I can’t remember if I’d even heard of The Fourth Trimester before Prim was born. I do remember learning more about it in her early days, though, and feeling a sense of relief; suddenly things made sense. It was probably this article by Sarah Ockwell-Smith that acted as a revelation! Of COURSE she didn’t want to be put down – she’d just spent 9 months warm and secure inside my womb and, now earthside, we were expecting her to like a cold, strange smelling Moses basket rather than our warm arms?! Of COURSE she needed to feed. All. The. Time. Her tummy was the size of a marble and breast milk digests quickly, so she needed to nurse very regularly.
Did these things last forever? No.
Did it feel like they would at the time? YES!
Do I wish I’d given into it sooner and stopped stressing and doubting myself and my baby? Absolutely.
I’ve written before about how out of tune the Western world is with the needs of these tiny folk. Parts of the world who still keep their babies close, bedsharing, babywearing and feeding on demand as a matter of course must look at us, baffled. Why are we so obsessed with getting these babies to ‘sleep through’? With turning them into robots or tiny adults? Why do people refer to ‘good’ babies, like there’s such thing as a ‘bad’ baby? Why don’t people understand he basic biological needs of newborns (and mothers)?
So, here we are, four weeks in to life with Wilf. It’s been challenging, especially with a toddler added into the mix! I’ve cried quite a bit, sometimes with exhaustion, sometimes because I’ve doubted my ability to ‘do this’, sometimes with frustration (two year old developmental behaviour is tough when you’re being pulled in two directions) and often with guilt about not being able to split myself in half to spend quality time with both babies.
But it has been easier than last time, mainly because I understand it more. Here’s what I’ve learned since then…
– A babymoon makes a massive difference.
I was firm on this – it was part of my ‘Positive Postpartum Plan’ and it NEEDED to happen. So our doors remained closed to all visitors, with the exception of Lauren, who came to take care of Primrose whilst we went to get his tongue tie snipped.
This precious time flew by in a haze of tears and laughter (in almost equal measure) as we watched our toddler marvel at our newborn whilst dealing with the usual postnatal bleeding, exhaustion, sore nipples and the adjustment to life as a family of four. The cover photo for this post is Prim, Wilf and I on Day 1 – postpartum tummy in all its glory, books, toys, pillows and (out of shot) snacks, water and a cup of tea!
Any guests who’ve visited in the subsequent weeks have bought food and offered help. One of my best friends even bought gin, God love her! They were all brilliant.
– Tongue tie is a shocker.
It also, very often, remains undiagnosed by midwives and other professionals, leaving women leaving like they’re doing something wrong. I knew Wilf had one – my knowledge (and nipples) told me so. Yet the (highly experienced) midwife who carried out his newborn checks was reluctant to agree. She finally conceded that he had a ‘minor’ tie but couldn’t give me any kind of time scale for getting it revised.
With friends who’ve waited up to five weeks for ‘the snip’ and others who’ve had their BF journeys cut short because of the pain, we made the decision to go private – not a possibility for everyone, I know – and it was, undoubtedly, the best £150 we could have spent. Suzanne, the brilliant Lactation Consultant we saw (Bedford, UK) took one look and confirmed it was a fairly substantial tie. It was snipped and the change was instant, though it took another week or so for the bruised sensation to dissipate. Find a local practitioner here. If going private isn’t an option for you but you know something is right, push for a second opinion – we know one mama who saw TEN professionals who all said her baby had no tongue tie, before going private and having a posterior tie diagnosed and cut. If you are waiting for a division on the NHS, call every single day – more if necessary. This seems the only way to speed things up.
– All babies are very different.
Comparing them to other babies, even your own, is pointless! We used to have to wake Primrose to feed every three hours. Once we stopped after two weeks, when she had exceeded her birth weight, she’d sleep for 4-5 hours. Wilf, on the other hand, sleeps for 2.5 hours between feeds. That said, he feeds for 20 minutes rather than 90, which Prim fed for (damn nipple shields didn’t help here!). You can read about my first BF journey here.
Primrose, as I discussed in this post, was slow to gain weight, which was the main cause of my anxiety. Wilf lost none of his birth weight and, by day 24, had gained over 3lbs. He now weighs what Primrose weighed at 6 months and I’ve heard ALL the jokes about ‘Gold Top’ milk and fielded plenty of comments about his multiple chins.
