Bush mum life – the first 7 months

I have been a mum for a grand total of 7 months and two week. You may notice a difference between the title (6 months) and what is written (7 months). That is because I wrote this when Leah was 6 months old, and it has taken me this long to get around to posting it…what does that tell you about motherhood.

Trust me, I know, I am in my position to be giving advice, so this is by no means a blog where I am trying to tell people what to do. It’s literally musing about mum life, specifically mum life in the African bush.

Let me tell you, it has been the most amazing and the hardest 7 months of my life.

If it helps some people who might be thinking about travelling to East Africa with their little one, or a new mum, then that’s great. If not then it’s just the ramblings of a sleep-deprived mother, hidden away somewhere in the African Savannah.

Travelling with a baby in East Africa

Travelling with a baby in Kenya is not so easy. Driving distances are long the roads are bumpy, there are no changing facilities anywhere and it’s hard to find clean toilets along the way.

The main thing is to expect and prepare for a long trip. That means something to entertain the baby/child while in the car seat, snacks if they are older, lots of nappies, a portable changing mat, a change of clothes, etc. Also, have a look at Google Maps and try and figure out beforehand where you can stop to get the baby out of the car seat for a bit. Also never trust the timing of Google maps, always add at least an hour or two!

Take a white noise machine and black-out curtains to try and replicate your home environment as much as possible. Bring a merino wool sleepsack that works for a variety of temperatures. Bring Milton sterilising tables and a baby bath, bath tubs are not the norm in lodges/hotels.

To be honest, when we were moving around the most Leah was still at the age where she could sleep anywhere and on the go. Now she is in a routine and sleeps in the same environment every time so it’s definitely going to be more difficult to travel with her now as we only have a 2-hour wake window to work with. She also gets fed up in the car seat easier.

Leah has been on safari many times but not when she has been old enough to actually see the animals properly so we still have that excitement to come. A the moment I have a lot of videos and photos of Leah asleep with a variety of animals in the background.

Click to see the Instagram video

I have also had some bizarre moments of changing poopy nappies while at a cheetah sighting and breastfeeding in the back of the land cruiser while there was a pride of lions 10 ft away. It also puts sundowners into perspective when instead of sipping on a G&T while watching the sun go down, I have become the sundowner while my baby suckles away as I watch the sun setting.

I don’t have a lot of wisdom as of yet when it comes to traveling with a small baby but I guess not many of you will be bringing a child below 6 months on safari – if you’re thinking about it I wouldn’t recommend it.

However, do follow along as we learn on the job what it’s like to travel with a baby in East Africa.

I do have a bit of wisdom concerning general taking care of a baby and I have learned a lot already.

What I have learned, things I wished I had known

7 months is not a lot of time, but in the postpartum world, it feels like a lifetime.

I know so much now that I didn’t know before and, of course, I still have so much to learn.

Here are a few things I have learned/would do differently next time (if there will be a next time).

I didn’t take enough time to check in with my friends postpartum – you don’t know until you know! If you have a friend who has just had a baby – give them a call, send them a message, ask how they are! Right now…send that txt!

Having your mum around is everything (thanks mum). As loving as husbands/male partners can be, they literally have no idea what you are going through! You need someone around who does know and knows what you want/need.

Things will get better, you will sleep again, she will stop crying, your pain will go away eventually, you will stop having to ask permission to go to the toilet/have a shower, you will start to feel like yourself again although an entirely new version of you, and you will get some time to yourself…maybe. I’m actually not sure about this one yet. I am in the fortunate position to not be working and have therefore not left my baby for more than half an hour her entire life, so I will let you know on this one…

Yes, your husband can come and go as he pleases and yes it is bloody annoying that you can’t but this little life depends on you entirely, so deal with it, your time will come…maybe…hopefully.

It’s a privilege to be able to stay at home with the baby, be their everything and watch them grow.

Postpartum anxiety is real, don’t let it take over and stop you from enjoying moments with your little one.

Give yourself grace, you just pushed an entire human being out of you, it takes time to get over this, physically and mentally, don’t rush it.

Practical things I have learned:

Spend your pregnancy reading about babies, not pregnancy! I read so many books about birth and pregnancy, nothing about babies…I mean, nothing prepares you for the overwhelm that is postpartum but you can at least try and have an idea before you go in!

Make the most of the newborn phase where they sleep a lot during the day, sleep with them! You’re gonna need that accrued sleep further down the line! On that note, go to bed when they go to bed, that will be your longest stretch of sleep, make the most of it!

Pay attention to wake windows. I had no clue how long a baby is supposed to be awake for and assumed she would fall asleep when tired haha, how naive!

Have a loose idea in your head how long they are supposed to be awake for, also watch for sleep cues, then at the right time assist them to get to sleep, you might save yourself the blood-curdling cry of an over-tired baby!

Latch that baby as much as possible to build up your supply. Also eat and drink lots, when you think you are eating enough, eat some more.

Breastfeeding gets so much easier and it’s so worth it. Push through the pain, cluster feeding, sleepless nights and the feeling of being constantly touched out and it will pay out in the end. Although later you will have other difficulties, right now feeding Leah is like trying to pin down and feed a feisty crocodile.

If you are not going back to work then don’t stress yourself out building up a massive freezer stash of milk, have some for emergencies but don’t store milk unnecessarily you might cause an oversupply.

