Little baby 2 is now over 3 weeks old and I’ve started to emerge back into the real world. The visitors have all gone now, and it’s now just me and him on a daily basis, our routine driven by the ebb and flow of the school run, and his insatiable appetite.
I’ve been amazed by my body’s ability to recover, although that wasn’t front of mind in the first week, which was pretty painful all round. I’d forgotten how the lack of sleep builds up. I’d never want to put someone off labour, and I’m not really one for a horror birth story, but there is no real getting around the fact that the healing and knitting together of episiotomy stitches is extremely painful and makes sitting down nigh on impossible. Having gone through this twice now, there are a few tips that I found helpful for survival of the first week (along with some products I used, and some things I took to the hospital).
- Invest in some nice toiletries and pack some clean flannels or face cloths in your hospital bag. You spend a lot of time washing your hands when you’ve got a newborn – not least before and after changing any maternity pad. All that hand washing means you’ll be grateful for some nice smelling soap and hand cream, so I stocked up on some Aesop supplies. Whilst I was there, I picked up a load of samples which I took to the hospital. When I was in the recovery ward, still in the hospital gown and attached to a drip, it was really nice to have a clean hot flannel and some lovely face scrub, toner and moisturiser, and the little packets are much easier to pack than the full size bottles I have at home.
- I’d read about disposable pants, and last time I got some from Primark, but really, who wants to wear cheap pants at any point, let alone when you’ve been through that kind of birth. This time, I splashed out on some much nicer lace trimmed ones from M&S in a bigger size and larger style than I normally sport and was pleasantly surprised by how much nicer it felt to wear better quality and prettier pants and they’ve washed well too. (These ones, if you’re interested). I took 3 pairs to the hospital.
- Hand in hand with pants goes the maternity pads – you will not believe how many you’ll need. In the first week I think I used a box a day – I took one box to the hospital, and had M bring in another the next day. I liked Natracare Maternity Pads for the first week or so, then I started using ordinary night towels and slimmer Tesco maternity pads during the day. 3 weeks on, I’m using Naty by Nature Womencare Bio Normal Sanitary Towels.
- Take the painkillers. For the first week, I took all the painkillers the hospital prescribed and I took them regularly, every 6 hours until they ran out. My wonderful anaesthetist told me after the birth whilst I was lying there being stitched up that it was better to manage the pain than it was to react to the pain, and that I should take everything I was offered.
- Managing the healing of the stitches – I used lavender and tea tree oil in hot water on a clean flannel to soothe and clean the stitches what felt like every 15 minutes. I used and washed a lot of flannels in the first week… I also put lavender and tea tree in the bottom of the bath and took a shower with the plug in, doing yoga breathing, every evening. Seems almost crazy now a few weeks on, but it really did help with the pain management. I also soaked maternity pads in witch hazel and froze them.
- Breast feeding – I don’t really have much to say about this as I am in no way an expert but it is working for us at the moment. All I can say is that I use Lansinoh nursing pads, Lansinoh HPA Lanolin Cream and have 3 breastfeeding vests, 2 breastfeeding bras and 2 sleep bras. They’re not a perfect combination but they’ve been manageable. My favourite vest is by Boob Design which I bought in a sale in Copenhagen. The bras from M&S aren’t as bad as I thought they would be – they aren’t very glamorous but they have washed well and are extremely comfortable. I also have a shit ton of muslins and a good supply of Infacol. I would like to get more sleep, but aside from that, we’re managing.
- Sleep on a towel. I suffered massively from night sweats and sleeping on a towel really helped, as did keeping a clean towel and tshirt by the bed to change into when I woke literally dripping with sweat. Take comfort that it does calm down after a couple of weeks – even it that seems aeons away at the time you read it.
- Ask the hospital for some large bed pads – or get some that are sold for potty training, and put them under your bed sheets, possibly double layering the bed with sheets. This helps minimise the damage when the baby vomits in the bed at 3am. Likewise, do the same with his cot and always lay a muslin under his head, be it in the cot, or pram. Much easier to whip off the muslin for washing than the entire sheet and mattress.
- I’ve been putting a few drops of tea tree oil into the washing machine with the Ecover liquid and washing all muslins, sheets and towels/flannels on 60C to make sure everything is nice and clean and doesn’t smell of regurgitated milk.
