Monday, May 21, 2012

Babies 101

Both my husband and I are the first in our families to have a child and it doesn't look like Levi is going to get a little cousin anytime soon.  But I can't wait to be an aunty and I often think of things that I wish I had been told before I became a mother.  I only have one child and he's not quite 9 months old so I am certainly no expert but I know I would really have benefited from the following advice...

Get ready for unsolicited advice.  Get ready for people, even loved ones, trying to stress you out; creating problems where there are none.  If you are OK with how things are going, then things are going OK.  From the moment you announce you are pregnant, get used to people telling you what you better get used to.  Get used to people trying to make you dread the future, dread each next step.  When your baby starts crawling.  When your baby starts talking.  Personally I have found that looking after your baby gets easier and easier & more enjoyable.  Get used to people telling you that it all goes by so quickly and you'll wake up one day & your baby will be all grown up.  To be clear, I'm not actually suggesting you put up with any of this shit.  I'm just saying that you will get a lot of it.  How you deal with it is up to you.

Babies are all different.  Even babies in the same family.  For every theory, school of thought and parenting dogma, there is an equal and opposite theory, school of thought and parenting dogma.  I say, whatever works. Whatever works for you and for your baby.  Use intuition and common sense.  Sure, listen to advice.  Consult Google.  But between the two of you, you and baby will work out what to do.  Whatever works, for now. Babies change all the time.

Mothers, look after yourself first.  Your baby feeds off you in more ways than one.  Eat and drink properly.  Babies need milk, love and to feel secure more than anything.  If people are making you second/third/fourth-guess yourself, your baby can sense your feelings of inadequacy and your lack of confidence will show in how you interact with your baby.  If you're feeling good, physically and mentally, you are going to be far more likely to be able cope with whatever your baby does.

Don't beat yourself up.  But don't beat yourself up about beating yourself up.  I had a great pregnancy & the cutest, biggest baby bump.  But as a mother, at times I felt like a failure, from the very beginning.  For having not only an epidural but an epidural top up.  For wanting to quit breastfeeding on day 6.  For letting him sleep in the bed with us at first because he didn't like the bassinet.  (Handy tip: put something like a phone book under baby's mattress because they often don't like to sleep lying completely flat).  For needing my husband to do almost everything but breastfeed for the first two weeks because I had difficulty walking and sitting.  (Levi was not only big but his shoulder got stuck.  I had stitches and my tailbone was bruised.)  Because I had a couple of mornings where baby and I were crying at each other because I didn't understand he was overtired, not hungry.  Because visitors would play with Levi and entertain him whereas I was too tapped out to.  Looking back, it all seems so ridiculous.  I blamed myself for everything not being perfect despite being warned not to fall into that trap.  And then felt like crap for feeling like crap.

Listen to stories.  Your story, your experience is the only one that matters. But it can be really frustrating when trying to get the answers to questions because the answer is often that every baby is different.  Sometimes it's just nice to hear a definitive answer, even if it won't really have any similarities to your situation.  Sometimes it's not about looking for answers but common experiences.  Sometimes it's just great to hear that someone's had a much rougher time than you.  It might not be that great to hear the opposite but sometimes, with enough distance, you might even enjoy telling your war stories.  Plus, you can be the one to give someone the realisation that they've actually had it pretty good.  Gauge your audience though if you're doing the sharing.  Don't whinge, gloat or gross people out.

You will hear so much in your antenatal class that it will be impossible to retain it all, especially because you're listening about stuff you haven't experienced yet.  I actually can't imagine being a mother pre-Google!  What I felt most unprepared for was breastfeeding.  How painful it was sometimes in the first week or so, even when he had latched on correctly. Waking up marinated in breast milk.  The pain of being engorged as my body tried to work out how much I actually needed to supply.  Not knowing how long that was going to last, or how long I was going to leak milk.  This is the one area that I recommend researching, even if it's just paying particular attention in your classes or grilling your midwife.  And if necessary after baby's born, consult a lactation specialist.

No expectant mother is unaware that sleep deprivation is one of the hardest things that they will have to deal with.  But personally, the hardest thing about being a new mother was having to focus so much of my attention on this little being so much of the time.  This little being that I didn't understand and that didn't understand me. Not being able to just put him down and read a book.  Or not getting a break from him when my husband was at work.  Sometimes the days would seem so long...

Get out of the house.  As soon as possible & as often as possible.  Whether it be walking a lot or taking baby to playgroups or other activities.  I find Levi is a lot happier when we are out and about, being stimulated and experiencing new things.  Everyone comments on how chilled out he is but at home, he gets easily bored and is often demanding.  He is also really comfortable with being held by other people.  Could just be his personality but we let everyone hold him from the beginning, partly because most people seemed to have more experience with babies than we did.  And it really does help that other people can hold him for me & that he is so sociable.  A clingy baby is so much more work.

Keep a diary.  Take photos.  Take videos.  Don't experience life thru these things.  Do experience the moment by being in the moment.  But have a record so it's not all a blur.  (Or as much of a blur.)

Be sensitive.  As a mother and an expecting mother.  There are people who can't have children, or who are having trouble conceiving.  Don't complain about being pregnant.  (At least not to just anyone.)  Don't ask people when they are going to have kids.  Feel free to occasionally talk about something other than baby.  (This can be especially hard for stay-at-home mothers like myself.)  And if you find yourself getting ready to dispense some unsolicited wisdom to a new mother, stop and consider how it will be received.  And if you're not sure...


  1. Excellent advice Angeline. I totally agree with you. You know best how to deal with your baby. With my third son, our doctor advised against us letting him sleep between us (something I insisted on if the baby was ill - I'm a light sleeper)and I told the doctor to concentrate on curing the baby and not on my parenting skills. Days later we changed doctor. I detested unsolicited advice. My children were always on our laps and it never "spoiled" them. Quite the contrary- all three are wonderful young adults now :)

  2. You have three kids? I had no idea! Damn, you must have been young when you started :) I love the new chapter in your life even more now. I know at times it has been lonely but we rarely have it all in life, especially all at the same time.

  3. So true Angeline. Yep, three children from two marriages. To tell you the truth I would love to be a daddy again. I miss it.But I'm getting on a bit for that kind of thing :)

    1. Well, you certainly wouldn't stick out in New Zealand if you did have another baby. I sometimes have difficulty telling apart new parents from grandparents these days. Not that you look anything like a grandparent!

    2. haha, thank you kindly, Angeline :)