My baby is 3 days old, sleeping on a bean bag beside me. I’m lying on the sofa, not able to sleep or read, feeling restless…
My hubby comes in, walks over to baby, lifts him… I watch him straighten up, gently cradling the little bundle in his big hands, lifting him closer, snuggling him into his chest – in slow motion. And it hits me like a tonne of bricks: That bundle, it’s not “just” a baby. This is a person, a little human being, an independent organism. And we are responsible for him 24/7, for years to come!
Not helping the restlessness, not one.tiny.bit …
It doesn’t matter how many books or blogs you’ve read or how many people you’ve talked to … Nothing can prepare you for being a first time parent (- unless you’ve lived with someone who’s been there and not many of us have). And whatever info you do take in from all the reading and listening is filtered through your pre-parent brain. I remember reading one particular book again when expecting number two and stumbling across lots of text that had me wonder “Was that in here two years ago? This is so spot on! Why did nobody tell me?!”
It’s Easter, spring. A time of new beginnings, tiny baby animals, fresh starts. An apt time, I thought, to share one of my favourite parenting mnemonics: S.U.R.V.I.V.A.L.*
Sleep when baby sleeps
Self-explanatory, right. I’ve hinted on it above: as a first time mum, I found this pretty impossible. Too much *needed* done, sorted, thought about. It wasn’t until my second wee one was born that I was a bit more level headed, able to let go of things, prioritise a wee bit. Sleeping when baby sleeps didn’t happen though … the toddler didn’t cooperate!
It’s what I wish someone had told me when I was pregnant with my first: You will never have only one child again. Stay in bed with baby as long as you can, before there’s a toddler needing breakfast!
Use offers of help
Welcome these offers, embrace them. And invite them, because sometimes potential helpers aren’t sure whether to ask or offer, even though they’d like to.
The best offers are those that are mindful and respectful of your needs and your baby’s: Cooked dinners, a platter with healthy snacks, doing laundry, washing dishes, holding baby while you shower, listening without buts and ifs and shoulds… These offers of help look after you, so you can recover and get to know your little one without distractions. Taking your baby for a walk while you whirl around cooking, washing the dishes, doing laundry and wondering is your wee one ok is only marginally helpful!
Rest while feeding
Put your feet up, lie back, sit and enjoy the calm. Easily done at home (yes, this one is easier when there’s only one little person in your life. I will share a few ideas about that in a minute.) – especially when you pick up on baby’s first feeding cues, like licking and smacking lips, moving head side to side, opening eyes. That gives you plenty of time to grab drinks, snacks, phone, book, remote, lock or unlock the door and get settled in. Then you can sit and marvel at the beauty you created, soak in baby’s smell, lean back and close your eyes and take loads of selfies of the two of yous.
But the toddler! Yes, not so much resting with little busybodies around. You can still sit though. On the floor, for instance, so you can play with the tot while baby feeds. Or lie on the floor to feed and be a bridge and road for cars. Sitting at the table works great for playing with playdough, colouring, sticking, eating. My oldest liked to cuddle up on the sofa with books for feeds. Or he just pottered around.
This is a delicate one in Ireland. Parents are so worried not to offend anyone, everybody is a friend and neighbour and particularly if it’s your first, everybody knows baby arrived. Often, it turns into this:
Vetting visitors means to put them into categories (e.g. always welcome, welcome with restrictions/conditions, stay away), decide how to deal with each category so everyone’s needs are met and then put your other half in charge. They are the gatekeeper.
If you find it tricky to fend off unwelcome visitors, try these ideas: Greet them in Pjs and dressing gown, even ruffle up your hair. Stay in bed while the other half deals with them downstairs. Keep baby in a sling.
Investigate local support groups
And do it while baby is still safely tucked away in a bump. Why? Because you will get answers to questions you don’t even know you’ll have, like feeding cues. You will get to see real mums parent real babies. You will get to enjoy a cuppa without interruption. And, for most of us, bringing a new baby and our new mummy-self out to a group is a hell of a lot easier if we’ve seen some of the faces before.
If you haven’t managed to get to a group before baby is born and feel nervous about going for the first time, why not make contact with the facilitators via phone or email first.
The most important thing is that you are eating. And drinking. Maybe not chocolate or crisps all day, three days in a row. But reasonably balanced is just fine. Eat to hunger and appetite, drink to thirst. The gatekeeper from above, he is also chief snack provider. Even when he’s back to work. Before he heads off in the moring, he can get drinks and a snack platter ready for you with strips of veg and fruit, raisins, nuts (yes!), cookies (yes again), breadsticks etc. If he goes all out, he may even leave a dip or two with it.
And no, you don’t need to avoid certain foods when breastfeeding. It’s really uncommon for mum’s diet to have adverse effects on baby. One of those myths started and perpetuated by companies with an interest in undermining breastfeeding. You can check this article for more info.
Allow your partner to be involved
In a workshop I attended last year about Dads and breastfeeding, a dad put it like this: “We are like dogs. You give us clear instructions and a pat and praise when it’s done.” Sound advice! Tell your partner what and how he can do and let him. You are two different people. Baby will figure out very quickly that you are and that different people do things differently. And baby will develop preferences for certain things done in a particular way by one of yous.
Dad is baby’s first experience of love without food. A baby sling can be a really powerful tool for Dad to settle baby, keep them safe, form a strong bond, give mum a break and get stuff done all at the same time. And for a mum, there’s nothing as attractive as her man wearing her baby with pride and love.
A lot and despite everything. Ask yourself: “What’s the big deal?” Nine times out of ten, there is no big deal. So laugh about it. And write it down! So you can laugh about it some more in a few years time 🙂
At the same time, allow tears. It can be quite an emotional rollercoaster and parenting isn’t something that was meant to be done in isolation. If you do feel down, overwhelmed, trapped talk about it with someone, online, over the phone or in person.
That, actually, is something to keep at the back of your mind always: responsive parenting can’t be done without being responsive to your own needs of support and companionship. It is hard to help someone else with their oxygen mask, if you didn’t put yours on first…
* This mnemomic is the brain child of a group of Cuidiu Breastfeeding Committee members. It was published in the first booklet they produced many years ago. I am using it with the kind permission of Sue Jameson.