Same parents, very similar pregnancies, almost identical labours and yet their birth weights, sleep needs and feeding patterns are very different, and that’s normal.
– The need to be held is intrinsic.
Of course, with a toddler, this is hard, though she’s been incredibly understanding. A sling has been my best friend here. This one is great for newborns and, once you’ve put it on a few times, it’s quick and easy to get on. Baby feels a secure attachment and you have both hands free to play with your toddler, change nappies and make a cuppa! It is also a brilliant way for your partner to bond with baby. As I type this, hubby is wearing Wilf – we just got back from a walk and he is still happily snoozing away. Being upright is also great for helping refluxy babies.
For more on babywearing, check out this recent guest post from Mel at Wrap a Hug.
– Mimicking the womb can help baby feel calm and safe.
Babies have just left this dark red space, noisy, naked, warm and suspended in water. Suddenly, they’re naked, it’s cold and bright and they’re expected to lie motionless in a quiet place.
Think about ways to emulate the inside of the womb to help reassure them… red LED lights to cut through the darkness at night, warm deep baths (bathing with them and sitting them upright can also help soothe colicky babies), white noise (lots of free apps for this), wearing them in a sling and taking lots of walks.
– Babies want (and need) to nurse very frequently.
Honestly, you may start to wonder if you will ever be able to put your boob away again. The answer, thankfully, is yes. Read up on cluster feeding and embrace it. It’s bloody knackering but it’s short lived. You may also start to think you don’t have enough milk because they’re feeding so much. Even I, with all my knowledge of breastfeeding norms and having been through it once before, doubted myself a fair few times in the first few weeks, usually in the lonely still of the night. Trust your body – unless there are other concerns regarding overall health, or fewer wet/dirty nappies than they should be having at that stage, your milk is enough… Thankfully, hubby helped me keep the doubts at bay. Reading the LLL book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding gave further reassurance.
Your milk is richer at night so this tends to be when cluster feeding happens. Think of it as your baby ‘putting in an order’ for the next day – usually during a growth spurt – they are telling your body what to produce. Resist the urge to ‘top up’ with formula if you want to carry on breastfeeding – at this early stage, when your supply is still establishing, replacing even one or two feeds can confuse your body into thinking it can produce less milk.
It is worth staying here that this is KNACKERING. I’m terrible at dealing with being woken up and have muttered ‘for f*cks sake’ under my breath more times than I care to remember in the last month. Happily, nursing releases both oxytocin and endorphins, so I’m OK after a few minutes!
– They’ve been scrunched up for a long time.
If your baby seems to be experiencing any discomfort, remember they’ve been in a VERY enclosed space for a long time. They’ve also had to work seriously hard to get down the birth canal, or they’ve been born very suddenly by CS. Quick labours or C-sections can apparently mean gut issues, as the head hasn’t been squeezed for long enough in the birth canal for all cerebrospinal fluid to be dispersed around the body. The last place it reaches is the gut. Both my labours were quite quick and both babies have benefitted from appointments with a cranial osteopath. For Prim, it helped with trapped wind and reflux. For Wilf, trapped wind and a mucus build up in his sinuses. I also wish I’d known about Neuner’s Baby Stomach Tea last time – if I drink a cup, it really helps Wilf release trapped wind, poor chap!
– It really does take a village.
Be it family, friends, your mum tribe, paid help or and online community, build your village. We are not designed to raise babies without help! I’ve been better at this second time around but could still do better!
– Finally and, perhaps, most importantly, you are never, ever, EVER making a ‘rod for your own back‘ if you feed on demand, cuddle your baby, bedshare, cuddle your baby, babywear, cuddle your baby… you are giving them a secure attachment by showing them that you’re there for them – there’s a reason why babies fall asleep so easily whilst feeding or in a sling; it tells them you’re close by and that it’s therefore safe for them to fall asleep. Often, if you know they’re tired but they won’t nod off (and they aren’t in pain) it can be an inherent survival instinct that has kicked in. Cuddle away – pretty soon you’ll be asking for cuddles as your busy toddler runs off to play!
I hope this has provided a little reassurance to those of you in the early days of motherhood. It’s really bloody tough – there’s no doubt about that. Keep talking; be honest about how you’re feeling, and be kind to yourself. It’s a much heard saying for a reason: it really is over in a flash!
Love, Jo, The Mother Side xx
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