I’ve mentioned before that I never expected parenting to be easy but I did approach it with visions of fairy tales and Disney experiences. There was such an array of things I didn’t have a clue about. It was only after my firstborn arrived, I realised just how clueless I was about parenting.
I was 28 when my son arrived. At that age, I expected to be somewhat an expert in the ‘living’ malarkey. After all, I was a baby once myself. And, having the best memory of anyone I’ve ever met (my earliest memories date back to around 16 months old), I can vividly remember what worked for me. My game plan was to do it exactly as my parents had done. Then I welcomed Tristan into the world and all I knew flew straight out the window.
The realisation that I knew nothing hit me seconds after Tristan was born. In fact, I’ll admit that it occurred as soon as he was handed to me. My initial feelings were to hand him back ‘can you look after him?’ I uttered to a Midwife, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’. It was true, I was completely lost. The first night of his life, I never woke naturally once to his cry. I remember dying of embarrassment as the midwife rocked my shoulder and declared ‘he’s crying for his Mammy’. Great use I was!
It didn’t stop there either, my useless followed me home. Admittedly, the first time I left the house with him on my own, I forgot his milk. His milk! I mean, this was basic, I really should have known. Now I know that this was unforgivable (he’s 20 months now and I still shudder as I recall the look on my cousin’s face as I confessed to what I had done), but in my defence, there’s so much stuff that no one tells you. So much stuff which is meant to be natural.
So, on that note, I’ll tell you what lessons I learn quickly as a new parent. Before I start, I know that all babies are different and what worked for mine won’t necessarily work for others but I bet there’s something in here which can be of use:
1: Dummies aren’t always evil!
Before Tristan was born, I was indifferent on the matter. Truth be told, I hadn’t considered them only because I didn’t realise a baby could have one from birth. I thought they were for older kids (holds head in shame). I don’t know whether I would have ever clicked on had it not been for a Midwife’s advice when Tristan was two days old. Tristan was born at 37 weeks, before his arrival, my husband had booked to travel to Wembley. I’d pleaded with him not to go. Instinctively, I knew my son was coming early. ‘You’ll miss the birth’ I uttered. He didn’t listen but luckily for him, Tristan came two days before he was meant to leave. Tristan’s severe jaundice saw him rendered to a BillyBed for his first 72 hours. Unable to cuddle him and comfort him, he squealed excessively. The only thing that would comfort him was sucking on his Father’s knuckle. So, for 16 hours straight, Dale stood perched over his cot with his finger in Tristan’s mouth. As Wembley drew nearer, the anxiety grew. How were we going to cope without ‘Golden Finger’? Then, like god answering our prayers, a midwife chirped ‘for crying out loud, buy this boy a dummy’. A dummy? It was that simple! We’ve really never looked back. I get that they’re not for every baby but some of you will have suckers and those suckers may need a dummy!
2: White Noise Helps Babies Focus
This is another thing I would have never known before having a child. Babies are lulled by the sound of the womb. They constantly hear the sound of their Mother’s heart beating as well as the swishing and swooshing of water.
When Tristan was first born, he despised sleep. In fact, I could actually see the fear in his eyes as nighttime crept in. He was, quite simply, petrified. Doing as most Mothers will do, I took to the Internet for answers. In one of the chat rooms, I became acquainted with the notion of ‘white noise’. Thinking that I might as well give it a go (we had nothing else to lose – the only previous sound to comfort Tristan was Beyoncé. We listened to ‘Drunk In Love’ that many times on loop that my karaoke version is easily perfected), I downloaded an App. The sound of the womb was heavy and constant but I witnessed the calm wash over Tristan as he recognised a familiar sound. Soon, it became part of our nightly routine. When we first brought our Daughter home from NICU, we knew more than ever that white noise would be our saviour. At 5 weeks old, she had become accustomed to the bleeps and bangs of a busy hospital ward. Silence was going to be new…and scary! If any of you have poor sleepers, this could be the trick you’re after.
3: Dream Feeds are Magnificent
It didn’t matter how long my children had been settled for or how long it had been since their last feed, they always received a bottle (or breast) at 11pm at night. This guaranteed us at least 4 hours steady sleep. A human can function on 4 hours, 4 hours seems divine. I always offered my babies more than their usual bottle and it never failed us. Once again, I can’t promise that this will work for your baby but, if you’re in need of sleep and haven’t yet tried this tactic, it may work.
