I am a mother of two and in a previous career I worked with families as a newborn care specialist. As with most major life events, the gift of hindsight is wonderful and many mothers like myself who are further down the motherhood path will tell you that yes, it does get easier, but it's a tough slog. Be kind to yourself. A mother was born as well as a baby, and you are learning together.
There are a few practical things I wish I had been told. Like there will be little to no sleep. Definitely in the early days and realistically for a good year or two. It is a very rude shock and is the number one reason help is sought. Sleep won't solve everything but it has a massive impact on your mental health. Just a few hours of respite can help you to see things in a clearer and more stable way. Expect no sleep and you may be pleasantly surprised with an hour here and there.
Birth plans are nice but often unrealistic. Most women I have spoken to never looked at it once the contractions started. Things change, we have little control over how our body reacts to birth and the best thing to do is keep an open mind and allow change and intervention when necessary. Contractions are rough and there is no shame in asking for the epidural. There are no medals handed out for suffering through the process.
Think about your post-birth plan. There is so much emphasis on the birth, which is important and useful, but many don't think about post-birth. What will you do if you end up needing a caesarean? Do you have someone to help you for the six weeks after birth when you'll be fairly immobile and unable to do housework or drive?
If breastfeeding doesn't happen easily, where can you go for help? Have the name of a lactation consultant ready, just in case. If you need to use formula, look into the various types as they differ greatly. Perhaps have a few samples ready at home, just in case. Make sure you have a good GP or paediatrician who knows the signs of reflux and tongue tie.
Do you have friends, family or details of professionals who you know you can call if it all gets too much? Your partner, a close friend and family members should know the signs of postnatal depression and who they can contact if they are worried about you. Newborns aren't meant to sleep through the night or for long stretches. Controversial, yes, and many will disagree and tell you that the sooner you get them onto a routine the better. But, from my experience, the women who struggle less through the newborn phase are the ones who go with the flow. This is not always realistic or easy and it may not work for everyone but if you can, feed on demand and invest in a good baby carrier. At least for the first few months.
There are hundreds of books and opinions on raising a baby and you will realise pretty early on they all contradict each other. Midwives, baby whisperers, grandparents, friends with kids will all tell you what they think is best. Just smile and nod and learn to pick and choose the advice you find most useful, and most importantly to trust your own instincts as a mother.
- Christy Kidner is an editorial administrator at The Canberra Times.