Having a baby and learning to be a mother is not meant to be a journey that you walk alone! It is absolutely essential for your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing to be surrounded by loving, nurturing support during this time of transition to motherhood. This might come from your own mother or mother-in-law, a good friend, or a maybe postnatal doula, whose role is to provide experienced, nurturing care during those first weeks of motherhood.
During those first days and weeks as a new mother, you have so much to contend with- just consider for a few moments these 10 reasons why extra support is not only fully justified but totally indispensable!
As a new mother you are...
1. Recovering from birth-
Whether you have had a natural vaginal birth, stitches, a birth with help from the doctors, or a Ceasarean, they all take a varying toll on your body. You may have had other medical issues brought on by pregnancy that impact your recovery. You need to come to love and embrace your new wrinkly tummy and changes to your breasts or extra pregnancy weight. Whatever your circumstances, your body has just done a totally amazing job of growing a tiny human and giving birth, your pregnancy placed demands on you comparable to an endurance sport, and you simply can’t expect to bounce back immediately! You need to allow yourself time to rest and heal and for your body to gradually adjust in order to make a full physical recovery. Many cultures place a much higher priority on this than we do in the UK, expecting new mothers to stay in bed for days on end and be waited on hand and foot! This may well not be possible for you, but there is a lot of wisdom in those cultures who invest so much and place great ceremony and importance on nurturing a new mum with rest, love, good food and no responsibility for jobs in the house.
2. Bonding with baby
You have a new family member to get to know! You will spend the next 18 years or more together, so take the time to really get to know each other. Spend your days in eye contact, smiles, skin-to-skin, baby talk, rocking and holding your baby, gentle touch, baby massage, carrying close in a sling, watching closely so you can learn your baby’s cues for feeding, sleep and other needs. Don’t rush on with jobs, let someone else do those things, and you can be freed to invest the early weeks in really familiarising yourself with your baby. This will pay off immeasurably in the long run, you will have a close bond and a secure attachment with your baby.
3. Establishing feeding
If you are breastfeeding your new baby, you both have a lot to learn! How to hold your baby, what positions work well, how to recognise a good latch, how to watch for swallowing properly, learning to be confident in your milk supply. Maybe learning to express milk or feed from a bottle with expressed milk or how to make up formula may factor in your situation- however you choose to feed your baby, you need to allow time to learn, and deal with the challenges it may bring. Its helpful to allow plenty of skin-to-skin contact in the early days will help to establish a good milk supply, allow baby unlimited access to the breast whenever needed and you need to expect to be spending hours on end sitting on the sofa feeding! This is normal, but it is all very time consuming, so having help to keep the house jobs under control to allow you to sit and feed baby is a real blessing. Find a trained breastfeeding supporter or lactation consultant to help if you have questions or struggles.
4. Adapting to new roles
Becoming a new mother can be quite a daunting prospect. It may be your first baby, and therefore a
brand new role to learn, or you may be adjusting to having a new baby in addition to older children in the family. Either way this is a challenge. It’s a real period of transition and you need to be patient with yourself and your partner as you adjust and learn. This takes time but soon you will find you begin to feel more
competent as a mother, more able to confidently make good decisions for your baby, and begin to enjoy the new role! You may be more familiar with the corporate work environment, being in control of life, and meticulous planning and have project management down to a tee- but having a newborn in the house doesn't work like this, and can throw your world upside down. Give yourself the time and support to adjust to this, and surround yourself with people who value motherhood and will help you as you grow.
5. Dealing with many emotions
Hormones are all over the place in the postnatal period, tiredness is often a huge factor, and there is much to learn. So you will naturally find your emotions are up and down like a yo-yo. You may be tearful, anxious, fearful, overwhelmed, or suffer from mum-guilt. You will have times of sheer joy as you gaze into your baby’s eyes and wonder how you could make such a sweet human. There will be times probably when you resent your partner for sleeping through the night or not noticing something that could be done to help. There will be times when you walk proudly together hand in hand round the park with the baby contentedly cooing at you! This is one of the periods in your life when you will most need patient, understanding and loving emotional support. Find someone who encourages you, to reassures you, tells you what a great job you are doing. To make tea and listen to you cry when its tough. To hold your hand. And remember its OK to not be OK, you don’t have to love every moment! If you are really struggling, please speak to your health visitor or GP.