Start a bedtime and nap routine as soon as possible. It can be as simple as white noise, potty/nappy change, sleep sack, book, sleep. Whatever it is keep it consistent and baby will learn to know that it’s now time to sleep, trust me, it works.

Don’t swaddle the baby, yes it might help you temporarily as it stops the moro reflex so they don’t wake themselves up, but they will grow out of it quicker if you don’t swaddle them. Plus the reflex is there for a reason.

Don’t stress yourself out about getting the baby to sleep independently, give in to the contact naps, they also give you the rest and cuddles you need and deserve.

Start elimination communication from the get-go! For those that don’t know, this is where you watch and learn your baby’s cues and have them toilet over the potty instead of in their nappy. FYI all that unexplained crying in the beginning… might not be so mysterious should you use this technique.

We are getting the hang of it now, but honestly, I only started taking it seriously at around 5 months. I barely have to change a nappy anymore as I know when she has to go. On the subject of pottying a baby…

Poppers are the bain of my life, especially when trying to get a baby over a potty quickly. I have since stopped putting her in clothes with poppers, she now lives in t-shirts/dresses and nappies. Also night gowns for sleep, luckily I live somewhere warm.

Cloth nappies are a win – admittedly I am very fortunate to not have to wash them myself…even so, they do save a lot of money. Make sure you have a good amount so you have enough while others are in the wash. I have tried a few types and I find Bambino Mio to be the best in terms of not leaking.

However, we did only start using them when she was around 2 months so I am not sure how they would have held up with a tiny baby as they are slightly bigger than some of the other brands. Having said that the ones with the poppers all around, I have ‘Little&Bloom’ are potentially better in terms of longevity as you can convert these into training pants later down the line.

Don’t buy too many 0-3 month clothes, especially if you live somewhere hot where the clothes can dry quickly. It’s not necessary and they grow out of them quickly. I know this isn’t news to anyone but seriously try and resist buying hundreds of cute newborn outfits.

Also don’t buy all the stuff! You are their favourite toy, they will learn to sit on their own, and they will figure out how to walk – you don’t need to buy all the gadgets.

Do lots of tummy time! No, they probably won’t like it to start with but it really is the foundation of all the skills they need to thrive. Remember tummy time can be on your chest, over your lap in your arms, it doesn’t have to be on the floor.

Take photos every day! Take photos with you in them, yes, even though you don’t like the way you look, it doesn’t matter. Get in the photo, they grow so fast and you will regret not having photos of you and them when they are tiny. On that note, set up a tripod and camera/phone and take your own photos, don’t rely on anyone else.

Co-sleeping is the way forward. Yes, I know this can be a touchy subject. But, living somewhere where co-sleeping is the norm, no one even considers making their baby sleep separately from them for at least the first couple of years, has made me realise how much sense it makes.

When I think of all the nights I wasted sitting up in pain every hour so I could feed the baby all through the night, then trying to lay her back down in a crib (granted it was attached to our bed) only for her to wake up again as soon as I put her down. Just co-sleep, you will both sleep better and feel better, but look up how to do it safely.

Don’t listen to all the unsolicited advice, have one or two people you trust, speak to them, and ignore everyone else. In the same breath, ask for and accept help when you need it. It really does take a village. Sometimes that village is virtual.

Best buys

Admittedly I have fallen prey to buying way more than we actually needed! In an attempt to help you not do the same I have listed below the things that I bought that are actually useful and the things that are not.

Useful things:

  • Portable changing mat – very useful to have in the nappy bag and carry around with you
  • Teething toys
  • Rock-it to jiggle the pram/cot although had I co-slept from the start we wouldn’t have needed it
  • Lay flay pram top – great for naps and a bed on the go
  • Baby sleep sacks – rather than buying lots of sleep sacks with different toggs for different weather invest in one or two Merino wool sleeping sacks that regulate their temperature in a variety of weathers.
  • Adult sleep sack – great for co-sleeping so there are no covers around the baby.
  • Pack and play/travel cot – provides a safe area for baby to play/sleep wherever you go
  • Breastfeeding cover with an opening at the top so you can see baby while feeding
  • A decent thermometer and medical supplies, especially useful when living in the bush.
  • A big play mat for them to roll around on safely
  • white noise machine – one that doesn’t time off, one with a night light is also useful
  • A potty from the start.
  • A hands-free carrier – in the beginning I used a wrap one, now I use one with straps
  • A lay flat car seat – travelling distances are long and they shouldn’t be scrunched up in a car seat for long periods.
  • Baby monitor that works on wifi so you can see it from wherever you are.

Not useful things:

  • Any kind of sit-me-up ‘containers’ if you can avoid it – I know sometimes you just need to put them down somewhere they can be safe in which case they have their use.
  • Next to me basinette, instead just take one of the sides off their normal cot and put it next to your bed.
  • Mittens – they fall off, just put socks on their hands if you need to

On the fence in usefulness

  • Baby Bjorn bouncy chair – useful when you need to put the baby down to eat dinner etc but by 4 months Leah didn’t like sitting back in it

Books worth reading

The womanly art of breastfeeding

Sweet sleep La Leche League

The nurture revolution

The gentle sleep book

The no-cry sleep solution

I’m sure there is more and there is definitely more to learn so I will continue to post my musings intermittently. In the meantime, if you are interested in bringing your child/children on safari then just answer a few questions below and let me help you plan that trip:

Natasha Chapman

Natasha Chapman

Photographer & Content Creator

Follow along with my life in Africa for adventure, photography, wildlife and content creation.

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