The first three months of your baby’s life can be some of the most challenging. So much changes as you get to know this little stranger who needs you so much, and the responsibility can feel overwhelming. But as the days pass, you and your baby get better at reading each other, and soon you’ll understand what they need when they cry. You’ve got this – just hang in there, and remember, your needs are important too. Take whatever help is offered so you can have some time out for yourself.
When you become a parent it’s easy just to focus on your baby and their wellbeing, but it’s very important to look after yourself too. Breastfeeding takes a lot out of you.
Eating well, sleeping whenever you can, getting some exercise, and asking for help when you need it can make a huge difference to your energy levels, and to your ability to look after your new baby.
What you eat and drink impacts on how you feel during the day, and on how well you sleep too. It can be hard to find time to eat well when you’re busy parents, so have some simple food on hand, like slices of carrot or celery ready to eat with dips, along with plenty of fruit, yoghurt and wholegrain bread.
If you’re breastfeeding, you need plenty of protein and nutrients, plus lots of fluids.
- Try to eat regular meals every day, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and healthy snacks between.
- Milk and dairy products provide protein, energy, and lots of vitamins and minerals including calcium.
- Fruit and vegetables provide energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and help your body absorb iron. They’re a great snack food too.
- Bread, potatoes and cereals provide fibre, energy, and vitamins. Wholegrain varieties (like rolled oats, brown rice, or bread with whole grains) are higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals.
- Meat, fish, and vegetarian alternatives, like beans, peas, high protein grains and soya, provide protein and iron. They also have lots of other nutrients like iodine, zinc, vitamins, especially B12, and essential fatty acids.
- The body absorbs iron from lean meats, chicken and seafood (from animals) more easily than iron from plants like legumes.
- Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, so include foods that are rich in vitamin C, like oranges, kiwifruit, tomatoes and broccoli with meals.
- Try to include at least one serving of oily fish a week, like salmon, herring, or sardines. Oily fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are really good for you, and are important for your baby’s brain and development.
- You don’t need to avoid spicy foods. Changes in your diet can change the flavour of your milk, but doesn’t bother most breastfeeding babies.
- Breastfeeding mothers need to drink lots of water.
If you’re vegetarian, you can get all the essential nutrients you need from food without eating animal products. Check out the link to make sure you’re getting maximum benefits from the food you eat.
Oxytocin is a hormone that encourages the let-down reflex when your baby sucks, and it also has a calming effect and may make you relaxed and sleepy.
But even when you're sleepy, it’s hard to get the sleep you need when you have a new baby, young child - or both - in the house. Sleep is important for your physical health as well as your mental health, so just get as much as you can.
- Try to sleep or rest when your baby or children do. It’s easier said than done when there are so many other things to do, but remember your health is more important than a tidy house.
- Turn off the phone when you’re resting.
- Arrange for a trusted friend or relative to look after your child or children for a while so you can have a sleep.
- Talk to visitors about the best time to visit and how they can help.
- Have a relaxing bath or shower.
- Share getting up in the night with your partner or support people.
- If it works for you, you may find it useful for a relative or friend to stay with you to help out.
- Talk about your tiredness with others, especially other parents. It helps to understand you’re not alone.
Read more about a healthy breastfeeding diet, exercise and lifestyle
Exercise is great for both physical and mental health. It improves circulation and boosts your immune system, increases your metabolism, and makes you feel good.
If you were active through your pregnancy, and had an uncomplicated birth, you should be able to return to light aerobic activities relatively quickly. Be guided by your body and your midwife or other maternity carer.
If you had a cesarean section or a complicated birth, check with your midwife. You may have to wait four to six weeks before doing anything more than simple activities like going for a slow, gentle walk with your baby. A daily walk gives you fresh air and a change of scenery, which can do wonders.
Moderate exercise doesn't affect your breastmilk or your supply, and neither does it affect the amount of nutrients in your breastmilk or your baby’s growth.
Dads and babies
Dads can do a lot to support you, especially in the early days if you’re up all day and night breastfeeding. They can do things like:
- take baby for a walk while you sleep
- help around the house, cooking, doing dishes, laundry, cleaning or whatever else needs doing
- carry baby while you have a break
- feed baby if you’ve expressed breastmilk
- change baby’s nappies between feeds
- burp baby after feeding
- rock baby gently
- sing and play with baby and other children
- bath baby
- bring baby to you for night breastfeeds
- encourage you
- give you lots of love.
Connecting with other parents
Becoming a new parent and raising children can be a huge change in your life. If you’re used to being in a work environment, or surrounded by people, being at home with your baby can feel lonely. It can be good to connect with others sharing similar experiences. If you're having trouble breastfeeding, they may be able to provide support and advice.
There are lots of different ways you can meet other parents in your community. Around the country you can find:
- Plunket in neighbourhood groups (PIN)
- Whānau groups
- Mothers' groups
- Dads' groups
- Coffee groups
- Walking groups
- Dance and movement groups
- Play groups.
Ask for help
Being a parent can be stressful, and it can all feel overwhelming at times. You can cope with stress by asking for help from friends and whānau, and accepting help when it’s offered.
Often it’s help with the small, everyday things – like housework, meals, errands, taking the baby out or watching the baby while you sleep, or looking after other children - that makes a big difference.
Time is a great way for grandparents and family members to develop a deeper bond with the baby and the baby’s parents, too. Expressing breastmilk means they can feed your baby so you can have a break.
If you’re feeling distressed, frustrated, or like you can’t cope, ask someone else to hold your baby, or put them in a safe place like their cot. Never shake a baby. It can cause bleeding in the brain and permanent brain damage.
If you’re having trouble coping with your baby, call PlunketLine any time, day or night, on 0800 933 922.
Looking after your relationship with your partner
The first six to eight weeks after your baby’s born can be really tough for new parents, so it helps not to expect too much from yourself or your relationship in this time. Adjusting to life with a new baby takes time, so go easy on yourself, and on each other.
Open communication is key to helping you both cope with the relationship changes that come with being a parent. It’s a good idea to:
- tell each other how you’re feeling
- be patient – your whānau has changed with the addition of a baby and it takes time to adjust
- set realistic expectations
- find ways to support each other
- be understanding
- forgive each other
- pick your battles
- set aside a time and place to discuss your frustrations and work out solutions.
If you’re feeling down, depressed or hopeless a lot of the time, or if you have little interest or pleasure in doing things, you may be developing postnatal depression. If you have postnatal depression, support, counselling, and medication can all help you get better. It’s never too late to ask for help.