Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The A to Z of new mum life ...so far


Alcohol – no, really. You can drink a glass of wine (or some drink of choice) to take the edge off a long day, even if breastfeeding. This was very welcome news to me. Of course this is meant to be done in moderation, and you have to plan carefully – calculate when the next feed is, how many units of alcohol you are having, and how long it takes to work out of your system (usually 1 unit of alcohol per hour). Also drink water and eat food with your drink, and voila life seems a bit less drab again - especially after all those months of teetotalling during pregnancy!

Breast or bottle feeding – this is one of the big questions you will be faced with right from the start, so best to give it a lot of thought during pregnancy – in fact, the propaganda from both sides starts then already, so arm yourself with as much information as you can find, then make your own decision, based on your own values and priorities. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty if you struggle to breastfeed and for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. Most of us were bottle fed and we all seem to be fine.

Having said that, there are so many advantages to breastfeeding that it’s worth at least giving it a good go first... if you can. If you struggle, get support, support and more support before throwing in the towel. The first 2 weeks or so can be harrowing, and if you don’t get the right sort of support and information, it will be all too easy to give up – or even believe you are unable to. Most people end up thinking they can’t simply because they haven’t been told about all the many possible issues that come up in breastfeeding – and how to resolve them. Don’t listen to the well-intentioned but misinformed whining of friends who didn’t make it either – find those who did. And of course, get information from the experts: La Leche League International (http://www.llli.org/).

Consumed – this little bundle has arrived into the very centre of my life, heart and universe – and consumed all other interests, passions or desires… It really feels like everything is all about her now! I suspect some semblance of balance will return someday, but for now I am just enjoying every moment of my obsession.

Dancing – this is another sanity saver… I dance when I am rocking bubs to sleep, I dance to some of my favourite music during the day, with her in my arms, as a way of bonding and moving about a bit (movement is good for bubs’ development of spatial awareness too)… and I plan to go dancing with beloved husband as our fortnightly ‘date night’ some time soon ;D Bellydancing is also a great way to ‘reconnect with your body’ after pregnancy and labour have made you feel somewhat estranged from that reflection in the mirror…

Electrolytes - if breastfeeding, these are especially needed to stay hydrated during the day. However I can imagine even a new mum who is bottle feeding and getting up several times in the night, might benefit from these. A well known recipe for ‘jungle juice’ has made a huge difference to my energy levels these first few months: fill a jug with about a litre of water, 1 sachet of electrolyte mix (available from chemists) and a tablespoon of that crazy berry elixir stuff you can find in health shops (or good chemists). It really works. For variety, add a glass of your favourite fruit juice to the mix.

Flexible – as a new mum, you will need to be flexible about just about everything: your schedule, routine, plans and rules often go out of the window… as do your previous sense of self, body/ self image, former ways of relating to your partner (or even friends, family and strangers!), and a myriad of other unexpected aspects of who you once thought you were, and what you thought life would look like!

Gripe water – Magic! Don’t ask me why, just buy it. Stock spares, and carry a bottle wherever you go. Get the non-alcohol version though – older generations appear to have had fewer qualms about intoxicating their bubs from a young age… This non-medicated natural remedy (it’s basically dill, fennel and sodium bicarbonate) seems to resolve any and every ‘gripe’ bubs might have in these early months – aside from serious illnesses, which need medical attention of course – so you can use it whenever needed, even a few times a day. Reflux, colic, cramps, bloating and indigestion… all seem to disappear within minutes! Magic.

Husband – if you have one, don’t forget/ neglect him! Even if he drives you crazy at times, or it feels like he ‘just doesn’t get it’ at first… He can be your greatest blessing, friend, comforter, team-mate, supporter and …of course, lover, still. So don’t neglect the friendship or the intimacy (after the first few crazy – and sore – weeks)! You can’t do without it. Yes, I know, bubs’ adorableness and all her needs seem to fill your entire universe at present (see C above)…but this will pass. Sort of. Or it should…

Anyway, it’s not healthy to put bubs at position number 1 in your life – you need to parent from a marriage-centered position, because if the marriage falls apart, bubs will not feel happy or secure anyway (for a very long time), even if you are a wonderful mum and capable person. Sorry, it may be non-pc to say this, but it’s true. Ideally, children need a stable, loving family environment to grow up in. We don’t live in an ideal world, but this shouldn’t stop us from aiming for the very best we can give our children in terms of their start in life… Again, managing this one might require oodles of support – information, advice, even counselling - if you need it, get it. NOW.

Immunisations – another huge and terrifying decision to make. Yes, decision – you can actually decide not to immunise your child, and it’s a choice a lot of highly educated people are making nowadays. For a great summary (level-headed and non-sensationalist) of the reasons to be wary or concerned about immunisations, start here:

JOY!! So much of…

KISSES! What else can you do but kiss this adorable creature, from head to tiny, delicious toes… constantly.

Lullabies - I always said I would use controlled crying and all those techniques to ensure my baby has a good routine… yadda yadda. Yet now that she is here, I prefer to hold her lovingly, rocking and swaying to some lullabies for just a few minutes till she falls asleep- I have decided that knowing she is loved and secure is a more important lesson to start life with. Plenty of time later in life for the hard lessons - and anyway I want discipline to be founded on a very deep foundation of love first. From 6 months I may try gentle techniques, but I am pretty much going to see when she is ready, rather than feeling bullied into a particular approach.

Music – I, for one, can’t live without it (and music of course already featured in D and L). But in a broader sense than lullabies or dancing and fun, music is so important and can be an integral part of your life as a new mum – soothing you when you are tired, playing in the background as bubs plays on her own, livening up the times when it’s just the two of you (which is usually most of the time). Exposing bubs to a wide range of music from very early on is a wonderful gift you can give her, while also affecting many areas of her development. I mean good music though (classical, jazz, blues, and well chosen contemporary artists), not noise or nonsense from the hit charts. 

