I don’t want to jinx it, but finally the sunshine seems to have arrived! Hopefully this is our summer here to stay for a few months.
At NCT Reading, we’ve had a busy few months with the Nearly New Sale held in April. As ever, it was well-attended: lots of money was raised for local and national NCT initiatives through sales of second-hand clothes, toys and accoutrements, as well as the delicious selection of cakes and goodies!
Our sling library and Bumps and Babies meets recently moved to Parkside Café and have continued to be as popular and busy as ever! Sadly, our Generations group, which ran in conjunction with Chimney Court Assisted Living Centre, had to close in April due to a lack of volunteers, which is such a shame as the elderly residents were really enjoying engaging with the babies. For details of all our groups, please visit our Facebook page and if you are interested in volunteering with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
In this issue of our branch newsletter, we look at local mums’ opinions on how to survive the first six weeks with a newborn (thank you to NCT Reading Branch Facebook group members for your input), holidaying with babies in comparison to holidaying as a couple (believe us, it’s just not the same!) and an interesting take on parental leave – definitely worth a read!
Claire, Louisa and Cristabel
What I Wish I Knew...
…about surviving the first six weeks
Nothing can quite prepare you for motherhood. The first few hours, days and weeks of having a newborn are life changing and amazing but can be overwhelming and hard. They can pass by in a blur of uncertainty. Everything is all so new and confusing. What’s normal? Here are some tried and tested tips from our Facebook followers which will hopefully help in those early days.
Preparing food is the last thing on your mind. If you are organised, do some batch cooking and freeze some meals in advance. Alternatively, pick up some ready meals. If you won’t have time to go food shopping, online shopping is your new best friend. If you don’t have the energy to even think about what to eat, this is the perfect time to sign up for Gousto or HelloFresh.
Make sure you have stocked up on the other essentials like tea, coffee, biscuits and toilet roll beforehand too.
Nothing will prepare you for how exhausted you will feel. Labour is exhausting. Once it is over you’ve got a little person that you just want to gaze at, who doesn’t understand the difference between day and night yet and needs feeding every couple of hours. You will get through it though.
Try to get some rest and sleep when you can. You need to give yourself time to heal and recover. Don’t overdo it by trying to be superwoman, that can just make the healing process take much longer.
One suggestion was to take the night in shifts so that you have some chance of getting some unbroken sleep. Unfortunately, this won’t necessarily work if you are breastfeeding and not expressing at all, but you can try and divide the workload – your partner can do the nappy changes for example.
It can take time to get the hang of breastfeeding: it can be uncomfortable for a few days, your nipples may get sore and your uterus may contract during feeds. If you are breastfeeding, nipple cream is a must have. Always have a water bottle, some snacks and the remote control within reach too!
Everyone wants to meet the new arrival, but don’t be afraid to say no to people. If you don’t feel like having visitors whilst you are in hospital, that’s ok. If you want a couple of days to settle in as a new family, that’s ok too.
When you are up to having visitors, don’t worry about being host, people won’t mind if you haven’t dressed up and put on a spread for them. To be honest, they should be grateful if you are freshly showered and fully covered!
Don’t feel pressured by anyone to not do what you think is best for baby. If you want to breastfeed or bottle feed, don’t let others dissuade you. If you want to use cloth nappies, or babywear, as long as baby is happy, stick to your guns. If your baby is upset by being passed around, they may need some mummy cuddles or even just a timeout in another room. It can all be too much for them, and most people will realise this and let you do what you need to do.
The best guests are the ones that bring food, and don’t overstay their welcome! Don’t be afraid to ask them to bring whatever it is you might need.
Staying in can be nice, but sometimes all you need is a change of scenery, even if it is a short walk.
The first few times you go out with your newborn can be daunting. You aren’t used to packing a changing bag and aren’t completely sure exactly what you need to pack. You’ll get the hang of it in no time! Just remember to replace things when you use them.
Don’t worry about how long it takes to get out, the aim is to get out.
Sometimes Google can be helpful, but it can also be your worst enemy. Don’t let it freak you out! Don’t get sucked in to thinking what people are posting on Facebook and Instagram is real life.
There are lots of places you can find support and advice, however minor your concern. The health visiting team come to you a couple of times post birth, and then you can ring them or have a face-to-face chat at one of the weigh-in clinics or children’s centres. If you need some breastfeeding advice, come along to one of our meet-ups where we have breastfeeding peer support.
