As I enter the final stages of my pregnancy, I am starting to think about all the things I need to do to prepare for the arrival of my third child. My To-Do list is immense, but I also know that I’m the kind of person who works better to a tight deadline so to be completely honest, 8 weeks is just too far away for it to be effective for me! So, while I’m content to keep adding things to my list so I can scramble around (yes, and panic) closer to the time, it has made me think about all the things I feel are important to get done before baby arrives…and I don’t mean getting nappies and clothes sorted or painting the baby’s room a new colour.
Having ridden in this rodeo before, I know that stuff will get done – it may not be perfect but school shirts will get ironed, dinners will be cooked and washing will be hung out to dry …possibly for several days straight before they’re brought back in. And being the third time, I like to think I kind of know what I’m doing (debatable some days) so I feel a lot more relaxed than I did when my oldest was born. However, I also remember acutely how completely and utterly overwhelming it was when I brought my first-born home. It was like starting a new job with no manual and the stakes were kind of high! Everything I thought I knew flew out the window and instead I found myself floundering to get even the basics sorted while I navigated the new waters of motherhood.
So, what are those things I think are important to do before baby arrives to make life that little bit easier? Here are just a few things that are top of my personal list and that may make the transition a bit smoother for you:
Prepare as many frozen meals as you can fit in your freezer
Full disclosure – I LOVE to cook. I have hundreds of recipe books. Every time I buy another one my husband purses his lips and gives me a look that I know translates to “did you really need another Donna Hay book”? Pre-kids, weeknight dinners were always a cut above. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the type to spend hours preparing meals but your basic meat and three-veg didn’t cut if for me. Cooking was a joy so naturally I thought I would have all the time in the world to keep that tradition alive….babies sleep 18 hours a day, right? Plenty of time to fit a Nigella creation in before the next feed, isn’t there? I remember my mum asking me if I wanted her to cook anything before the baby came and instead of gratefully accepting and requesting several of my childhood’s greatest hits….I said no thanks.
For the first few weeks of my oldest son’s life, the lead up to dinner (or any meal, really) consisted of me freaking out because a) I hadn’t been to Woolies in ages so all the vegetables in my fridge were wilted or mouldy; b) I was stressed as I felt like I was putting too much pressure on my hubby to do ‘my jobs’ after he had gone back to work – surely I can pull a meal together, I’m an adult and c) helpless and hopeless, I mean if I couldn’t manage to combine motherhood with something I truly enjoyed like cooking, what did that mean for me? How did it come to this? In my previous professional life, I was a highly competent operator and now I was reduced to calling my husband to pick up takeaway every night? How is that possible?
In the nearly six years since then, I’ve cut myself a bit of slack. It’s ok to eat scrambled eggs on toast for dinner now and then and no-one is expecting gourmet creations when you’ve got a newborn. But if you do love good food, get cooking and freezing ASAP. There’s nothing better than defrosting a bit of homemade lasagne, throwing a quick salad together and sitting down to a nutritious meal that took minutes to prepare. Plus it’s better for you than pizza night after night! And it’s also better than trying to navigate the shops with a newborn that decides to meltdown in aisle 4 because they’re cluster feeding and need the boob every 15 minutes. I speak from experience.
If you don’t want to pre-prepare, then I highly recommend looking into a meal or ingredient delivery service, like Hello Fresh or Youfoodz (there are so many options these days). You want to take the thinking out of it. With pre-cooked meals or a meal service, you don’t have to think about what to eat, check your fridge, write a list, go to the shops when you’re figuring out this mama business. That’s a win for everyone!
Hire a cleaner
I know, that sounds very bourgeois but hear me out. When my first baby arrived, I was clearly delusion about how much time I would have keep up my household duties (refer to above – babies do NOT sleep for 18 hours a day….well, at least it doesn’t feel like it!). My oldest had a tongue tie so feeding was an awful, painful and time-consuming effort that usually had to be followed by chunks of time spent pumping. Throw in baby nurse visits, mothers group meetings and other general survival requirements, and mopping the floor suddenly takes a back seat. Or if you do have the time, invariably you would get half way through the job and bubs would wake up, so a 20-minute job would end up taking 3 hours.
