I went on maternity leave just before Christmas. My first official day off was the weirdest day. I had nothing to do. The baby wasn’t here yet and there’s only so much one can nest. I have worked since I was 16. At one point I was working 6.5 days per week. Routine was Aman, Aman was routine. I didn’t even know what time to wake up, because I had nothing (activity wise) to wake up for. I look back now and laugh. I wish I had that luxury now. Please tell me, Sleep Gods, will I sleep again?
Fast forward two weeks and I was drowning in poopy nappies and awake at all hours of the night. I have blurry memories of falling asleep whilst expressing milk. It feels a little like Groundhog Day, same activities but in a different order. You go by whatever your baby decides to do. Health professionals recommend responsive parenting which takes a while to get the hang of. Responsive parenting is the practice of listening to your baby’s cues to understand their needs. Communication in the early days consists of crying of varying decibels. The cries can mean anything- baby is hungry, needs a nappy change, too hot, too cold, tired, or simply wanting comfort.
Trying to fit in your life around these needs of feeding, changing, napping feels pretty ridiculous in the early days. What can you even do in those 5 minutes of peace before the next round of nappy, feed and nap. It is inevitable that some parts of life may get left behind whilst you adjust to being a parent.
From my understanding, there are four themes of activities that have to occur in our daily life. It makes sense: all work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy. You can’t just work work work and expect your mood to be great. Your day has to give you a sense of achievement and a sense of pleasure for you to feel mentally healthy. The four activities are:
Socialising: We are human, and humans are biologically driven to crave company, and this can be family or friends. However this becomes quite difficult when it takes circa 4 hours to get out the door with a newborn. Or you live far away from the people you love.
God bless technology. The best way to get around this is FaceTime, or whatever your mode of video calling. If your baby is crying, or you’re crying, you can pick up your phone and video call someone. I even do phone dates with a cup of coffee in my hand to make it feel like I’m in a cafe.
Or the opposite you have had enough of people with their well meaning comments on how to parent your baby.
This is when it is helpful to have friends who are in similar boats with similarly crying babies (or mummies). Join Mummy and Baby groups. There are tons out there for a small fee, and free ones at your local Children’s Centre. I joined an NCT antenatal group and those ladies have saved my sanity many times, when I have had critical aunties telling me how to parent. I have yet to meet a mummy who has not been criticised for her parenting. You will need to rant it out with someone who understands.
Achieving things- When we achieve something, we have an internal fist bump with ourselves, no matter how big or small the activity. It’s a little like the satisfaction of crossing off items on a to-do list. Once again, it’s difficult to achieve much for yourself outside of the nappy, feed, sleep tasks with a baby’s routine changing like the wind. Even things like laundry and housework.
Sometimes we have to review our expectations. Are we asking too much of ourselves? Maybe we need to break down our goal of “clean house” to “clean room I am in right now”. And accept that some days you won’t get anything done at all. A good way to get around this is to make a general to do list and break down your goals as small as possible. And cross it all off as you do it. Even if you cross nothing off, did you keep your baby alive? Yep. Tick.
Or maybe one day simply write down everything that you’ve done that day. Jot down the biggest and smallest things e.g. brushed teeth, changed nappy, fed baby, threw out rubbish, opened post etc. You’ll be surprised with how much you have actually achieved without acknowledging it.
Enjoyable activities: Life is about having fun too. Play time is much needed for adults too, where we allow ourselves to laugh and feel soulfully nourished. For me, this used to be things like gym and going to the cinema. With a baby, this has been pretty much non existent. I’ve had to find new activities that I seek pleasure from.
New activities can include things like running a hot bath, watching a new series on Netflix, making new mummy friends and catching up with them.
Physical self care: This is often the first thing to sneak its way out of the routine when the going gets tough. I’ve met mums who haven’t washed their hair in a week. Hell, I probably am that mum, I just don’t remember with baby brain. Not getting out of PJs until 2pm, not eating breakfast until lunchtime, just not sleeping at all and when you do have the opportunity, doing some IG scrolling. Sound familiar? Self care is so so important, because it has higher impact pretty much immediately. I find it so much harder to feel low if I have just got my eyebrows done. If my eyebrows have been threaded, they need to be seen! I will do the supermarket shop and go for coffee, and to baby groups.
A helpful way around this is to do something related to self care once a day. Shower, put on some make up, do a workout, yoga, meditate. You’ll feel so much better for it. Promise!
Extra tips to get your mood and routine back on track
- If you really really feel that you don’t want to do it, it’s all the more important you do it. Can you think of a time when you really didn’t want to do something? But you pushed yourself to do it and afterwards felt pleased that you had done it. If so keep this in mind..
- Do it *only* for 5 minutes. That is enough to build a little motivation in you. Or think of a huge pile of ironing. Rather than doing the whole lot, do 5 pieces. At the end of the 5 you may want to do more, but there’s no pressure to. You can walk away with one job ticked off the list.
- Fit in activity when the baby is sleeping. Preferably start within the first 5 minutes of sleep when they are unlikely to wake up. In my opinion, “sleep when baby sleeps” is a myth beyond the first few newborn weeks. I would rather do a face mask and paint my nails, and feel a little more fabulous than I did 5 minutes prior.
- Remember to keep a mix of the activities. Watching an entire season of Stranger Things but not doing any laundry isn’t going to help your mood. You have to find a way to schedule in a mix to feel that sense of achievement and pleasure.
- Write down the 4 activities you have done today. That will keep you on track and motivated for doing it tomorrow, and the day after.
I hope this has been helpful for you and makes your day a little less Groundhog Day. I try to practice what I preach every day. With difficulty. It’s hard to get things done with a little one at my heels demanding to be picked up. Despite this, today I have socialised (chatting with family at home and FaceTime with my sisters), achieved by doing the Big Supermarket Shop, I really enjoyed spending time with my bubba today and felt like a real proud Mumma when he played peek-a-boo with me (extra bit of achievement- he even continued when I videoed it- score!) and I put on make up today. Hurrah! I am a Mentally Healthy Mummy (at least today!)
Lots of love