Published in the Winter 2015 issue of Nurture Magazine
When I first became a mother, I wanted the world to believe that I had everything under control. In my mind, I had envisioned myself as becoming one of those perfectly groomed yummy mummies with the happily gurgling baby. You know, the type that we see in the advertisements? The smiling new mother with a clean and orderly house, handing out freshly home-baked cookies to visitors as she nurses her content little baby with the other. In my mind I was going to instantly morph into a slim-waisted 50’s style advertisement for the perfect new mother.
Reality check! Instead I found myself becoming more and more stressed as the challenges of new motherhood clashed with my idealistic expectations of motherhood. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I wasn’t eating properly. My baby was unsettled. The washing was piling up. I was struggling with breastfeeding. My waist was still 3 sizes larger than it was pre-pregnancy and the house of cards was falling in a heap!
It took me nearly 3 months to work things out… and in that time, these were the major lessons I learned.
Address the basic needs for yourself and baby first
You’ve probably heard about the famous ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ where he states that the most basic of all human needs is physiological. Well, this applies to being a new mother too! The physical needs of clothing, shelter, sleep, water and food need to be met before all others.
Most of us have the ‘clothing’ need sorted; even if we are still wearing those comfy maternity tracky dacks and oversized t-shirts six months post-birth.
As long as we have a safe place to call home, regardless of the dishes piling up on the sink and the dust-balls forming in the corners of the room; we have fulfilled a basic need by having a roof over our head.
The areas that are most often neglected when we become a new mother are adequate sleep, water and food.
Did you know that adequate sleep and fluids will promote maximum milk production? It is normal for newborn babies to feed 10-12 times per day, so whenever you can fit some rest or sleep in between feeds, it is absolutely imperative that you do so. It is not likely that you will have the same amount of sleep that you had pre-birth and your sleep patterns are also likely to change due to the demands of night feeding. But you can adjust. We all do. Sleep whenever you get the chance – whether that be whilst baby is napping during the day or for 2-3 hour periods at night.
The trouble is, the rest of society seems to forget pretty quickly what it is like to be a sleep-deprived new mother. So you need to remind everyone. I suggest that you make a sign for the door that says:
“New Mother & Baby Sleeping. Please do not disturb! Thank you for your understanding”
I can remember recording the following message on my voicemail: “Sorry I can’t take your call. Being a new mum, at this moment I am either changing the 25th nappy of the day, feeding, or getting in a quick nap before night-shift begins. So, please leave a message and I’ll get back to you when I get the chance (hopefully some time before my baby’s 5th birthday).”
When you do have the opportunity to sleep, take the phone off the hook, turn your mobile to silent mode (minus vibrations), close the front blinds/curtains and put the sign on the door. It may feel unnatural to you at first, but napping during the day can help you survive and thrive through the newborn period.
Set up a little ‘station’ next to your bed with extra pillows (for feeding – you can use normal pillows, or, if you like more comfort try the Milkbar or Ergobaby Natural Curve Nursing Pillow), water, nappies, natural baby wipes (like WaterWipes), nappy cream towel, an extra change of clothes for bub, a book and a dock to play relaxation music or tracks. (You may like to check out my Hypnobirthing Australia Breastfeeding and Bonding with Baby album, which is especially designed for this special time).
Avoid the temptation to load the dishwasher or vacuum the house while your baby naps. These things can be done later (or by someone else).
Adequate water is required for most body functions and also for maximum milk production. You will probably find that you are quite thirsty during breastfeeding; and this is a sign that you need to drink plenty of water. Expect to drink up to two litres of water/fluids per day. Always ensure that you have a glass of water next to you when you are feeding your baby. Clean, filtered water is the best source of fluid. Drinking nursing tea, like Weleda’s Nursing Tea, is also a great way to boost milk production whilst keeping hydrated.
A healthy diet is always important, but it’s especially important when you are a new mother. Breastfeeding uses a lot of energy and nutrients and it is important that your diet provides the essential nutrients you require such as iron, calcium, protein and vitamins. You need these nutrients for your own health and wellbeing in order to be the best mother you can be. Try to eat regular healthy meals and snacks and include a wide variety of fresh foods.
Remember too that the flavours of food will also get passed on to your baby through the breast-milk – so if you want your child to be a broccoli lover, then ensure that you eat a variety of lovely vegetables yourself.
