While a birth plan is a useful idea to express your ideal type of birth, the actual way your child arrives in the world is your first big parenting lesson. Picture: Af.mil

You’re about to become a parent for the first time - how exciting. But also, how overwhelming. With so much material out there for expectant parents, it can be difficult to know which information to take on board. 

We’ve rounded up some pearls of wisdom from those that have been there and done that, so that you can head into this new adventure with some golden tips tucked into your back pocket. 

Plan, but be flexible

While a birth plan is a useful idea to express your ideal type of birth, the actual way your child arrives in the world is your first big parenting lesson: most things are no longer under your control. Dad Sebastien de Romijn agrees, advising: “Plan, but know that things can change, and anything can happen. Try take it easy and just love them."

Trust your instincts

It’s alright to have one trusted parenting book to hand, but mostly you need to look within and trust what your parenting voice is telling you is right for you and your baby. As mom Theresa Heath says, “Trust yourself and your partner, and trust Google less.” Because reading up on the internet is a sure way to make you panic unnecessarily, too.

Catherine Duggan adds: “Pick two or three people you choose to take advice from, and politely ignore the rest.” In a sea of opinions, this is important, as trying to listen to everyone’s (well meaning) advice will only confuse you. If you need expert guidance on something you’re concerned about, many medical aids like Fedhealth have great maternity programmes which offer you access to a nurse or other health professional, so you can speak to someone quickly and easily.

Be realistic

The problem with parenting is that you’re fed a whole lot of lies before you become one. You’re presented with pictures of domestic bliss, featuring a contented child rocking sweetly in a sparkling clean crib, while its manicured parents lean over lovingly and congratulate themselves on their perfect offspring. The reality is somewhat different. 

That’s why it’s important to get real, according to Renee Schonborn: “It’s a lot harder than you think it is going to be. Lose the fantasy, and work as a team.” Know that it’s okay to have a totally messy house in those first few weeks, or to not even be able to get out of your pyjamas.

Find a routine that works for you

“When you’re shattered, you’ll realise how important a routine is,” says Bridget Blackburn, and she’s right. Whether you’re a spreadsheet fan or more of a relaxed mom or dad, routines are important for babies, as they make them feel secure and settled. From a bathtime routine, to when to nap or eat, sticking loosely to a schedule helps you structure your day, and your baby will soon start to learn what to expect, and respond accordingly. 

Linked to routine is learning the cues as to when your baby is becoming over stimulated – and then removing them from that situation and taking them somewhere where they can feel calmer.

Don’t compare

It’s natural to compare yourself, or your baby, with others born at a similar time, but resist the urge! “So-and-so is already sleeping through the night but my child still wakes up three times! What are we doing wrong?!”. 

As Lauren Schoeman says: “Every child blooms in their own time. Do yourself a favour and stop comparing yourself to other parents and your baby or child to others.” This is a good piece of advice to take throughout your parenting journey: accept that your child is unique and has a different set of talents that you should nurture, instead of always trying to keep up with everyone else.