“When a baby is born, so is a mother.”
You’ve finally had your baby. You’re in a hospital bed, amongst strangers, on a ward which resembles some kind of mad baby supermarket, and you can hardly believe this tiny, pink, squirmy being is real let alone a whole other someone who actually belongs to you. Your entire body aches, it’s a war zone in your pants, you can hardly walk around or even breathe because your innards are still gleefully slotting back into their pre-pregnancy positions, and a six different midwives have given you massively conflicting advice about feeding whist manhandling your breasts and milking you like a confused cow.
It can be a very overwhelming time.
You may be feeling any number of things; madly in love, utterly terrified, wildly excited, or actually quite blasé and more interested in a cup of tea than anything else. (All of these feelings are completely normal, and usually subject to change at 3-5 minute intervals.) And once home, after the craziness that is the milk ‘coming in’ and the oceans of tears you sob throughout the process (again, totally normal but scary and weird all the same), the enormity of this new responsibility is bigger than your huge stash of maternity mattress pads. When the last visitor is finally ushered out of the door and you are alone with your bundle, the task of looking after him may seem very daunting and difficult. But your instincts, if you follow them, will tell you exactly what you need to do.
Looking after a new baby is really very, very simple:
Cuddle, feed, and repeat.
Obviously you’ll have to change the odd nappy to keep his tush dry, (no one likes a soggy bum), but that’s basically it.
“My baby doesn’t want to be put down!” If I had a pound for every time a new parent contacted me with this shocking news I would be loaded. Your baby’s entire existence up until now has been INSIDE YOU. Why would he relish being ALONE?! Think how you would like it if you were fast asleep wrapped in an organic goose feather duvet on one of those tempur mattresses in a blissful slumber, and then you woke up completely alone on the kitchen floor? Or if you were happily going about your business here on planet earth and then someone shot you up into space and expected you to get on with it. It would be ridiculous of you NOT to object. In the same way, it is understandable that your newborn would be utterly livid in what is relatively speaking, the same situation. As amazing and incredible your newborn is, he has no idea that he has been born, (no one bothered to tell him he was ever leaving the womb after all), and so although he will adapt to these new, colder, brighter surroundings with impressive speed, at first, all he needs is to be warm, fed, dry and close to you.
Cuddle, feed, and repeat.
All baby mammals are needy but human babies are needier than all the others put together. Ever wondered why a baby foal can skip off moments after birth, when it takes a human baby six months just to learn how to sit up? Or why a baby sheep can skip and hop minutes after plopping out of it’s mother when it takes our little munchkins a year just to learn how to walk? Well, when we were aping about on four legs, our gestational period was 12 months long. We carried our babies safe and sound inside us for a whole year, and then they were born, ready to face the world. But we evolved and started walking on our feet, which meant our posture changed, and our pelvic opening narrowed. There was nothing for it but to expel our young sooner rather than later. So from then on our babies were born relatively undercooked. Really babies could really do with a little more time in the oven but no one is in a hurry to make childbirth any more intense than it already is and so out they come after only nine months of baking. Quite harsh really – they’ve been shortchanged by three whole months! So what we get now are totally and utterly helpless infants. Human babies are born when their brains are less than 30 percent of an adult brain in terms of size, and as they then continue to develop outside of the womb, their brain size nearly doubles in their first year.
Your newborn hasn’t had to so much as breathe by himself before now, and suddenly not only is he expected to find his own food (you want me to latch onto what? Where? How? What?) but also to spend time alone. One minute he is squished up against your internal organs and the next he is all on his tod in a John Lewis moses basket and being expected to enjoy it! We really do expect a great deal from our little people don’t we.
So make life easier for him and for yourself. Act like he is still inside you. If you do this for at least the first three months of his life you are achieving two things. Firstly you are making his (early) transition from womb to world as smooth and gentle as possible. By keeping him close to you by carrying him around while you go about your day, (in a sling if you want to free up your hands), holding and cuddling him while you watch tv in the evenings, and sleeping close by him at night, you are soothing him and making him feel secure. Research shows that simply meeting your baby’s needs will make him calmer, and help him to grow up to be more confident.
By feeding him whenever he wants to be fed, (now being referred to as ‘responsive feeding’ rather than the slightly terrifying phrase ‘demand feeding’ – what is he doing, holding you at knifepoint?), you are mimicking the womb environment. For a kid that came out of it too early this can only be a good thing right? (New babies’ tummies are the size of a marble and they need to refuel these little tanks often. Breast or bottle, at first you will feel like you are feeding all the time and it can seem relentless. But those little marble tummies grow, and it gets easier.)
Secondly, you are making life MUCH easier for yourself. Many new mothers nowadays are hell bent on getting their babies INTO A ROUTINE DAMMIT, as soon as the placenta is out. Either because their friends swear by it, because they want to prove to themselves and/or to other people that their baby is completely controllable (YAH, right), or because they read a book (mentioning no authors except that she rhymes with Shina Shord), which insisted that they do so from day one. Reality check – NEW babies are COMPLETELY INCAPABLE of learning a routine. Their brains are so ridiculously underdeveloped that they simply cannot retain that kind of information. So whilst a routine is an excellent idea for your older baby, or for your toddler who likes to know that after Peppa Pig it will be bath time, enforcing it on your newborn is utterly pointless and therefore highly stressful. In truth, you would have better luck getting a woodlouse into a routine than you would a newborn baby.
Extensive research shows that a baby who has had all his needs met will very quickly become a secure, alert, and happy baby. So a mother who has met all her baby’s needs will very quickly become a relaxed, calm and happy mother. She will very quickly get to know her baby inside out. Like no book ever could.
Babies know when they are tired. Books don’t. Babies know when they are hungry. Books don’t. Babies know when they’ve crapped their pants. (Books certainly don’t know that.) And being tired, hungry or covered in crap are usually the only things that healthy babies get upset about. Sort that out for them, and you’re sorted. By reading your baby rather than the books, you’ll figure everything out much quicker.
Be confident. When you are told that because you ‘let’ your brand new baby fall asleep on your chest he is ‘learning bad habits’, remember – new babies cannot learn habits, bad or any other type! When you are told you are ‘making a rod for your own back’ know that your tiny baby is NOT plotting and scheming wicked plans in order to manipulate you. Can you imagine! It is completely impossible to ‘spoil’ a baby with too much affection. So go easy on yourself!
There are a billion really hard things about being a parent. Sometimes from the very beginning. There may be colic or reflux. There may be other illnesses or hardships. There may be money worries, relationship problems or Post Natal Depression. Most likely there will be sleepless nights. So make life as easy for yourself as you can. Give your baby his fourth and final trimester. It’s as simple as that.