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Eight things we wish we'd known about having a baby

Becoming a parent can be a LOT to get your head around - usually on next to no sleep. Woman’s Hour is following five women for our series Bump, Birth and Beyond, who all gave birth a couple of months ago. So what are the biggest lessons they’ve learned so far? Our five mums - Charlotte Dore, Rowan Lawton, Jen Barratt, Laura Lang and reporter Abby Hollick – share the things they wish they’d known…

Pictured clockwise: Rowan and Kit, Jen and Rudy, Abby and Oscar, Charlotte and Oscar and Laura and Ruby

1. Washing your hair will become a luxury

“The biggest change for me is time,” says new mum Charlotte. “My perception of what a mother’s day was like is very different to my reality - I didn’t expect there to be a choice over whether I brushed my hair or brushed my teeth!”

“It’s been a lot harder than I expected it to in terms of the amount of time that’s left for you to be you,” adds Jen, who has just had her second baby Rudy.

“Looking after two, a toddler and a baby, is like being on the travellator at the end of Gladiators.”

2. Hold the visitors and hibernate for a bit

“It took me three kids to truly do this, but just don't have many visitors in the first two weeks,” advises Abby, whose newest baby Oscar is nine weeks old.

“Obviously have your mum and things, but everyone wants to come and see a newborn - they just want a cuddle. But it's your time to sleep and you will end up getting them a cup of tea and worrying that your kitchen looks really messy.”

“We had every single person we know come to visit [first time around],” adds Jen, “and I was fine with it for those couple of weeks. But if you don't just stay in bed and take it easy then the accumulated exhaustion will hit you in weeks four, five, six.

“And you're just so obsessed with your birth story, because you've had this traumatic experience, that you just can't stop talking about it to people! A couple of weeks later I was like, ‘Wow, what level of detail did I go into there?!’.”

3. Breastfeeding can be really hard

While often called “the most natural thing in the world”, breastfeeding can prove a huge challenge for many mums.

“I found feeding early on really traumatic… I really struggled,” says Rowan, who has just quit breastfeeding after combining it with bottle feeding for the first nine weeks.

“On day three she was screaming the place down and I was in bits, feeling like I couldn't give her what she needed.”

Charlotte adds: “My milk never came in so I've never had enough to exclusively breastfeed my son. I had a lot of guilt and self-recrimination… I felt like a failure before I'd even begun. And it shocked me that I couldn't, it really shocked me, I never anticipated that would be a thing.

“[But] though I understand ‘breast is best’… they do survive healthily into adulthood and don't become axe murderers if you give your baby formula.”

For advice and support with breastfeeding try the NHS, NCT or The Breastfeeding Network websites.

4. Random strangers will tell you what you’re doing wrong

“The toughest challenge is people giving you advice or telling you how to do things,” says Laura of becoming a mum to daughter Ruby.

“It is so infuriating. Times have changed - stop telling me stuff I don’t want to hear! It’s constant, even people you don’t know start telling you stuff.”

Charlotte, who’s had comments about bottle feeding on the bus, agrees: “That’s been one of the things that has surprised me and horrified me. Strangers feel the need to tell me whether my child is warm enough or not. Ignore them - you're doing fine!”

5. Embrace your new normal

“Not that I thought people were moaning before,” says Rowan, “But the sleep deprivation - I definitely didn't get it till now, it is epic.”

“You spend a lot of time just going, 'Is this normal? Is this normal?',” says Abby of the first few weeks.

“After my first [baby], I wish I'd been told that you can bleed for six weeks afterwards. After my second, I wish I'd been told that the after pains get worse, so the next few days your uterus is contracting back you can actually have contractions that are really hard core. And that you breastfeed around the clock for the first two days.

"If I'd been told that, even though it would have been hard, I would have just known that it was ‘normal’.”

6. But remember every baby is different

“The first time, Annie was an angel baby - I didn't realise how easy she was,” says mum of two, Jen.

“[Me and my husband] spent the whole of the first year just walking around high-fiving each other about how amazing we were. What I've found with having a second is that it's totally dependent on the baby you've got.

“As soon as you chuck in a bit of reflux and colic… those evenings are tough. I thought I knew how to put a baby to sleep. It's like no, she was just doing that naturally - it wasn't us at all!”

Charlotte, Rowan, Jen and Charlotte when they were pregnant

7. You really will feel ALL the feelings

“I feel like it's the best decision I ever made,” says Rowan, who used a sperm donor to get pregnant with daughter Kit.

“It is absolutely relentless. But in the best possible way 90% of the time - and then 10% of the time it’s awful.”

Laura adds: “I’ve felt emotional because of having fertility treatment and having this wonderful baby that I never thought I'd have. But not really depressed… happy tears.”

Jen says it’s easy to get upset if you don’t feel that instant bond.

“You know that this is one of the most vital amazing experiences of your life, like you're never going to top giving birth to your child and meeting them for the first time – so you feel like you're missing out on the exhilaration if it’s not coming naturally.

“And then all of a sudden you'll be walking down the street and you look at them and get this wave of emotion and you just think ‘Ahh, yes’.”

8. Give yourself a break – and ask for help when you need it

“Just be kind to yourself,” is Laura’s number one piece of advice. “No matter what everyone's telling you, you're doing a good job.

“Look after yourself as well as your baby, because you get exhausted. I pushed people away a lot, thinking I'm a superwoman and I'm not. Accept help and let people in.”

To hear how Rowan, Laura, Jen, Charlotte and Abby got on with pregnancy, and their thoughts on whether motherhood would change them, listen to Part 1 and Part 2 of Bump, Birth and Beyond. Catch up with Part 3 to hear whether their births went to birth plan and Part 4 to hear about those first few weeks.

For help and advice on all aspects of pregnancy, birth and your child's early days check out the NHS Choices website or the NCT.