Holiday with a baby VS as a couple
You may be thinking about your first summer holiday as a parent and wondering what it might be like. I have summarised some of the key points of the average beach holiday abroad and how my experience differed pre- and post-baby.
Holiday as a Couple - Start a few days before departure. Spend a leisurely afternoon trying on different outfits and accessories. Pack a selection of new outfits you've bought for the trip (you still have disposable income). Choose a stylish hand-luggage option; fill with beauty essentials, books and magazines. You'll also need an outfit, sunglasses and swimwear so you can be pool ready as soon as you arrive!
Holiday with a Baby - Start 2 weeks before. Pack for baby first; select several day and evening outfits plus extras. Fill your case with nappies, snacks, toys and books. Pack as little as possible for yourself. Now halve what you have selected for yourself! Re-pack 8 times as baby removes contents as fast as you can fill. Your hand luggage is now a change bag. If your phone and purse fit in your pocket then great, otherwise you have no personal effects until you collect your hold luggage.
Holiday as a Couple - Arrive in good time, check in, breeze through security, have a sit-down meal with drinks, take a leisurely stroll around duty-free shops.
Holiday with a Baby - Arrive earlier than needed, there is so much more that could go wrong. Baby has a meltdown in the massive queue for the bag drop. Get called to the front, not because they are being kind, but because everyone else in the queue wants to kill you. Once through security, head to airport soft play.
Holiday as a Couple - Have an actual conversation with your partner, order drinks, read, listen to music, maybe have a snooze.
Holiday with a Baby - Movement is limited as baby is strapped to your lap. A gin and tonic is likely to be consumed or spilt by your infant. In the event of your child actually falling asleep, do not move for the rest of the flight! A full bladder, neck cramp and utter boredom is a much better alternative to a tantrum mid-air!
Arriving at the hotel
Holiday as a Couple - Check in, head to the bar or pool, relax and enjoy the start of your holiday.
Holiday with a Baby - Step off the coach stressed and fatigued! Make your way slowly to reception as infant insists on carrying her own bag (pulling along the ground, scuffing it up as she goes). Attempt a drink at the bar as your child, who has now been strapped down for approximately 8 hours, runs riot around the hotel and you automatically get labelled as 'That Family' by other guests.
Day by the pool
Holiday as a Couple - Wake up at your leisure, pack a small bag and head down for breakfast. Grab a couple of sun loungers, bask in the sun’s hot rays as you settle for a well-earned nap. Have a quick dip in the pool to cool off. Head to the bar for cocktails and repeat...
Holiday with a Baby - Arrive early for breakfast as everyone else is still asleep. Pop back to your room to collect your bag (it’s now far too big to take down to breakfast as includes bucket, spade, and inflatable boat). Grab a single sun lounger, it’s naïve to think there will ever be a point in the day you'll both be sat down. Spend 15 minutes reapplying suncream, changing in to swim nappy and all in one UV suit for your child to run to the pool, dip in their toes and realise it is far too cold and there is no way they are going in. Spend 20 minutes trying to entertain them poolside before deciding to move on, pool day over at approximately 10.40 am.
Day at the beach
Holiday as a Couple - Laze in the sun, read, listen to music, go for a swim, then back to relax.
Holiday with a Baby - The amount of stuff to carry has doubled since you attempted a day by the pool, you now have more toys and a sun shade. Struggle across the sand with pushchair and your hoard of stuff. Set up the sunshade, lay out toys, smother child in sun cream. Entire process can take up to 1 hour, in which time you have completely forgotten to apply any sun cream to yourself. Now dig...and don't stop digging until the end of the day! Leave exhausted and sunburnt (and with the massive hole you’ve dug totally unappreciated!).
Holiday as a Couple - Relaxing meals out, drinks, conversation, more drinks, head to a club for dancing until the early hours.
Holiday with a Baby - Sit awkwardly as you are 'That Family' with the screaming child that just does not want to be seated in a high chair. Try to ignore the fact that all surrounding tables are staring. Evening entertainment is now a mini-disco, with the same 5 songs each night that you will be forced to go up on stage and dance/sing-along to. These songs will now remain ingrained in your brain for weeks after you return home. Remove your over-tired child from the stage as she screams for more, leave the bar looking like you have abducted said child as she wails flailing in your arms. Once back to your room, spend the next 5 hours trying to get the ‘wired’ child to sleep.
