14 September 2011

New Mother Tips (and a few War Stories)

Baby Dash, minutes old

"Do you reckon it was harder going from one kid to two," a friend once asked me, "or two kids to three?"
Good question.
But the answer is in fact neither.
I reckon the hardest transition when adding little people to your family is going from zero to one.

Nothing can really prepare you for the reality of being a mother for the first time.
You can read all the books, attend the pre-natal classes, and even hang around actual mothers. Which is all good.

But it still won't cushion the shock of actually having a tiny human dependent on you for everything 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of your life.

Baby Dash - first feed

I remember how long it took getting out the door with a new baby. And just as you were all finally fed and changed and dressed and ready to go... liquid explosions out both ends, guaranteed.

I used to look at mothers with more than one kid and ask myself, how on earth do they ever manage to leave the house???

Ahhh yes, the shock is intense and immediate. The physical demands are heavy. The sleep deprivation is a killer. But be encouraged my new mother-friend. It gets easier.

There will always be struggles of some kind, but eventually the tiredness fades to the background and you get used to functioning on four hours of broken sleep.

Your parenting challenges will go from, "How do I get them to sleep through the night" to "How do I get them to do their homework/take a shower/eat 5+ a day". And by the time they start school, you will have the whole "getting out the door" routine down to an art.

The new mother daze

Until then, here are a few things I've learnt about babies....

There's a lot of stuff we read in baby manuals, and from "experts" that puts a lot of pressure on new mothers, and causes unnecessary anxiety when their babies "don't do what they should".
Did you know that only 20% of babies are "textbook" babies?
If  80% of babies are not textbook, then I reckon we should throw the blinkin' textbooks away!

Golden Rule #1: Every Baby is Different

The best piece of advice I ever got from a friend was, "Don't compare your baby to anyone else's".
This friend had agonised over milestones and sleeping patterns when she compared her first baby to friends' children. She worried needlessly - there was absolutely nothing wrong with her bub at all, but her anxiety robbed her of simply enjoying her own child.

Every baby is different. Different temperaments, different needs, different family situations, different cultures.

I have learnt the truth of this after having three babies with the same genetic make-up but who were all completely different.

You may have a friend whose baby is textbook perfect, sleeps and feeds on the clock and hardly cries, while yours has you up through the night, can be heard four blocks away and you never know what to expect... believe me it's not because your friend is a better mum than you.

I firmly believe that babies come pre-programmed; their personalities as babies give us clues about what they will be like later on. Demanding babies tend to develop into highly intelligent individuals - or so the experts say. You can console yourself with that if your baby is one of those.

Plus, its highly likely that next time around you might get the sleeper while your poor friend won't know what hit her when her second baby won't follow the programme. At which point you will be able to offer her all your great advice, gleaned from experience as the mother of a demanding (highly intelligent) child *wink*

Taking him home

I was so very pleased with myself when Dash slept through the night at 11 weeks old. Twelve hour sleeps, without a murmur. Oh yes, wasn't I clever?

Then I had Number Two. Try 11 months. Occasionally. In fact, my biggest goal before Scrag was born was to get Miss Fab sleeping through the night in her own bed. She was three years old. {She's now my best sleeper}.

Dash nearly killed me trying to breastfeed him; Miss Fab was a textbook feeder.

Dash was active and an early crawler and walker; Miss Fab did everything a month sooner than Dash did.

Both my eldest two were runaways. Crawling and walking from a young age, they would spot an exit and head for the hills. There was no relaxing when they were around, unless they were behind locked doors - and even then, not so much.

Baby Scrag

But Scrag? He has some kind of internal bungee cord that never lets him stray from where he can see us. He's not a Houdini like the other two.
Plus he was the happiest, smiley-est, most sweet-natured baby on the planet.
And do you know what I am most grateful for?
That I had him last.
Because if Scrag had been my first baby I would have no doubt thought his brilliance was the result of my excellent mothering skills... and I would have not known what had hit me when those other two came along.
As it is, I just take it that sweet easy Scrag was my reward for surviving the first two!

