You have waited nine months for your newborn to arrive. You ate well, navigated the anxiety of being pregnant during a pandemic, took your prenatal vitamins, attended appointments and did your best to keep yourself healthy. Now that your baby has arrived, how do you keep him or her healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Let us start with some brutal truths…

1. Life changes rapidly

Parenthood is a club that members both love to belong to and reminisce about the days when they had no idea what that membership entailed. You wouldn’t trade your children for the world, but you can clearly remember what life looked like before them. Cynthia, mother of three, shares: “Having a baby, specifically the first, is such a life-changer. One minute you’re able to make spontaneous decisions and weekend plans, and the next you’re sobbing in your spit-up covered robe, holding a tiny screaming stranger who is inconsolable. Meanwhile, everyone asks, “Isn’t motherhood the absolute best thing that’s ever happened to you?” I wish I could go back and tell myself to find support sooner from real life moms who are honest about the struggles of new motherhood.”

2. Breastfeeding is difficult, no matter how many times you’ve done it

Breast is best, providing natural antibodies to your baby and a sure way to maintain their immunological protection, especially in a pandemic. But just because it’s natural, it doesn’t mean it will be easy. Rachelle, mother of four, says, “Breastfeeding is so much harder than people will admit. Also, just because you have successfully nursed two children, it does not mean your third will be easy.”

Sore nipples are quite common as nipples are overly sensitive and can become painful during breastfeeding. As your baby latches onto your breast, you may feel a short burst of pain in your nipple. The pain should stop after a few seconds. If your baby doesn’t latch on correctly, the pain could last through the whole feeding. It might feel like a sharp pinch. Your nipples can also crack and bleed.

Your symptoms should get better as your baby gets the hang of feeding. But there are a few ways you can ease soreness:

– Gently squeeze out a few drops of milk and rub them over your nipples to soften them before you nurse.

– Put a balm or ointment, such as lanolin, on your nipples.

– Wear a comfortable cotton nursing bra. Make sure it fits well so it doesn’t rub against your nipples.

– Try different feeding positions until you find one that’s comfortable.

If you’re having trouble getting a good, non-painful latch, your doctor or a lactation consultant can help you and your baby make some adjustments to make you more comfortable.

3. Say no to visitors

Being new parents often means family and friends will hope to rush over to meet the new addition. In a pandemic, this should not even be considered. Don’t feel selfish taking these first moments for you and your partner to be alone with your baby. Ensure if there are indeed any visitors, they are mindful of all the healthcare recommendations and practicing them intently. If you have any concerns, we suggest you trust your gut instinct. A mother’s instinct is never off, especially a new mummy! Amanda, mother of one, suggested, “No visitors for the first few weeks until baby got her first shots.”

Physical distancing remains the best strategy for limiting the risk of infection for your new baby. This means that people who do not live with you should not come see your baby until the COVID-19 pandemic has resolved. Use social media or video applications, such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom, to connect with friends and family members who do not live with you to introduce your baby. All caretakers and siblings should wash their hands frequently and take special care to wash hands before touching newborns. They also should wear a mask when holding the baby. The baby should only be around people who live in the house and are asymptomatic.

4. Postpartum depression is real

Pregnancy and birth wreak havoc with more than just the body, your brain is affected greatly too. More than just ‘baby blues,’ postpartum depression is a serious condition. One in eight women experience postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety, reports the US Centers for Disease Control, though that statistic could be higher due to the under-reporting of symptoms by women. You are now suddenly responsible for every single aspect of this brand new human’s safety and well-being, how could you not feel worried and overwhelmed? That is why it can be important to rely on those around you to help you recognise any signs or symptoms of depression.

Leanne, mother of three, says, “I didn’t know it at the time but I believe I had PPD with my first two children. Knowing that, I would have let only my close family around me and not allowed the negativity of others in, even if they were supposed to be a part of my children’s lives. I should have told myself that things were going to be okay and that I was enough for my babies. I’m all that they need and more.”

If you suspect you have PPD, don’t hesitate to speak to your healthcare professional.

5. Ignore the judgment of others

Everyone has an opinion it seems, about the best way to raise a child, feed a baby, or get an infant to sleep. Welcomed or not, sometimes those opinions should be left unsaid. Patricia, mother of one, says, “My son is allergic to dairy. So I bottle fed him because I had to give him formula without dairy protein in it. That being said, I wish I could tell myself not to let the stares and quiet whispers (that weren’t so quiet) bother me. And that it didn’t make me less of a mother because I wasn’t breastfeeding my son. All that really matters is that he and I are both healthy and happy.”

Motherhood is a beautiful journey, but all new mothers will admit it is a sharp growth curve, an adjustment period and a process of continuous learning. It can be difficult and takes time to get into a rhythm. Be kind to yourself and ensure you are allowing self-care and nurturing time to fuel the love of motherhood.