Some of our very first guests were the amazing Robyn Wilder and her family, who joined us in 2015. For those who haven't discovered her amazing writing yet, Robyn has an honest and hilarious blog The Parent Crap and also has her own parenting column on The Pool. Luckily for us, Robyn loved &Breathe so much she's also now our social media guru and contributor! Here's the first in her new series of The Parent Crap x &Breathe columns - 5 Low Effort Energy Boosts for New Mums - and boy do we sometimes need them.
Long, dark nights punctuated by baby screams, light snoozing and the panicked consulting of Dr Google. Eye-wateringly early mornings. The steep and relentless learning curve of baby-wrangling. The constant churn of new motherhood can really take it out of you. In the first few weeks and months of my son’s life – and even now, sometimes; and he’s 15 months old – I was an unwashed, boob-leaky wreck, spattered in baby sick and surviving on whatever I could eat one-handedly (usually biscuits).
All I wanted to do was stay inside with my baby and stare bleary-eyed at Jeremy Kyle. But after a while all of it – the shock of new parenthood, the exhaustion, the intense, stale indoorsiness of everyday life – started to become oppressive, too, and even my limbs were heavy with it. I needed some sort of kick up the bum, but the very idea of putting in any effort made me want to cry. Eventually I found five things that helped. And here they are!
1. I went outside
I slapped some cheek-and-lip stain on my papery-pale face, hid my bird’s-nest hair and nursing-top-pyjama-bottom combination under a hooded coat, wrestled the baby into a carrier and went outside. I made sure I went outside every day – initially just for walks around the block, then to the local shops, then finally on scenic (and not very hilly) routes I planned on Map My Walk.
And the difference in my wellbeing was palpable. I slept better. I felt more as though I’d “achieved” something at the end of the day. Going outside, in even its most basic form, was like stepping out of a pressurised aeroplane cabin into a refreshing breeze. I cannot recommend enough turning off Jeremy Kyle, also.
2. I went to bed
Although obviously I love spending time with my baby, quite often I’d spend the day fantasising about all the things I’d do when he’d gone to sleep. Watch grown-up television. Paint my nails. Perhaps work on that novel? Then, inevitably, halfway through a self-manicure and the first season of House of Cards, I’d fall dead asleep.
The thing is, no one is handing out prizes for the most-awake new mums of all time. Once I accepted this and, for at least two nights a week, put myself to bed at the same time as my baby, life improved immeasurably. I started getting ALMOST NORMAL AMOUNTS OF SLEEP, which meant that, on the nights when I did stay up, I’d get through at least one episode of House of Cards, and the nails on both my hands would look nice.
3. I slathered myself in yoghurt and honey
When my baby was small, the glowy effects of pregnancy on my skin were giving way to the papery lines of tiredness and small outcrops of biscuit-fed acne. Since I could no longer luxuriate in a home spa, I plopped some honey and lemon juice into some natural Greek yogurt and whacked it all on my face while the baby napped.
There was of course a risk that he’d wake up, I’d loom over him all white-faced, and he would bankrupt me in later years with all his costly therapy, but with the honey providing anti-oxidants and the yoghurt pumping my skin full of much-needed vitamins, it was a chance I was willing to take.
And it worked! I did this once a week and my skin definitely looked less grotty and zombieish.
4. I rehydrated
I was (and am) breastfeeding my son on demand several times a day – but I myself was living on coffee and whatever liquids you can squeeze out of a diet of Bourbon biscuits (turns out it’s not a lot). I tried to remind myself to drink water but baby-brain meant that the house was just now dotted with forgotten glasses of water.
So I bought myself a HydrateM8 bottle. It carries one litre (you refill it at lunchtime), and has sections marked off to tell you how much to drink at each hour of the day, which makes it fun and not too overwhelming. The bottles come in various colours (and if you’re like me you can always cheat and use orange squash).
5. I was realistic about my fitness
Postnatally I had dabbled a bit in walking and YouTube Zumba (you know the sort), but I didn’t really know what my unfamiliar, post-baby body could do, or how to make it strong to carry me and my baby through life without keeling over. So I asked an expert.
Caroline Bragg is a personal trainer and instructor fully trained in postnatal exercise. She helped me come up with a plan that would maximise my fitness without compromising the bits of me that still needed healing after my emergency Caesarean. And none of it was even slightly as scary as I’d been worrying about, eating biscuits in my postnatal Jeremy Kyle-based bubble.
In fact, just making these tiny changes means that I’m a more nourished, better slept, physically stronger person than I was in the months after I gave birth. And while they may be tiny changes – and while I will still take a full night’s sleep if you’re offering it – they’ve made a world of difference to my quality of life.