Home truths

Those first weeks and months at home with a new baby can be wonderful, but they can also be riddled with angst and, often, loneliness. Andrea Mara has some tips

I REMEMBER the day my husband went back to work, after our first baby was born. I had the oddest sensation; I felt overwhelmingly busy, and yet, I had no idea what to do next. Put her down for a nap? Head out in the car? Play with her? Just what exactly do you do with a new baby?

It's a common conundrum. We move from the schedule-driven, routine-based world of work, where we have almost full control over what we do, to one where it sometimes feels like we have no control at all. If you're happy to chill out with your baby, following her cues, you're onto a winner. But if you're not sure how to spend those early days of maternity leave, these tips may help.

Don't fret over naps

How many naps should a baby have? There's no right answer. "In the early days, you can just follow the baby's lead and let her sleep when she's sleepy," says doula Sylda Dwyer of Alphabirth. "You can move towards a routine after a few months if you like. Lots of older babies have a morning nap and an afternoon nap, but they usually find that rhythm themselves." So in those early days, don't worry; your baby knows what to do.

Don't worry if you don't know How to play

Parenting books tell you to play with your baby but this can be a daunting prospect when you're new to motherhood. Anyone who has ever tried playing peek-a-boo with a frowning four-week-old will know what I'm talking about. But it doesn't have to be complicated.

"Responsive, sensitive and playful parenting gives a baby's brain the message that the world is a safe place and people are dependable," says clinical psychotherapist Joanna Fortune, director of Solamh. "It's never too soon to start playing with your baby; pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo with little hands and feet, blowing raspberries onto bare tummies, singing, chatting, babbling with them and as much skin-to-skin contact as you can in those early six to eight months lays a vital foundation for all later development."

Do go online

The internet can get a bad rap, but for a new mother, it can be a lifesaver. There are parenting forums and Facebook groups for every topic imaginable. The practical tips from peers are a huge help, but even more valuable is the chance to connect with other mums who are going through the same challenges.

Do your groceries

Supermarket shopping isn't usually fun, but it can be a good way to spend time interacting with your baby. Most supermarket trollies have a newborn seat for small babies; it's a perfect chance to smile and chat with your baby, while getting the dreaded shopping out of the way.

Do something active

If you feel like getting fit again, mum-and-baby fitness classes are the perfect solution. No, your two-month-old baby isn't actually doing Pilates or bootcamp; he's watching from the side-lines, endlessly entertained by your moves.

Do try baby classes

If you're not ready to get active, try baby massage or baby yoga.

"Skin-to-skin touch is vital for new babies to attain the first developmental milestone, which is trust," says Fortune, "and they learn it in a physical, not cognitive way." The benefits go way beyond the learning; it's a chance to meet other mums, plus many classes include coffee and cake afterwards - win-win.

Do join a group

Find out where your local mum-and-baby groups are taking place and go along. Day one can be daunting, but everyone feels the same at the beginning.

Don't worry about dinner

Cooking is something you think you should have time to do, but very often you don't. Maybe your partner can cook when they come home from work, or they can have time with the baby while you cook. As a new mother, alone time with the chopping board can be therapeutic.

The bottom line is, if you're feeling at a loss in those early days; joining groups, taking classes, or arranging regular meet-ups with other parents will help. Because, while it's debatable whether or not babies need routine, it's very much the case that most of us grown-ups do.