Take it from me, if you have the means, hire a cleaner. It doesn’t need to be a weekly thing or even a full top to bottom spring clean but having someone come in once a fortnight to vacuum your carpet and clean your toilet will quickly become the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself.
Remember too, it doesn’t have to be a permanent arrangement but if you can do it for the first three months, it will save your sanity. Plus, everyone is going to want to come and visit you to meet baby, so it’s worth it if only you don’t have to stress about the state of your bathroom. I know what you’re thinking – ‘that’s not the kind of stuff I would stress about’ – and you shouldn’t….but sometimes those new mum insecurities win out and you stress anyway.
Save up your birthday pennies or ask your parents to chip in as an early Christmas gift. You won’t regret it. Oh, and by the way – if your husband says he’ll do it so you can save the money, DON’T BELIEVE HIM!!!!
Find Friends who are in the same situation as you
I am blessed to live close to (and get on with) both sides of my family but when my oldest was born, I was living in Perth – a 5-hour plane trip from said family. In my innocence (also referred to as BCN – Before Children Nicky), I did not realise how life changing having a new baby would be so it didn’t occur to me to search out people who would understand.
Between the lack of sleep, the hormones, my struggles with breast feeding around the tongue tie and my hubby’s return to work, I felt so lonely and isolated. Yeah, I had wonderful friends over there but none of them were in the same situation – they were either kid-free or had older kids and had gone back to work, so I didn’t feel I could call on them because I didn’t want them to suspect I wasn’t ticking the boxes. What I really needed was my mum and my best friends, but they were in different states. I needed the people who could see me at my very worst – think un-showered, possibly with a pump attached to each breast whilst eating chocolate in a classic stress relief move.
Luckily for me, we moved back to Sydney six weeks after I gave birth (which was an adventure in itself), and shortly after I started meeting up with my mothers group. That for me was a game changer. Sure, all we talked about was our lack of sleep, cracked nipples and dirty nappies but we were all going through the same thing at the same time. They may not be friendships that last forever but they are important in the moment and will help you get through. These mums will ‘get’ you in a way that no other person can in that moment.
Don’t click with your mothers group? Not unheard of so try other options in your local area – libraries often run programs for babies such as ‘RhymeTime’ or you can search for your local mamas FaceBook group to tap in to other mums in your ‘hood. Most importantly, don’t stick around if something feels toxic. If your new mum friend continually tries to tell you that there’s something wrong with your baby because they don’t sleep for 12 hours straight or that you gave up breastfeeding too quickly, shut that down immediately! Life’s too short for that crap!
Get the names of some good health professionals in your contacts
Think lactation consultants (LC), paediatricians, GPs, women’s health physiotherapists and of course, personal trainers. You’ve probably got a few of those names in your contacts already, but if you don’t, now is the time to prepare. Ask your friends and friends of friends for recommendations, especially if they’ve gone through the experience recently. You want to be able to pick up the phone and call someone you feel you can trust when you need it.
While I hope that all women can breastfeed naturally and painlessly from the get-go, sadly that’s not always the case and having the name of an LC can be a god send. You’re going to want to find someone who suits your personality. Personally, I found the ‘breast feed at all costs’ mentality of some of the LCs and midwives I met when I had issues with my oldest son to be detrimental to my mental health, so the right LC (public or private) can be the difference between a healthy feeding relationship with your baby and something else entirely.
Similarly, a GP who you know, and trust is worth its weight in gold. There’s something so comforting about seeing a person you know won’t condescend to you or make you feel like crap just because you’re a first-timer and don’t know all the answers.
As a PT who primarily trains mums, I’m a strong believer that all post- natal women should see a women’s health physio to check their pelvic floor and their abdominal separation even if you feel fine and aren’t having any issues as a WH physio will set you on the best path for the future health of your pelvic floor and core. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security!! Sometimes problems can present months and even years later so get yourself checked out now to safeguard for your older years.
