You're exhausted, you have a new baby to look after and you're on your own in a strange room. Get prepared early and make the most of this special time with your bub.

No matter how exhausted you might be, you hope to be on cloud nine after you've given birth. The worst bit – labour – is over, your newborn baby is in your arms and your loved ones are gathered round.

Exciting as it was to finally meet my son, Owen, now 10 months, I could have done without a sleepless night trying to get the hang of feeding him. Owen was incredibly windy and brought up his milk all the time.

Although there were midwives on hand to help, they were generally too busy to spend more than a second showing me how to burp him. A couple of times during the night, a nurse took him away for checks on his jaundice levels. Each time, relief flooded through me. At last, I could catch half an hour's sleep.

To be honest, if there had been a nursery in the hospital where I could have left him, I would have. I was that desperate for sleep. By the time my husband arrived at the hospital the following morning, I burst into tears and declared myself a terrible mother.

Just because mine was a less-than-perfect entry into motherhood, it doesn't mean it has to be like that. A few additions to my hospital bag (earplugs and an eye mask) would have made a world of difference. Next time I won't feel guilty for prioritising sleep and I'll be more confident about asking for help.

Annika, 27, was lucky enough to get a decent rest after the birth of Abi, now seven months. Along with bringing a bag of snacks to boost her energy levels, she says the best thing she did was arrange to stay in a private room.

"It was worth every cent," she says. "Baby Abi slept for six hours straight after she was born. I felt almost human by the time I got home." Megan Baker, midwife and P&B expert, says it's likely that your baby will sleep for several hours after the birth, but it's important to offer your breast as soon as possible after the birth, before he goes to sleep, and to wake him up after roughly five hours for another feed – if you are lucky enough for the sleep to last this long.

However long he sleeps for, you should try to sleep at the same time. Some first-time mums prefer to spend those first few hours on a ward so they can glean tips from other mums. You might not have a clue how to change a baby, but the woman next door might be on her fourth child and happy to help. "Often women stay friends after they've met in a ward – you miss out on that if you're on your own," says Megan.