Ever since my son was five-weeks-old, when I felt like I had just woken up from a very long and very intense dream involving repeatedly putting cold cabbage leaves on my nipples (nature’s balm for that brutal early breastfeeding soreness), I have been mentally amassing a list of all the things that really, really made a difference. The moments that, whether psychologically or physically, gave me the fresh legs I needed to keep on going on my own new-baby marathon. Or the things I didn’t do, that I would have done, had I known about them ahead of time. Some (aptly named) crib notes to the future me, should I ever be lucky enough to find myself in the same position – ie flying on adrenaline, simultaneously both deliriously happy and exhaustingly on-edge about keeping a little life alive and content.
I had just realised that he was already too big for newborn clothes, and found myself crestfallen (hello, hormones) that I hadn’t been able to organise into age order the huge mound of hand-me-down and gifted clothes taunting me from the corner of our bedroom. I was so distressed by the fact that he would never actually wear some of the pristine baby grows and hats and teeny-tiny mittens that I immediately began plotting how soon we could have another baby, just so that I could have all of his or her wardrobe neatly sorted by size and within sleepy-handed reach from the changing mat way before his or her birth – and “do it right next time”.
It was a disproportionate response. And it wasn’t the most important thing to be thinking about. But, even now, 11 months on, I can’t stop listing all the unexpectedly game-changing moments, the times when I punched the air in sheer but silent ecstatic joy (usually so as not to wake him). I know how much they mattered to me at the time, and therefore may matter to me again, as well as, hopefully, to other new parents reading this. And that’s all despite the first thing I want to include: it’s impossible to ever be truly prepped for the arrival of a fresh, entirely unpredictable baby human. And so, finally, I’ve begun to write them down.
Before you have the baby…
Laser all the hair off your body
So this is extreme, and just the ideal – and needs to be done before you get pregnant. And, I hasten to add, that doesn’t include the hair on your head, unless you want to be really efficient with your shower time. But shaving my legs was the one bit of self-care I didn’t have time for until around the nine-week mark (during summer, too), which wasn’t ideal for my general feeling of self-worth. Alternatively, you could decide not to care ahead of time and make peace with your temporarily “different” pins – the less painful solution. Then celebrate when you find you do have a window to deal with them, and see that as a success milestone (which I did – and which I wish I’d shared with my new new-mum mates, instead of thinking twice and feeling too embarrassed).
Laser your eyes
If you can’t afford or aren’t feeling brave enough to get your vision fixed, just make sure you have a pair of glasses that actually fit your face and aren’t at risk of falling straight into a dirty nappy in the middle of the night.
Get long-term with your beauty treatments
If you highlight or dye your hair, switch to a look that doesn’t require an expensive and lengthy stylist appointment every three months. For me, balayage chose me during lockdown. Similarly, get a pedicure (avoiding gel nails with methyl methacrylate monomer or too much acetone, to be cautious during pregnancy) in a colour that won’t look terrible when it chips, and invest in some sort of teeth whitening, whether it be strips, those magical gum shields or via treatment at the dentist – because you are likely to be drinking a gallon of coffee each day, once your real taste for it returns.
Before you go into the hospital…
As mentioned, get your baby’s clothes into age, or even better, size order
This is partly because all baby brands are in a conspiracy to keep their sizing completely inconsistent, and partly to avoid finding yourself weeping while holding tiny socks in a few weeks’ time.
Buy a rubber ring
Need I say more? You don’t need to have it blown up and squeezed into your weekend bag, or even to have actually ordered it yet, it’s just reassuring to know you can have one delivered in a matter of hours, if you need it. Hospitals seem to have forgotten that rubber rings are good for a certain something that happens whenever you put the most pressure physically possible on your back passage (ie to every woman who has a vaginal birth, surely?).
Take earplugs, an eye mask and a neck pillow…
Because you might find yourself in induced-labour-limbo-land for several days, with your partner creased up like a pug’s face beside you in a plastic chair and a snorer sleep-roaring somewhere close to the other side of your curtain.
After you’ve had the baby…
Have plastic gloves to hand when you get home
You can fill them with ice and hold them wherever you need them during those initial “sensitive” few weeks. Alternatively, if that burns a touch, stash some sanitary towels in the freezer. You might need to explain yourself at some point, but the pain and swelling relief will totally be worth it.
This has probably become clear from the points preceding this one, but remember that the weeks after the birth might be tougher than the birth itself
Because – if you gave birth in a hospital – you’re no longer in a building filled with hundreds of people who just want to help you and your family. Now it’s just you, your partner, your new baby and a whole lot of nipple cream. So pace yourself as much as you can, and keep popping those painkillers if you need them.
If you can, arrange for someone to assist with the housework
Having some help with the maintenance of your living space, even if only every other week for those early few months, is such a morale booster. Mentally, seeing your home back in order occasionally helps to relieve the sense that you’ve totally lost control of your life. Then decide not to worry about the mess you simply can’t clear up. Alternatively, venture out so you can’t physically see it until you stop feeling the urge to throw dirty crockery at the wall.
Some of the best, and truest, things people have said to me are…
“Your nipples ‘adapt’, so that breastfeeding really does stop hurting.” (It did.)
“Four weeks will feel like a milestone, then three months, then you’re off and running.” (We were.)