Golden Rule #2: If Mama Aint Happy, Aint Nobody Happy

Or to put it another way: Beware the Breastfeeding Nazis.
The social pressure to breastfeed in New Zealand is particularly intense. I have a feeling it is not quite so PC-Gone-Mad in other countries, but here it is illegal to talk about bottle feeding in pre-natal classes. It's also illegal to advertise formula for babies under a year old. A new mother struggling with breastfeeding finds it extremely difficult and nigh-on-impossible to get any information about alternatives. And when you finally manage to figure out where to find the powdery stuff, every time you feed your baby, there's a feeling that what he is gulping down may as well be poison. Its ridiculous.

Formula these days is blimmin good stuff! And it wasn't too long ago that experts were telling new mothers that formula was better for them than breast milk. Experts are very fickle.

Hey, we all know breast is best, but what they don't usually tell you at antenatal classes is that it can also be incredibly difficult and soul-destroyingly painful, to which is then added crushing guilt and feelings of failure.

How can it be better for baby if you dread every feed and scream with every latch? If mum is happy then baby has a better chance of being contented and settled, and feeding can be a lovely bonding time, no matter what the milk source.

I'll never forget the agony of trying to breastfeed baby Dash, and the horror when I took him off the breast and saw blood ringing his mouth. I thought, Omigosh, he's a cannibal!

Breastfeeding became so painful I would dread every feed. Not for me those soft-focus posters of mothers contentedly bonding with their contented babies. Nope, I had to bite my lip to stop from screaming when he latched on and sat with tears streaming down my face, wondering how on earth I could keep this up.

The thought of giving up was terrifying - the stigma, the sense of failure.

I was blessed with a very understanding midwife.
She saw that breastfeeding was important to me, but reassured me that the best thing for my baby was actually for his mummy to be relaxed and happy.
She offered me some practical alternatives, and her kindness gave me hope.
We tried nipple shields (hopeless), and then she suggested getting a breast pump and recommended the Avent Isis handpump. Brilliant. I was able to express breastmilk for him without pain, so Baby Dash got his breast milk and I saved my boobies.

I was so scared of the pain, and so determined he would have breastmilk that I continued expressing until he was four months old and I was getting RSI from all that pumping.

One day I woke up and said to Dash, "Buddy, today's the day. Either you take the milk straight from the cow (i.e. me) or you're going on formula."

Baby Fab

Thankfully he went straight on the breast. What an amazing feeling that was, no pain. He had outgrown his cannibalistic tendencies, whew! I continued breastfeeding him until he was15 months old, by which stage I was 20 weeks pregnant with Miss Fab. She was a breeze, feeding-wise.

Then came Scrag. I didn't think I would have any problems. Hey, come on, this is my third baby, right?

He seemed to do fine in hospital, but once I got home, with no-one to buzz in the middle of the night, he stopped latching, and wouldn't suck
My first night home from hospital, I sat for an hour and a half trying to latch him. In the end I went and got out my trusty breastpump, expressed a feed (which he sucked down quite happily) and went to bed at last.

In the morning my midwife (not the same lady as before) was horrified and began to lecture me. Uh-oh, a breastfeeding nazi in disguise.

She berated me, "Are you committed to breastfeeding?? Are you?? Because I don't think you are!"

This midwife was worried that Scrag would be confused by the bottle and wouldn't take to the breast again. She thought I would get sick of pumping and put him on formula, "since he was my third baby." Apparently, that meant I was now lazier? busier? less committed to my third baby's health and well-being?

If Scrag had been my first baby, I would have been completely intimidated.
But while it certainly made me feel lousy to be judged by someone who should be supporting me, I knew that I could do it. And I knew what was best for baby was my peace of mind.

So I told her. I stood my ground. I did things my way, made sure I was relaxed. My baby was fed without drama, and eventually in his own time he took the breast again. Bonus - he could still take the bottle which meant sometimes daddy could do an early morning feed.

Sometimes we actually know better than the experts. 
See, I know that now.
The best thing you can do for your baby is be happy and healthy yourself.
You have to look after your baby's mama.
Because "if mama aint happy, aint nobody happy!"

Other Tips, In Brief:

  • Let daddy help; don't hover; it's his baby too
  • Let daddy do things his own way, even if the baby is dressed funny
  • Ask for help from friends; people are not good mind-readers
  • Asking for help doesn't mean you can't cope, it means you're smart
  • Let your friends make the cuppa for you when they visit
  • Give them the baby to hold and then put your feet up
  • Make the most of "nana naps"; they rock
  • When baby naps, you nap
  • Ignore the housework; it will keep
  • If a friend asks if you need any help, say "yes please"
  • Get them to do the housework you were ignoring
  • You know where I live!

