Congratulations! You are a first-time parent.
Those first few days of parenthood are everything all at once: humbling, exhilarating, full of joy and yet completely terrifying. Now that Lemon is almost 2 months old, I often think about how these newborn days are alike and different than when her sister Lavender was born three years ago. Every family’s experience is different – yours will certainly be unique and different than mine. I have outlined just a few tips that I hope are universal to all new parents and will hopefully help carry you through your first week as a new mum or dad.
- Stock up on toilet paper…
And everything else in the household because when you are in desperate need of coffee and a shower while holding your screaming, hungry bundle of joy, the last thing you want to discover is that you are all out of dish soap with a sink full of dirty dishes. I remember in my first week of parenthood, I could barely find the time to take out the trash, let alone shop for household items! Make sure you have enough shampoo, paper towels, laundry detergent, and face wash. Making sure you are covered in your household’s “basics” will give you one less thing to worry about when you are in the throes of newborn-hood. You will not be in need of one more task to worry about in those first few days.
- Have a meal plan.
It’s truly amazing the way parenthood makes you the most selfless person on the planet. Suddenly, all you care about is making sure your baby is well-nourished, while you are superbly satisfied eating canned soup for breakfast and cereal for dinner. I remember once when a friend came to visit newborn Lavender and brought us pre-packaged sushi from the grocery store. After she left, my husband and I scarfed down that sushi feeling like we were eating at a five-star restaurant after a month-long fast! That’s how desperate we were. The first week is tough – you will need to make sure you are taking care of yourself in the best way possible so that you can care for your little one. Have a plan for how you and your partner will eat. Have neighbors and friends volunteer to bring a meal here or there, order in, stock up on easy-to-prepare and healthy meal ingredients in advance. It’s easy to put your needs last, and tending to a newborn round-the-clock will exhaust you to the point of caring very little about your own sustenance and nutrition. Having a plan in place for how you will feed yourself will be helpful in carrying you through your first week being reasonably well fed.
- Take turns sleeping.
The sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn is the stuff of legend – and rightly so. No one remembered to tell me during my first pregnancy that Lavender would need attention 24 hours a day – I am not exaggerating. Just nursed? Guess what – it’s time to nurse again! Throw in fussiness and blowout diapers, and caring for a newborn is literally non-stop. Talk with your partner about taking on “shifts.” That way, you can be guaranteed to get a solid block of a few hours of uninterrupted sleep once in awhile. (Yes, “a few hours of uninterrupted sleep” will be an unheard of treat for you in those first few days. Scary, right?) Mums, if you are trying to exclusively breastfeed, talk with your partner about a plan and when you want to introduce the bottle so that you get a break, too.
- Get some coverage and take a break.
When you have a precious newborn, it is hard to imagine entrusting him to just anyone. Recruit some reliable friends, family, and neighbors to come help out so that you can take a break. The first week of newborn-hood is a haze – suddenly you are living in your own little world and it is very easy to lose touch with reality. Going out for an iced tea with your partner, taking a short walk around the block, even taking a shower or taking ten minutes to flip through a magazine at your local coffee shop is such an important mental break for you as a new parent. I remember taking my first shower after Lavender was born and being absolutely amazed at the experience – that is how out of touch I had become! Make sure you leave your newborn with a trusted one (perhaps even your partner, so you can go out alone) and get some time to take a breath in the outside world. You will maintain your sanity and come back refreshed and ready to jump right back in!
- Communicate with your partner.
It sounds so obvious, yet it wasn’t for me. My husband and I love and respect each other tremendously, yet it took so much for us to really communicate that first week after Lavender was born. I had to muster up to courage to say outright, “Hey, are we okay?” Because we were starting to not be okay – all the stress of caring for a newborn was getting between us and we were letting the little things become big things. In short, I told him he was on his phone too much (he was!), and he told me that I was crying too much (I was - hormones!). Your first week parenting a newborn will challenge your relationship in ways you cannot imagine. Difficult though it may be, make sure you are not just talking about when is the next time your baby needs to eat – communicate! Tell one another what you’re thinking and feeling, what’s bothering you, and so on. These honest conversations are not easy but you have to do it for one another, and you have to do it for your baby. It will undoubtedly make an important difference in the health of your family dynamics.
- Just say no!
In the first week of Lavender’s life, my dad would bring me a fresh bouquet of flowers every time he came to visit. Clearly, he was ecstatic and deeply in love with his new granddaughter and chose to express it in this way. My husband and I would immediately busy ourselves with unwrapping the bouquet from its cellophane wrapping, preparing a vase, trimming the stems, and arranging the bouquet to make sure he saw that we were appropriately appreciating his gift. Then a few days later, we would smell the stench of dying flowers, notice pollen all over our dining room table, and throw the flowers out and wash the vase – all this busy-ness while Lavender was just a few days old. Sound ridiculous? I wish I could go back in time and simply muster up the courage to tell my dad that visiting us was enough – no flowers necessary, but I was afraid to hurt his feelings. Know when to speak up for yourself and put a stop to ridiculousness (it comes in many forms and might come from anyone, though always well-intentioned!) in order to save your own sanity. It’s okay to say no to certain things – eager too-soon visitors, flower bouquets, and long phone conversations with enthusiastic relatives. You and your newborn are the priority – it’s okay to say no to things in order to care for yourselves first.
- Savour these sweet days, BUT NOT TOO MUCH!
I remember one moment in Lavender’s first week of life when I was changing her nappy on the changing table and I paused a moment to look at her very skinny newborn legs all curled up in fetal position. I told myself, “Savour this moment, because she is so small and she will never be this small again.” I was probably crying while thinking this (see #5). Looking back, this was a nice thought but it actually stressed me out so much. I was barely trying to keep my head above water taking care of her, but add on top of that trying to SAVOUR. EVERY. MOMENT? That’s way too much to ask of a new parent! Trust me, now that Lavender is three years old, I can tell you with full confidence that there are a multitude of moments to come that you will enjoy your child immensely. Don’t feel like you have to squeeze that all into those newborn days – you have enough to worry about.
- Wrap! Wrap! Wrap!
Okay, maybe this one is a little obvious, but hear me out. Carrying your newborn around in a wrap is essential. When Lavender was a few months old, it struck me one day that she always fussed when left alone and just wanted to be held all the time; I found myself wishing that I had some sort of apparatus with which I could hold her to me and I could still get things done around the house. I am being honest here - I was so naïve! Now having Lavender, who wants my attention constantly, and Lemon who is just as demanding a newborn, I use the wrap constantly. It is the perfect way to make sure both of my girls are getting the attention they need and deserve. Even when Lavender is at school, Lemon is with me in the wrap for most hours of the day while I do things like write this blog! Sometimes holding her in the wrap is the only thing that will calm her down. It is a newborn must-have.
- Forgive yourself.
You’re going to mess up. You’re going to accidentally zip your baby’s skin a little while closing his pyjamas. You’re going to let go of his little head for ONE SECOND to pick something up and his little head will flop back and he’ll start to cry. IT’S OKAY. This piece of advice is something I have to tell myself every day while raising my two small girls. I wish I could parent them perfectly and do everything right, but I’m not a super human. This morning, I picked Lavender and carried her to the bathroom because she was stubbornly refusing to come brush her teeth and get ready for school. She started to cry because she got scared that I had lost my temper and picked her up a little too roughly. I was immediately sorry. I try to forgive myself. Parenting is a learning experience and a process. We are only human, we make mistakes, and we can only try to do better because we love our children. I’ll keep telling myself the same thing too!