Tips to make first-time mums' lives easier
I was humbled by the positive responses I received to last fortnight's column. Sharing my own struggle with early motherhood opened a window to others who had also found the newborn experience difficult.
Following it up, I asked The Motherhood Project coffee group panel: "What one piece of advice would you give to new mothers, negotiating - or about to - motherhood for the first time?"
Needless to say, the wide spectrum of responses reflected a range of experiences as first-time mums. We are all different, so what helps one may not help another.
Nevertheless, they are all snippets of wisdom we can learn from. Here are our collective top-10 tips for all of those wonderful women out there starting a journey with a new little person.
1. Go easy on yourself
Simplify your life, and let go of the things that don't matter in the short term. Your and your baby's health is more important than anything else right now. Be aware that hormones may make you a basket case for a while, but that's fairly normal.
Adjust your own expectations of yourself, and bunker down for some quiet time when it's just you and baby. Let the world revolve around you for a while.
Remember, you are a "learner driver" and you need to go easy on yourself.
2. Beware of reading too many baby books
Reading too much will confuse you and likely make you feel bad for doing something "wrong". Remember, there is a book out there in support of just about any baby-raising ideology you can imagine, from one extreme end of the spectrum to another. If you must read, choose a philosophy what resonates and "feels right" to you and stick with it.
3. Trust your instincts
Ask yourself, what feels right to me? Your gut is an important tool in helping you to find the right way. This is not to say that you shouldn't seek or listen to advice if you are struggling with an issue. It just means that you place a value on what your intuition is telling you. In a similar way, embrace motherhood in your own way. Find what works for you and baby and stay with it.
4. Find support
A foolish woman struggles alone. A courageous woman asks for help. So just do it. Ask. Plunket is brilliant without question, so just pick up the phone.
You can also call on your midwife, your GP, family support, the support of friends, community groups, your church, other young mothers, whoever. Connect with other young mums and surround yourself with people who "get it".
If you don't get what you need from one person, keep searching. Early motherhood is hard. But no mother should ever have to struggle alone.
5. Every baby is different
No two babies are alike. So don't compare them. Some cry a lot, some a little. Some sleep a lot, some wake often. Some get reflux, others struggle with wind. Some are easy. Some are difficult.
Refrain from congratulating yourself if yours is a super feeder and sleeper. And try not to judge another mother whose bubba is a constant grizzler and wakes multiple times in the night. A baby's basic nature will almost always trump a first-time mother's skills.
6. It's just a phase
To any parent who is struggling with an issue, "this too shall pass" and "it is just a phase" are golden threads of hope to hang on to. Similarly, learn to trust that things will be OK. The universe, God, fate or whatever your beliefs are, have things in hand. So just let go a little and trust.
One day he will stop crying every night for two hours and you will get your evening back. Soon, he will learn how to put himself to sleep without crying or needing your constant bedside vigilance. You will feel like a normal person one day and, in the scheme of things, it's not too far away.
7. Sleep, care, rest and recover
You must look after your own health. Indeed, it's as important for you to look after yourself as it is your baby. So do what you need to without guilt or remorse. Sleep during the day, rest when you need to. Make time for self-care. Eat well, exercise, get fresh air and sleep as much as you can. Do not feel compelled to keep going and doing "the other stuff". Prioritise what you need to do to stay well.
8. Let go of control
Beware pregnant control freaks! One of the most difficult things I think most mothers quickly learn is that we cannot control baby and she will continually surprise us.
For many mothers, it starts with a birth that goes all against expectations and leaves us reeling. Then it's a baby who only responds when we "do" what we said we never would! (Never say never). Later, we may get "used" to a routine only to have to adjust again for a new phase. Letting go of control and "order" will be more or less difficult depending on our basic natures. But essential it is, so find a way to let go and relax.
9. Get practical
Some things ease life in the early days and deserve a mention. They include stockpiling freezer meals and healthy hand-free snacks, getting out of the house daily and making sure you never spend a day with baby completely void of adult company.
Other great practical tips include making checklists to combat baby brain, reminders on what might be making baby cry, what order to do things in, what to have in your nappy bag, and whatever else you feel might help. Embrace the practical things that make life easier and better.
10. It gets better
It gets better and easier. This one thing seemed to sustain me the most when I was low. The advice that there will be so much fun and so much awesomeness in the future. I now know the truth of this! Easier, better, and more fantastic than I could have possibly imagined when I was at the very beginning of my journey.
You think that the love you feel for your baby could not possibly grow, but it does. Motherhood is a gift of the biggest love you will ever know. And big love is the best thing ever.
Thanks to all of the contributing mothers of The Motherhood Project panel, especially Suzy, Bec, Tania, Jacqui, Heather, Shelagh, Carly, Kate, Chantell, Suzanne, Marita, Kelly, Robyn and Lisa. I hope I have done justice to your wisdoms.
I always welcome feedback, so don't hesitate to let me know what you think by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org