Kathy Fray has been advising literally thousands of expectant mums and their partners, over the past 1½ decades, as well as being a 24-7 on-call community midwife for nearly a decade, looking after hundreds of women one-on-one during their 10-month journey from newly pregnant, to their baby no longer being a ‘newborn’.
Kathy is passionate about mothers receiving authentic unbiased factual and non-judgmental information, she refers to it as providing “Expert Nurturing”. But certainly, she has found a ‘pattern’ of common underestimations, overestimations and misunderstandings, that she has needed to repeatedly guide first-time parents-to-be about, to help avoid painful and preventable ‘life lessons’. These are the Big Seven:
Underestimating how important the Second Trimester is for getting stuff done
In general the initial First Trimester can be dominated by extraordinarily high levels of Progesterone (muscle relaxant hormone) to help maintain the pregnancy (by preventing the womb contracting), with its potent side-effect of the new mum-to-be feeling nauseous and extraordinarily tired. This is Mother Nature wanting the mum-to-be to rest, rest, rest, to maintain her pregnancy. We say, Listen to your body! However, in the middle Second Trimester, this is when women can oftentimes feel pretty comfortable and energised, making this, by far, the very best time to sort all the baby prep To Do lists, especially shopping for nursery equipment (and shifting house if that is also needing to be fitted in).
Underestimating how important REST is for both Mother & Baby’s wellness, during the Third Trimester
The final Third Trimester is the highest risk period for pregnancy complications occurring, particularly gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsic toxaemia, slowing of fetal growth, and premature labour. Due to the body trying to avoid these relatively common complexities that negatively affect both mother and baby’s health, then again (like the First Trimester) Mother Nature can make the mum-to-be feel extraordinarily tired, because Mother Nature wants her to REST, REST, REST (especially beyond 32-weeks). Listen to your body!
Misunderstanding what a Due Date means
A ‘Due Date’ is not actually a Due Date. It is the 40-week marker, and an ‘estimated due date’.
A ‘fully cooked’ Term baby is actually due any time during the five-week period of 37-42 weeks.
Prior to 37-weeks is a premature baby, and after 42-weeks is a post-dates baby.
So, for example, a woman saying “I will work up until a month before my baby is due” should actually mean working up until 33-weeks not (because her baby is due anytime from 37-weeks onwards). Or a partner explaining “The baby was three days late” actually means the baby is born at 42½ weeks (not a baby born 3 days after the 40-week estimated-due-date). Remember any baby born from 37-42 weeks is not early, and not late – they’re exactly on time.
Misunderstanding the normal Length of Labour
Historically mothers all new first labours could be long and challenging, and everyone accepted it was “just how life is”. However, today there is now such a new cultural phenomenon of mothers feeling compelled to share their ‘birth horror story’ with first-time mums-to-be, that it is actually being studied within maternity research. Somehow, in only 2-3 decades across a history of millions of years, an ‘entitlement’ has developed, of Western women believing they have a birth rite to experience the right birth. But of course, although modern medicine has transformed maternal morbidity and fetal mortality rates, it has not transformed the length and strength of childbirth.
Most first labours are about three nights long (two nights latent, one night active). That is absolutely normal. Typically, there is a first overnight of light irregular contractions, followed by a day of peaceful uterine activity. Then there is a second overnight of moderate regular contractions, and a day of niggles. Then finally on the third night, the labour properly establishes with 3-4 strong contractions every 10 minutes, and now that woman has just begun the Active Labour to dilatate her cervix, and is usually about 6-12 hours away from giving birth. Plus, sometimes Labour is faster (especially with subsequent babies) and sometimes Labour takes longer. Every body is different.
Underestimating how much having great Labour knowledge can influence a great Birth outcome
The amount of Childbirth education first-time-parents-to-be seek can directly influence how fast a woman’s cervix dilatates during Labour – of that point Kathy insists there is no doubt – because it is all about Hormones.
When a woman (and her Birth Support people) understand the Stages of Childbirth, especially the Phases of Labour, then she is unstressed with a relaxed go-with-the-flow attitude, which means she produces beautiful levels of Oxytocin giving her wonderfully productive efficient contractions, and her cervix can dilatate rapidly. Whereas a woman who is scarred and fearful (or her birth support people in her room are intensely stressed), will make her body produce high levels of Adrenaline, and Adrenaline is the ‘enemy’ of Labour, reducing contraction strength and slowing (or even halting) cervix dilatation.
Excellent empowering antenatal childbirth education is oftentimes the most powerful influencer of all, enabling a woman to surrender beautifully to the natural pain of Labour, to enable her body to give birth normally. Of course, sometimes obstetric interventions are necessary – but with a healthy normal pregnancy, then generally the safest thing for both mother and baby, is spontaneous natural labour, to enable a spontaneous normal birth.
Underestimating how long Breastfeeding takes to successfully establish
Midwives and Lactation Consultants generally talk of it taking about 4-6 weeks for breastfeeding to fully establish. You see, it typically takes up to a week old for a newborn to develop an efficient and coordinated suckle at the breast nipple. Then another week or so to really settle into regular rhythmic suckling. So usually by around week 3-4, most exclusively breastfed babes are doing really well as efficient feeders and having great weight gains, and by week 5-6 the whole supply-and-demand ratio has settled well.
The important aspect of all of this, is for the New Mums to really realise, that it is best to think in terms it will take about a month to fully successfully establish breastfeeding – rather than saying “It’s just not working!” on Day-3 while the newborn still may have an uncoordinated suckle and full milk is still to arrive. (It is a ‘red flag’ if the Babe looses more than ten percent weight in the first few days, or isn’t back to their birth-weight by 2-weeks of age.) Certainly, it can make a big difference when the woman has regular easy access to the wisdom of another woman skilled in the art of Breastfeeding.
Overestimating how much a New Mum should get done in each 24 Hours
When you do the math, that initially a newborn is up for about 45-75 minutes, every 2-4 hours, 24-hours a day, for the first couple of weeks, that can be kind of scary. By week 3-4, they may be doing one longer sleep overnight of 4-6 hours. So that means, for the first whole month, Kathy recommends a New Mother does nothing (absolutely nothing) other than feed her baby, feed herself, & sleep: Feed feed & sleep, Feed feed sleep. She recommends, 40 days and 40 nights of living in pyjamas, so the mother can better cope with the forced sleep-deprivation, and be able to relish this first glorious month, which is so precious, and goes by so quickly. And Kathy advises that until a baby is “over 5 weeks and over 5 kilos” they should always stay home to avoid over-stimulation, and bacteria their mother’s breastmilk is not supplying antibodies for.
Most mothers only have 2-3 children these days, so that is only 2-3 months in our entire life to bunker down to intentionally live a quiet life for the best recovery of herself, for the best health of her baby, and for the best bonding between them.