Thursday, 4 February 2010

Advice for first time mums

My pal Claire Lancaster has put out a request, on behalf of a media friend of hers, for some practical and emotional pearls of wisdom for first time mums that you can’t find in books and you only discover when you’ve had a child.

She had some questions so I thought the easiest way to respond to this request was to answer each one.

How painful IS birth. No *really*.

Well if you are a reader of my blog (and it looks like you are cos your here) you will know by now that if you choose to listen to all the horror stories then quite probably the answer to this question will be “very”. However, it really doesn’t have to be that way. My personal answer following the birth of my daughter Evan is “not at all” and for many of my ‘mums’ who have prepared using HypnoBirthing® they will say the same (even those who have been induced, had 4 day labours or had back to back births). Not all report back that their births were pain free as mine was but, without special circumstance, will say that it was comfortable, that they were calm, relaxed and in control. These women look back on their births (and forward to actually) with a sense of excitement and wanting to shout out to the world that birthing really can be a wonderful experience. Yes *really*.

What do you DO with your newborn baby all day?

This depends on what sort of baby you have. If you get one like my sisters first born you will decorate the house because he slept all day. She HAD to have a rigid routine for feeding (something you would never normally have with a newborn baby) because it was the only way she could make sure he had enough. He NEVER stopped sleeping. If you get one like mine who would NEVER let me put her down you carry them around all day, feed them on demand and watch LOADS of rubbish TV.

The key thing is to be led by the baby and don't expect to get anything else done. That way if you don't you've met your expectations and if you do you've exceeded them. Win:Win.

What’s the best way to avoid losing your marbles with lack of sleep/adult company etc?

Unless you end up with one like my sisters. Sleep when your baby sleeps. It won’t be the uninterrupted nights sleep you are used to but then you didn’t expect that with a new born did you. If you nap you won’t become exhausted. If you find you are not able to nod off just because your little bundle of joy is then listen to a relaxation cd/mp3 as that will also help to restore your energy levels and keep you sane.

Adult company is normally the least of your worries in the first few weeks because everyone descends upon you to see the baby. My advice would be restrict this to very few visitors and ask that they don’t stay for too long (unless it is your best friend and you’ve escaped from everyone else with her). And most importantly DO NOT wait on them. If they want to be there they can bring their own cake and make their own tea.

A few weeks down the line and this is the time to meet up with your new ‘baby’ friends. If you haven’t met any at your antenatal classes then there are plenty of mum and baby groups you can join. Or if you are like me and those places filled you with dread I’d recommend finding a lovely baby massage class and something like baby sensory to start with. Once you start meeting other mums and realise that they are all nervous about meeting other mums then it doesn't seem such a scary thing to do. Or is this just me?

Also, before you’ve had your baby find out which of your friends are around when. Not everyone works 9am – 5pm and so you could possibly meet up with friends around their work and also meet up with friends with older kids who are not working. If you find out beforehand then you know you’ve got people you can call upon when you fancy a catch up.

Can you breastfeed while technically asleep? Like a cowboy sleeping upright with his eyes open etc?

Yes, and I say this without hesitation because I know the answer to this question only to well. My little darling decided she would stop sleeping through the night at 5 months. Quite the shock to my system! Instead she would wake up every hour, on the hour, eventually I would give up and bring her into bed with me where she would help herself to my boob anytime she felt like it.

And on that vein, is there any way to have a drink while breastfeeding?

Yes, you can if you plan it. I couldn’t really be bothered (it was when I reached toddler stage that a little drink at the end of the day started beckoning – but that’s a whole other story). It is easier once they are in a routine as you know when their next feed is ‘roughly’ due. Then you can plan to have a drink allowing enough time for it to move through your system before their next feed.

What will seem like a good idea initially – and what will I quickly realise is a total nightmare?

Having baby number 2 – sorry I promise I’m only joking and not even speaking from experience as we are only having the 1.

My real answer is trying to do everything yourself. Control is hard to let go of for many of us but this isn’t the time to care. Say yes to EVERY offer of help that comes your way.

Am I really going to be forgetting my name and putting the loo roll in the fridge for a few months after birth?

There is a lot of talk going on at the moment that there is no such thing as ‘baby brain’. I have to confess I’ve not read/heard any of the points made but what I would say in response (quite cocky of me really considering I've just admitted to not knowing what's been said) is that it may not specifically be a chemical change that happens because a woman has had a baby or is pregnant but sleep deprivation is a form of torture for a reason. It messes with the brain! A tired, exhausted woman expecting too much of herself is not going to be performing at her best physically, mentally or emotionally. Also, when one is in a highly emotional state this affects clear thinking and when a new born baby enters your life there are all sorts of extreme emotions that women can go through.

And for me the most likely reason, when your baby is screaming for you to deal with whatever it is screaming about you have a feeling that goes through you that cannot be described. Only another mother can nod her head in understanding. It is like THEIR cry (because another baby's doesn’t affect you in this way) triggers a post-hypnotic suggestion within your brain that says “you cannot focus on any other thing until you come over here, pick me up and fulfil my needs”.

Does a gulf open up between you and your child-free friends? How does it change your relationships?

Only if you let it. I find that I am more of a baby/child bore with my friends who do have kids. We boast and moan and get advice from each other on a subject that we have in common and have experience of. When I get together with my friends without kids or with those that do but we're on our own I aim to talk about anything but. Otherwise it would be like having a holiday and taking your work with you.

Am I going to surprise myself – and if so, how?

You will probably be the most surprised when you look back one day and realise that a new mum is looking to you for advice and suddenly you have become an expert. How, did that happen you ask yourself but it does through good old fashioned experience (often known as trial and error in this house).

What won’t I care about half as much, after I’ve given birth/am a mum?

Changing poopy nappies – I would NEVER change a nappy, poopy or otherwise, before I had Evan. Some used to say “but you will have to when you have your own” and I would reply “yes the salient point being, when I have my own, for now I don’t”. Sorry were you looking for something a bit more profound.

My very own special pearl of wisdom

The BEST advice I can give is find a mum who is at least 4-6 months ahead of you. As great as it is to have other new mums around to say “oh yes, mine is doing that” and “oh yes I’m having that kind of trouble too” is that you don’t always get any answers just reassurance that you are all in the same boat. A mum a few months ahead of you will be that expert you yourself will become in time (you know that thing I mentioned under the “what will surprise me" bit).

I hope this has been useful for both my readers and Claire's media pal.

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