Baby's first 100 days
For expectant mums not sure where to start in terms of preparing, Rebecca Fiederer has some essential tips
I attended baby massage classes when my babies were tiny - it is generally recommended that infants are around four to six weeks old before starting classes.
According to Baby Massage Ireland, infant massage is the very special art of using nurturing touch to communicate with your baby, to show them that they are loved, welcomed and respected, and that they can feel safe and secure in their new world.
It is a great way of bonding with your baby as it works on an emotional as well as a physical level, developing closeness between parent and baby that has lifelong benefits. Parents massage their own baby using a specifically designed series of strokes. This series combines Indian and Swedish massage along with reflexology techniques and some gentle yoga-based exercises into a routine designed to be beneficial for infants.
I found it a lovely bonding experience with my children, and I believe the techniques I learned helped to soothe my daughter's colic and it became a firm part of our bedtime routine - plus it's a great way to get out of the house and meet other new mums.
To find classes run by a Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI) in your area, see babymassageireland.com.
It is hard to comprehend what life with a newborn is really like until you have experienced the highs and lows of new motherhood. Now a mum-of-two, I realise those first 100 days - also known as the 'fourth trimester' - can seem like the longest days of your life, while at the same time flying by, leaving you wondering, "Where has the time gone?".
While it's impossible to know everything in advance of your little bundle of joy's arrival - and with the added bamboozlement of so much conflicting advice out there from the experts as well as well-meaning friends and family - there are some steps you can take to feel that little bit more prepared.
Let's start with the must-have nursery items. Where will baby sleep? I used a moses basket for my two children - Isabella (now aged five) and Luca (2). They were in it for about six weeks before they got too big and moved into their cots. However, some parents prefer to place their newborn straight into the cot.
The benefit of a moses basket is that it takes up much less space than a cot, meaning it's easier to fit in your bedroom, and I used to also move it from the bedroom into the living room during the day. Another great option is a 'co-sleeper' which can attach onto the side of your bed - this can make middle-of-the-night feeding easier and baby is right next to you while not actually being in your bed (sharing your bed with baby is not advised by the experts).
According to the HSE, the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot in the same room as you. Research has shown that their risk of cot death is lower than babies who sleep in a separate room. Keep your baby's cot in the same room as you for at least the first six months, says the HSE. It is also recommended that baby is placed on his or her back.
A changing table is often part of a baby's bedroom furniture, however, I found I hardly ever used mine (and friends have told me the same). You do need one or two plastic changing mats which you can place wherever is handy to change baby's nappy. Speaking of nappies, it's a good idea to stockpile nappies and wipes for those first weeks and months - it's surprising how many nappies a day such a tiny person can get through.
What else might you need?
⬤ When it comes to clothes, your little one will likely be wearing babygros most of the time in those first 100 days, so no need to splash out on too many fancy outfits. Make sure you have plenty of babygros and vests, some cardigans and socks, and little hats to keep that little head warm. There will be many outfit changes, day and night, so be prepared.
⬤ Room thermometer: Infants can overheat or get cold very quickly, so a room thermometer will allow you to regulate the temperature of your baby's room.
⬤ Comfy chair for feeding, be it breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. We have a reclining glider chair with foot stool, which is very comfortable and has a smooth and gentle rocking motion to soothe baby. One of the expert baby shops will be able to advise you on the best solution for you.
ON THE MOVE
For the first six months, when baby can't be in a seated position, a pram, or lie-down seat on a pushchair, is essential. One of the best options - especially if you have a car - is to purchase a 'travel system'. This is a combination of pram/buggy and car seat and you can use the two simultaneously, meaning the car seat can sit atop the frame of the pram/buggy. I used a travel system with both my kids and they are very handy. If you are out and about in those first 100 days - and it is vital for you and baby to get some fresh air and have a change of scenery - you can just pop the car seat onto the buggy frame. Prices for travel systems can range from around €300 to close to €2,000, so do shop around.
This is obviously one of the most important aspects of newborn life - tiny babies have tiny stomachs and will feed often, and a big part of your day and night in the early months will be spent feeding and burping, and feeding, and burping, and feeding…
The World Health Organisation and the Department of Health recommend that you breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first six months and then continue to breastfeed as you introduce weaning foods (weaning usually starts around the six-month mark).
Do remember though that "every breastfeed makes a difference" - that means the colostrum after birth, a few days of breastfeeding, or breastmilk exclusively for the first six months. Breastfeeding has been proven to help fight respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, childhood cancers, obesity, and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). And according to breastfeeding.ie, it can benefit mums too, by helping stave off ovarian cancer, breast cancer, postnatal depression and type 2 diabetes.
However, for many different reasons, breastfeeding might not work for you, so educate yourself about bottle-feeding as well - after all, 'fed is best'. Personally, I breastfed my daughter for six months, though I introduced a bottle of formula per day around the four-month mark. With my son, breastfeeding didn't come as easily and I only breastfed him for four weeks. Both are healthy and thriving so I try to keep the mummy-guilt about the different amounts of breastmilk they received at bay.
If you do bottle-feed, make sure you have everything you might need before junior's arrival. Obviously you need bottles, and there is a big array out there. Make sure the bottles you purchase are suitable for newborns. These bottles now come in all shapes and sizes, there are even glass options and toxin-free stainless steel varieties, and some feature anti-colic mechanisms. Brands like Tommee Tippee, Philips Avent and Dr Brown offer starter kits which may include all your bottles, cleaning brushes, bottle warmer and even a steriliser, all essential to successful bottle feeding.
Personally, I also found an electric breastpump to be a lifesaver. There are also less expensive manual pumps on the market.
Even if you are exclusively breastfeeding, it's a good idea to give baby a bottle of expressed milk now and again, just so they are used to taking a bottle - from personal experience I know how hard it can be to convince a little one to drink from anything but your breast after the first 100 days or so.
MUM MATTERS TOO
After the delivery, everyone's focus will be on the tiny human you have created. However, it's important to remember that you will need some TLC as well. Your body has been through pregnancy and birth; now you are sore and exhausted and supposed to know what to do with this little miracle. It can all be a bit overwhelming, which is why it's important to ask for and accept help from friends and family.
Most new mums feel tired and unsure in the first weeks - this is known as the 'baby blues' - but if these feelings persist, you could be suffering from postnatal depression (PND). According to the HSE, PND occurs in 10 to 15pc of women within the first year of giving birth - make sure you speak to your public health nurse or GP if things get on top of you.
Try to eat healthily and get out into the fresh air with your baby every day - I found going on walks with the buggy kept me sane. In the first months, baby will sleep happily in the pram so, if it's an option, you can meet friends for a coffee and bring your sleepy little one along.
It will take time to find your feet and adjust to motherhood, so be kind to yourself and have patience with yourself and with baby while you figure out this exciting road ahead together.