Coming home from the hospital with your first baby is probably one of the scariest things we will ever do. Suddenly, the reassurance of having round-the-clock support from the hospital seems very far away indeed.
Sadly, in modern Western culture, many new mothers feel immense pressure (either internal or from others) to snap back into shape, squeeze into their pre-pregnancy skinny jeans, be a breastfeeding champion, have their home looking like a page out of Home Beautiful and possibly head back to work way sooner than she really wants to.
If only we could take a page out of so many traditional cultures around the world who deeply value the sacred postpartum period as a critically important time for a woman to recover from birth and for her to bond with her baby, a time where she is supported by her family and community – and particularly by other women who take care of her home, her other children and ensures that mum is fed nutritious and nourishing food.
The reality is that many new parents are really doing it alone, or with minimal help. So many of us live far from immediate family and one of the by-products of modern life is that many of us lack that sense of “community”. Many of us don’t even know who our next door neighbours are!
I think one of the best things a new mother could do is to hire a postpartum doula. The main role of a postpartum doula is to ‘mother the mother’. To support her, nurture her and help her to gain confidence in her new role as a mother.
Through the acronym SNOWBALL, here are some other helpful tips which will hopefully help smooth your transition to parenthood.
S – Is for SLEEP. Sleep deprivation would have to be right up there on the list of things new parents are most worried about. I wish I could offer some magic solution that would guarantee that your baby will be sleeping through the night by six weeks and you will get a solid eight hours of sleep a night. But I can’t.
First of all, there is a great deal of quality evidence out there which has shown that it is neither normal nor healthy for very young babies to sleep through the night. A newborn’s stomach is tiny (not much bigger than a shooter marble) and both breastmilk and formula are metabolised quickly, which means your baby will wake frequently for feeds – which are critical for their growth and development. Putting your baby on any kind of feeding schedule before they are developmentally ready is strongly unadvisable.
However, there is good news. Newborns typically sleep 16 – 17 hours a day. Perhaps not when YOU would like them to sleep, but by adjusting your own body clock, you should be able to manage at least two decent chunks of sleep a day – even if it is primarily during the daytime at first. But sleep is sleep and a new mum should grab that rest when she can. Text your partner to let them know you’re turning your phone to silent so you can sleep, close the blinds or curtains and get into bed. It doesn’t matter if it is two o’clock in the afternoon.
Another thing that can really derail a new mum is the constant stream of visitors and well-wishers in those early weeks which can wreak havoc with bonding, breastfeeding and sleep (for mum and baby). Don’t be afraid to push off those early visitors (except for really helpful people, who offer to cook and clean for you!) and instead, perhaps do a baby welcoming celebration a few weeks down the track instead.
N – Is for Nutrition. Flowers are lovely, but a delicious home cooked meal is even better! Pregnancy and birth really take a toll on our bodies, and good nutrition postpartum is very important, especially if mum is breastfeeding. The last thing a new mum probably wants to do is cook. If your family or friends are asking if they can do anything, say “Yes! I’d love some yummy nutritious food to store in my freezer, thank you!”
O – Is for Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are not just great for your baby’s neurological development, but studies show that if mum consumes foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids (especially during pregnancy) such as salmon, tuna, sardines, walnuts and flaxseeds (or a good supplement), she may be at lower risk of developing postpartum depression.
W – Is for Walking. The benefits of walking and other postnatal exercise are extremely well documented. Exercise can;
* Help restore muscle strength and firm up your body
* Make you less tired because it raises your energy level and improves your sense of wellbeing
* Promote weight loss
* Improve your cardiovascular fitness and restore muscle strength
* Condition your abdominal muscles
* Improve your mood, relieve stress and help prevent postpartum depression.
Ease into exercise slowly and gently, and if you have had a Caesarean, it is advisable to first check with your care provider to find out what kind of exercise is suitable for you.
B – Is for Baby Breaks. As much as we adore our new baby, it is very important that mum has time out for herself. Whether that’s to pamper herself a bit, go for a walk, or to the gym, to catch up with a friend for a coffee or just have some much-needed alone time. Partners play an important role in supporting mum in this way. Take the baby for a walk in the carrier or the stroller or be at home with the baby for a few hours so mum can go out.
A – Is for Adult Time. Life after having a baby can become, well, ALL about the baby! Also up there on the list of things new parents worry most about is how their relationship will be affected. It’s easy to fall in the trap of self-enforced lockdown at home – but don’t! Hopefully you will have someone you trust to look after your baby for a few hours once a week, so that the two of you can go out together and re-connect as a couple. And when you are out enjoying your lovely meal together – DON’T talk about the baby!
L – Is for Liquids. A breastfeeding mother burns a heap of calories each day and can also become dehydrated. It is really important to hydrate throughout the day, so keep a water bottle next to you while you are breastfeeding and try to ensure that you consume about two litres of water a day.
L – Is for Laughter. The old saying, laughter is the best medicine, is absolutely true. Some days, laughter might seem like the last thing you’ll want to do because the truth is, parenting can be really, really hard and you’ll soon learn that life with a new baby is not like those cute Huggies commercials that have us weeping hormonally.
Whether you watch something on telly that is guaranteed to make you laugh, or better yet, you and your partner enjoy a laugh together, I promise you that you’ll feel a million times better after giving your tummy muscles a good laughter workout.
While parenting can be a tough gig, it is also the most amazing, rewarding, joyful, uplifting roller-coaster ride of our lives and even on the toughest day, all you need to do is look at that beautiful little human being that you created to know that it is all worth it.
With thanks to Sunday Tortelli for inspiring this blog!
Tanya Strusberg is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE) and founder of birthwell birthright, an independent childbirth education practice based in Melbourne. In 2015, Tanya was inducted as an FACCE (Fellow of the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators) in recognition of her significant contribution to childbirth education. Through her internationally-accredited Lamaze Educator Training program, she is very excited to be training a new generation of Australian Lamaze educators.
Last, but absolutely not least, she is also the mum of two beautiful children, her son Liev and daughter Amalia.