Do you know what does NOT help with mental load? Lack of sleep and the responsibility of caring for a newborn! Becoming a parent is an incredible and amazing experience, but a challenging one too. There’s a lot to think about and learn, particularly in those early days, and of course sleep deprivation is no joke. All of this can take its toll on your mental load. But don’t panic! As a fairly new parent myself, I’ve come to realise that there’s a lot you can do to prepare yourself for the added mental load once your baby arrives.
This is the first of 2 posts in which I tell you what to prepare and where to find out more before the baby arrives so that you can limit the strain on your mental load once they are here. Trust me, everything is harder on broken sleep! This post (Part 1) focusses on the essentials: feeding and sleeping, while Part 2 will look at creating a support network, organising your home and getting ahead with your life admin. You’ll find loads of great resources below to get you started with learning and planning for
Disclaimer: Before we dive in, please note that I’m not a healthcare professional. The resources and tips I share are based on my own experiences and research. Use them as a starting point for your own exploration and consult with professionals for personalised guidance. As I am in the UK, most of the resources mentioned are also UK-based but there are tips for you regardless of your location.
1. Preparing for Breastfeeding
If you’re planning to breastfeed, don’t wait until the baby is here to start learning! I was surprised to discover just how involved this new skill can be and how many great resources there are to learn more, despite struggling to find them when I actually needed them. Often it is really small adjustments that are needed to get things working well for you and for your baby so getting into the detail before they arrive will be time well spent. While antenatal classes like those run by the National Childbirth Trust in the UK provide some information about feeding, in my experience there’s much more to it than was covered in the course we attended.
My top tips for preparing for breastfeeding are:
- To watch and read as much as you can about it all before the baby arrives – and I mean detail here!
- Make a list of resources to turn to if you need professional support – you will have much less head space for researching this once the baby is here so get this ready now!
Here are some fab resources to help you on your way to learning about breastfeeding:
- There are some fantastic Instagram accounts run by certified lactation consultants which are a great resource. The Milk Rebel has a fantastic slow motion video of a baby latching which tells you what to look for when getting a good latch. Olivia Lactation Consultant is another brilliant page filled with informative videos on everything from milk supply to positions, how to pump and mastitis.
- National Health Service (NHS) website
- La Leche League provides information and support to breastfeeding mothers through local groups and online resources.
- The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers is a charity that offers practical support, information and training related to breastfeeding. See their website for articles, videos and resources for expectant and new parents
- Breastfeeding Network (BfN) is another valuable resource offering evidence-based information and support on breastfeeding. They have a helpline, online forums and resources covering a wide range of breastfeeding topics.
- Best Beginnings is a charity dedicated to supporting parents during the early years. Their Baby Buddy app provides helpful information and videos on breastfeeding as well as other aspects of infant care
- There is a National Breastfeeding Helpline which can be reached every day on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am to 9.30pm daily)
- Local NHS Services – check with your midwife or health visiting team about breastfeeding support groups available in your area
- Joining local Facebook groups for parents and ask for local resources there
- If budget allows, it is worth researching private help from a qualified lactation consultant in case you should need it. You can find qualified professionals via the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain (LCGB) directory
2. Bottle Feeding
Whether you plan to bottle or breastfeed, understanding how to safely bottle feed is well worth learning about before the baby arrives. Even if you plan to breastfeed, you may find that you need or want to offer bottles and you will thank yourself for having learnt how to do it in advance. Make sure you know how to sterilise bottles and prepare formula, as well as how to do paced bottle feeding and when to start offering a bottle if you plan to combine breastfeeding and bottle feeding.
- NHS Start4Life provides information on bottle feeding including choosing and using bottles, sterilising equipment and preparing formula.
- UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative offers resources on responsive bottle feeding, promoting a nurturing feeding experience and building a strong parent-baby bond
- BabyCentre covers topics such as choosing bottles and teats, formula preparation, responsive feeding and transitioning from breastfeeding to bottle feeding
- The Bump is a comprehensive parenting website that includes articles, guides and community forums on bottle feeding
- Olivia Lactation Consultant on Instagram also covers all things bottle feeding on her page in easily accessible and no-nonsense page
3. Recognising Tongue Tie
Tongue tie is a condition in which the band of tissue that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth is shorter, tighter or thicker than usual. This can restrict the movement of the tongue and make feeding difficult (for example breastfeeding could be painful, the baby may not get as much milk as they need or they may take in air when they feed). That being said, not all cases of tongue tie lead to issues feeding and some babies may have a tongue tie that causes no problems at all.
Babies aren’t routinely checked for tongue tie in the UK and from personal experience, it can be really helpful to understand the signs yourself so that you can request the relevant support. It’s also worthwhile researching where you can get help if you suspect tongue tie so that you are equipped with the knowledge you need should you encounter this issue.
- The NHS website provides information on tongue tie, its symptoms and potential impact on feeding
- Association of Tongue-Tie Practitioners (ATP) provide resources related to tongue tie as well as offering a directory of trained and experienced practitioners
- Local breastfeeding support services may also have professionals who are experienced in assessing and providing support for tongue tie. Check with your maternity team for more information
- Private lactation consultants often also have experience of this so if budget allows, check the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain (LCGB) directory for a consultant near you
- For a more personal account, Second Star to the Right on Instagram has a highlight all about her personal experience of tongue-tie and this clinic in Clapham, London – definitely worth a look
4. Understanding Infant Sleep
From my experience, there are a lot of societal pressures around babies and sleep in the UK. While it is expected that sleep will be broken for a while after the baby arrives, there are still expectations that they will sleep in their own cot, that sleep will continue to improve over time and that they will soon fall into predictable sleeping patterns both during the day and at night. My personal experience throws those conceptions out of the window and from the forums and communities I participate in, I know I am not alone.
Understanding what is biologically normal for babies’ sleep and what your options are for coping with broken sleep will go a long way to helping you through what can be a very challenging aspect of parenthood. I will share more about our story soon but in the meantime, I recommend doing some research to deepen your understanding and to learn about what to expect.
- The Lullaby Trust is your go-to site for safe sleep including co-sleeping (learn about this even if you don’t plan to do it as things change once your baby is here!)
- Lyndsey Hookway (IBCLC, Paediatric Nurse, and Health Visitor) Instagram page
- Second Star to the Right (run by Lucy, a gentle sleep consultant) Instagram page
- Sarah Ockwell-Smith (author of “The Gentle Sleep Book” and many other books) Instagram page
- Facebook groups like The Beyond Sleep Training Project are fantastic for advice from other parents
If you’re an expectant parent or hoping to be one soon, I hope this post gives you some pointers as to how to prepare for feeding and sleep once your newborn arrives. From deepening your knowledge of breastfeeding, bottle feeding and infant sleep to planning where to turn to if you need help, there is a whole host of resources you can turn to for more information. By doing as much learning and research as you can now, you will be saving precious mental load once the baby arrives. Don’t forget to write a list of places to turn for professional support now so that you have it ready to refer to once the baby is here. Follow me on Instagram to be the first to know when Part 2 is available, where we’ll discuss creating a support network, organising your home and managing life admin with a newborn.