Survival tips for new mums …

Survival tips for new mums …

Survival tips for new mums

For all of our new mamas getting very overwhelmed by the crazy first part of life with a new baby, I thought we experienced mamas might like to share some survival tips and reassurance because I am sure we can all vividly remember the emotional turmoil first time around as you try to come to grips with this huge life event and all that ensues …

Here are my tips, feel free to post with yours.

Chin up new mamas! You are all doing better than you think right now 🙂

It really does get easier and much sooner than you think!! You’ll still have rough patches every now and then but the first six weeks are particularly intense (it doesn’t magically get better at 6 weeks, it’s just some of the fog seems to lift). I remember feeling like I was being sucked into a time warp when day melded into night into day again … Wash and repeat. It was such an awful feeling and I too didn’t know if I could continue. But time passes and before you know it you are just doing it and it’s second nature and easier.

My first was and still is to an extent an interesting sleeper so I got to know sleep deprivation on a level most people will never experience. I simply had to find ways to cope because nothing I did helped my baby sleep longer so all I could do was keep him as calm as possible and get him sleep the way he needed because a calm baby kept me calmer.

For my own survival, here’s what I did to survive those early weeks…

1. Rally the troops!! Get as much help as you can for every task that doesn’t involve baby- cooking, cleaning, shopping, toddlers, errands.

2. Hand baby over when it gets too much and have a nice long shower and wash your hair or shave your legs and put on some fresh clothes that aren’t all milky

  

 3. Wear you baby in a carrier if you are sick of sitting still, otherwise get comfy on the couch and watch your favourite box set while babe snoozes or feeds for the 50th time that hour (cluster feeding is normal, I repeat, cluster feeding is normal).

4. This one is one of the things that helped me most … stop looking at the clock!!! Stop working out how long since you last fed, how long you fed, how long babe is asleep, how many hours sleep you got … Do NOT keep calculating how long you are awake at night!! It only makes you feel more tired because psychologically that’s where your focus is. Babies typically (definitely not all but often) sleep their longest stint first up and then the stints get shorter and shorter as the night goes on. Get yourself ready for bed before you think bubs might be done for the night so you can jump right in to bed and soak up as much of the long stint as possible (I know you are craving some adult time alone, but just for now submit to this and it will help).

5. Bedsharing!! I can not stress how much more rest you get when you are not physically getting up or trying not to stay sitting up and awake. You can stay drowsy and go through the motions … This really helped me combat the crazy insomnia I developed from getting up to and tending to my first for the first 6 months of his life. I felt like a new woman.
I have been bedsharing and co sleeping (cot mattress next to me)from the start this time.  It can be done safely and well worth looking into.  

6. If breastfeeding hurts or you are concerned about how your baby is feeding or your supply please seek advice from a Lactation Consultant (ideally a IBCLC- International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) or call the free Australian Breastfeeding Association hotline. Very few GPs and paediatricians have had up to date training in breastfeeding and as a result can head you in the wrong direction. Breastfeeding does take time to become ‘easy’ and there will be times when you feel like babe has been on the boob for more hours in the day than not but that’s all normal as they establish supply. Continued pain and damaged nipples are NOT normal, seek help as soon as you can.

7. Eat nutritious food and drink LOADS of water. Let people wait on you hand and foot. You are recovering and your body is going through huge changes (physical and emotional). Give yourself the grace to sit back and relax whenever you can. Everything else truly can wait!

8.Vent and move on. Don’t forget to look into your baby’s eyes and appreciate the beautiful soul you have created and who isn’t trying to make life hard but just needs you so much right now.

9. This too shall pass, it’s all a phase and you will never regret the time and love invested in your child. Allow yourself the time to grieve your old child free life. It doesn’t mean you love your baby any less if you miss that beautiful, peaceful calm life that you could control before you had your baby. Grieving is all part of the birth of a Mother.

10. Trust your instincts! You know your baby best, not some book, or a relative, friend or even professionals …You will doubt this (I remember thinking that at one point maybe I did not have any maternal instinct at all) but I guarantee in hindsight you will find what you thought your baby needed is what they needed … Be it more boob, more cuddles, more sleep, less sleep and more hanging out, help medically … Trust your gut. 



