New baby? Gather your support network
In those carefree days before baby arrived, you were probably proud of your independence. This new life (the little one in your arms for most of the day) depends on you totally and that awesome responsibility can see you desperate for some back up, whether this is moral support or practical help.
Although it can be easier to vent to strangers on social media – there will be somebody to respond even at 3am and you can remain anonymous - most of us find it difficult to actually ask even those closest to us for practical help. There is a fear of judgment and advice that isn’t helpful.
The sad thing about carrying the load all by yourself is that most people feel privileged to share in the magic of a baby, so be open to receiving help and conserve your energy to care for your baby.
It is worth bearing in mind that sometimes the cost of help may be an earful of well-meant but irrelevant advice. So weigh up the value of advice versus help and consider that help can be found in lots of unexpected ways. For instance, if this is your second or subsequent baby, you could pay a young teenager a few dollars to entertain your toddlers after school (with you present) as you feed the baby, whip round with the vacuum cleaner or make some phone calls. Or you could pay her to do some light chores such as folding washing or helping you tidy up. Kids generally can’t get paid work until they are at least fifteen, but they are capable of giving useful help long before then – just don’t abuse the goodwill or burden them with sole responsibility for a baby or toddler.
Your support network
Family and friends would be an obvious first port of call and even a few days of staying with your own mum can help you catch up on some much needed rest. However, this often isn’t an option due to distance, or your mum might be at work herself, like all your pre-baby friends.
No matter how in love you are with your baby, when you are home alone, isolation from other grown-ups can make the days drag. Although it’s ideal to set up your support networks before you have your baby, it’s never too late, and as your baby grows you will find your network changing to meet your changing needs.
Your support network could include a good friend who will give you and your baby hugs when you need them, a support group such as La Leche League, Parents Centre or the Australian Breastfeeding Association, depending where you live. Most voluntary support groups offer free telephone counselling too, if you are worried about any aspect of baby care or infant feeding, and they will refer you to helpful professionals if there seems to be an issue of concern.
You could join a playgroup to meet local mums - you will be welcome even if your baby is too young to play with other children, and often playgroups have a leader who can support you with child development information and creative play ideas.
There are also a plethora of mum and baby classes such as a baby music group, GymbaROO or a baby swim class (don’t worry about what you look like in a swim suit, all the other women will have ‘mummy tummies’ too!).
When you need an expert
If you have an unsettled baby, feeding difficulties, or you are finding recovery after birth is difficult, it can be wise to call in an expert who can offer some practical help along with baby wrangling tips and reassurance. Some professional help will be funded but private help will usually involve financial costs. However, this can be worth your peace of mind as it could save you hours or days of ongoing distress.
Such professionals could include:
Family doctor – if you don’t yet have a family doctor, ask around and find one who suits your family. Remember, choosing a doctor who feels right for you is not being fussy. You want to feel supported whenever you have a concern about your baby’s health or your own, not dismissed. And don’t ever feel as though you are being over anxious. Trust your intuition and ask until your concerns are addressed. Remember, you are contributing to your doctor’s kids school fees, so you have a right to be heard, helped and referred to a specialist if necessary.
Midwife – if you had a midwife in private practice for your baby’s birth, you could call her and ask for help. Or you could call the hospital where your baby was born – hospitals are staffed around the clock, and even if the person you speak to doesn’t remember (or never met) you, they will be able to offer some quick tips to help you work out what to do next.
Child health or plunket nurse – baby health nurses are well informed about infant development and some have extra qualifications. A good nurse will be able to help with feeding, crying and sleep issues, as well as being able to support you with your own health and adjustment to motherhood. Your nurse is part of a larger network of resources so she can refer you to specialists if you have concerns about any aspect of your baby’s development that she can’t address.
A lactation consultant – Lactation consultants offer specialist breastfeeding support and assistance. Some child health nurses and midwives are also certified lactation consultants. Some lactation consultants work in private practice and will make home visits – this is a boon if you are stuck on the couch struggling to feed your baby.
Be sure to check the person you consult has IBCLC (international Board of Certified Lactation Consultants) qualifications and is a member of a recognised professional body such as LCANZ (Lactation Consultants Australia and New Zealand) or ILCA (International Lactation Consultants Association).
Although a doula is often a woman who supports you through birth, there are also postnatal doulas. The role of a doula is to help YOU, not to solve your baby’s feeding, sleeping or crying problems. The word ‘doula’ is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘mothers servant’. And this pretty much explains her role. When you employ a doula, you can define what help you need – from help with light housework, food prep and cooking, to shopping or minding your baby (or babies) while you catch up on sleep, either during the day or overnight.
Although there are no national standards for doulas, there are several training providers so you will need to do your homework and ask what is offered and what qualifications your prospective doula has. Some doulas will have extra qualifications such as breastfeeding counselling or massage therapy, and will offer services accordingly.
Pinky McKay is a best-selling author with four titles published by Penguin Random House including Sleeping Like a baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying, Toddler Tactics and Parenting By Heart. The Australian Breastfeeding Association, La Leche League International and The Australian Association of Infant Mental Health endorse her books. Pinky is also an International Board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), with a busy private practice in Melbourne, Australia See her website at http://www.pinkymckay.com