We all hear stories about new borns crying all night and then sleeping in the day or having to change nappies every 5 minutes, exhausted parents and postnatal depression (in either parent). There’s also the other side to the coin when we hear or see a new mum who’s up and about a few days after her birth, a full face of make up, clean house and a blow dry.
I want to bust a few myths about those first few weeks with a new baby; although every family and baby are different, so it may not be exactly like this for you.
Myth 1: You won’t get a minutes sleep
It’s true that you’ll be tired but if you plan well total sleep depression can be minimised. Sleep when your baby sleeps, put sleep first (over washing and hoovering etc), tell visitors to back off and prioritise sleep instead, simply sleep at ever opportunity. Discuss sharing the night time care with your partner if you have one, plan in advance to avoid any rows at the time. Ask for family support, hire a doula or plan as much as possible with any willing volunteers. Relaxing at home and do as little as possible, for at least a few weeks is always one of my top postnatal tips. You can’t get a new born into a sleep routine, they don’t understand about day and night and their circadian rhythm only allows them to be able to sleep for about 90 minutes at a time. This is why as soon as your baby goes for a nap you should too, ignoring anything else going on in the world. All that matters right now is nourishment yourself, feeding baby, sleep and being together.
Myth 2: A well meaning relative says ‘I was up and out again 24 hours after birth, you’ll be fine to get out too’.
They may have done this but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Why push yourself and struggle. It’s 2021 and we know the benefits of self care and looking after ourselves these days. There’s no prizes for being up and about straight away. All your do is wear yourself out and make things harder for yourself. Simply say in response to this ‘well done you, but I’m going to parent in my own way and take things slowly, I’m in no rush’.
Myth 3: You’ll need loads of bibs and muslin cloths
Some babies may bring up some milk after each feed, some babies might dribble a lot, others don’t. When my daughter was born I must have had 30 muslin squares and a whole draw of little baby bibs. I’m not sure I actually used any of them. She’s never been a sicky baby and only had a few episodes of dribbling when her teeth came through. It’s not always the case that you’ll be covered in sick and dribble! I’d recommend having a few muslins but see what you’re baby is like before you buy the whole shop full!
Myth 4: You should diet and get your figure back ASAP
I have to say this makes me a little bit cross! After you’ve had a baby you need nourishing, lots of healthy nutritious food should be planned, not diet food. It’s especially important if you’re breastfeeding. It’s great to eat lots of whole foods, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, healthy carbs, good quality proteins (eggs, chicken, fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, organic tofu, full fat dairy). Fad diets need to be forgotten about, crash diets will live up to the name, you will feel a crash in energy and mood. This is a time to keep your energy levels up, you need to prepare your body for the extra hours you’ll be awake and for caring for your newborn. There’s a wonderful cook book and book about the postnatal period that I love, it’s called The First Forty Days by Zheng Ou. Included in this book are some really nourishing recipes and a fabulous description on why it’s important to rest in the immediate postnatal period. There are recipes for food and drinks to help with healing, gut health, energy and to increase your milk supply if you’re breastfeeding.
When I’ve worked with a family as their birth doula I often attend the postnatal visit armed with a box of home made lactation cookies, or sometimes a groaning cake…yum!
If you’re breastfeeding it’s important to set up your space before you begin. Get comfy and have to hand lots of useful items in easy reach. This should include lots to drink, as you can feel really dehydrated when feeding. You could have water or maybe some lovely herbal tea. The book I’ve mentioned above contain really lovely recipes for cumin & fenugreek tea, goats rue & oatstraw tea, oats, ginger & cinnamon tea and more. These teas contain properties to promote milk supply, are warming, rehydrating, circulation boosting, supportive of the digestive system and can help calm the mood.
Myth 5: To go out, be make up, hair done and looking ‘perfect’ means your coping
This is similar to myth 2. We know more about self care now and being up and about certainly doesn’t mean you’re coping well. If you’re up and about too early you could succumb to burn out and depression, it’s not always the case, but it could be more likely. Think about self kindness and the old analogy of putting on your oxygen mask on the aeroplane first, so you’re capable of putting on other masks afterwards. This basically means if you look after yourself you’ll be capable of looking after your baby. If you get to the point of burn out you’re not going to be able to parent to the best of your ability.
I hear many stories of new parents getting out and about a few days after birth, with smiles on their faces, meeting friends for coffee, play dates and entertainment friends and relatives at home. These same people are at home in tears after a week, desperate for sleep and a rest, low on energy and burnt out. Think self care…sleep, eat, skin to skin in bed, baths, rest and utilise support.
Myth 5: If you think you have postnatal depression just shake it off and get out in the fresh air.
Postnatal depression (PND), birth trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), perinatal OCD and postpartum psychosis are serious mental health conditions and need to be taken seriously.
PND is very different to the baby blues. The baby blues is very common and you may feel emotional, irrational, burst in to tears for no apparent reason, feel depressed or anxious. These are normal feelings and generally caused by hormonal changes that occur after your baby is born. The baby blues is a temporary feeling and should soon settle down. If it continues or worsens you could have one of the illnesses mentioned above.
Since the pandemic all of these conditions are on the rise, including birth trauma. What one person considers to be a traumatic birth might be different to another person. You don’t have to have experienced a life threatening emergency to feel traumatised, it could be that you didn’t feel listened to and your wishes not respected.
All of the above need to be taken seriously and I urge you to reach out for support. There’s no shame in having one of these conditions, sadly they are very common, but you can get better. Please speak to your GP, doula, midwife, health visitor, your partner or a relative. Open up and get the ball running, nobody will think you’re a bad parent and people generally want to help. Another few good resources are MIND, PANDAS, Maternal Mental Health Alliance
Myth 6: Set up your baby’s nursery and buy lots of toys in preparation for their birth
Babies don’t generally sleep in their own room for the first 6 months of their lives, so there’s no hurry to get their room set up and ready. I know a lot of people who feel it’s been a real waste of time and energy rushing to get the nursery finished in time. Babies of a few weeks old don’t often benefit from toys either. When a baby is newborn they can only see around 8-15 inches away. Babies love to practice their focusing skills on our faces, rather than other objects. They will look at the shape of your eyes and outline of your face. Do lots of smiling and your baby will really benefit. You could also pop on some music and sway with your baby whilst they’re looking at your face. They will love lots of smiling, changing expressions, pulling faces and seeing your tongue.
I could have carried on all day with this blog. There’s loads of myths out there and lots of people will try and give you advice on what to do and what not to do. You don’t need to listen to anyone else, you will find a style of parenting that suits your family over time. If you want some support please look for evidence based information, not just people’s opinions. It could be wise to hire a postnatal doula to support and empower you through this time if you feel that you would benefit. You can take a look at my postnatal doula services here Postnatal Doula – Breathe Birth Yoga and I’d love to hear from you if you’d like a chat. Please Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call/message 07920212669
Remember…relax, self care, rest, nourish, bond and most of all enjoy your newborn, they won’t be this little for long!