I recently read a Facebook post that made my heart sing. It was written by a mum with a young baby who had been taken by a neighbour to a local Muslim mummy prayer group. She retold how the group was immensely supportive of each other, helping each other with feeding their babies, expressing milk for those that needed it and cooking for the new mums so that they could concentrate on their babies.
It made me think of the expectations that we place on new mums. A constant stream of visitors that want to hold your baby (and give advice whether you need it or not!) and questions of 'when are you going out, have you been to any baby groups yet?' Then we have the outside pressures of losing our baby weight, matching up to the celebrities appearing in the media mere months after giving birth looking toned in their swimsuits. On top of this we feel as though we should be 'getting back to normal' as soon as possible; feeding our family with home cooked food, keeping the house clean and tidy for those visitors.....when all we are feeling is bamboozled by this tiny thing we are responsible for keeping alive, wondering how to do it.....and when we'll next get to wash our hair, never mind put make up on again!
There is an alternative and I urge you to take it, it does happen in other cultures where the mother and her newborn are placed first. It's called a babymoon, but I'm not talking about taking off to sunnier climes before your baby arrives, I'm talking about taking some time out for you and your family after your babys birth to nurture yourself and your family unit. Here's how...
Other than immediate family ask that no-one visits you for at least one week, ideally two or three, to allow you and your family to bond with your baby. The added advantage to this is that no-one sees the messy house and that you haven't had a shower for 5 days! This time with your baby is really important. For a newborn smell is their strongest sense and they need to get to know yours. This is also a really important time to establish breastfeeding, which isn't always as easy as it's made out to be. A babymoon gives you time to work on it without worrying that someone will see your boobs and without any pressures on time. This time is also important for new dads to bond with their new baby. Usually they have a shorter time at home when a baby is born so a babymoon is ideal for them to spend time uninterrupted with their baby. Bathing and massaging baby is a great way to do this and can be done whilst mum sleeps or has a bath or shower in peace.
Having limited visitors means that your time is your own - yours, your baby's and your family's. You can gaze at your baby (you'll want to, believe me) for as long as you like, beginning to recognise their facial expressions and cues, and you can sleep when your baby sleeps - and you really do need to do this. Your sleep is going to be disrupted, possibly for years. That is the reality, so please, sleep when your baby does now. The dirty dishes will still be there, the vacuuming will still need doing - I wish I had listened to this advice!
Accept help. The only visitors that should be allowed in are those that will leave you be whilst they do some cleaning, washing, entertaining of older children, dog walking and providing food. A freezer stash of nutritious meals that can be defrosted and reheated is invaluable (stews and pasta bakes are your friend) as are quick and healthy snacks - flap jacks, fruit bread, small packs of dried fruits and nuts...
Hibernate but don't isolate - find your tribe. If you have a close network of friends and/or family around you make sure that they are aware and supportive of your babymoon and let them help (see above.) For those that are not so keen on staying away you may have to be strong, this is your baby and their and your health and wellbeing is of the utmost importance. Maybe they could help with specific things to make them feel useful and not out of the loop? If you don't have close family and friends nearby to support you look online, there are lots of forums and facebook groups that you can turn to, often when you need it most too in the middle of the night when it's just you and your baby trying to muddle through. Some of my best friendships have been formed in this way as many have local offshoots too that arrange meet ups.
Make yourself comfortable. For your babymoon make sure you have your comfiest clothes to wear and make yourself a little basket or bag of essentials - some snacks, a bottle or few of water, lip balm, nipple cream, breast pads, a magazine and a book (for when baby sleeps on you) - and put it where you can reach it in the place you most regularly feed your baby. There is nothing worse than having a sleeping baby on you when you are starving and thirsty!
Make sure that everyone (that needs to) is aware of your plans to have a babymoon. Your partner needs to be on board with this and family and friends too. It may be good to have a friend who can tell other people too, to have someone on your side and let others know why it's so important.
The ideal time to think about, and prepare for, a babymoon is before you have your baby - I think we should write a babymoon plan as well as a birth plan! But if you haven't prepared for it it's not too late. Even if you are in the last days before your baby arrives you can take all, or just the some that suit and appeal to you, of these ideas to give you and your growing family the best start without the stress and strain of expectation of getting back to normal or sharing this precious time with your baby with others.