Practical Tips For New Parents By Kristin Shorten
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR NEW PARENTS
Like all first-time parents, I’ve just been stumbling along, trying to figure stuff – like how to wash my hair in the shower with a squirming bub on my hip and how to eat with a sleeping newborn on my nipple – out as I go. And while I hardly have this gig sorted, I’ve picked up some practical tips in my first six months of motherhood.
As prepared as I thought I was to become a parent, I soon realised how much there was to learn about caring for a tiny, fragile newborn. That’s why I’m so grateful for the excellent care, support and education we received during our four nights at a private hospital after our baby’s birth. We also stayed one night before her birth because I was two weeks overdue and in labour.
I’m sure women have positive experiences in the public health system but as a first time mum with limited family support and exposure to babies/mothering, I had a lot to learn and wouldn’t have been ready to take our daughter home after only a night or two.
One of the biggest benefits for us was that my husband could stay with us in hospital. I can’t imagine not having had him there the whole time, especially as I was immobilised for the first couple of days after having an emergency caesarean.
The midwives and hospital staff provided such a high level of around-the-clock care, nurturing and guidance before, during and post birth (which went nothing like planned) and checked up on us with phone calls after we discharged.
On Boxing Day, a week after going home, I called the maternity unit early one morning – upset and with suspected mastitis – and they told me to come straight back in. When we arrived, they gave the three of us a private suite for a few hours so they could treat my condition, teach me to express milk and show us how to give our baby a bottle. They also checked over our 11-day-old daughter. I’d been in quite a state that morning but their care and compassion had taken a weight off.
I know that we were in a privileged position and that not everyone can afford private health insurance, but for us it was worth it.
IT TAKES TWO
Plan for your partner to take as much time off work, in the beginning, as possible. My husband returned to work during the day after a couple of weeks, which was manageable because at least he’d be home for company, support and relief at night. But when our daughter was 3.5 weeks old, he went away for work and between sleep deprivation and just missing him, it felt like the hardest month of my life.
We were used to six-month separations during deployments, but this was an altogether different experience with a new baby. Even with outside support, I don’t know how single, military or FIFO parents cope.
After that experience we decided that my husband would change careers (which has been amazing for him and us) so that our family could be together full time. During the transition he took time off to spend together as a family, which we cherish. We figured our daughter is only an infant once and we can earn money later.
We also learnt that caring for a baby and running a home is easily a full time job for two people.
Mums already bear enough (unnecessary) guilt so learn from my mistake and avoid adding this to the list. Record gifts received and from whom because I can’t confidently recall who sent us a few of the presents we received when our daughter was born.
The first months of motherhood were a blur and there was little time for even the basics (sleeping, eating or showering) while caring for bub. Hubby took on most (ahem, all) of the domestic duties and popped the thoughtful presents in the nursery. I appreciated the presents and promptly sent thank you notes, but within weeks I felt pretty vague.
Now that I resemble a functioning person again, I’d love to send loved ones photos of our monkey wearing or playing with their gift, but in some cases I couldn’t be totally sure I’d be sending it to the right relative – awkward!
So when the presents start rolling in, start writing them down.
DON’T BUY (TOO MANY) CUTE CLOTHES
If I had my time again, I wouldn’t even buy baby singlets. We have drawers full of them in assorted sizes and – while they’re heartbreakingly cute – they’re also a bit useless because they ride up over bubs’ bellies. Surely that can’t be comfortable? So short onesies with studs below the nappy and Bonds Wondersuits are pretty much all that our daughter wears now because they’re easy, practical and comfortable. And we live in warm climes.
We’ve popped her in a pretty dress on special occasions, but I’m sad to say that most of her gorgeous baby clothes – dresses, overalls and two-piece outfits – haven’t left their tiny coat hangers.
The same goes for T—shirts, shoes and the dozens of pairs of unbearably small socks with ‘I love dad’ and ‘I love mum’ imprinted on their soles remain rolled up in tiny pairs.
After eating, cooking is one of my greatest pleasures but since the birth of our six-month-old daughter, dinner has regularly consisted of protein and two (not even three) veg. And where I once indulged in creating complicated raw/vegan/sugar-free treats, I now whip up snacks from an I Quit Sugar packet mix in five minutes flat while bub naps.
While the domestic juggle is getting easier – and the menu is slowly expending (to three veg) – it’s still unlikely I’ll be getting my Nigella on any time soon.
Some days are write-offs where we still pull dinner from the freezer. Which is why filling it to the brim with nutritious frozen meals before bub arrives – and topping it up whenever possible afterwards – is my top organisational tip. You just don’t realise how little time you’ll have to cook (or do anything domestic) once you bring baby home.
Freezable healthy snacks – like protein balls, muesli slice and savoury muffins – are also great, especially in the middle of the night while breastfeeding. I also stocked up on frozen fruit to throw in smoothies. Anything that you can easily eat with one hand is good!
Once hubby returned to work, I got into the habit of preparing whatever food I could, whenever I could – even if that meant making a sandwich for lunch at breakfast time or chopping up fruit for later – because I was often unable to do it later when I was hungry and had a sleeping bub on my lap.
I think that eating well most of the time during the early months of motherhood, when I was depressingly sleep deprived and craving sugar, helped maintain both my mental and physical health.
Outsource whatever you can afford, whether it’s hiring a cleaner, employing a lawn-mowing service or having healthy meals delivered, so that you can freely devote all of your time and energy to your precious bundle and catch up on sleep, rather than chores, while baby naps.
ADOPT BABY’S BEDTIME
It felt strange at first but one of the best decisions I made was to go to bed soon after my daughter. We started working towards a flexible 7pm bedtime when she was about a month old. Back then I was so desperate for any scrap of sleep that I’d eat dinner at 5pm before starting her long wind-down to bedtime, so that I could- as soon as I’d tucked her into her bassinet – hop straight into bed, sometimes still in my day clothes. We’d always be up again to feed a couple of hours later but gradually her first stint of night-time sleep stretched out enough for me to get a good few hours before the first night feed.
While I was torn between going straight to bed and spending time with my husband, we agreed this was just a short phase of our lives in which it was more important to look after ourselves by trying to sleep whenever possible than to sit on the couch watching Netflix.
Now that our daughter is six months old, I still try to hit the sack within an hour of her going down as she still wakes through the night, but it’s become our normal. And I know (hope) that one-day in the not-too-distant future I’ll be able to stay up, snuggling on the couch with a glass of wine, past 9pm.
RECCE MEETING PLACES
I was unpleasantly surprised, after becoming a parent, to discover how few restaurants and cafes in my local area were baby friendly – despite living in a very family-orientated tourism region. Unlike wheelchair access, there’s no legal obligation for businesses in Australia to provide adequate, or any, parenting facilities. After being caught out a couple of times (once after an impressive poo-splosion) at cafes with no change-tables I learned to check the facilities available (including whether it was air-conditioned as it was so hot where we lived) before heading out.
Kristin is a new mama, wife, journalist and Day for Daniel ambassador. Her daughter and husband are the lights of her life. Loves yoga, books and podcasts. Obsessed with sleep and food. Lives for lattes but believes that a cup of tea fixes everything. She is currently in Darwin, Northern Territory, where she spends her days leaning into motherhood while fantasising about having more time to bake.