy on the way. You may read many things on social media that will tempt you to feel guilty or not good enough and there are some sayings we would often like to ban. One of these is the various versions of “Treasure every moment childhood is so short.” Some of us who are the parents of older children and we know how it feels to look back and wonder where the time went and maybe even wish we'd sweated less of the small stuff. But we also remember when we were in the thick of it and the days were dragging past and it felt like we would never sleep again or how it felt to hold a crying baby who couldn’t tell us what the actual problem was. You can’t treasure every moment but you can make the most of the good moments, the smiles and coos and the one night they do suddenly sleep for four hours in a row. And in the moments in between where everything feels a bit too much you can reach out and ask for help because it’s normal not to be able to do it all alone.
Support is critical
If there’s one thing you can do to prepare for being a new parent it’s to set yourself up with a support network. Find the people who you will trust to give you good information when you have questions, find the people who will listen and sympathise without telling you what to do when it all feels a bit much and find the people who will actually allow you to have those moments to really treasure by coming round and doing the washing up or vacuum cleaning or dropping off a meal so that you can have the space to sit and gaze at your newborn.
So let's get practical we live in a culture where our idea of a ‘good’ baby is one who sleeps through the night and never cries. As a result, there is a massive industry dedicated to selling products to us that promise to make our babies fit into this completely unrealistic ideal. No wonder so many new parents develop mental health problems and struggle with horrible feelings of guilt and failure. So often, as well as practical support, we need emotional support.
Good news as a generation of parents we’re fighting back. We’re learning to respect ourselves and our children as individuals who don’t have to fit any outside enforcement of what it means to be good. We’re focusing on “is everyone safe and fed and loved?” We’re learning that loving our babies and loving ourselves means working out what works for us, not for anyone else. We’re taking the advice we’re given and making use of what works and forgetting what doesn’t and reminding each other not to feel guilty because we’re doing our best with the information we’ve been given.
As a team, at our meet-ups, we talk a lot about what birth is like and what to expect how every birth is unique and every person makes the right decisions for them with the information that they have. We also talk about how every journey through parenthood is unique and how we continue to make all of the right decisions for ourselves and our babies with the information that we have at the time.
What do you wish you had been prepared for when you had your first babies?
First, we wish we had known to be prepared for all the feelings. So many feelings are completely normal when you’re a new parent. Parenthood starts with labour and birth which means starting out the journey of parenting potentially already exhausted and overwhelmed. Even if you have a planned cesarean birth the experience of waiting in the hospital, having surgery and potentially being in a postnatal ward and being kept awake by everyone else’s baby as well as your own can really take it out of you. There’s often pressure from family and friends to immediately visit and coo over your baby and you may feel you’re being selfish if you ask people to wait a week or two so you can recover and get used to your new baby and being a parent. For your positive mental health now is the time to throw off those feelings of having to keep anyone other than you and your baby happy.
We wish we had known it’s okay to rest and to set boundaries. Throughout history and still ongoing in many cultures is the concept that post-birth is a time to stay home and be pampered and cared for. We’ve lost this in western culture and our cultural expectation of the postnatal plan of getting our baby into a routine and quickly “bouncing back” within a nuclear family isn’t the best for our mental health in the short or long term. Making a postnatal plan that involves looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally will not only make that time much easier but will set you up for a more positive experience of your whole parenting journey.
Much of this postnatal planning may be dedicated to planning who will be positive to have around you at this time. Do you have your own family members who will come and stay and make sure you’re fed and your house is clean etc? Would a postnatal doula be a good choice for your family? How can your friends help out? What are your expectations of your partner and do they match up with your partner's expectations of their role as a new parent? But there are also practical things you can do such as cooking meals to keep in the freezer, planning shopping lists and booking grocery shopping deliveries, making sure you have plenty of nappies and wipes etc and a plan to make nappy changing easy as possible knowing it will be frequent and frequently messy! Read on through the series (try clicking the links below for more information on what else it might be like with your new baby so that doesn’t take you by surprise.
Most of all we wish we had known and we work hard to make sure as many people as we can know that it’s normal and okay to need and ask for help. Thinking about your mental health and knowing what makes you feel relaxed and recharged and what are the signs that you’re starting to struggle or feel emotionally overwhelmed and talking about this with your partner or family is one way you can really prepare to be a parent. There's loads more about supporting your positive mental health and seeking support when needed in our mental health focused blog.
In the rest of this series of posts, we will get down to the practicalities of what is normal newborn behaviour and signpost you to some resources to support you. Click through to read more about newborn sleep, feeding your new baby, baby care including baths and nappies, normal babies cry and normal baby development. And remember ‘normal’ is a really wide range always chat to your midwife, health visitor or doctor if you have specific concerns about your baby.