Five things they never told you about having a baby
As soon as your baby bump begins to show, it seems that everyone and his grandmother will have a wealth of advice to share with you. They mean well but they probably won’t share these five things that you really need to know know. You might wonder, ‘am I the only one who sucks at this?’ Let’s bust this conspiracy of silence so you don’t feel so alone – you really are doing a great job!
1. Breastfeeding may not ‘just happen’
Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby but it often doesn’t come naturally at first. It’s helpful to understand that just like learning a new dance, you and your tiny partner can take a little while to get ‘in step’. As you learn how to hold your baby comfortably, your newborn has to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing.
Being born is hard work and many babies take a while to feed effectively but offering skin to skin cuddles will help: strip your baby down to his or her nappy and hold them against your bare chest. As soon as you notice early hunger signs (sucking movements with his mouth, trying to move their hand to their mouth or ‘rooting’ towards you as though they are seeking food) offer the breast quickly – support your baby and pull them in close as they turn in and open their mouth (although never push your baby’s head). You may need to feed some breast milk from a syringe if they take time to begin feeding, and expressing will help kick start your milk supply. Try to avoid bottles during this learning period, as this will imprint a different sucking action from breastfeeding.
2. Your baby probably won’t appreciate your interior design skills
Even the most lavish, lovingly prepared nursery won’t encourage your baby to feel safe and secure enough to sleep soundly away from the security of your smell, your arms and the sound of your heartbeat, at least in the early weeks.
In the watery world of the womb, your baby was weightless and warm, comforted by the rhythm of your heartbeat and the gentle rocking motion of the ‘mother home’, as his or her body was gently massaged by the uterine wall and contained by the boundaries of your own body. Now, from this dark warm world of muffled sounds, the newborn must get used to new sensations: air moving across the skin and into the lungs, lights, direct sounds, smells and stillness.
Your baby will need help to make the transition from womb to world, so it can be helpful to think of the first three months as the ‘fourth trimester’ of your pregnancy. This way, you will reduce the pressure on yourself and your baby to ‘separate’ too quickly. You can relax and enjoy every sweet cuddle as you wear your baby, rock and sing to them, knowing you are not ‘spoiling’ them. Instead, you are teaching them to love.
3. Crying isn’t just for babies
You are dealing with a cocktail of new mummy hormones, a whole new lifestyle and you are recovering from giving birth to your beautiful baby – is it any wonder you are overwhelmed by it all?
Tears are pretty normal for new mums but if things are too hard, it is important to get help just in case you are starting to spiral downwards into the dark tunnel that is postnatal depression.
Evidence suggests that as many as one in 7 new mums and one in 20 new fathers are diagnosed with postnatal depression each year in Australia.
Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety can present during pregnancy or after birth and may develop quite suddenly or more gradually over several months: The passing ‘baby blues’, where you are weepy for no apparent reason in the days following the birth (typically between the third and fifth day after delivery), affect up to 80 per cent of women. About 15 per cent of women and 5 percent of men develop moderate to severe postnatal depression, requiring medical treatment.
Symptoms of Post Natal Depression (PND) may include mood swings, anxiety or panic; sleep disturbances unrelated to the baby’s needs, changes in appetite, chronic exhaustion or hyperactivity; crying – feeling sad and crying for no apparent reason or feeling like you want to cry but can’t; irritability; negative, obsessive thoughts; fear of being alone or withdrawing from family and friends; loss of memory or concentration, unrealistic feelings of inadequacy or guilt, loss of confidence and self-esteem. For men, symptoms can also include anger, loss of libido, engaging in risk taking behaviour, increased hours at work as part of withdrawal from family and increased use of drugs or alcohol instead of seeing treatment for depression.
The good news about PND is that it is treatable. And, the sooner you get help, the more quickly you will recover. There is a range of treatments, from psychological therapies to medication – and yes, there are safe medications for women who are breastfeeding.
4. You might feel like you’re going a little crazy
You finally get your baby to sleep, you hop in the shower –and you hear them crying. You jump out, dripping wet and race to check – but he or she is still sound asleep, safely in their cot, exactly where you left them just a few minutes ago. Your raging mummy hormones are designed by nature to make sure you protect your baby from lurking danger. This is why those voices in your head urging you to check up are so persuasive. It’s also common for new mums to have weird dreams about ‘losing’ their baby – resulting in throwing off the blankets to search when, just like the shower scenario, baby is sleeping soundly in their bed!
5. Sleep is for the weak
In infant sleep studies, ‘all night’ is considered as five hours. For safety, your baby is designed to arouse easily and wake often in the early months and, according to several studies, night waking is normal for at least the first year. There is increasing evidence that some approaches to ‘teaching babies to sleep’ that advise leaving babies to cry, can cause stress responses that may lead to long term, adverse changes to a baby’s developing brain.
Baby training practices also have the potential to negatively impact your baby’s trust, attachment and bonding, and your own confidence. They may also contribute to breastfeeding problems such as low milk supply along with poor baby weight gains and failure to thrive due to inappropriate advice that doesn’t consider the physiology or unique experiences of individual mothers and babies. However, this doesn’t mean you have to ‘suck it up’ if you are exhausted and sleep deprived, there are gentle methods to help you and your baby sleep, without tears for either of you, so do seek help.
An internationally certified lactation consultant and infant massage instructor, Pinky McKay is the best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting By Heart, Toddler Tactics and 100 Ways to Calm the Crying. Check out Pinky’s books here.