The REAL truth about having a baby – 5 things they never tell you (but you really need to know).

As soon as your baby bump begins to show, it seems that everyone and his grandmother will have a wealth of advice to share with you. They mean well but they probably won’t share these five things that you really need to know know – just so you don’t worry, ‘are we the only ones who ‘suck’ at this?  Let’s bust this conspiracy of silence so you don’t feel so alone – you really are doing a great job!

 

1) Breastfeeding may not ‘just happen’

Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby but it often doesn’t come naturally at first. It’s helpful to understand that just like learning a new dance, you and your tiny partner can take a little while to get ‘in step’.  As you learn how to hold your baby comfortably, your newborn has to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing.

Being born is hard work and many babies take a while to feed effectively but offering skin to skin cuddles will help: strip your baby down to his nappy and hold him against your bare chest.  As soon as you notice early hunger signs (sucking movements with his mouth, trying to move his hand to his mouth or ‘rooting’ towards you as though he is seeking food) offer the breast quickly – support your baby and pull him in close as he turns in and opens his mouth (never push your baby’s head). You may need to feed some breast milk from a syringe if he takes time to begin feeding, and expressing will help kick start your milk supply.  Try to avoid bottles during this learning period, as this will imprint a different sucking action from breastfeeding.

2) Your baby probably won’t appreciate your interior design skills

Even the most lavish, lovingly prepared nursery won’t encourage your baby to feel safe and secure enough to sleep soundly away from the security of your smell, your arms and the sound of your heartbeat, at least in the early weeks.

In the watery world of the womb, your baby was weightless and warm, he was comforted by the rhythm of your heartbeat and the gentle rocking motion of his “mother home” as his body was gently massaged by the uterine wall and contained by the boundaries of your own body. Now, from this dark warm world of muffled sounds, the newborn must get used to new sensations: air moving across his skin and into his lungs, lights, direct sounds, smells and stillness.

Your baby will need help to make the transition from womb to world so it can be helpful to think of his first three months as the ‘fourth trimester’ of your pregnancy. This way, you will reduce the pressure on yourself and your baby to ‘separate’ too quickly. You can relax and enjoy every sweet cuddle as you wear him, rock him and sing to him, knowing you are not ‘spoiling’ him. Instead, you are teaching him to love.

3) Crying isn’t just for babies

You are dealing with a cocktail of new mummy hormones, a whole new lifestyle and you are recovering from giving birth to your beautiful baby – is it any wonder you are overwhelmed by it all?

Tears are pretty normal for new mums but if things are too hard, it is important to get help just in case you are starting to spiral downwards into the dark tunnel that is postnatal depression.

Evidence suggests that as many as one in 7 new mums and 1 in 20 new fathers are diagnosed with postnatal depression each year in Australia.

Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety can present during pregnancy or after birth and may develop quite suddenly or more gradually over several months: The passing ‘baby blues’, where you are weepy for no apparent reason in the days following the birth (typically between the third and fifth day after delivery), affect up to 80 per cent of women. About 15 per cent of women and 5 percent of men develop moderate to severe postnatal depression, requiring medical treatment.

Symptoms of postnatal depression  (PND) may include mood swings, anxiety or panic; sleep disturbances unrelated to the baby’s needs, changes in appetite, chronic exhaustion or hyperactivity; crying – feeling sad and crying for no apparent reason or feeling like you want to cry but can’t; irritability; negative, obsessive thoughts; fear of being alone or withdrawing from family and friends; loss of memory or concentration, unrealistic feelings of inadequacy or guilt, loss of confidence and self-esteem. For men, symptoms can also include anger, loss of libido, engaging in risk taking behaviour, increased hours at work as part of withdrawal from family and increased use of drugs or alcohol instead of seeing treatment for depression.

The good news about PND is that it is treatable. And, the sooner you get help, the more quickly you will recover. There is a range of treatments, from psychological therapies to medication – and yes, there are safe medications for women who are breastfeeding.