6. Lacking in sleep
We all know how much harder life’s demands are when you are over-tired, and this is a particular challenge with a new baby as you will almost certainly be considerably down on sleep. Having someone you trust to keep and eye on the baby during the day for an hour so you can sleep can make an enormous difference to how you cope as a new mum. Knowing you will have an uninterrupted hour of sleep later in the day can keep you going through a difficult, wakeful night shift, and can save your sanity! Try and make this a priority a couple of times a week if at all possible, and plan to have a trusted visitor over to help in this way.
7. Needing good food
As you deal with tiredness, establish your milk supply, and recover from the birth, your body needs good nourishment and good hydration. However it can be near impossible to find time to make yourself a healthy meal, and its easy to grab sugary snacks that give you an initial energy boost, but have little nutritional value. Ask friends who visit to bring a meal for you, batch cook in advance of baby’s arrival so you have a well- stocked freezer, have some items in your stock cupboard that can be used to produce simple, nourishing meals. Arrange a weekly online shop to be delivered with the regular basics like bread, juice, milk, eggs and plenty fresh fruit and veg, this way you shouldn’t find yourself ordering too many take aways, and there should always be something you can use in the cupboard if you are caught short!
8. Worried about older siblings
If you have an older child or children as well as your baby, you will be conscious of their needs, and be anxious to make sure they get plenty of love too. This can be a challenge with a new baby in the family, so you can make this work by getting another pair of hands involved! Friends, family or a postnatal doula could take a sibling out to the park or for a fun trip for an hour or so, to allow you time with your baby, or alternatively, you can ask them to hold the baby for a while so you can spend uninterrupted time with your toddler. Find some games like hunt the hidden plastic coins whilst you are feeding baby (hide 10 coins between feeds!) or get some bits together in a special box that comes out only at feed times, so your older child can look forward to that and not hinder you! Special books, threading games, a torch, a sealed container of full of rice with tiny things hidden inside to find, magnetic fishing etc can all be good fun and keep them busy for a few minutes.
9. Adjusting to new demands in your relationship with your partner
You are both going through a tricky time of readjustment, so try to be patient with each other, and make sure you communicate your needs and emotions well. If it is possible, try to protect occasional space with each other to just relax and reflect and enjoy one another's company. Make allowances for tiredness, do all you can to meet each others needs, don’t have too high expectations of one another! Be an encourager, don’t
criticise, spot things to praise and say ’I love you’ lots! Being a mutual support for one another goes such a long way during the early weeks with a baby, although the pressures and new responsibilities on you both make this very challenging! Remember, you are in this together!
10. Finding your village
After things settle down and you start to feel able to get out and about, make it a top priority to find a good support network that you can meet with regularly.
Friendship, acceptance, love and support are really fundamental to new mothers thriving, and you can share your ideas and concerns together. BUT do your best not to compare or judge one another! You could try toddler groups, NCT groups, children’s centres, maybe baby massage or exercise classes. Or simply find a group of friends to go out for walks together followed by a cuppa. Be brave and invite people to your home and build your village!
Wow, that is a tall order for anyone in the space of a few weeks or months! It’s easy to see how having the right support in place should be a blessing that every new mother enjoys to help her on this journey. If you don’t have friends or family that can offer you the reassurance, encouragement, practical help and time you need, see if there is space in your budget for some support from a postnatal doula. In the long run, it can easily be considered money better spent than choosing the fanciest travel system or having every latest (non essential) gadget that you see!
A postnatal doula is experienced, knowledgeable and caring person who provides practical and emotional support to families with a new baby, particularly focussing on the new mother. She will encourage, nurture and reassure you as a new mother, as well as provide hands-on practical support in the home. This allows you time to bond with your new baby, to get some rest, and to thrive in your new role as your baby grows!
More info about the author, Janine Ebling, an experienced postnatal doula in Guildford and Woking are of Surrey- www.nurturingmotherhood.co.uk
Or for a directory of doulas across the UK- www.doula.org.uk