7 things I’ve learned from seven months of motherhood
So, motherhood is a learning experience. Wow. Every day I am learning something – about Theo, about myself, about my relationship with Peter and my relationship with other people generally. As soon as I get used to one thing, Theo starts doing something completely different! There are definitely things I wish I had been more prepared for, and things that I won’t even think about doing again if we have another baby.
I know quite a few people who are expecting babies in the next few months and although I can’t offer any advice (because there’s a lot of stuff I’m still figuring out and every baby is very different – other people’s advice is not always massively useful!), when I was in the late stages of pregnancy, I used to love reading about other people’s experiences, so thought I’d share mine. Here we go: Seven things I’ve learned from seven months of motherhood…
1. The first two months sucked. A lot.
It took us a long time to get pregnant. Then pregnancy was long and hard (“I think I might be having a heart attack,” was probably my lowest moment, when I discovered just how much heartburn actually hurt). Then birth! Jesus! That was a smidge uncomfortable* (*possible slight understatement). But after all that, you get to have a tiny little baby and take them home and cuddle them! True, and that’s awesome, but it’s also bloody hard work. I’ve seen a lot of perfect images of motherhood on Instagram, and maybe those people are experiencing pure bliss with their new babies – I hope so! – but I’ve yet to actually speak to anyone in person who didn’t find those first two months really, really hard.
Firstly, I was literally going crazy through lack of sleep. I thought I would be okay with the sleeplessness because I was getting up 3 or 4 times a night to pee when I was pregnant. Totally not the same. When you get up to pee, you’re up, you pee, you go back to bed. When your baby wakes you up 4 or 5 times a night, he wants to feed for an hour, and you don’t want to fall asleep in case you fall asleep on top of them and crush them* (*This will absolutely not happen). That’s a different kind of tired. A tired you feel in your toes. This lasted for at least a month. It was horrendous.
Secondly, you get so little back for the first few weeks. You coo and tickle and hug and stroke, and what do you get? Pooed on. You don’t even get eye contact. You spend your life worrying about their bowel movements* (*We started solids recently, so to be honest, that hasn’t gone away yet). They say that newborns sleep 20 hours a day – well, Theo definitely did not. He was awake and grunting for pretty much the entire day and night when he was really little.
But then, as the first few weeks passed, things became easier. He started sleeping for longer than 20 minutes at night, winding him wasn’t quite so hard, breastfeeding became easier… Then at some point, he looked up at me and smiled a proper, happy smile, and all of a sudden I had fallen in love with my baby.
2. Babies cry.
I know this one is obvious, but I really didn’t think MY baby would cry. But he did (and still does, although not as often). And it’s not a fun sound at all. But it’s his only method of communication, so of course he’s going to cry! Sometimes I can help (Is he hungry? Feed him! Is he tired? Put him down for a nap! Has he messed himself? Change him! Etc), but sometimes I can’t do anything but give him a cuddle. It’s a bit miserable, but initially I would get so upset and stressed every time he cried. And of course I still hate hearing him upset. But 9 times out of 10 it’s because he’s tired or lately, because his teeth hurt. I can usually work out what’s actually wrong, and I know that his crying doesn’t mean I’m a terrible mum. It’s just him trying to air his emotions, and as long as he knows I’m there for him, I think I’m doing okay.
3. Co-sleeping is amazing. But also, not co-sleeping is even better.
Every time I tried to transfer Theo to his bed in the night, he woke up and started crying. Every. Single. Time. We had a little Arms’ Reach bednest thing attached to the bed, so he would have been right next to me, but he could clearly tell I was fobbing him off. He would only fall asleep on me or right next to me. So, I spent hours reading websites and blogs about the pros and cons of co-sleeping. Would I smother him? Would he roll off the bed? Would I create a clingy monster that was still sleeping in our bed when he turned 18? Very reluctantly, I made a little nest for him next to me, with my breastfeeding pillow* (*So worth getting one of these – it made feeding a lot easier in the early days and I still use it to make it a bit less hard work for my arms) around his legs (to create a barrier from me rolling on to him), and the blanket around the pillow.
It was the best thing I ever did. He would sleep, so I could sleep. Hurrah! Despite all the scare stories online, pretty much every single person I’ve spoken to about this has co-slept at some point. The baby was just snuggled up and warm INSIDE you, so it kind of makes sense that it would take a little while for him to adjust to his own bed.
I continued to try him out in his own bed, and soon enough, he was able to fall asleep there without too many problems. And then a couple of months ago, we moved him into his own bed in his own room! What a grown up. And it’s BRILLIANT having him in his own room. Yes, I’m sad I can’t look over and see his beautiful little face, but also, I don’t need to sleep with earplugs because of his snoring. And he sleeps better, too, because he isn’t woken up by my/Peter’s snoring. Co-sleeping early on didn’t create any kind of dependency, I never even rolled near him, despite him taking up most of our bed with his nest, and we both got some rest. I would say that’s a winning situation all round.
4. Babies do not need their nappy changed every 20 minutes.
Lol at Peter and I in those first few weeks. Every time it even looked like Theo’d had a wee we would change his nappy. Even though he HATED it. I mean, he would scream the house down every time we changed him. And I was trying to avoid him crying at all costs, yet we still changed his nappy about 20 times a day. What? At night, I would change his nappy with every feed (to be fair, he pooed about 3 times a night, but those other 3 changes were definitely not needed). Even fairly recently I was changing him during the night feed because I was worried a wet nappy would wake him up (even though the changing woke him up far more!). I want to go back and tell myself to relax. I mean, I don’t leave him in the same nappy all day, obviously, but those ‘Baby-dry’ nappies really do keep the baby dry for ages.
