Get as much advice as you can - from health professionals, books, friends, relatives and of course the internet. Then mix it all together in a mental NutriBullet and torture yourself by trying to reconcile “feed every two hours” with “never wake a sleeping baby”. If (like me) you’ve just had your second baby, get advice on why the advice you took last time was wrong.
Trying to figure out how the heck to look after a baby won't give you nearly enough to do, so keep a constant stream of visitors coming so there’s someone to make tea for / tidy up after / be an audience for the overly detailed birth stories that will embarrass the hell out of you once you regain a modicum of sanity. “At one point I thought I’d crapped myself but it turned out to be the plug in the birthing pool, thank goodness!”
Do whatever it takes to get the baby to sleep. You’ll want to make sure that the method is adequately complicated, such as driving it round in the car while jiggling up and down, playing piano with your spare hand and reciting the US Constitution translated into Ancient Greek, so that you can use it to impress other parents later. “She’ll only sleep if one of us walks her around so my husband does 8-12 while I sleep, then I take over until 4, then if it’s a weekend he takes her or if he’s got work I keep going,” the earnest - and incredibly tired-looking - mother of a 12-week-old told me at a baby group the other day.
Remember that breastfeeding is the most natural process in the world, your body knows how to do it, and women all over the world have done it successfully for thousands of years. So if you are having a hard time it is clearly because there is SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU. Oh and by the way, breastfeeding is the only way to ensure that your child is healthy, happy and even (according to one particularly helpful study) academically able. So you’d better attach yourself to a breast pump now - oh dear, that hasn’t worked either has it, there must be SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU.
Many new parents use the first few weeks and months to obsess over their baby’s weight. Your midwife or health visitor will be able to help you with this by turning up to your house, making solemn faces and talking about feeding plans. Sometimes they will set ridiculous targets, such as “this baby needs to have gained 4oz by the time I come back tomorrow afternoon”. Don’t feel you're missing out if your baby is gaining plenty of weight - in a couple of months you can begin to worry that it’s obese.
You're probably earning less money while you're on leave. Compound the problem by buying an array of pointless gizmos like inflatable baby beds that last two weeks, sheep that emit white noise, seven-piece baby manicure sets and cupholders to go on the pram (mine was £14.95, bashes into every doorway I walk through and is actually too big to grip the tiny, overpriced speciality coffees that are eating up the rest of my overdraft).
Everyone will offer to help you. Do not accept any of the help. The would-be helpers are enemy agents trying to loosen your control of the baby and force you to admit that you are not Superwoman. Smile, thank them and sacrifice your mental and physical health by trying to do it all yourself, on two hours’ sleep a night.
Now that the pregnancy and birth are over, there’s a danger that your dignity will be restored. Undermine it by answering questions from strangers on whether you’ve opened your bowels, or thought of pouring water down the toilet while you pee to stop it stinging. Stand in front of the mirror looking at your misshapen stomach, then seek out pictures of celebrities who have “snapped back into shape” after giving birth. Finally, carry super-sized sanitary towels everywhere and occasionally drop one while wrangling the pram on to a bus.
Enjoy your baby. Yes, that thing in your arms that won’t stop screaming, wakes you up every hour and a half at night, and never smiles or says anything. Are you feeling the rush of love yet? No? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?
Remember, that's what got you into this mess, so you definitely won’t want go be doing it again. To ensure your partner is on board with this, go make-up free, shower irregularly (obviously don’t wash your hair either), and leak milk on to the front of all your clothes so that you look appalling and smell permanently sour. Towards the end of the week, start bitterly needling them as they are clearly nowhere near as tired as you. Et voila, you’ve just set the scene for at least a year of 100% reliable contraception, so that when the dust settles and you realise how magical this time was, there's no way you can actually have another one. Congratulations!