A few weeks ago I was squatting next to a hospital bed, trying to breathe my way through contractions, which are more or less like your worst period pains, if period pains grew razor sharp talons that dug into your body every few minutes. This was a few hours before the miracle of an epidural entered my life, and everything melted away as though I’d dipped into a warm bath. All hail modern medicine. Fast forward to 20:30 that evening when our daughter made her appearance in this world, and my life changed. They say you fall madly in love with your baby in that first moment. For me, it was more like finding a piece of my heart that had always been missing. I became more complete.
Overall we had a really positive birth experience. Because we were booked for an induction, we had a labour room to ourselves for the whole day. So we popped in our pre-prepped playlist that The Husband had put together (it made all the difference having our favourite songs playing in the background and I kid you not, when they rolled me out of the room that night, Franks Sinatra started singing “And now, the end is near…” ). Once the epidural kicked in we had a really calm afternoon, dreaming about what our lives would be like in a few hours, playing a few games and just enjoying the calm before the storm with each other. Personally, I enjoyed having the nurses take care of us and I have to give a big thanks to the team at Mediclinic Stellenbosch, who were so calm and efficient. And our gynae, Dr Elzette Henn, who was a rock. She took amazing care of us from start to finish.
At around 23:30 that night, we were finally rolled into our room. We opted for a private room, which is an additional expense, but absolutely worth it. Over the next two nights we could find our feet with our baby girl, who slept in a crib next to my bed, knowing that the nursing staff were at hand to help where help was needed. It was wonderful (if also highly intimidating) to bond with her over feeds, and then, I’ll shamelessly admit, have her rolled off to the nursery to be changed and put down to sleep. This later came back to haunt us when we realised that we had no idea how to get her from the boob to her bed, but oh well. Another great thing about the private room was that The Husband could stay in the hospital, which was a huge comfort to this mama-bear.
Two nights and several doctor check-ups later, and we were ready to go home (thank goodness for the nurse who could show us how to work the car seat). Dressed in her best llama-print onesie, our little bundle was loaded into the car and off we went, filled with a cocktail of elation and trepidation. But you know, we thought, we gots this.
If there is one tip I can give you about the first week, it’s “listen to your baby”. Their instincts have been developed to get what they need out of your body. On night two at home she decided to cluster-feed from 11pm to 4am (with an equal accompanying cluster-poop situation to go with it), sucking non-stop for hours and refusing to be put down in her bed. By 3am I was sobbing, exhausted, as Husband tried in vain to calm her. But then I realised (thanks to an episode of Jane The Virgin) that she was actually stimulating my milk supply. She knew she had to work extra hard for her supper.
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They say that as soon as you have your baby figured out, everything changes. Spot on. I tempted Karma by telling the world we had an easy baby – which is still true to a large extent – but every phase brings new challenges. Once my milk came in, she started swallowing winds, which meant Mom and Dad had to figure out how to burp a squirming, screaming baby. Then we realised she had a tendency to overfeed at times, which meant vomit all over me, the bedding, and the carpet. Once she generated three loads of washing in one day. How can so much come out of such a little human? But steadily we’re getting into a rhythm again. Until the next hurdle. So far we’ve managed to tackle it all with loads of humour, which has saved us. Maybe it was sleep deprivation but I actually cried with laughter the first time Baby Girl pooped all over The Husband, who made the strategic error of picking her up without a diaper. Risky business.
I guess the biggest thing I have learnt so far, is to give myself buckets full of grace. I saw a meme once: “I used to be a perfect parent, then I had kids.” Now I count every small victory – like the first time we managed to go for a long walk in her stroller without any drama (she screamed bloody murder the first few times, which does nothing for Mom’s frazzled nerves), or the days when I fit in a calm cup of coffee, take a nap, manage to brush my teeth or actually make up the bed. The best is to let go and ease into Baby’s schedule, which makes life a lot calmer. Then again, other days Baby refuses to be put down, only wants to sleep on my chest or in the sling (thank heavens for the Noo Noo Pie carrier), and every meal is an up and down suck-burp-suck-burp scenario. And on those days it’s okay to cry a little, or a lot. I have.
My sister-in-law loves saying “you are the best parent for your baby.” Don’t compare yourself to other moms and don’t try to live according to self-help books. Just soak up the advice that can work for you and do your absolute best to shower the tiny human with love. That’s what’s carrying me right now.
From a practical point of view, there are a few tips I can share for making life a little easier.
Before we had her, I was trying to figure out which products I needed in my nursery for changing and bath time. And thank you to all the moms who shared their advice on Instagram!
- We were pretty nervous about the umbilical cord care, anxious to avoid any kind of infection. To clean the stump, get some surgical spirits, and a weeping powder to dry it out. The clinic nurse recommended the Vitaforce Graze & Weeping Wound powder and it has worked wonders.
- It is as important to care for yourself as it is to care for Baby, especially in those first two weeks. Trust me, the cocktail of hormones are rough on your emotions – I had a few meltdowns in the shower. I try to take a few minutes for myself at night while she sleeps, with The Husband watching her, when I can have a shower and care for my post-pregnancy body. I’ll be slathering Bio-Oil on my skin to treat my stretch marks. I’m obsessed with the comforting scent and warm, soothing care.
- The first few bath times are really intimidating, but now Baby Girl really enjoys it. I’ve been using the Pure Beginnings Probiotic Sensitive range and absolutely love it. The wash is super gentle, fragrance-free and it rinses off easily, and the cream is easily absorbed, leaving her skin soft and nourished.
- For those first few meconium changes, it helps to apply some petroleum jelly – it prevents the poop from sticking to the skin. Once that was out we switched to Bepanthen Nappy Care Ointment and so far it’s been amazing.
- I’d recommend you go for fragrance- and alcohol-free wipes. The Huggies Pure Wipes are fantastic, though we’ve had some trouble finding them in stores. I’ve also heard great things about Pampers Sensitive Wipes – and I love the clip closure – but again, we’ve struggled to find them in the shops. The Woolworths Unfragranced Baby Wipes are nice in that they’re alcohol and fragrance free, but the packaging is fiddly and the wipes are quite dry and a little coarse. And the Clicks Sensitive Baby Wipes are really nice, but they tend to come out four at a time, so that’s frustrating.
- If you’re breastfeeding, I can highly recommend Lanolin ointment. Both Lasinoh and Medela are fantastic. A friend popped it in a gift bag and it literally saved my skin during those first few days! It’s super effective and it helps that you don’t have to remove it before the baby feeds.
- As for the changing table, I highly recommend you get a couple of cloth diapers – they come in handy whenever there’s a huge mess to soak up. Get loads of burping cloths – just keep them everywhere in the house; I’m forever reaching for one. And make sure you always have loads of fresh diapers within reach.
Do you have any new mama advice that you can share? I would love to hear from you! Please pop your stories, tips, or general thoughts in the comments below.