friendship

The 10 things NOT to do when you're a new mum

Sometimes being a new mother is like being hit by a tsunami. Here are 10 pieces of expert advice to help you cope, from the authors of ‘Overcoming Baby Blues’.

1. Don’t say, ‘I can manage, thanks’

Where’s the rule that says a new mother has to do it all herself? Please ask for and accept help. What have other new mothers found to be of benefit? Judge how and when others can lend a hand. Help those who want to assist by defining how they can best fit in, what they can do and when.

When a friend asks ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ say, ‘Yes—could you help with XX chores, or hold the baby while I have a shower?’

2. Don’t promise yourself not to cut corners

Don’t prioritise being perfect above being good enough. Ditch the Superwoman cape. Beware the scourge of feeding your friends homemade cake in your spotless house. Anyone on your side won’t be running a finger over the windowsills to check for dust. Who does that anyway, and if they do, do you really want them for a friend or think you should listen to them?

3. Don’t say, ‘I’ll attend to my own health … later’

Before you can supply the needs of another, especially a baby, you need to make sure your own battery is full. Never miss the opportunity for a sleep, any amount. Sleep should come first, second and third. Then try to add in some exercise. And think how you can best nourish your body. You’re still recuperating from a Very Big Event (remember, the birth?). Birth, breastfeeding, the resetting of hormones and involuntary sleep deprivation all merit recovery time.

4. Don’t tell yourself that motherhood is instinctive or that there is a right way

It can’t be both and in fact it’s neither. Instinct is not commonplace but your intuition is in there. After being all thumbs for a while, you’ll gradually recognise your little one’s routines and what seems to work. Think about the fact that childcare nurses require years of training to become competent in the job of looking after babies! Getting into as much of a pattern as possible means that at least you know what you’re doing!

5. Don’t tell yourself it’s wrong to run off to doctors

With a bit of luck, your understanding and available GP (if they’re not, find another), will become your new best friend. Develop a trusting relationship—drop the mask and be honest. Visit as often as you need for the baby but also tell the doctor how you are. If you are developing a slew of physical symptoms—tiredness, headaches, a churning stomach—give some thought to whether you’re under too much pressure and whether such symptoms reflect your psychological rather than your physical state.

6. Don’t say, ‘Making time for myself is selfish’

Arrange some time for yourself without the baby and/or other children. Use it to chill out, recharge your battery and confirm that you (and your partner) are still there. And exercise (with and without baby, preferably every day) is an essential, not a luxury. You’ll be all the better as a mother as you come back through the front door.

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7. Don’t tell yourself, ‘The birth must be “natural” or "Breastfeeding comes naturally"

‘Instinctive’ and ‘natural’ are words much bandied about during pregnancy and the baby’s first year. Beware: they’re spring-loaded and can hurt you. Birth is a big undertaking and it is an exceptional birth that doesn’t require some medical intervention. Yet some mothers ruminate and rehash the birth of their baby when it didn’t go according to plan. If you’re one of these mums, see if you can sort out why you’re upset and then move on—or talk it through with someone who can help. Try not to invest energy in upset or regrets—you need that energy for all the other things you’re doing.

Don't pressure yourself that "breastfeeding comes naturally"

The same goes for breastfeeding. Unless you’re taking a particular medication that prevents you from breastfeeding, persist with it if possible, and speak to a breastfeeding helpline or get a nurse to visit you at home if it’s not working out. Congratulate yourself if it does.

Remind yourself, however, breastfeeding isn’t for everyone and the baby will be fine if you decide to bottle-feed. There are some quasi-religious beliefs surrounding birth and breastfeeding that breed strong attitudes and loads of judgement and advice that can sap rather than support you. Be as pragmatic as possible.

8. Don’t promise yourself, ‘I will always be patient and unflustered’

You may feel guilty no matter what you do—motherhood can do that to a woman—so try not to obsess about any perceived mistake. Sometimes, too, a part of you can make you uncomfortably aware of and vulnerable to others’ opinions. Fix any slip-up or forget it, but move on. There are going to be days when you think you’re a hopeless mother and that every other mother is totally in command. You’re not. And they aren’t.

9. Don’t think, ‘I should behave impeccably or the baby’s psyche will be affected’

You’re the only mother your baby knows or wants. You have their best interests at heart and know them better than anyone in the world. A mother can only ever be ‘good enough’. And that is good enough. You can’t damage your baby with momentary lapses of attentiveness or composure. If you feel unsure, seek and accept help: it can provide invaluable perspective and self-management skills that will be yours for life.

10. Don’t think you shouldn’t reach out

There is a community out there with resources, tips and strategies at its fingertips: your local mothers’ group. Share their expertise: they are new mums just like you. Often you can meet a couple of other mums from the group separately, allowing friendships and support to grow.

Use your community centre or the last healthcare worker you liked to track down a mother’s group—or perhaps the mums you were in hospital will know of one. Ensure that it is a supportive, not a competitive group. Go twice and then, if that mothers’ group still looks bulletproof, find another group that’s more you. (Avoid mothers’ groups where they seem to vie with each other for best baby, quickest bounce-back after birth and longest sleep through the night.)

Overcoming Baby Blues - A Comprehensive Guide to Perinatal Depression is out now.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing depression or struggling with motherhood, contact these organisations

beyondbluewww.beyondblue.org.au

Black Dog Institute: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

Gidget Foundation: www.gidgetfoundation.com.au

Karitane: www.karitane.com.au/index.php

Post and Antenatal Depression Association: www.panda.org.au

Tresillian: www.tresillian.net

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