When the royal baby arrives in July, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, will be lucky enough to have a household and support to help with the mind-numbing tiredness that comes with trying to look after your new bundle of joy and juggling the rest of your life. Most of us, however, don’t.
Tamsin Kelly, Editor of Parentdish, says: "Those first few days after the birth are exhilarating - and exhausting. You may feel exultant that not only have you produced this amazing human being but you seem to be able to exist on next-to-no sleep. And then as the days turn into a week and then more, you may feel yourself crashing into a bone numbing exhaustion you have never ever felt before.
"But - it does get easier, you will get into some sort of manageable routine and you will get some more sleep. Promise! In the meantime, take every offer of help – the practical stuff like cooking a meal, doing some shopping, jigging the baby while you nap, not the just hanging around making you feel even more tired. And try and relax."
We asked the experts for their take on how to cope with the first few weeks:
Drop your standards
Kirsty Smith, writer at Eeh Bah Mum says: “To really beat baby fatigue you have to drop your standards - those personalised Thank You cards you we're going to send? Don't bother. Go to bed.”
Sleep when the baby sleeps
Emma Laing, Midwiffery Manager, Tommy’s says: “It’s important to remember your sleep patterns will be disrupted with feeding, so the main advice is to sleep when the baby sleeps if possible. To stop being completely exhausted, if you have had a bad night, just inform any visitors that might be coming or put them off. The baby is still following its pattern in the womb, and babies are more active at night.”
Claire Irvin, editor-in-chief of Mother & Baby magazine, agrees and adds: “30 minutes is the ideal power nap. If the baby goes to sleep, even a short rest is going to be better than nothing.”
Aware of the realities of what that advice means in reality, Joanne Mallon, author of Toddlers: An Instruction Manual says: “The standard advice is ‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’ but in reality very few people do this, which is a shame because it can help. But the rest of your life doesn’t stop just because you’ve had a baby and there is always something else to do, unfortunately.”
Forget about housework
Kirsty says: “Leave the housework and live in squalor. Visitors have come to see your baby not your shiny kitchen floor.” Claire agrees. “It doesn’t matter if your house isn’t hoovered. Your house needs to be hygienic but you don’t have to do all the housework or ironing.”
Like sleeping, eating contributes vastly to your fatigue levels. Emma says: “You need to have regular meals - breakfast lunch and dinner. Try and stock up before the baby is born. Make bigger portions so you can freeze them for later.
Soup is nutritious and do eat carbohydrates so that your blood sugar doesn’t go up and down.”
Nutritionist Karen Poole says: “My advice is to try and plan ahead if you can because once the baby arrives, it will be mayhem. New mums often put themselves last in line when the TLC is handed out, and if you eat, you’ll have energy and if you have energy you’ll be happier which in turn affects everyone else around you.
“When you are thinking about baby food in the morning, chop up raw veg and get some cottage cheese or houmous. While you’re making a baby bottle don’t be frightened of getting the juicer out. Juicing up an apple, a stick of celery, some ginger and carrot is a start to the day. It’s a great way of getting vitamins and is better than reaching for coffee and tea – stimulants won’t help you.
“Prepare brown rice or maybe some pearl barley, quinoa, herbs and parsley – it can be put in the fridge cold and spread out over a few meals. Get some red pepper in there too. Toast brown pitta bread and put some egg or fish in it. Don’t overwhelm yourself with meals but think about little things you can do while you’re doing something else.
“You want dense energy – a small meal that doesn’t take long to make so you’ll need calcium, magnesium, iron and B-vitamins which are good for your metabolism. Magnesium (the body’s relaxant) and vitamin C are depleted when the body is stressed, so eat almonds, cashews and buckwheat for the former and watercress berries and lemon for the latter.
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Everyone and his uncle is going to ask if they can come round and see the baby. This is of course nice, as it means people like you and haven’t decided to shun you for procreating, but it can add a lot of stress during the first few weeks. Claire says: “You don’t have to dress for two months, if you don’t want to. Visitors will come to you. Do what you feel like you can cope with. Don’t try and accept every single visitor, and if they do offer to make you tea, let them.”
Keep life very simple says Joanne, and that means don’t plan any big days out or complicated dinner parties.
Emma says there are important reasons for keeping your guests to just close friends and family. “If your baby needs feeding then you will have to go off and do it, and you will feel comfortable doing that around people close to you. Your priority should be you and your baby. If you’re breastfeeding, the first two weeks is very important to establish that routine. It may be hard but it’s acceptable to go off and do what you need to do. It’s your family and you have to prioritise that. If people do want to see you, suggest coming round for a cup of tea rather than having lunch dates. Keep to shorter bursts of visitors otherwise you are unable to rest when you should be resting.”
You aren’t superwoman
Claire says: I think the term we use for that sledgehammer of tiredness is baby lag – there’s a slight displacement where you feel so tired it’s like an out of body experience. I think there are two ways of dealing with that – fighting it or working with it.
“What lots of new mums do is put pressure on themselves to deal with stuff. The most important thing is that actually you don’t need to deal with it, you just need to cope with it. Don’t be a supermum and do things at the pace you want to (obviously your baby has something to say that).”
Joanne agrees, adding: “I think you have to keep your expectations very low in the first few weeks – sometimes just getting from one end of the day to the other with everybody still alive is as much as you can expect.”
Claire says that accepting help sounds simple, but new mums can often be stubborn about asking for it as they want to be seen as being a good mum. Like everything else, being able to cope takes time. “New mums can be proud about it but if someone wants to make you dinner or do your housework, let them. Don’t put pressure on yourself and remember everyone else is going through it too. 70 – 80% of parents going through sleep deprivation.”
Take care of yourself too
Your baby needs you fit and healthy, so make sure you’re looking after yourself. That doesn’t mean hitting the treadmill, but as Claire says: “Don’t forget about you. You do matter as much as your baby. If you’re that tired, let someone else do it and help you. Emotional support also counts as highly as physically being there for you.” Joanne says it’s important to keep yourself hydrated too as dehydration adds to tiredness. “If you’re breastfeeding drink an enormous glass of water every time you feed the baby as you can easily get dehydrated and run down.”
Anyone with a question or concern relating to their pregnancy can call 0800 0147 800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to speak to a Tommy’s midwife.