Holiday as a Couple - Exhausted from a week of mostly lying down you have a snooze on the plane and get home completely refreshed from your week off.
Holiday with a Baby - Arrive at the airport with your extremely over-tired child who throws 2 tantrums before boarding the plane. A 3rd tantrum kicks off as you step on to the plane (the mother of all tantrums!) and everyone turns to look praying to God that 'That family' is not sitting near them! Eventually, exhausted from screaming, child falls asleep and you are again back to sitting uncomfortably whilst breaking your neck, desperate for a wee, but the prospect of another meltdown is far too big a threat. Once you arrive home, actually exhausted by your travels, you have a stack of washing the height of Ben Nevis that simply can not wait till tomorrow as your 1 year old has worn every item of clothing in their entire wardrobe!
Although I’ve never been particularly ambitious or career-hungry, I’ve always been fiercely independent. So when it came to having a family, the idea of quitting my job and becoming a stay-at-home mum wasn’t an option for me.
After taking 19 months leave in three years and returning part-time, I found my confidence in the workplace had taken quite a knock, and felt the need to apologise for my absence a lot. It was only when I attended some company management training that I realised some of the activities I was involved in on maternity leave were valid professional development activities worthy of putting on my CV.
The main activity for me was volunteering at the NCT sling library where I was trained and gained plenty of experience in active listening and coaching techniques as I helped parents to find sling solutions that worked for them. I later used this experience in working towards my Level 5 Certificate in Leadership and Management qualification (https://www.managers.org.uk/individuals/qualifications/qualifications-e…).
I started thinking about the things I could have done better and thought I’d share those thoughts with the community. The first thing to consider is whether you will be returning to the job you had before children. Many parents now make changes to their work to better adapt to family life and this may be right for you too. If you are returning to your original job, using your keep in touch days is a really good idea (https://www.gov.uk/employee-rights-when-on-leave). You can do training and attend briefings with these as well as other things. Sometimes arranging ad hoc childcare for these can be difficult so don’t feel like they are essential, and ask your employer if they can be flexible about the hours or even location if appropriate.
If you are thinking about changing career or direction after children, then maternity/parental leave is a good time to take stock and think about where you want to go. Dust off your CV and think about the skills you have that you could apply to a new area. Look into courses and training you may need and put together a plan of how to get there. If you are thinking of starting your own business, look into government and local resources (https://www.gov.uk/browse/business/setting-up, Facebook groups etc) as many areas have good communities who can help with the legal and management aspects of going it alone.
If you are looking for ways to bolster your CV while still on parental leave, volunteering is a good option. In addition to roles like the sling library, there are website and social media positions, accounting roles and many organisational tasks such as events, sales and sponsorship that may suit your personal profession. And don’t forget that you can use your volunteer co-ordinators as references for future posts.
The important bit about this is its likely to be something you are already doing on maternity leave and quite flexible around childcare and availability. In my experience, there was never an issue if a volunteer couldn’t make it one week after a tough night or due to a sick baby, we were all in that place and happy to support one another.
There are many other volunteering and educational options you may also want to consider, but it’s definitely worth taking some time out to see how parenting works for you first. I found I was very useful for events and jobs where I could contribute while my baby slept in a sling but I had no time to sit and work on a computer for example (movement was essential!).
Also be realistic about what you can achieve. There’s a good reason why you are not expected to work in the early months of raising children – it’s hard! Don’t make ambitious plans that you will be disappointed if you don’t achieve. My great aspirations to learn another language on my first maternity leave were quickly realigned!
In certain professions, where an institute award (e.g. Chartered Professionals) is held, particular arrangements will be in place for demonstrating competency during time away from the workplace. Often this is profession specific so please check with your institute to understand if you will need to make up credits or provide evidence for a break.
And finally, don’t forget to look back at the end, take stock and congratulate yourself for all the new skills you have gained. The personal resilience plans you built, the time management expertise you now have and the toddler negotiation portfolio which trumps any workplace people management scenario.
So when someone asks you “what did you do on parental leave?”, tell them with pride that you went on a skills development retreat and now have a lot more to offer any role you choose.