Your baby has never been here before and therefore no one knows them better than you. You are learning and growing together. Go easy on yourself new mama, you’ll find your feet. Until then feel free to feel all the emotions- the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. They are all real, they are valid and you are doing just fine.
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Loving the rod I built for my own back …

Loving the rod I built for my own back …

My first Grubby Bubby is turning two … Two! I can hardly believe it. In some ways, it’s hard to remember life before him. A life that revolved around me and my needs and of course my darling husband. I really thought I was ‘adulting’ for a long time before I had kids. But then I had a baby and realised the sheer weight of responsibility that it entails and I had my first real adult decisions to make for someone so vulnerable and precious. I felt seriously out of my depth. In those early days of being a mum, I felt so uncertain. I’m not sure any first time mum can ever say they felt confident in their parenting decisions from day 1, but I know from my experience that if your baby doesn’t fit a certain mould then you are going to cop more than your fair share of unsolicited and solicited advice and it can be very hard to decipher what is worthy of getting through to your fragile, sleep deprived new mum brain.As I detailed in my first blog piece, my filter failed me big time. But as I reflected today on my baby’s big milestone, I looked back through some of my writing and found this little piece and I felt so much relief just remembering that those months of stress and worry were followed by a much more peaceful calm as I settled in to my groove and followed my heart.

Here it is:

As a first time mum, in the early days and months I really let other people’s opinions and advice filter through to me far too easily. One of the most common ones I heard was the old, ‘you’re building a rod for your own back, you start that now and you’ll be doing it forever.’ This pearler was pulled out whenever certain people saw me holding or rocking my baby to sleep, feeding my baby to sleep, or giving him a dummy. It was also very popular upon hearing that after 6 extremely exhausting months of trying to ‘fix’ my frequent waker, I now bed share with him.

I ran into a new mum this morning and the poor bugger was telling me how her little bundle would only go to sleep when rocked but how worried she was that he would always need her to do this. It got me to thinking as I too had all these worries and I can tell you now, my mothering experience has improved tenfold since I stopped worrying about creating ‘habits’ and thinking and worrying about the long run. And I’m here to say I am so glad I have built that rod for my own back!

As I just cuddled my sweet little 10 month old off to sleep, I breathed in his beautiful scent and pressed my lips to the softest cheek. I gazed at his peaceful, trusting, beautiful face and I could not think of one place I would rather be. For you see, it might be ‘easier’ to get things done when you have a self settling baby but there is honestly nothing I need to get done that is more important than what I have been getting done, helping my baby get the rest he needs in a way that works best for him.

I will also not be doing this forever, as these days are in fact fleeting. 10 months has gone in the blink of an eye and it breaks my heart as much as it swells with pride to realise that my little baby is becoming a little boy and is growing before my eyes. He needs me a lot right now- attention, cuddles, endless boob, to hold him tight to get to sleep and resettle. But before I know it he will be grown and I will not regret for one single moment the time and cuddles invested in him now.

I no longer worry about when he’ll sleep through, or when he’ll fall asleep without a boob or dummy in his mouth or how long he sleeps in our bed. I just breathe in and live these moments and feel incredibly blessed to be his mum.

  

 13 months on, he now usually sleeps through, albeit in our bed with a dummy for at least part of the time….he needs me less and less which is equal parts heartbreaking, heart warming and a relief.

I still cuddle/ or lie and hold hands and sing my beautiful little man to sleep for his lunchtime nap and at bedtime and I love it. Other people can put him to sleep but if I’m around, mummy’s ‘cuggles’ are the best. While I was pregnant with number 2, I did have some fears about how I would keep up with my intense little man’s need for comfort. When I found out I was pregnant he was still feeding 2 hourly around the clock. And once again, I did get my fair share of unsolicited advice, ‘oh, you’ll have to get him to start going to sleep on his own, how will you manage with 2?’ But thankfully, by then I had enough confidence in myself and was surrounded by enough like minded people that I knew things would work out in time. And they did. Pregnancy helped with weaning and the natural progression of day sleeps have seen him drop from 3 to 2 to 1 sleep all on his own. Following his lead. Some days it’s is tough, if he needs his nap while I’m still getting babe down, things aren’t always pretty. But on the whole, we’ve found our little rhythm and it works for us.

My second Grubby Bubby, he’s a totally different kettle of fish but one thing remains the same … He loves a good cuddle to sleep. Sometimes with boob, sometimes with dummy. Sometimes in arms, sometimes in carrier. He’s 3 months old now and I treasure my snuggles with my man because I know they are for such a short time. Some times I am exhausted. My back aches, my arms ache, my neck aches and I think to myself I can’t do this anymore and just go the F*+^ to sleep but mostly I just breathe and find my peace. I slow me down. I match my baby’s rhythm and for that time he is my arms, I forget about my to do list and try to remain present as his sparkling blue eyes grow more and more sleepy and gradually he drifts off into peaceful slumber. No stress, no fear. In his mama’s arms.


I am so in love with the good ‘Ol rod I built for my back that it actually makes me feel sad thinking of the day my boys won’t need their mummy to utilise it anymore. One day they will be too big for boob, too big for cuddles on my chest or lap, too big to need my stories, too big to need me to sing or hum them off to sleep. So ‘til that day, I shall treasure my rod and be forever grateful to have built it in the first place.