4: Swaddle Pods are Easier Than Blankets
I’d heard the risk of swaddling a baby, I knew the statistics proved that it could result in cot death. I worried endlessly about this but my son just wouldn’t settle if his arms and legs were free. The amount of times I peered over his cot to find his blanket completely covering his face worried me more so. I studied how to Swaddle properly on YouTube but I never felt confident. So, I took to Mamas and Papas determined for a solution. They presented me with a ‘Swaddle Pod’ it was made out of Lycra and was as easy as fastening a zip. It also reassured me that the product had been medically tested and the light material was designed to help regulate babies’ body temperatures. I was sold! The product looked cruel and many family members expressed their thoughts that we shouldn’t use it but we did what we thought was best for our child and I stand by that decision. Tristan needed his arms and legs restricting, he became too easily overstimulated. The Swaddle pod lasted until he was 5 months old, it definitely made our lives easier.
5: Apnea Monitors Aren’t Worth It (Unless Your Baby Suffers From Apnea)
The anxiety over cot death was so strong when Tristan was first born that even when he’d sleep, I wouldn’t. Eventually, I bought an Apnea Mat to put my mind at rest. If he stopped breathing, the alarm would sound and I’d get to him before it became fatal. That’s how it was sold to me. Nowhere on the box did it say that the alarm would also sound every time he rolled off it. The fear and drama every time the mat sounded never went away. The first time it happened, I was sleeping soundly. Instinctively, I heard the beeping and rose instantly. I grabbed Tristan and squeezed him so tight I could have actually hurt him. Once it was established that it was a false alarm, I lay paralysed clinching to my son. It took 45 minutes for my Husband to convince me that everything was fine and to let go of Tristan. Even then, the hysterics didn’t stop for hours later. Needless to say, the panic and dread had all been for nothing. Unless advised by a Dr, this product can breed unnecessary pain.
6: Colic is Real and Painful to All Involved
My son had the worst colic I’ve ever know. He’d cry for hours upon end and I felt as though every time it happened, people would deem ‘he’s got colic’. I honestly grew sick of hearing it. So, if only to prove them wrong, I bought some Infacol. It was like heavenly syrup sent to save us. He burped, he trumped, he cried less, he smiled! At long last, he smiled! Gripe water, Infacol and baby gaviscon all became part of our feeding ritual. At first, I felt like a failure relying on such products to settle my son but the look of satisfaction and relief on his face soon made my guilt subside. Hot baths also worked a treat.
7: Sometimes It’s Best to Wait Until 6 Months To Wean (Sometimes its Not)
Tristan’s guts were immature as a result of his slightly early arrival. I was desperate to wean him early but every time we tried, he was crippled with constipation. Eventually, I gave up and waited until he was 6 months old. When we did wean, he took to food naturally and initially enjoyed it. However, I sometimes look at his negative attitude towards food and wonder whether this was instigated by us weaning him too young. I know of others who have successfully weaned even before 4 months but look at your child and read their signs. They’ll tell you when they’re ready.
8: Time is The Only Healer For Teething
Amber bracelets, Anbesol, Teething Gels, Calpol, Ice Pops, Teething Rings…will all only offer a short term fix. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can really do to help your child until that first tooth cuts. In that, I don’t mean leave your baby to suffer. Those short term fixes are definitely worth it but if you’re looking for the miracle cure, you’re going to be severely disappointed.
9: Routine is Key
I don’t believe a newborn baby is ready for a routine, they need you as and when they most desire but from 6 weeks, an established routine can go a long way. It doesn’t matter which way you do things or what time you start but having such a pattern is definitely worth it. Sometimes, babies will tell you when they’re ready for this or when something needs changing but giving babies boundaries can definitely be useful.
10: What is Best For You is Best For Your Baby
As soon as a baby is born, every parent crawls out of the woodwork to offer guidance and advice (this entire blog is exactly that). However, you are the one who knows your baby inside out. Yes, take some advice on board, be open minded and willing to try techniques that are tried and tested by others but trust your instincts when something isn’t working. There was advice offered to me that I immediately turned my nose up at, there were lessons I learnt that I should have listened sooner. However, for every 10 pieces of advice offered to me, I could guarantee that there’d be something that just wasn’t right for me or my children. Don’t be afraid to take advice on board, it doesn’t make you a failure but also, listen to yourself. After all, you know best.