The first few weeks of motherhood are usually an exciting, joyful and rewarding time as you finally get to know your baby. But getting used to life as a parent and learning to care for your child 24-hours a day can also be difficult and downright exhausting at the same time. If you're finding things a little tough then take comfort from the fact that you're certainly not alone - plenty of new mums find these first weeks (and beyond!) as challenging as they do wonderful, so here are our tips for coping with some of the physical and emotional difficulties you might face.
The first few days
How you cope with the first 48 hours after birth will depend very much on how you and your baby experienced birth. It's perfectly normal to feel a bit shell-shocked after the birth and for at least a few days after: Not only have you just been through one of the most physically gruelling experiences life has to offer, but you've now got a demanding little baby who needs care around the clock.
You're probably trying to get to grips with breastfeeding, which can come very naturally to some but can also require a bit more effort and commitment for others. You may also be concerned about bonding with your baby, as this is something else which can happen more quickly for some mums than for others. What's more, as your body begins its return to it's pre-pregnancy state, changing hormone levels can once again wreak havoc with your emotions.
As a result you're quite likely to be physically exhausted and you may feel emotionally overwhelmed by new parenthood. Of course everyone around you will be cooing over your little one and telling you how happy you must be, and while most mums are overjoyed to have a new baby, it's perfectly normal that at times other emotions come to the fore. In fact, feeling at an emotional low ebb a few days after the birth is a very common experience, known as the the baby blues. If you are affected then take some comfort from the fact that changing hormone levels are in large part to blame for the baby blues, and they usually clear up within a few days.
One tip that may make your life easier at this stage is to remember that how you approach the issue of visitors in the days after birth can make a big difference to your state of mind and to whether you feel able to cope: Don't feel obliged let people visit at this time, and when you do invite visitors, keep it to those who will come in and put the kettle on and make sure you get to put your feet up, rather than people you will feel you need to entertain. If anyone does overstay their welcome then don't think twice about letting them know it's time to go.
Post-natal aches and pains are simply a fact of life for most new mums in the first weeks, along with lochia, or vaginal bleeding, which is really just bothersome rather than painful. some women feel what is known as 'afterpains' as the uterus contracts down to it's pre-pregnancy size, particularly during or after breastfeeding. If this is your second or later child then it's not unusual for these afterpains to be stronger, and you may need to ask your doctor for pain medication that it compatible with breastfeeding.
Backache, meanwhile, is a very common problem as your body gradually returns to normal, and particularly given all that picking up and carrying you'll be doing with your new baby.
If you ask any doctor how long it takes for your body to physically recover from birth then they will usually say around 6 weeks, regardless of what kind of birth you had. This is the reason that your doctor will schedule you in for what's known as the six-week check about six weeks after the birth to: make sure that you have healed well, see how you're coping generally and to give you the (physical) all-clear for resuming your sex-life.
If gave birth by caesarian section then you'll have a particular set of challenges to face during your post-natal recovery, but you should still be more or less back to normal after about six weeks.
Your new family life
While some mums will appear to breeze through early parenthood, rest assured that all mums will find their lives as new parents difficult at times. Often mums are so busy trying to fulfill the needs of the rest of the family that they almost completely neglect their own needs, leaving themselves too drained to support everyone else effectively. It's very important to remember then, that in order to look after others well, you also need to look after yourself, making sure that you get regular 'me time' to recharge your batteries. This is equally true for experienced mums who are also juggling the needs of baby and older children.
Whatever your financial circumstances, having a family will bring changes in this area too. Many new parents experience money worries, and most have to re-arrange their budgets to some extent. If you are struggling financially - or concerned that it's a likelihood - then a few money-saving tips for new parents should help. We've also got tips for saving on your weekly family food shopping bill.
Of course the cornerstone of keeping the family unit working well through the changes a new baby brings is your relationship with your partner. Good communication between the two of you is vital to a healthy relationship, but when time is squeezed for both of you, and you're both frequently over-tired, you will usually need to work a little harder to communicate well. If you find that you and your partner are struggling in this respect, and often misunderstand each other, then it's worth making a very conscious effort to set aside time to listen actively to one another. In the first few weeks after birth (and maybe considerably longer, depending on how you both feel) you'll be left without one of your usual means of communication: Sex. Maintaining intimacy, though, is important to any relationship, so it's worth thinking about how you can stay intimate without sex. And when you do get around to starting thinking about sex again, have a read up on what's safe, comfortable and normal for sex after baby arrives.
The physical and emotional upheaval involved in having a baby can lead some mums to develop a serious, but treatable, medical condition of post natal depression (PND). As with other kinds of depression the first step on the road to recovery is recognising and seeking treatment for the condition, so if you suspect that you may be suffering from PND then don't stick your head in the sand, read up on the signs and symptoms of PND, particularly if you have been feeling down and unable to cope for over a week.
The most important piece of general advice we can give you is to try to shut out other people's expectations as far as possible, and focus instead on what you and your partner want for your family. These days with your small baby will have gone by before you know it, so take time to enjoy them!
New mums' physical recovery
New mum and family life
New mums' stresses and strains
New mum and baby
There's plenty more information about your new baby in our baby section.
ThinkBaby mums know just what it's like in the first few weeks after birth, so why not get in touch with them on the newborn and mums forums to share experiences, advice and a bit of reassurance?
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