Working as an Obstetric Social Worker in a busy maternity unit, I am often told by new parents that “nothing could have prepared them for what it is REALLY like to become a parent”.
Often they tell me they really couldn’t have pictured the huge mix of emotions, the challenge of feeding a newborn, and the healing that takes place in the first weeks.
When we start to talk about the process of adjustment that is taking place for them and their baby, they will often tell me that they already feel completely overwhelmed by the information overload. So much advice out there, so many opinions and how to know what to listen to.
I often reflect on what we should be telling parents to be. What parents really need to know. So I have aimed to keep this piece really simple.
For the first 12 weeks your baby isn’t quite ready to be here. We are so delighted to have our baby here, and yet our babies are just longing for the environment of the womb.
While all babies are different, and some cry more than others, all babies respond well to having us mimic the environment they were conceived in. The warm, watery, compact, noisy womb when they were literally inside their mum, being rocked and soothed by her movements and the sound of her voice 24/7.
So learning the basics of how to rock, wrap, settle and soothe a newborn will absolutely help you. As will knowing you are not getting it wrong if your baby seems to want to be held and fed around the clock. You didn’t get a ‘bad’ baby, just a baby who needs these sensory needs met while they adjust.
Phew. Surrender to the fourth trimester.
Breastfeeding, responding to your babies cues, feeling comfortable in your new role will take TIME.
There is a myth that feeding, mothering or fathering and knowing what our babies want is innate. It’s not.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill and it happens on the job, and the key person that needs to learn is not you, it's your baby!. It takes most babies six weeks to get the hang of feeding. They get there, feed by feed, day by day. However we as parents, are used to a world where we complete a task and it gets done.
Adjusting to a world where so much of this new job we are doing is completely out of our control? It’s a really tough ask. There can be feelings of self doubt, worry and that we are failing.
But here’s the thing. You’ve never done this before (your baby has never done this before either). It is the biggest change in job description you have ever had and it takes time to feel comfortable.
Some say it takes up to seven years to adjust to the process of becoming a mother. What I know from my work is that the anxiety, the heaviness and the seriousness of early parenting tends to settle for most parents around the six week mark, and if it doesn't there is the most fantastic help available and the best thing to do is talk about it.
It does get easier.
3. The world, the village, it’s changed
This is the big one. If you are finding early parenting hard, it’s not you, it’s the world.
We are not made to do this gig alone and yet more than ever in western society particularly we do. The way we live, the way we operate leads to early parenting being so incredibly lonely.
When I was a new mum 11 years ago, i used to fill up my son’s bath, after a long day alone with him, counting down the minutes until my partner would walk in the door and wondering “how many mums, just like me are in this exact apartment block, this street, this suburb right now filling the bath with water for one baby?”
It felt so wasteful to fill my tub for one tiny baby. And it felt so lonely. I longed for us to gather together and do this in a group. I wondered why we don’t?
I built up my village, starting with one friend. One friend I could call when I was having a bad afternoon with my son to walk the prams together, as I moved further into my parenting journey with my second baby I had another friend and we would arrange to feed and bathe our two babies and two toddlers together once a week. These two mums were my village, and I've worked on building that village from there.
My heart is aching for parents having their babies in this post COVID19 world, Who don’t have access even to the basic services that can ease this isolation of early parenting.
To these parents i would say, you were never meant to do it alone, so it it feels lonely that’s because it is. Find the connection where you can, find that one person you can walk the pram with, and ask for help with your feeding, with your learning and with your baby.
Once we are across these basics of what’s happening for our babies and for us there is only ONE thing you need to know about becoming a parent for the first time…..
What we often forget in the discussions about parenting is that as a parent, you are your child's first relationship. In the first five years, the way you connect, respond to, hold, soothe and delight in your baby is the most fundamental indicator of a person who turns out to be a resilient, secure, loving, confident, compassionate human being.
Your baby isn’t looking for a perfect parent who knows what they are doing and is enjoying every moment of parenting. Your baby is wired to FALL IN LOVE with you from birth, so if you are showing up and doing your best, you are simply doing the most amazing, important job in the world.
And the best news is that our babies don’t need us to be perfect at any of this. In fact, research shows that babies simply need parents who are present, who hold their babies, who soothe them when they cry, who talk to them about their world, and delight in this tiny miraculous human just beginning the journey of life.
Present, not perfect.
These comprehensive, learn at your own pace courses give you access at any time to videos, audios and documents that covers the core areas of development when reaching these milestone moments as a parent or grandparent.
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