5. Babies like routine.
This is a bit of a controversial one, but around three months in, I stopped feeding on demand, and I think it made both Theo and I a million times happier. After some trial and error, I created a routine that worked for us. It’s based on Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, but adapted to fit Theo’s actual sleeping and eating habits, which never matched the ones laid out in the book. We also ignored most of the book’s advice. The routine itself made sense to me, but a lot of her other advice is bonkers. Initially his feeds were spaced 2 hours apart, and gradually they’ve shifted to around 4 hours apart, where they’ve stayed.
I have a schedule for him, which he generally seems happy to stick to, but you can’t be too rigid about these things. Sometimes we start the day a little later, sometimes he’s clearly hungry so he eats a little earlier, sometimes he sleeps for two hours, sometimes 30 minutes. That’s fine. The main thing is that he knows when food’s coming, and I feel more relaxed and can plan my day. This won’t work for everyone, but if I hadn’t moved to a routine, I’m not sure I’d still be breastfeeding. So, for me, that’s a win.
However, big warning if you’re a list-making, chart loving type: it can be easy to become a bit obsessed. The first time we weren’t able to do the bedtime routine (we had to go to A&E for a rash which turned out to be nothing), I freaked out that he wouldn’t sleep and it would be a disaster and guess what? He was totally fine. We got home way later than his bedtime and… he was tired, so he went to sleep. It wasn’t a fun evening, but I’m so glad it happened, because it made me feel a bit more relaxed about things. If things don’t go exactly to plan, chances are he’ll be fine. He’s a pretty adaptable baby.
Also, I used to use an app to track which boob he’d eaten from, how long for, and at what times. It was such a neat app – it created graphs! I’m a sucker for a nice looking graph. But I did become a bit obsessive about tracking everything, and I’m really glad I stopped using it. I think those kind of apps can be incredibly useful, but if we have another baby, I won’t be using one.
6. Breastfeeding is hard to start and hard to stop.
Breastfeeding is the most ridiculously unnatural thing, given that without it the human race wouldn’t actually be here. Theo latched on straight away when he was born, but subsequently forgot how to do it. Getting him on the boob was fiddly and I could never seem to get the right angle. Then just as we were getting the hang of it, he had his (quite severe) tongue tie corrected, and he had to learn all over again! Reader, my boobs bled. Horrendous. I persevered, saying that I would give it a go for one month. And then it became easier, and Theo fed better, and then we got our routine into place, and now I can definitely see why people breastfeed until their children are at school* (*but I also see that is a bit creepy, and I’m not actually going to do this). It’s such a nice, quiet moment between us.
The downside is that it means that I’m the only one who can feed him. For a little while he was happy taking a bottle, but now whenever he’s left with Peter or my parents, he will only eat a tiny amount and wait around until I get back home for his real feed. Not ideal if you’re out for an entire day! I need to start being proactive about bottle feeding him more often so that he gets accustomed to it, but then feeding time rolls around and it’s just so much easier to get him on the boob. I start getting anxious that he won’t eat anything in three months when he starts at nursery but then I remember than three months is a very long time to a baby, so hopefully he’ll be a complete fan of the bottle by then…
7. Babies do things at their own pace
So far, Theo is the first in our NCT group to crawl, but he’s the last to develop teeth, and he was somewhere in the middle when it came to rolling over. He has slept through the night two or three times, when most of the other babies in the group do it on a regular basis. For ages I was so keen for him to move on to the next thing, to catch up with the other babies if I felt they were doing ‘more’ than him. I’m trying to stop myself thinking that way. He’ll do things when he’s ready to do them. I’m hoping that ‘sleep through the night regularly’ is next on his list…
Having said all that, I have found The Wonder Weeks to be spookily accurate. Whenever Theo starts to be really cranky for more than one day in a row, I have a look at the chart in this book and pretty much every single time I’ve found him to be smack bang in the middle of a developmental leap. The book talks through what their brains are trying to figure out at different stages, has lots of stories from other parents about their child at that age, and suggests games to play that are age appropriate for your baby. I would highly recommend getting this book for any new mums out there.
There’s other stuff, of course. How time consuming eating is when you’re weaning a baby (30 minutes to feed, then a break, then 45 minutes to eat solids! Fitting that in with naps and playtime and that’s pretty much your day gone…); How babies can sense what the least appropriate thing in the room is to eat and go directly for whatever that might be; How amazing babies are generally and how proud and loved up I am with all the other babies I’ve been hanging out with… But I think those are the main things that stand out for me right now.
There is so much I still need to learn: How do I get him on the bottle? Should I go straight to a cup? What happens to his milk feeds when he starts taking in more solids? How do I get him to sleep through the night without any harsh sleep training techniques? How the hell do I baby proof the open shelves in our living room? Do I just move all the books into the loft until he stops trying to pull them all off the shelf onto the floor? So many questions…
But when I think back to those first couple of months and the desperate Whatsapp messages my NCT group would send each other at 3 in the morning, it’s like a different world. I remember, about 4 or 5 weeks in, we were talking about those mums we saw in the park, chatting with their buggies and coffees, and we couldn’t believe that would ever be us. And yet, seven months later and we do that on a regular basis. Some days are still challenging, but every day Theo makes me laugh and every month I think ‘This is the best age’ and then he just gets better and better. I can’t believe he’s so old, and wish I could freeze time, but also can’t wait to skip ahead to see the little boy he’s going to be.