Who else out there is loving their rod they’ve built for their own back?
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‘Why can’t my baby be like that?’ Jealousy, envy, disappointment and despair…

‘Why can’t my baby be like that?’ Jealousy, envy, disappointment and despair…

Hands up who has ever felt like this?
Pick me! Pick me! I was an extreme serial offender with my first who while being the most superb human ever made was an extraordinarily high needs baby who had me at my very wits end.

I went into motherhood with what I felt like were fairly realistic expectations around feeding and sleep. Unfortunately, what I thought was realistic was really restricted to babies who are actually super relaxed, super flexible and ‘textbook’ in that they progress in a straight line (gradually drop feeds and gradually add sleep time without waking). I didn’t realise and western society did not allow the possibility that our little humans are far more complex than that and progress is actually much more cyclical and irregular. Just when you’re sure your baby only ‘needs’ two feeds a night they’ll change it up and feed hourly for a fortnight and then give you one ‘Good’ night before waking every 20-40 mins the next. Day sleeps are just as unpredictable.

After coming from my previous life as a teacher where structure, routine and predictability ruled my day, I was left feeling lost in my new world that appeared to have no rhyme nor reason. This feeling of bewilderment was swiftly tainted by feelings of envy and jealousy when I would meet up with a friend or acquaintance who would boast, ‘oh, my little darling is letting me sleep now … 12 hours straight, 7 til 7. Is your baby sleeping through?’

My stinging sleep deprived eyes would well up as I detailed my baby’s wakeful habits and I’d cop the standard lines of, ‘have you tried swaddling’, ‘putting him down drowsy but awake’, ‘bedtime routine’, ‘listen for his protest cry it’s different to his emotional cry’, ‘it’s because you’re still feeding him’, ‘you need to not hold him, you’ve built a rod for your own back’ … I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Initially, I walked away and thought that maybe there was some weight to what they said and I practically tore myself in two trying every technique suggested by every friend, child health nurse, relative and bloody sleep whisperer known to man. With each attempt that failed, a little of my mummy confidence (already fragile as a first time mum and with sleep deprivation) chipped away. With each attempt I caught myself looking at my baby thinking ‘why can’t you just go to sleep like (insert name)? What more do you want from me?’ I became anal about awake time and early tired signs, I tried feeding timelines and resettling timelines too. Things grew more and more intense as I tried harder and harder.

Things really came to a head when I was told by a douche bag child health nurse that my child was ‘chronically sleep deprived and it would be affecting his brain development’. This was too much. I was extremely sleep deprived myself and struggling but at no point had I thought my baby was actually at risk (he was after all the most beautifully healthy, happy four month old who just hated sleep and was super cuddly and sensitive). This declaration from someone who I considered at the time to be a knowledgeable person sent me in a spin. It was one thing for me to be struggling but not my baby, no this had to stop… I must get this baby to learn to sleep for his own well being! I booked us in to attend a private sleep school for two weeks later, the public wait was over a month and there was no way I could let my poor baby ‘suffer’ that long.

Two weeks later we flew to Brisbane for our 5 day residential stay. I sobbed my heart out at the initial meeting with the head nurse telling her how much of a failure I was and how I never wanted to be this kind of mother – one who had to listen to her sweet baby cry while he ‘learned’ to sleep out of my arms. She reassured me that while he would cry it would only be because he was angry with the change and that the ‘responsive settling’ techniques would still comfort him while allowing him to learn the ‘essential’ skill of self settling. I had my doubts but out of sheer desperation for both of us I decided to commit.

The first 24 hours were horrific. It is testament to how crushed I was within myself that I did not trust the motherly instinct inside me that shrieked from every nerve in my body to take my baby and run. I am ashamed to say I stayed. I sat in the hall and sobbed and rocked in a ball as nurse after nurse tried and failed to implement the hands off settling techniques that were supposedly appropriate for 4 and a half month old. Each one of them ended up rocking my sweating, hysterical, exhausted baby to sleep. Not one of them believed me as we stood at the door shushing my babe that he was firing warning shots (apparently protesting) and that these warning shots were taking him further and further from sleep and that left for longer will lead to hysteria. Each one had to see for themselves. Each one would then comment that ‘we just need to persevere and be consistent and he would learn.’ And so it went for 24 hours. When my mum came to visit the next day she was shocked at how pale my baby looked and commented that he looked sad. I broke down at this and poured my heart out to her. I decided that if no one listened to me that day then we’d leave that evening. That afternoon I started packing our bag. I cried the whole time. What was I to do now? This was meant to work? Where to now? I felt defeated. At this stage a nurse walked in and asked me what I had expected from this stay. She actually listened and told me she’d support me on the next settle and let me go to my baby when I thought was the key point and stroke him. It worked. I felt elated and the success continued for the rest of the stay although babe did start to get harder on the last day. The take home message was to stay consistent and persistent and keep life as routine as possible for the following two weeks and we should be on track.