- Take lots of photos. I was delighted by the results of the photos that Polly took when he was 5 days old and spent time making birth announcements and a photo book which we also gave a copy to each of our parents. I used Moo to make some cards to send out (that link will get you a 10% discount by the way) to say thank you to the people who were so kind to send cards and presents.
I don’t recommend starting the second week with a birthday party but when your oldest child turns 4 a week after the second is born, you just have to get on with it. We invited family over to celebrate Pip’s birthday and to meet little baby 2, and I somehow managed to bake her a birthday cake. I still don’t know how I did it but it was worth it when she threw herself into my arms and declared the cake to be just what she wanted. We got all the other guests to bring the food and I basically lay on my bed feeding the baby, but it worked.
Other things that kept me going through the second week were:
- Try and leave the house. Even if it is just to hobble to the end of the road to the cafe. I think I cried all the way down the street and could barely push the pram or sit down when I got there, but I was so pleased to get out of the house and breathe in some fresh air and feel some sunshine, it was the tonic I needed.
- Buy some new clothes. After spending so long in the same couple of maternity outfits I was desperate for something else to wear. That said, I don’t know my body anymore so it’s been more of case of getting a few things to get through the breast feeding/losing weight transition, but I bought some oversized shirts from Monki on the recommendation of my sister and being button fastened, they are useful obviously practical. I also got this Uniqlo chambray dress which I’ve been wearing with my Isabella Oliver maternity leggings – I had one pair of plain black, and one pair of leather, both under the bump and they’ve been fine post birth. One of the last things that I did before I gave birth was buy a new pair of boots – it was really nice to have something new to put on straight away, and at least I could fit into them, unlike other clothes, I still roughly knew what to expect with shoes. I mainly shopped from my phone using PayPal whilst I was feeding the baby…
- Enjoy getting to know the baby. I spent a lot of time trying to actively enjoy the myriad feeds, to delight in getting to know my son, remembering that the new born phase really is so very short, and this is likely to be the last time we do this. Harder to remember that at 4am when you’ve been up at 2 and 3 as well, but it really has helped my mental state.
M went back to work after the bank holiday, so we were lucky with our timings. I gave birth at the weekend, so he was off for a full two weeks, and then there was a bank holiday weekend. We decided by two weeks after the birth that we would go a little further afield. Our first stop was the registry office to make him official, then Ottelenghi for lunch (we’d been there for lunch the day before I gave birth, so of course we went back exactly two weeks later, this time with pram in tow, and had the same food, this time with a celebratory glass of wine. Strange how different the same food tasted once I wasn’t heavily pregnant. We then picked up Pip from pre-school and drove up to see M’s parents for his mum’s 65th birthday. What should have been a 2.5 hour drive turned into a 6 hour odyssey with the bank holiday traffic but aside from having to eat at a service station, was eminently survivable, which gave me hope.
I definitely wasn’t as phased as being on my own with a new born baby this time round, but I did only have to manage one day before my mum came for a couple of days. I used that spare day to enjoy being on my own with the baby for a bit and getting to know him, then went to a cafe and wrote some of the thank you cards I mentioned above whilst the baby took a nap. I definitely have found it to be a good plan to space out my errands and just have one thing to achieve every day which gets me out of the house, but also, mostly, isn’t something that is the end of the world if it gets missed. Seriously, I’ve gone from holding down a full time job to feeling a sense of achievement by posting a parcel, getting a coffee, managing to eat lunch and then doing the evening school run, all without crying. Little steps people, little steps.
I’m trying to make the most of the fact he sleeps so much, and am making slow steps towards trying to get him into a routine of a bed time, and getting him to sleep longer stretches at night. He doesn’t seem overly keen for that at the moment mind you, often taking his longest sleep in the late afternoon which is one I really can’t be asleep for, but I’m hoping he’ll start doing his nights soon.
This post is obviously written with the full knowledge that everyone has different experiences and what worked for me might not work for someone else, but I’m always interested in the minutiae of other people’s experiences, and so hopefully it is helpful to someone. Also, I know that whilst all birth and labour has its difficulties, we were very lucky that it was as relatively straightforward as it was…
I might write his birth story up at some point – does anyone read those?