Whilst on the subject of breastfeeding; obviously this is our baby’s food-source so it is a basic fundamental need. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for support and help if you are struggling in any way. There are lactation consultants that can home-visit for a very reasonable fee. You don’t even need to leave the house. Contact the ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) for details and support. They are awesome! And, if your nipples are sore, try natural products like Multi Mum Compress.
Listen to your instincts – you are the expert when it comes to your baby
When you are a new mother – particularly a first time mum – brace yourself for plenty of unsolicited ‘advice’. It seems that everyone who has ever had a child or knows a child, has an opinion on how children should be raised. This unsolicited advice can often start to stream in from day 1.
Now, no disrespect meant to our mothers, mother-in-laws, aunts, grandparents, friends, doctors, midwives, child health nurses, neighbours, or the lady at the local grocery store… but they are not the expert of your baby. Mothers – YOU are the expert of your baby. It is wonderful to have access to extra expertise and advice, but ultimately, you know your baby better than anyone on this earth. Your baby knows you better than most people on this earth, too (remember she/he has been feeling your emotions, tasting the food you eat, listening to your voice and the sound of your heartbeat for the past 9 or so months). Your baby is very attuned to you and your moods and this is reciprocal. However, you need space in order to truly tap into your baby’s needs.
So here is the most useful advice that I ever received (from my own mother)…
Trust your own instincts. No-one else on this earth is as qualified as you to be the expert of your baby.
Make decisions that are best for you and your baby (even if they didn’t suit others)
So, people generally know that new babies and mothers need sleep and nurturing. However in reality, people don’t always act in ways that recognise this. I guess, what I’m saying is… many people can be quite selfish. They are excited to be meeting your new baby– some also want to be seen to be doing the right thing. So they contact you in the first days and want to arrange to come over to visit. They will tell you not to go to any trouble, that they’ll only be popping in etc… but truth be told, too many visits in the early days are likely to cause you and your baby unnecessary stress.
Think of yourself and your baby before trying to please everyone else. The last thing you should be doing in this precious ‘getting to know you’ time is entertaining other people. You and your baby will both be learning the ropes when it comes to feeding, sleeping and reading each other’s cues. You’ll both need rest and despite what some of those horrid books say… the newborn baby does not operate on any type of ‘schedule’. If you start arranging visits, it is likely to be the only time that you have the chance to rest/feeding time/unsettled time for your baby. If people truly care for you they will respect your wishes for some space in those early days and weeks. Remember, you are the mother now and you are your baby’s voice. Do what is best for you and your baby.
If people are willing to offer you help – be willing to graciously accept that help!
Honestly, if they didn’t expect you to accept their offer than they shouldn’t have made it in the first place.
If people ask, “Is there anything I can do?” then be honest. Here are some ideas of ways that they can help:
Drop off a healthy meal (ideas: casserole, salad, lasagna, vegetable soup etc).
If there are older siblings – take them out for a couple of hours.
Fold washing; and if there’s none to fold, go to the laundry and start washing.
Sweep or vacuum the house
Wash up or pack/unload the dishwasher
Drop off some fresh bread, milk, vegies and/or fruit
Drop standards when it comes to housekeeping
A wise mother once said, “Your baby will not remember you by how clean the windows were – but by the time you spent nurturing him/her”. So regardless of your standards of housekeeping pre-baby, please do yourself a favour and learn to exercise some flexibility and kindness to yourself.
Trust me, despite my house being relatively clean and in order – when I became a mother I consigned myself to the fact that if I wanted to remain sane and be the best mother I could be, then the housekeeping standards were going to go down a notch or two (or three!). And you know what? I’m ok with that. In fact, I get a bit teary sometimes when I wipe those little handprints off the glass sliding door.
So the only ‘advice’ that I would ever give to a mother is this:
Cherish this special time without the guilt. Make decisions that are best for you and your baby. Prioritize the need for healthy food, water and sleep. Accept help when it is offered and know that you are the expert of your baby.
Melissa Spilsted is a well-known Clinical Hypnotherapist (CHt) & Educator (BEd, HPCE) who regularly appears in national media. She is the director of Hypnobirthing Australia and runs a busy hypnotherapy and hypnobirthing practice based in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Melissa is married to Stephen and they have three boys aged 5, 7 & 9. You can purchase her popular relaxation and hypnosis albums for parenting, breastfeeding, general relaxation, children and childbirth through www.hypnobirthingaustralia.com.au or iTunes.