No, seriously, WHAT NOW? Think about it… You want to drive a car? You take umpteen lessons and a test to prove your competence. Fancy flying a plane? Wave goodbye to 1500 flying hours and £100K. Desperate to be a doctor? 10 years of training, thank you very much.
Resilience, dedication and thorough preparation, all to ensure that you have the requisite skills and are capable of not harming anyone.
Want to have a baby? 9 months of pregnancy and, bosh, there we are; a baby (or two, or three, if you’ve had a multiple birth). No training. No intensive preparation. No highly qualified expert teaching you everything you need to know and then some.
I know, you think, I’ll have a read of that book my friend’s cousin’s neighbour’s sister gave me. The one written by a ’Parenting Expert’. It will be full of helpful hints. Except, often, they’re not, because they’re not about you or your baby.
They do not take into account your hormones, your maternal instincts, the level of support you have (or don’t have). Many don’t consider that you might not want to turn your child into a tiny automaton but, God forbid, you might want to let your baby lead you. If you want to embrace a routine, go for it, but don’t feel the need to adopt the rigid and unforgiving approach outlined by so many of these ‘experts’. You’ll likely end up disappointed.
So, what now? Here’s what I’d tell myself if I had a time machine:
- Don’t panic. Between 3-7 days after giving birth, you will have a day where you seriously consider packing a bag and walking out (God knows where to!). I was warned about ‘Day 4’, except it came and went without event and I thought I’d got the better of it (go, me!). But then Day 6 arrived and I vaguely remember telling the hubby, without a shred of humour or irony, that I thought our baby would be better off with him and ‘another woman’ (God knows who?!); that she’d be better off being adopted by a ‘better mother’ and that ‘I just [couldn’t] do it.’ Thankfully, unaffected by pesky hormones, he was able to set me straight.
- Take each day as it comes. In fact, take each hour as it comes. If you’re breastfeeding, take each feed as it comes.
- Read about the fourth trimester. You baby still thinks it is a part of you for many months after birth. Hold it. Respond to it. Do plenty of skin-to-skin (Dads too!).
- If you’re breastfeeding, feed! Almost continually sometimes (don’t worry, this stage doesn’t last long!). Breast milk digests quickly and a newborn’s tummy is the size of a cherry. Feeding on demand will help your supply to establish, according to your baby’s unique needs. Many mums try to stick to a schedule, on the (outdated) advice to feed every three hours, then wonder why their baby is fussy and rooting for milk. This can adversely affect supply. Thankfully, a few weeks in, I read Gill Rapley’s Baby Led Breastfeeding which helped us a great deal 🙂
- Be strict with guests. Looking back, I wish we’d had fewer visitors in those early days. I wish I’d waited until breastfeeding was more established and I was feeling physically and emotionally stronger. Make sure that anyone who does visit has a time frame doesn’t expect to be waited on (ie: makes their own drinks, and yours!) and can be relied on to hold baby whilst you pee/shower, or will do the washing up for you! If you do invite people, give them a specific time. For example, “We have an hour free from 2pm-3pm”. Then, if you’re comfortable with them staying longer, you can say so.
- Be realistic. Why I spent the first week of my baby’s life staring at the living room floor, wanting to vacuum it, I’ll never know. I don’t like vacuuming. It didn’t need vacuuming. Yet, every day, I obsessed over the bloody vacuuming!
- Be kind to yourself. Know how you’re feeling is normal. I thought I was weird for not wanting many people to hold P but realise that’s normal maternal instinct; you want to keep them close. I also felt like I should be ‘up and about’ thanks to our society’s obsession with ‘getting back to normal’. If there’s a ‘next time’, I’ll err towards the Indian practice of Ayurvedic Postpartum. They have a saying that ‘the first 40 days of life will affect the next 40 years of life’. This time is so important and you can’t get it back.
- Understand that babies are babies. Not machines, Not mini adults. They don’t stop needing you to help them sleep when they reach a certain month that an ‘expert’ deems the ‘correct’ age. They cannot self-soothe; it’s biologically impossible until they’re much older. It’s ok if you rock them, sing them, dance them or walk them to sleep. Let no one make you feel bad for responding to your baby, regardless of how many months (or years) old they are. Babies don’t know about your routine – they just want to sleep when they’re tired and feed when they’re hungry; not when you think they should. Looking at you here, Gina Ford.
- Know that all your baby needs is you. Fed? Clothed? Warm, clean and safe? Plenty of cuddles with you (and Dad)? Then you’ve got it covered. They may cry a lot but it’s their only form of communication (have you tried not speaking for 24 hours? It’s hard!). A lovely community nurse at our postnatal classes made it clear that ‘good is good enough’… Keep repeating this mantra 🙂
Jo, The Mother Side x