Our babies are only neonates (newborns) for the first six weeks of their life. And then … poof! … they’re an “infant”, just a regular non-newborn baby.
So those first six weeks need to be a cherished enchanting time of witnessing the astonishing mysterious – even spiritual – miracle called human Life. But too commonly, rather than the ethereal and charmed dreamlike experience … parents can instead find the first weeks morphing into mind-numbing domesticity, or worse mutating into an inconceivable nightmare.
Welcome to the Fourth Trimester.
Personally I treasure the neonatal period with great defensive gusto, because it can be, when treated with reverence, an exquisite and magical few weeks. Then again these days Gratitude is forever teaching me the grace to “stay in the Now” to relish each moment in life, instead of constantly reminiscing on the past, or continually anticipating the future. But not so many parents-of-newborns (first-timers especially) can seem to truly accomplish that feat. Life for them is too often full of un-now comments like … “Can’t wait till my milk is in” … “It’ll be better when I’m not needing to use breast-shields” … “Looking forward to when he feeds 4-5 hourly instead of 2-3 hourly” … “Be great when she smiles and can sit up”.
However, it is the wise mother who says “I completely love my today, whatever it brings, as another precious irreplaceable day being with my perfect newborn”.
So why is it there can commonly be such a struggle to be-in-the-Now with our weeny pipsqueak babe? Probably, mostly, because neonates are unconceivably intensive hard work, requiring a 24-7 focused attention, the likes of which we have never ever before needed to give up of our self so much to. As parents, newborns can strip our beautiful-life facades to the core. For mothers, we are leaking tears, sweat, milk, urine and blood. We can have significant wounds healing. We’re fatigued, sleep-deprived, utterly drained, and probably unshowered. Yet some Mums, with all of that going on, still manage to be in their own Madonna-with-child Heaven. What is their secret?
Over the past few years, I have develop fairly streamlined advice I like to impart to all parents for those first precious weeks … magical secrets I know can make substantial difference to whether the journey is mostly pleasure, or mostly pain. Here goes:
- Really Commit to Natural Birth – We know in general terms a spontaneous vaginal delivery is easier (and safer) for babies, than a birth featuring interventions, such as induction, augmentation, epidurals, ventouse/forcep instrumental deliveries, or caesarean section surgical deliveries. So be proactive, especially during the 3rd trimester, to assisting your body to birth naturally. See your naturopath for birth-prep herbs; see your acupuncturist, osteo or chiro for optimal physiological birth-prep; attend antenatal classes respecting that knowledge is power; read wonderful books like Ina May Gaskin’s “Guide to Childbirth”, Janet Balaskas’ “Active Birth”, the “Pink Kit”, and my own “OH BABY…Birth, Babies & Motherhood Uncensored”. [However, in the same breath, we must all also graciously and non-regrettably accept a fluid go-with-the-flow attitude as to exactly how our babies actually arrive into this world, as obstetric interventions can oftentimes be the wisest and safest route. Such difficult decisions must not haunt a new mother with defeatist failure or self-condemning disappointment, because experiencing a normal vaginal birth does not automatically transcend a woman into a great mother.]
- Really Commit to BreastFeeding – Just saying “Yes I’m keen to give breastfeeding a go” isn’t good enough! Comprehend that Breastfeeding requires dedicated commitment, not a give-it-a-whirl mentality.
- Firstly, appreciate a newborn can have 8-12 feeds a day, each taking 30-40 minutes. That’s up to eight hours a day breastfeeding! So initially, breastfeeding will completely dominate your life – not forever, because a 4-week-old usually only needs six 15-20 minute feeds a day – but a brand new neonate typically takes much longer.
- Secondly, commit to staying in your postnatal care facility until after your milk arrives. Voluntarily opting to go home before then, when you have never successfully breastfed a baby before, is setting up future difficulties. Breastfeeding is an Art … so even when feeling homesick, just accept that for now, you and your baby, both need to stay on and learn this new skill.
- Finally, realise the establishment of synchronised breastfeeding takes a month. That means, a perfect wonderful latch first-time every-time; and the supply-and-demand balance for breastfeeding; are usually fully established at 5-6 weeks of age. Then it can become easy-peasy-breezy long-term. Repeat, how long does it take?: A month. Say that again: A month! So please don’t be thinking of committing breastfeeding hara-kiri just a couple of weeks in because it all seems so hard. Who said it was going to be easy? Sometimes it is, most times it’s not. During that first month, it’s essential to never hesitate to contact your LMC or local La Leche League representative for extra guidance. Speak up!! Breastfeeding is by far the best initial investment you can ever make in your child’s ongoing health, and once established it’s also the loveliest, laziest and most convenient way to feed your Bubs.
- Really Commit to a Being-in-the-Now Newbornhood: Accept a feeding, squawking, puking, pooing, pip-squeak will completely and utterly dominate your entire life for the next month, and commit to ensuring it remains a beautiful journey.
- Firstly, create a tranquil environment. This includes turning off the frickin’ daytime TV! Don’t have MTV or the soaps or talkback blearing all day – it overstimulates neonates. Have no electrically-powered music, except easy-listening. Turn all phones off during breastfeeds. Minimise visitors and baby handling. Use thermostatically-controlled heating to ensure a constant warm-as-toast cosy temperature. Calm things down. Slow things down.
- Secondly, stay home for a month. Huh?! Yes, stay home for a month – preferably six weeks. Or more to the point, have the baby stay home for six weeks. Six weeks in a calm, tranquil, thermally-neutral, non-stimulating environment. If you as a mum get cabin-fever, then go for a walk or swim or yoga class once your partner is home. If you’re partner can’t do the supermarket, order your groceries online. But please don’t routinely take a neonate out into the big wide world like some portable hand-luggage. At 3-6 months old, they can love being out interacting with the world. But don’t rush it.
- Really Commit to Infant Sleep: Many experts advocate strong policies regarding infant sleep. Within my own OH BABY book I talk of the 12 Golden Rules, 12 Magical Secrets and 20 Do’s & Don’ts to teaching successful infant sleep habits. The main point is: For baby’s to self-settle in a basinet, away from a moving womb-like environment, they need to be taught how to do it! Some parents never teach their baby how to go to sleep on their own, unaided … perhaps because they prefer attachment-parenting philosophies, and that can be wonderful. But many other parents never teach their baby how to go to sleep unaided, either because they didn’t know they how to, or have been using accidentally-winging-it philosophies from the start. In reality, Parental Sleep-Deprivation = Parental Depression & Marital Discord.
So, do what it takes in the first six weeks to consciously create a gentle, peaceful, restful and calm experience for your newborn. And wa-lah! Mums (and Dads) also will experience a gentle, peaceful, restful and calm first six weeks of parenting!
A quiet stay for forty days, keeps the bad days away.