Breastfeeding went well. My son breastfed easily within an hour after birth and for two years we never had a problem with the boob. I loved it, he loved it, we did it often, everywhere and with nothing ever getting in our way. Blessed we were!
But hindsight is a bitch and the more I think about those first three months (the 4th trimester), the more I realise I f^*cked up. Yes, I was a single mum. Yes, I was living in a city with no family support. Yes, I spent over 30 years of my life knowing nothing about babies, and only holding a newborn for the first time when it was my own newborn. But those things weren’t even a factor for my mistakes really. It was this: not tuning in to my intuition.
Three days after my son was born I was pounding the pavement down Chapel Street, having a coffee at the same cafe I did before he came. Five days later I was at the pub catching up with a friend. Seven days later I was in David Jones with him cradled under one arm, buying a blender with the other- no carrier or pram, just holding him on the tram home. I only needed one hand for the blender after all and he weighed the same as my handbag.
I recall a time when his dad took him away for the evening to see his girlfriend. I wanted his dad to be involved and as I’d just breastfed I gave him a two hour window to take our son and then bring him back to me for the next feed and bed. Apparently he cried in the car all the way there. I shouldn’t have let him go. His dad met me back at the restaurant I was at with about seven of my friends. It was around 8pm. The restaurant was noisy, really noisy. I got my little baby breastfeeding, but he was really fussy, started crying and wouldn’t settle so I walked him home leaving my friends still there. I think back to that night and it makes me so sad.
My boy always hated being put down. He’d cry the moment his back touched the cot or pram even though I was sure he was fast asleep. He hated tummy time, when all the other babies at mothers group loved it. Stupidly (f*^k you, hindsight!) I listened to the people who told me, just put him down even if he cries, he needs to learn to not rely on you and to self settle. I tried. I once spent 45 minutes rocking my baby in his cot with the blinds drawn in the middle of the day, hoping he’d just fall to sleep like he’s meant to! He didn’t. We both spent the hour absolutely miserable.
I pushed him in the pram down Chapel Street more times than I can remember (every day?) with him crying and fussing. Sometimes I stopped to pick him up, sometimes I cursed life and kept on going. Shouldn’t he just sleep? ‘What’s wrong with him?!’ I’d ask? ‘I just fed him, he can’t want more!’, (He absoluetly could have wanted and needed more!). ‘What’s wrong with ME?! What am I doing wrong?’. Rather than trust that intuitive part of me that said, ‘this isn’t right, your baby needs you, your baby needs your touch, your heartbeat, your connection, your breast’ I closed off to it…. I don’t know why. I look back and I just don’t know!!! I was so green and unsure.
The mistakes I made in that 4th trimester were plenty and revolved around not listening to myself, and not listening to my baby. I did too much too soon. Even though I COULD, does not mean I should have. I was physically back to normal in less than a week after birth and felt kick-ass but I really should have respected those first three months as a time I would never, ever get back with my baby. That very precious time was one I should have been doing as little as possible. Staying inside with my boy, being skin-to-skin with him often. Talking to him, learning about him, understanding his sleeping and feeding cues, bonding and continuing to fall in love. I should have been holding him as much as possible, wearing him in a carrier during the day, sleeping attached to him at night (this by the way is something we began doing after a few months and still do to this day 2 years later, and I love it!).
I know now just how important touch is to a newborn. It promotes calm, connection and facilitates brain development. It literally makes them thrive in a physiological, neurological, and emotional way that babies who are deprived of touch do not have. They NEED to be held all the time (or far more often than people think), they NEED to still feel mother’s heartbeat, they NEED that constant rocking motion when mother is walking. Touch and closeness promotes a good breastfeeding relationship, as well as a secure attachment (which makes them more independent and happy children and adults).
I feel like I deprived my boy of this connection and meaningful, spiritual time for us, because I was more concerned with keeping up with the life I had before he came. Here’s a blatantly obvious tip: childbirth changes EVERYTHING. Life will NOT be the same ever again. Prepare for that. Have really good, loving and sustained support around you for when the time comes that you meet your baby for the first time. If you don’t have family support, get a postpartum doula. And think of those first few months as sacred. Respect it and respect your baby’s needs- they are 24/7, relentless and exhausting. But it passes. Don’t be like me, and look back with sadness that you labeled your baby ‘high needs’, when all he was was normal and in need of comfort and connection.
I never sleep trained my baby even though for the first 16 months or so he was a very frequent night waker (I’m talking every 10-45 minutes until I jumped into bed with him attached to my boob). I never went back to the hairdresser I met for the first time who told me to leave my baby to cry, even if it means making a cuppa and walking outside for an hour so you don’t have to hear it. I am adamantly against the abhorrent act of controlled crying/sleep training. Trust me, after those first few months of expecting a baby to sleep when it just wouldn’t and seeing the distress it caused both of us, and knowing now what irreparable damage it causes to a baby’s brain development, stress responses for life and the knock-on effect of anxiety disorders and relationship problems later in life, I spent many, many nights thereafter rocking my child to sleep and getting none of my own.
Moving back home to live with my mum saved my sanity. Her calming, supportive care of me and my boy, her patience and understanding, her un-interfered with mother’s intuition, is something that has taught me bucketloads. I owe her everything and my son is thriving thanks to her love.
Ladies, please get the help you need and set it up well before your baby comes. Plan to do as little as possible once your baby arrives, for those first few months at least, and ensure every single person that comes to visit is there to make themselves useful. Laundry, dishes, cleaning, making their own damn cup of tea. And when you’re sick of them there, tell them to please leave or move you and your baby into your bedroom, shut the door and go to sleep together. You do NOT need to entertain anyone. Your job in life is to nurture, love and feed your baby. Sometimes those minutes and hours with a newborn, day in day out, seem like they will never end, but they do. In a blink of an eye it’s gone. Enjoy it, respect it and revel in it because you will miss it when it’s gone.