And finally, if you plan to return to exercise after you get clearance from your obstetrician (usually 6 weeks post-natal for vaginal deliveries and 12 weeks for c-sections), start thinking about how that will look for you. It’s extremely important that your trainer has qualifications in post-natal exercise as things are not as simple as returning to the gym and going straight back to the kind of training you did before you were pregnant. Your body has changed even if it doesn’t look that different! Also, think about how you can make it work with the baby – do you want your baby close to you when you train or are you cool with them going in to a gym creche? Talk to your local post-natally qualified trainer so you know what to expect and where to go once you get the all clear.
Get your partner on board to help out from day one
And by this, I don’t just mean for the first two weeks while his work gives him a token chunk of paid parental leave. I mean with everything – cooking, cleaning and looking after baby – for the months beyond birth and further into the future. Life changes significantly when you add a baby in to the mix.
All too often I hear that since the birth of their baby, partners revert to this weird ‘breadwinner and
breeder’ mentality. The general feeling is that ‘I’m out there working, bringin’ home da’ bacon’ so any of these jobs I used to do beforehand to keep the house and life in general running smoothly now fall in to your domain, ‘k’. Even people I know who had a pretty solid 50/50 split pre-kids have found that suddenly, the new mum is responsible for 100% of the household duties. Take it from me, this quickly leads to resentment, fighting and fractures in what once was a healthy, happy and stable relationship. I’m not saying that your marriage will collapse, but the feelings it engenders can be awful.
To be clear, I understand and respect that there are some situations where the breadwinner has to take a big step up to keep the family financially stable during a maternity leave period, so I’m not talking about the partner that works from 5am to 11pm, 7 days a week just to put food on the table but to the person who now walks past the wet laundry that needs to be hung out or who will sit in front of the telly when there’s dishes to be stacked.
Sometimes, it’s just a case of communication. Some partners don’t realise they are doing it and only need to be reminded that while you might be home more than you were before, you’ve still got a really important JOB to do so it’s imperative that they still help out at home.
Others do truly believe in that ‘breadwinner and breeder’ mentality – the minute you stop earning money (even if you’re getting some paid maternity leave), the breadwinner abandons any and all household duties leaving you to care not only for your new baby but everything else domestically as well. From personal experience, I can tell you that this is also best resolved by reminding the breadwinner that you are still working, even if it’s not paid and when you (inevitably) get the reply that because they work all day they deserve to be able to come home and relax, then your response should be (in as calm a manner as possible) to a) remind them that you ARE still working, just for little to no pay and that b) they are effectively telling you that their time at home is more valuable than yours so they are entitled to relaxation more than you. I found that by saying straight out “what you are implying is that you and your mental health and relaxation takes priority over mine and that’s not fair”, I got my point across. In my case I wasn’t quite able to maintain the façade of calmness, so I’m pretty sure the neighbours four doors down heard me alternately sobbing and yelling. Not my finest hour to be sure, but the message was received nonetheless!!
It’s also extremely important that your partner takes care of the baby at certain points. Yes, you may be the primary carer, but that shouldn’t mean you have to stay at home all the time. You should be able to go out to dinner or a movie with your friends or to pop out to do the shopping on your own (it might not seem possible in the early days but trust me it gets easier). And remember, it’s not babysitting if it’s their own child!! Let them know before the baby comes that you expect to be able to resume normal activities at some point and you need them to support that – whether it be coming home half an hour earlier to help with bathtime so you can make the 8pm movie or making golf a 9-hole game instead of the full 18 so you can get your toenails painted!!
All in all, having your first baby is the single hardest and most life changing experience most people will ever have. It is in equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, challenging and amazing. The first time you look in to you new baby’s eyes is something you will never forget. It takes time to adjust, no matter how awesome your baby is, so do what you can to make it as easy as possible for you and your partner.
What did you do to make the transition to parenthood smoother?