Five Things People Don't Tell You About the First Month With a Baby

When I was pregnant, people were all too eager to warn me about what I was letting myself in for. They told me I would never sleep again. They told me none of my clothes would fit. They told me all about the horror of the early nappies.

They also told me I would be surviving on nothing but toast. This turned out to be untrue. I don't know who these people are who can open bags of bread and spread globs of jam one handed but I am not one of them. I am surviving on glasses of water and whatever fancy biscuits our guests bring round.

But there were several things which people didn't warn me about. Here are the things which none of the pregnancy books prepared me for:

The First Month is all About Deciding Which Rules You Can Break

There are so many strict rules about caring for your baby. Babies must always sleep on their backs, in their own bed, in the same room as you. Bottles must be prepared thirty minutes before a feed, no exceptions. But then you realise that your baby sleeps better on her side, that she enjoys crashing out on her parents' bed in the mornings, that you have to leave the room to go to the toilet now and then. You realise that feeding to rule would prevent you from ever leaving the house and that bottle manufacturers wouldn't sell "on the go" equipment if it wasn't reasonably safe. Four weeks after the birth, rules are being bent and broken all over the place because, frankly, it's the only way for you to survive.

Sleeping baby
I count four infractions here.

Babies Change From Day to Day

Okay, people did tell me this but I assumed they meant that babies get bigger or more able or that their personalities become more apparent all the time. And all of those things are true. But the most glaringly unavoidable changes are in their sleep patterns. Matilda generally has a reliable three hour nappy-feed-play-sleep cycle and I was feeling quite capable, fitting bottle washes and tweeting into her guaranteed hour and a half naps. Then she started hitting growth and developmental spurts and her pattern went all to pot. Some days she would barely open her eyes; some days (and nights) she would barely close them; some days she would sleep but only if she was curled in somebody's arms. There's no fighting it - all I can do is ride out the anomalies.

Life is All About Wind

I had been warned that life with a newborn is all about dirty nappies. For bottle fed babies, that isn't strictly true - generally, they need changed each feed and that becomes part of your routine; no big deal. But, oh my goodness, the amount of wind which babies produce is incredible and the trauma they go through trying to get it out of themselves absolutely staggering. It's no exaggeration to say that the first few weeks of watching Matilda battle her burps were an ordeal - she did so much wriggling and roaring, I was convinced there was something actually wrong with her. It wasn't until she was a month old (and could use gripe water) that I accepted that there (probably) was not.

Your Tiny Home Town is Suddenly Appealing

My adolescent self would be horrified to hear it, but the small town where I spent my teens suddenly doesn't seem quite so bleak. Partly this is because it has ample, affordable childcare and extracurricular activities are all within easy walking distance and three bedroom houses can be bought for half the price of our current two bedroom flat. Mostly it's because my mum and my sister live there and having them nearby in a crisis feels like a very good idea. When I confessed this to other new mums I know, they admitted the same thing: this newborn stage would be so much easier if Granny lived just down the road and suddenly it doesn't seem as important where that road happens to be.

Granny holding Matilda
At least Granny comes to visit a lot.

Babies Need Alone Time

When Matilda is awake, I want to entertain her or educate her or otherwise interact with her. Isn't that what parents are supposed to do? Stimulate their children? But that isn't always what babies want - sometimes they just want to lie on their playmats, waggling their limbs and staring at whatever random object has caught their eye. It took me a good few weeks to accept that leaving Matilda to it wasn't neglect (and, eventually, even to value that time to myself).

And now, somehow, Matilda is five weeks old. Time to find out what surprises her second month will bring...

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