I'm dedicating this to my sweet new mama friend Rachel and my awesome Physio, Renee. ♥

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Barbs said...

You are lucky to have your cruisy baby last - I had mine first and I did think it was all because of how good I was - It wasnt until I had No 2 I realised that it was just how awesome he was. No 2 has always been difficult and a poor sleeper (and she still is at 9). Then we had No 3 and she was a different baby all together - little miss routine.

Cat said...

a fountain of wisdom you are my friend!
and look at Mr. G..what is her 15??????? lol

love and light

kezharry said...

Oh how i wish i had read this 5 and a 1/2 months ago before our precious baby was born...why , why, why did no one tell me about the torture of breast feeding (believe me i am being very real with my preggy friends now) i had cronic mastitis twice within 5 weeks and ended up on iv antibiotics, only by the grace of God (and my shear determination) did i keep feeding. I love your realness and your honesty...now a post on how to get over my anxiety about leaving my baby -please?!

PaisleyJade said...

Best tips ever! Totally agree with everything you've said... I think we need to ship you up here to our mum's coffee group sometime to share!!

Anonymous said...

Awesome post...hopefully it will shut up those coffee group Mums who yap on about how they "breastfeed exclusively" and how their baby was walking at 8months blah blah blah. Every child and every mother is different and quite frankly, if you are a loving Mum that intends to do the best job you can well your intuition counts far more than the advice of any so-called expert (unless you are seeking it of course). I am sure these kinds of posts will be a welcome breath of fresh air for your new Mums :)

Tania H said...

My kids are now 12 and 10. My daughter only slept through the night after she'd turned 8. She was a noisy child, thus she'd woken up her baby brother as well. thank goodness i didn't have time to read all the "expert" books - would have gone crazy!!! and now that she's turning into a teenager, she cant sleep enough!!!!!! eventually they all grow up!!!

Tara said...

I love this post! I am trying to get pregnant... for almost a year.. i have some infertility issues, but have hope that someday i will become a mom, and I totally love this advice! and i love hearing that you did what worked for each kid! but still were able to give them breastmilk. that is something i really want to do, and fear that i won't be able to... once i get over the hurdle of not being able to have kids! Great post! really inspiring

Renee said...

I had daydreams of being one of those earthy mothers who knew exactly what to do and whose baby took straight to the boob. Both times I ended up curling my toes into the carpet, biting my lip, watching the blood run out of their mouth. I had to express for 5 weeks with Bells (since she was prem and couldn't suck) then used a nipple shield. Then with Lulu she just latched all wrong and tore me to shreds. It took at least 10 weeks before we were meshing properly. No idea how I carried on?!? It was torture! Why didn't anyone tell me how hard it can be I cried!!! Great tips for newbies :-) PS I love the new mother daze shot!!!!!

Rachel Kate said...

Love your tips! So true, although it is so hard to say to the 'experts' that you just might know what's best for your baby better than they do. Like starting solids early or exactly what foods to give them. Agree with PJ :) you should come up here and be a guest speaker for our mum's group xo

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice! Wish I had read this when I was a brand new mommy.

Stopping by from Mama Kat's.

Amy said...

Hey Simoney,
Thanks for the reminder that it does get easier (teething household here - oh my, I miss sleep!).
I had to bottle feed Munchkin after simply not having the goods. Talk about soul-destroying. What else are these things made for, you know, if not to produce milk?!? But I am so grateful to my midwife and Mum who encouraged me as you have here that sometimes you have to decide to do what is best for you emotionally, not just what is 'best' for baby physically. After all, Munchkin needed his mummy as much as he needed milk,and I wasn't managing either very well! He's now a strapping 15month old over half my height (so I'm not very tall, but still!). We get the 'he's huge!' comments. I say he takes after me. Yeah, sure. But what irks me most is that people fail to see that my son is really smart. He's intuitive, funny, and adorable. Not just tall, okay?! Each child, individual, just like you said. Average is just a line someone drew in the sand one day. We are all different in some way, and all the same. And I'm okay with that!

Sophie said...

Hey Simoney, I hope it's ok, I've copied some of these tips for an ebook I'm writing for new mums.... If it is ok, I'll link back to this post in the book, credit you as a contributor and send you a copy of the ebook to put on your blog as a reader freebie. Could you email me to let me know you're ok with this?

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