Here's a typical day in the life of three-month-old Madeleine, first baby of Catherine, on maternity leave, and Maher, back at work.
5-6am: Madeleine wakes and Catherine takes her into bed with her and Maher and gives her a feed. Then they all go back to sleep.
6-7am: Madeleine wakes again and is very lively and active.
7.30am: Catherine gets up and gets dressed while Madeleine plays, lying on a mat under her 'baby gym'.
8am: Madeleine has another feed - she generally feeds every two or three hours during the day, then Catherine puts her in her bouncy chair while she gets on with other things.
9-10am: Madeleine has a nap.
11am: Madeleine and Catherine go out. Catherine feels she would go crazy if they didn't get out every day, so they always go for a walk, or go shopping, or call on friends. Madeleine likes company and enjoys looking at faces.
12.30-1pm: Catherine has some lunch and Madeleine has a feed.
2pm: Although Madeleine sleeps for a while during the afternoon, most of the time she is awake and wanting attention. Catherine sometimes puts her into a baby sling and walks around with her, talking to her or singing while she attends to domestic chores.
6-7pm: Catherine, or Maher if he's home, give Madeleine her bath. She enjoys it now, so she has a bath every day.
7-8pm: Every other evening, Maher gives Madeleine a bottle of expressed breastmilk in preparation for when Catherine goes back to work in a month's time. Maher will then look after Madeleine for three months. After that she'll go to a childminder.
8-9pm: Recently, Madeleine has started to go to sleep earlier in the evening - usually about 8pm. On average she only wakes once for a feed (around midnight) during the night.
Your baby is now three or four months old. He or she has started to develop a routine and you are now more confident as a mother. You will probably feel ready to leave him for a short period and have a little time to yourself. At this stage your baby will probably be quite happy being left. Later on, he or she may get more clingy. Whoever you choose to leave your baby with - mother, mother-in-law, sister, friend - or in a crèche, make sure that you and your partner feel confident about your choice.
When choosing a carer make sure that they have either:
• A baby of their own;
• Previous experience of caring for a baby;
• Baby-care training;
• Or enough common sense to be able to manage!
If you have been to an NCT antenatal class you may have made friends with someone who will offer to look after your baby. You can return the favour by looking after their baby.
Give your friend careful instructions about what your baby needs:
• If he or she has a bottle, take one already made up with expressed or formula milk. If she doesn't know about bottles, explain how to warm the bottle up and how to test the temperature of the milk.
• If your baby is being breastfed and doesn't take a bottle, tell your friend how they can be comforted if they start to cry.
• Take several clean nappies, and a change of clothes, and explain about creams and nappy wipes.
• Add a few familiar playthings.
• Don't leave without giving details of how you can be contacted in an emergency.
Then go off and enjoy yourself!
Making new friends is one of the best parts of becoming a parent.
"I think I was getting quite depressed. I spoke to my health visitor and she suggested I try an NCT baby group. It was easy to get to know the other women because we all had our babies to talk about. I felt so much better for a few hours away from the house. It was great to share my problems with people who had the same ones!"
There are plenty of opportunities for socialising.
• Your local NCT branch will probably hold an 'open house' every week for parents with babies and toddlers. If you feel shy, go with a friend, or ring a member of the branch committee and ask her to arrange for someone to take you.
• NCT postnatal discussion groups are also available in many areas. Either as drop-in discussion groups led by a trained worker and lasting about an hour - you can just drop in from week to week, as you wish - or as pre-booked discussion courses - also led by a trained worker, but meeting weekly for six to eight weeks with no more than 15 parents in a group. To find out more, ring the NCT Enquiry Line on 0870 444 8707
• Your midwife might run some postnatal exercise classes - ask at your local baby clinic.
• Active Birth teachers run baby massage courses - contact the Active Birth Centre for details . Its website can be accessed on: www.activebirthcentre.com
• Churches and community centres very often have weekly parent and baby groups - for toddlers as well. You do not have to belong to the church to go along.
• Local libraries are good sources of information about support groups for mothers and fathers with small children. Librarians are usually very approachable people!
• If there are no NCT postnatal groups in your area, you might like to set up your own informal chat group. The NCT has a free guide to help anyone who wants to set up an informal parents group, on your own or as part of branch activities.
Don't try to lose weight after having a baby until you feel well enough - physically and mentally - to change your diet and lifestyle. However, there's nothing wrong with starting an exercise programme and trying to maintain good eating habits to feel more healthy and energised.
Devise your own exercise programme and work into it the things you enjoy. Such as:
• Taking a brisk, 20-minute walk with your baby every day;
• Swimming once or twice a week - leave your baby in a crèche so you can swim properly rather than just play;
• Arranging to leave your baby with a friend while you play squash or badminton;
• Hiring a postnatal exercise video and following it for 10 minutes every day. Exercise regularly and push yourself a little, but not too much. You Shouldn't feel exhausted when you finish exercising. Make sure you drink a lot of water before and afterwards. Wearing a sports bra will help you feel more comfortable if you're still breastfeeding.
Try to eat:
• Five pieces of fruit or vegetables a day, including lots of fresh vegetables and salads;
• Sandwiches made from wholemeal bread;
• A source of calcium, such as milk, cheese or yoghurt;
• Potatoes, pasta and wholegrain cereal for energy.
Evidence shows that it's safe to lose weight while breastfeeding, but as many mothers feel hungrier in the early weeks and months than usual, you may want to wait until later.
Taking your baby swimming is one of the great pleasures of parenthood! Ask your health visitor about the best age to start swimming - recommendations will vary depending on where you live. Your baby should certainly be ready for their first by the time they are three month's old.
Some points to remember
• Different pools have different rules. Some will insist that your baby wears a nappy in the water; others won't - check first.
• A small baby gets cold in the pool quite quickly because they can't move around vigorously to stay warm. Ten minutes is fine for the first few swims. Have a large towel ready to wrap them in as soon as you get out.
• Don't try to teach your baby to swim. Just let them enjoy the water. Hold your baby close and don't use a float until they are confident in the pool.
• Play games with your baby - link being in the water to having fun. Sing nursery rhymes such as Humpty Dumpty. When Humpty has 'a great fall' lift your baby from the side into the pool. However, don't put them under the water yet because the chlorine might hurt their eyes.
• Your baby might be hungry after their swim, so take some baby food with you if he or she is on solids, or be prepared to give them a bottle or a breastfeed.
Your local pool may have special mother and baby swimming sessions. These can be quite noisy, but you may find them more relaxing because you'll have a 'teacher' and get to meet lots of other mums and babies.