Natural birth – as far as possible… This is a point worthy of a whole blog post of its own (and I may write about this in time) but for now suffice to say that going the natural birth route, rather than opting in advance for caesarian section and pain-relieving medicine, significantly increases your chances of having a much healthier baby, and less problems with bonding, breastfeeding, and many other areas or stages of bubs’ development. There is a large body of evidence already to prove that this is the case on many levels.

The only reason you may not have heard about any of these links, is that the ‘birth industry’ is mostly a money-making racket, like everything else these days. Of course natural birth is not always possible, but you’d be surprised to know how much more possible and beneficial it is than you may have been told. If you want to know more, read any of Sheila Kitzinger’s woman-centered birthing books as a starting point.

Olive oil – again, a tip for breastfeeding mums. Sore or cracked nipples were not much of an issue for me – I used olive oil, on the advice of a friend. Many, many things are recommended and sold, but this one really works – and its natural enough not to worry if bubs ingests it (how would you avoid this with creams etc.?) In fact, olive oil is good for bubs’ little tummy/ digestion.

Play – not only important for bubs’ development, but for your own sanity! Even housework can be incorporated into ‘fun’ for bubs to take part in… (in a sling or stroller in the early days). Resist the temptation for housework to take up most of your day – set aside huge chunks of your day to play and bond with your little treasure. Nothing else is as important. I have struggled to do this myself, as we are moving and I have a million things to do and organise… but really, this time with bubs is so precious and fleeting, and almost every day sees another milestone reached – sitting, sucking toes, crawling... You don’t want to miss these!

Questions – you will have many… try to throw your nets wide – don’t just speak to the Doctor or some friend or family member… look online, read books, speak to others who have been on this journey… and then, of course, make your own (informed) decision…
I would highly recommend Miriam Stoppard’s ‘Complete Baby & Child Care’ as the most comprehensive reference to the first five years, to keep at home.

Read – Why? See above… Yes, there is such a thing as ‘reading too much’ and becoming very confused and anxious as a result of all the conflicting advice the various books may give… But looking around me today, I see more new mums suffering from the opposite affliction – a lack of good information on which to base well-informed decisions…

Surrender – this new mum life (if you are going to do it well) demands an unconditional surrender of self, plans, agenda, body… just about everything you have to give, and even everything you have ever held onto as being ‘non-negotiable’ before. But it’s good for us. This is what growing up, and growing wiser, is all about… And it’s only just the beginning.

Teamwork – without it you could come unstuck, very, very quickly. See H above… but even if you are a single parent, you should try to enlist the help of a friend, neighbour, mother or sister in the early days if you can! (Even just to help you cook/ clean, or to hold bubs while you sleep or shower).

Understanding – this is probably the main thing I have craved as a new mom. Understanding from husband, friends, family, other women… It is surprisingly hard to come by - even though so many people have been parents themselves, they forget… Again, refer to R above – the first time I read and identified with a few paragraphs of a book by a new mum (there were a few that struck a chord with me), I felt such a strong sense of relief, and ‘ahh, it’s not just me… I am not mad…’ I also highly recommend seeking out other women, further ahead on this journey, to occasionally talk over a cup of tea or three…

Vitamins! Can’t live without them. Sure I don’t have to explain why. Especially if breastfeeding, but even if not… you need to be as healthy as possible to cope with the demands of this new mum life.

Water, water, water – covers a multitude of sins… (wasn’t that love?) Love your body – give it plenty of water to detox, energise and continue to support you in this new mum life. If breastfeeding, you need it even more, to keep up that milk supply (see also E above), and to avoid feeling like a dried up old prune (skin, lips, everything…)!!

Xtreme feelings, thoughts and xenophobia – yes, apparently it’s not just me. New mums are prone to crazy anxieties about bubs’ health and safety, and over-the-top protective reactions as a result. Nappies and temperature changes are monitored for any hint of possible health issues. Every stranger seems to be a walking germ factory or potential child abductor/ molester. Windows on the first floor of our home appear to me to be perfectly possible escape routes for the mad person lurking in our garden, waiting to snatch sleeping bubs out of her crib as soon as they know I am washing the dishes downstairs…

Relax. If your feelings or thoughts are a bit on the extreme side, it’s probably a combination of hormones, sleep deprivation, the natural protectiveness mothers are meant to have… and well, yes, a form of temporary insanity (just hope it passes). Try to keep things in perspective by talking to others (voiced fears are never as scary as those we dare not mention), and by developing a healthy sense of humour so you can laugh off your silliest anxieties. I also find it useful ‘googling’ some things to see how likely it is that you could, say, catch polio from a public swimming pool (surprisingly possible….although very unlikely!)…

Yellow – what a concept! You mean it doesn’t have to be pink or blue? No, you can buy clothes for your child in a range of ‘unisex’ colours, and not just the seemingly obligatory gender-coded pink or blue. Not only does this give your child a fighting chance of developing into a more interesting individual than the Barbie/ Ken look-alikes one day, it also means saving money if you plan to have more children. Having said all this, I found myself surprisingly drawn to pink since bubs arrived, and dress her in it a lot more than I thought I would. But my point is, there are choices.

Zzz when bubs is sleeping… just like they tell you to. Especially in the early days. Nothing else is as important as sleep. Not housework, not showering, not even eating. Okay eating is pretty important too. But you can last longer without food than without sleep. Mind you, I am ignoring this piece of advice right now – it is close to midnight and I am sitting writing, after a particularly difficult night trying to get bubs to sleep… And I am sick. So I think I should stop this minute and go to bed. Good night.

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