Pinky McKay shares some practical advice for new mothers on breastfeeding, sleep, crying and the importance of looking after the new mum.
Breastfeeding may not 'just happen'
Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby but it often doesn't come naturally at first. It’s helpful to understand that just like learning a new dance, you and your tiny partner can take a little while to get 'in step'. And as you learn how to hold your baby comfortably, your newborn has to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing.
Being born is hard work and many babies take a while to feed effectively, but offering skin to skin cuddles will help: strip your baby down to his nappy and hold him against your bare chest. As soon as you notice early hunger signs (sucking movements with his mouth, trying to move his hand to his mouth or 'rooting' towards you as though he is seeking food) offer the breast quickly - support your baby and pull him in close as he turns in and opens his mouth (never push your baby's head).
You may need to feed some breast milk from a syringe if he takes time to begin feeding, and expressing will help kick start your milk supply. Try to avoid bottles during this learning period, as this will imprint a different sucking action from breastfeeding.
Your baby probably won't appreciate your interior design skills
Even the most lavish, lovingly prepared nursery won't encourage your baby to feel safe and secure enough to sleep soundly away from the security of your smell, your arms and the sound of your heartbeat, at least in the early weeks.
In the watery world of the womb, your baby was weightless and warm, he was comforted by the rhythm of your heartbeat and the gentle rocking motion of his "mother home" as his body was gently massaged by the uterine wall and contained by the boundaries of your own body. Now, from this dark warm world of muffled sounds, the newborn must get used to new sensations: air moving across his skin and into his lungs, lights, direct sounds, smells and stillness.
Your baby will need help to make the transition from womb to world so it can be helpful to think of his first three months as the ‘fourth trimester’ of your pregnancy. This way, you will reduce the pressure on yourself and your baby to 'separate' too quickly. You can relax and enjoy every sweet cuddle as you wear him, rock him and sing to him, knowing you are not 'spoiling' him. Instead, you are teaching him to love.
Crying isn't just for babies
You are dealing with a cocktail of new mummy hormones, a whole new lifestyle and you are recovering from giving birth to your beautiful baby ... is it any wonder you are overwhelmed by it all?
Tears are pretty normal for new mums but if things are too hard, it is important to get help just in case you are starting to spiral downwards into the dark tunnel that is postnatal depression. Evidence suggests that as many as one in 7 new mums and 1 in 20 new fathers are diagnosed with postnatal depression each year in Australia.
Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety can present during pregnancy or after birth and may develop quite suddenly or more gradually over several months: The passing 'baby blues', where you are weepy for no apparent reason in the days following the birth (typically between the third and fifth day after delivery), affect up to 80 per cent of women. About 15 per cent of women and 5 percent of men develop moderate to severe postnatal depression, requiring medical treatment.
Symptoms of postnatal depression (PND) may include mood swings, anxiety or panic; sleep disturbances unrelated to the baby's needs, changes in appetite, chronic exhaustion or hyperactivity; crying – feeling sad and crying for no apparent reason or feeling like you want to cry but can't; irritability; negative, obsessive thoughts; fear of being alone or withdrawing from family and friends; loss of memory or concentration, unrealistic feelings of inadequacy or guilt, loss of confidence and self-esteem.
For men, symptoms can also include anger, loss of libido, engaging in risk taking behaviour, increased hours at work as part of withdrawal from family and increased use of drugs or alcohol instead of seeing treatment for depression.
The good news about PND is that it is treatable. And, the sooner you get help, the more quickly you will recover. There is a range of treatments, from psychological therapies to medication – and yes, there are safe medications for women who are breastfeeding.
You might feel like you're going a little crazy
You finally get your baby to sleep, you hop in the shower –and you hear him crying. You jump out, dripping wet and race to check – he's still sound asleep, safely in his cot, exactly where you left him just a few minutes ago. Your raging mummy hormones are designed by nature to make sure you protect your baby from lurking danger. This is why those voices in your head urging you to check up are so persuasive. It's also common for new mums to have weird dreams about 'losing' their baby - resulting in throwing off the blankets to search when, just like the shower scenario, baby is sleeping soundly in his own bed!
Sleep is for the weak
In infant sleep studies, 'all night' is considered as five hours.
For safety, your baby is designed to arouse easily and wake often in the early months and, according to several studies, night waking is normal for at least the first year. There is increasing evidence that some approaches to 'teaching babies to sleep' that advise leaving babies to cry, can cause stress responses that may lead to long term, adverse changes to a baby's developing brain. Baby training practices also have the potential to negatively impact your baby’s trust, attachment and bonding, and your own confidence. They may also contribute to breastfeeding problems such as low milk supply along with poor baby weight gains and failure to thrive due to inappropriate advice that doesn't consider the physiology or unique experiences of individual mothers and babies.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to 'suck it up' if you are exhausted and sleep deprived - there are gentle methods to help you and your baby sleep, without tears for either of you, so do seek help.
An Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant and infant massage instructor, Pinky McKay is the best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting By Heart, Toddler Tactics and 100 Ways to Calm the Crying. Visit pinkymckay.com.