The first few months with a newborn baby are amazing. I lost hours to gazing at Matilda, marvelling at the little girl that Steve and I had somehow created, stunned by how much I loved her.
But they can also be really tough. There's so much to learn, so many questions to ask and find answers to, so little sleep to get you through. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. It's normal to have moments when you wonder how you're going to cope with eighteen more years of this (because, in your exhausted, emotional state, you have completely forgotten that your eighteen year old child will not be waking you up all through the night, demanding milk). It's okay to sometimes feel that it's beyond you.
(It's not okay to always feel that it's beyond you; your moods and emotions may fluctuate but if you feel relentlessly low tell your health visitor or GP)
Throughout the tough bits, there were certain things which I tried to keep in mind which definitely made life easier. And here they are:
None of this is your baby's faultBabies aren't being wilfully difficult when they cry or can't sleep or struggle to feed - they are simply reacting to their bodies and the world around them in the only way they know how. It can be difficult to remain patient with them but resentment won't help.
Don't turn this into a competitionYou and your partner are both exhausted. You both have moments of frustration when you don't know how to comfort your baby - and moments of frustration when your partner doesn't and you want to intervene. You both have times when you think the other has the better deal (getting to stay at home all day; getting to go out work). This isn't about comparing yourselves; it's about working as a team.
Really don't turn this into a competitionOther people's babies really do develop at different speeds from yours. Yours may be first at one thing, last at another. They will all learn to sleep through and crawl and smile and talk in the end.
Routines may help youSteve and I have mornings choreographed so I get a shower before he leaves for work - it helps me feel human. Although I don't keep the flat anywhere near spotless at the moment, I'm also still using my weekly cleaning schedule so I know, at the very least, the bedding and towels are being changed once a week.
Routines probably won't help your babyThere are loads of people out there who will tell you to get your baby into a strict routine early on. I'm not one of them. Babies have growth spurts and developmental leaps which lead to them sleeping more or less or feeling extra hungry - they don't adhere to schedules. Go with the flow and both you and your baby will be calmer and more relaxed. The only exception I make to this is having a consistent bedtime but we let Matilda set that herself.
Do something every dayYou don't have to schedule in baby yoga and buggy walks and swimming lessons every single day if you don't want to. I certainly didn't want to (see: babies don't do routines) (also: the cost!). But on those days when you don't have a scheduled activity, get a friend round or go out for coffee or take a walk to the park - anything to stop you and your baby sitting on the sofa for twelve hours, wondering what to do.
Reach out to other mumsI have four friends with babies of similar ages - none of them were friends of mine a year ago. Three were passing acquaintances who I messaged on Facebook when I realised we were due at about the same time and one is a blogger I emailed when I realised she was local. A lot of new mums won't have friends with babies and will be looking for friendship (and reassurance that their baby is doing the same weird thing as yours) - ask mutual friends to put you in touch; go to toddler groups; look for "Mums in [Your Area]" groups on Facebook.
Ask for and accept helpFor the first couple of weeks, Steve and I weren't keen on visitors - we wanted family time alone. Beyond that, though, we relished having somebody else there to hold the baby for a little while. Sometimes we just used our free hands to have hot drinks; sometimes we used them to cook; sometimes we used them to do housework. If you have good friends who love babies, tell them straight out that you could do with them cuddling your kid while you get on with some pottering - lots of them will jump at the chance.
Know who you can call in a crisisHave a mental list of people you can call if you need to hand the baby over and have a huge cry - I've only made that call once but I got through several other tough half hours by thinking, "I'll give it a little while and then perhaps I'll phone ____"
Respect your baby's boundariesFor the first six weeks, we didn't venture far - Matilda found the world overwhelming and would anxiously try to squish her face into us so she didn't have to deal with it. We stuck to local walks and visitors at home. But then suddenly her curiosity kicked in. At the moment, she loves new places (even boring new places like the supermarket). Don't inflict a scared or upset baby on yourself; wait until she's ready.
Push your own boundariesWhatever it is you're scared of - bathing the baby; cutting her fingernails; leaving the house in the rain; using public baby changes; whatever - get it done. Ask for somebody to be there for moral support, if you prefer, but get that first time out of the way as soon as you can. It will never seem as scary again.
Take advice as suggestions not rulesOur antenatal classes were very multicultural and it was amazing how the advice given to pregnant women and new parents varied from one couple's home country to another's. There are lots and lots of recommendations given and many, many advice books available - if you look hard enough, you can find an expert advocating whatever you approach you want to take. Babies don't wake up on the morning of their six month birthday ready to go into their own room or eat solid food - some are ready sooner; some later. So don't get too fixated on getting things "right" or sticking to rigid timetables. Pick and choose which suggestions work for you.
Trust that you will soon trust your instincts"Trust your instincts" is not helpful advice for brand new parents; when you're overwhelmed and completely new to parenting, you won't believe that you know what you're doing. But it comes to you. Quickly. It's amazing how soon you get to know your baby's noises and body language. One day, when your mother-in-law is jiggling your crying baby, you'll tell her, "Oh, she's windy," and you won't even know how you knew.
See also: Five things nobody tells you about life with a newborn, what we really needed for our baby and a reminder that we don't all live in perfect, pristine palaces.