4)  You might feel like you’re going a little crazy

You finally get your baby to sleep, you hop in the shower –and you hear him crying. You jump out, dripping wet and race to check – he’s still sound asleep, safely in his cot, exactly where  you left him just a few minutes ago. Your raging mummy hormones are designed by nature to make sure you protect your baby from lurking danger. This is why those voices in your head urging you to check up are so persuasive. It’s also common for new mums to have weird dreams about ‘losing’ their baby – resulting in throwing off the blankets to search when, just like the shower scenario, baby is sleeping soundly in his own bed!

 5) Sleep is for the weak

In infant sleep studies, ‘all night’ is considered as five hours. For safety, your baby is designed to arouse easily and wake often in the early months and, according to several studies, night waking is normal for at least the first year. There is increasing evidence that some approaches to ‘teaching babies to sleep’ that advise leaving babies to cry, can cause stress responses that may lead to long term, adverse changes to a baby’s developing brain.

Baby training practices also have the potential to negatively impact your baby’s trust, attachment and bonding, and your own confidence. They may also contribute to breastfeeding problems such as low milk supply along with poor baby weight gains and failure to thrive due to inappropriate advice that doesn’t consider the physiology or unique experiences of individual mothers and babies.  However, this doesn’t mean you have to ‘suck it up’ if you are exhausted and sleep deprived, there are gentle methods to help you and your baby sleep, without tears for either of you, so do seek help.

 

Australia’s most recognised breastfeeding and baby care experts, Pinky McKay is an IBCLC Lactation Consultant,  infant massage instructor  and the best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting By Heart, Toddler Tactics and 100 Ways to Calm  the Crying (Penguin Random House). Check out Pinky’s books here

5 Comments

  1. Colleen Morrison Says Reply

    This advice is GOLD babies don’t need clothes they need their parents to be totally supported in a practical way so they can just be parents !

  2. Penny Says Reply

    Great article, as always. Love your philosophy Pinky – it resonates so strongly.

    If I had read this before I had my baby I think my expectations would have been a lot more realistic. I had no idea that I’d only use the nursery to change Nappies in for the first few months or that breastfeeding would be such a struggle. I also think I may have recognized that my partner had PND which may have helped us get through that difficult time. Instead of feeling anger and resentment that he seemed to “opt out” of parenthood at a time when it was so exhausting with our baby screaming for hours on end with reflux maybe we could have both asked for and received the help we needed.

  3. New mum Says Reply

    I think you are forgetting to mention how extremely painful breastfeeding is and how long for (for me it took 6 weeks for the pain to stop). I don’t understand why more advice isn’t given to mums when pregnant to manage their expectations about breastfeeding … So much time is devoted to pain management in labour but nothing to prepare you for feeding. And your heart sinking when your baby cries for food … Breastfeeding advocates have you believe it is a binding experience so when it hurts you are genuinely distraught about this essential part of motherhood. There should be more effort to prepare people for letting them know where the help can be found (ie training people on positioning your baby right) and that it will hurt (A LOT) for a good while. I think less people would give up breastfeeding so early if they had been prepared. It was the biggest and most distressing part of having my baby. I stuck with it and all fine now, but I feel passionately that it is wrong not to prepare pregnant women for this. It is far from bonding (only for the baby?) and you feel like a unnatural/bad person when your baby cries, you want to feed them but you dread re-attaching it to sore/blistered/bleeding nipples for the umpteenth time that day ….

  4. adrienne Says Reply

    I think mention that you may not feel completely in love for a little bit. Until you get to know each other, stop hurting from delivery or c-sec, get the hang of breastfeeding, wait for the hormones to settle in. From my experience I knew that I cared deeply for my baby and I would give him everything he needed and more but I didn’t love him in the way they tell you you will. That came after about a month!!!!

    • Sara Says Reply

      Yes, this needs to be emphasised! I would do anything for my first baby, but it was about six months before I loved him- he is now four and the best thing to ever happen to me. The second baby was loved from the moment I found out I was pregnant- he is now eight weeks old and my heart feels as if it could burst!

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