I left feeling empowered and confident with my new skills. I was determined to be consistent and persistent for all of our sakes. I got my husband on board and wasn’t too phased as babe tested us out for the first few days (settling in period). I started to worry as it extended from there and babe got harder and harder to get down. I rang the sleep school for some tips and reassurance but was greeted very unhappily. I would be getting a two week follow up call and they weren’t staffed to field more calls. I cried in desperation and the nurse asked me if I was going to be stronger than my baby or not and that to keep being consistent and persistent and we’d get there. I was crushed but with nothing more I could do I stuck at it. The two week call came and I was a wreck. We were up for 2 hour battles at a time to try and stretch babe to his 4 hour minimum for feeds. My husband was trying to resettle for me to keep babe away from the boobs so he was shattered. My baby was a wreck. The two week call nurse had a little more empathy but no further practical advice other than that god damn catch cry ‘consistent and persistent’.

We continued on for 3 further torturous weeks until I ended up in a ball sobbing in the lounge while my baby screamed in his cot.
I realised I had plunged into PND. I booked into speak with my GP. She spoke to me about my options for treatment and decided that counselling would be the best first step. For some reason just being diagnosed was the start of my recovery … It was the start of my surrender. The first step in letting go and learning to forgive myself and my baby for not being what I’d imagined. On the same day, I had a phone call from my darling midwife at the Women’s Health Queensland Wide who I have spoken to since I found out I was pregnant. She was her usual great self but also really made me stop and think … I had gotten myself so caught up in all the things I SHOULD be doing for my baby to ‘fix’ all the things I had done wrong to have created such poor sleep habits that I had lost my ability to listen and respond to MY baby. All the noise in my head was telling me was that if I rock my baby, feed him to sleep, don’t resettle him YADAYADAYADA had gotten so loud. Especially after having been to sleep school. I thought if I just stuck at it and at it and at it, it would eventually work … Well it didn’t. 5 weeks after sleep school we were no closer to having a better sleeper and my baby was getting more and more frustrated and upset with me and everyone around him not listening to what he was very clearly trying to communicate. As he grew more unsettled, the more I grew frustrated and upset too. Hence the breakdown.

Turns out, my baby isn’t a textbook one (not that any are). From day dot, I chose to go with my baby’s flow, follow his cues, feed on demand etc. He was always good at communicating his wants and needs to me but I had a deliberately stopped listening (as you are told to when sleep training). Lucky for me in many ways, my guy didn’t give up on me. He kept on getting louder and louder until I was forced to pull back and listen. At breaking point, I felt like the only way to get better would be to get more sleep and speak to a professional who could tell me how to deal with my problems. But, my midwife sent me the latest research article on infant sleep. A very interesting read. It proposed the idea that infant sleep is as individual as the baby and sleep training is an inappropriate intervention for something that is only a ‘problem’ due to culture and society. It focussed on the idea that mothers need to be helped to maximise the quality of their own sleep rather than aiming for the ever elusive ‘more’ sleep. Quality over quantity.

At the same time, I had been getting right into Pinky McKay – books, Facebook page, blog. I felt like she spoke to my heart. Her motto, ‘gently and with love’ is how I always wanted to mother. Not this crazy lady who watched the clock and let my baby grizzle, cry and whinge wanting me to help him to sleep in my arms but insisting on breaking this habit as he would never learn to self settle. I also started focusing on putting myself in my baby’s shoes and empathising more. I would hate for my husband or mother or friend to constantly compare my abilities with anothers and remind me regularly I’m lacking and yet that is what we do as we ‘wish’ our baby was something they’re not. I’d be thinking, ‘aren’t I enough?’ ‘Why can’t I do what (name) can do? And my self esteem would slowly chip away. That is not acceptable to me for myself and it is certainly not acceptable for my baby.

As I reflected back on those 6 months I also realised that for all my bitching and moaning about not sleeping enough and being tired … I was fine. I was fit as a fiddle, I was active and had well and truly adjusted to life on little sleep. I caught 20-30 mins each time bub napped/ catnapped in the day and I was fine. . I chose to talk about other things with people when they ask how babe is going. No more wallowing, no more whinging. This too shall pass and it passed a lot less painfully when I stopped dwelling on something that I tried so very hard to fix. My baby didn’t need fixing. He needed his mum to understand that this is where he was at and one day down the track, he wouldn’t need me so much but he will always know that I will be there waiting for him should he ever need me that much again.

So mums and dads here’s our challenge … To accept our perfectly imperfect little person/ people for exactly who they are. Because just as jealousy and envy are toxic in any other relationship, so they are with our precious wee people who deserve nothing but unconditional love from their mum and dad.

Self reflection and growth is such an important part of parenthood. I look back on that time now with kind eyes for both myself and my baby. We were learning to be. And here we are today. So in love and so trusting. Ever growing and learning with each other.