This First-Time-Mom's Advice to Future First-Time-Moms
Welcome to motherhood! Welcome to sleepless nights, endless worrying, googling every single thing about your baby and second-guessing all your second-guesses! I’m pretty sure that you’re reading this entry while your baby is either feeding or sleeping. I hope all is going well with you so far.
Lilibubs turned 11 weeks last Sunday. Can’t believe than in just a few more days, we’ll have a three-month old already! It’s been great, it’s been dire, last week felt like tightrope walking on a wire. There are days when just the usual amount of mothering is needed and days when my patience was stretched to the limit. Nights when she wouldn’t stop crying and days when she doesn’t want to be put down. IT’S EXHAUSTING, and yet, as I am sure many mothers would agree, INCOMPARABLY REWARDING. And the fun part is, we’re in this FOREVER. :D
Recently, I’ve taken to recalling other mothers’ advices to me when I was still pregnant. Taking into account my own relatively new experience, I reflect on some of those nuggets of wisdom and share my own in this entry. Hopefully some of you will learn from what we’ve been through so far, pick up on what worked for us and avoid repeating our mistakes, while keeping in mind that every baby and every parent is different.
Do feel free to add to my list to benefit other would-be-moms! :) I categorised my advices under three headings: those that apply to baby, nursing, and you.
YOUR BABY’S CRYING IS NOT INDICATIVE OF YOUR ABILITY AS A MOTHER. IT IS HOW BABIES EXPRESS THEMSELVES, THEIR LANGUAGE; IT’S WHAT THEY DO.
I needed to remind myself of this over and over, especially when we’re out and in public and even more so when it was just my baby and me. As a first-time-mom I’ve realised that I’ve put so much unnecessary pressure on myself to get things right, when nobody really does the first time (and nobody expects me to, and does anybody ever? Haha!). So yeah, when they cry, they’re just saying that they are either hungry, sleepy, overstimulated, in need of a nappy change, or not feeling well. Their crying does not reflect on you.
PRACTICE EMPATHY AND RESPECT TOWARDS YOUR BABY.
Imagine you were plucked out from everything comforting and familiar and suddenly thrust into a very strange, very weird world where survival and adaptation are day-to-day occurrences.. on top of that, you’ve never really had your own sense of self (you’ve always thought you were a part of something bigger and not your own person).. that’s how it feels for a baby. So you’re getting to know yourself and parts that make you up while at the same time, learning how to live in a strange world - it is quite bewildering to be honest that’s why I think babies are just so amazing. I try to think about this every time I pick Lilibubs up and every time she cries or startles or is fascinated by something. At the same time, she already is her very own person so as often as possible, I ask for her permission before I do something to her, whether it’s a nappy change or a massage, showing respect for her and her body. Gentleness in everything concerning her is key.
SLEEP WHEN BABY SLEEPS.
This is perhaps the second most popular advice I’ve heard from practically every mother I’ve come across with, and it’s one of the most important ones to follow. Babies, particularly newborns, sleep erratically and wake up every two-three hours to latch. So do squeeze in whatever shut-eye you can get, you need it especially since you are recovering from childbirth, too. The maximum number of hours you can let your newborn go without feeding is four hours. It happened once to us and I was so glad I was able to sleep for that long, but it didn’t happen again.
START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON.
I’ve encountered this phrase in the book “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer” by Tracy Hogg, which I highly recommend by the way because of its comprehensiveness in everything mother and baby (this is not to say that we are strictly following her method, just that the book offers a lot of information in one source). Basically it means that however way you plan on raising your baby until she’s older, then you should start and continue doing that. For example, if you are committed to rocking your baby to sleep every single time until she’s older, then you can continue doing that. Otherwise, you’d have to train her to sleep on her own.
Easier said than done.
Our Lilibubs was a preemie born at 36 weeks 3 days and weighing only 4 lbs 17 oz. Our priority at the onset was to help her catch up to the average length and weight of her peers, so a lot of kangaroo mother care and carrying her around and letting her sleep on Joey’s chest happened. I suppose one could say that right now she is “sanay sa karga”. But I have observed that if she is sated and comfortable, she can sleep on her own. Currently, Joey and I are not strict with her sleeping habits, but as soon as she reaches her target weight, we do plan to put her on sleep training. That’s the time we will start as we mean to go on and hopefully, it’s not too late.
DAY AND NIGHT DIFFERENCES.
During the day, do not limit activity, noise, and light around baby. At night, dim the lights, and limit noise and interaction with her. That way she’ll be able to distinguish between night and day and sleep longer at night. We’ve done this since day 1 and thankfully, at 11 weeks Lilibubs can sleep longer through the night, the longest being six hours. She still wakes up once or twice to feed, though. Also, we keep waking up because she’s such a noisy sleeper, and most of the time she cries when she farts :( so even if she doesn’t ask for a feed I still wake up at random periods at night (not to mention my overly filling breasts).
SCHEDULE ONLY ONE STIMULATING ACTIVITY FOR YOUR BABY PER DAY.
I remember there was this one day when Joey and I brought Lilibubs along to fetch my mother-in-law in Tagaytay, then had to drop by the hospital for my mom, then had a pictorial scheduled later in the day at home. Lilibubs was so tired she got cranky already during the shoot, hehe. Lesson learned: babies get stimulated so quickly that we adults have to screen what activities we expose them to, even if to us it’s just a harmless car ride.
YOUR BABY, YOUR RULES / NOBODY KNOWS YOUR BABY BETTER THAN YOU DO.
There will be lots of advices from every momma you will meet. But in the end, you alone know what’s best for your baby. Trust your instincts.
FEED BEFORE BABY CRIES.
This entails monitoring your baby closely for signs of hunger - rooting, turning her head from side to side, clicking tongue, putting her hands on her mouth. It helps to know her feeding schedule so you can anticipate when her next meal will be. I found that if I fed her before she cried, she’d be more relaxed and likely to finish her meal to the end (Lilibubs usually continuously sucks in the beginning, then sucks a bit then pauses to swallow in the middle, then does a kind of nanginginig sucking towards the end). On the instances where I was late and fed her after she cried, she tended to suck furiously thereby getting tired easily, consequently not finishing the whole feed. She also would take in a lot of air because of the crying and also during the feed, leading to extra gassiness no mother wants to deal with later on. And once again, to practice empathy, do I want to cry first before I get to eat? Of course not! It makes sense that it goes the same for baby.
HIRE A LACTATION CONSULTANT.
The single most important person you should book while you are pregnant. I cannot emphasise enough how essential this is - a lactation consultant will teach you everything about breastfeeding that you need to know - different positions, how different positions empty different ducts, what to do when you encounter difficulties (sore nipples, mastitis, blebs, etc), in the comfort of your home or even at the hospital right after you give birth. I’ve attended two breastfeeding seminars when I was pregnant but it was all in theory, though what I did learn there solidified my desire to breastfeed for at least a year. Nothing can quite prepare you for how overwhelming breastfeeding is. Having a lactation consultant help you out is like having a hand to guide you when you’re in the dark.
AFTER YOU GIVE BIRTH IS THE OPTIMAL TIME TO START LACTATION-INDUCING FOOD, SUPPLEMENTS, AND TREATS.
When I was pregnant, I asked one malunggay supplement company when to begin taking their product and they advised me to start on my 32nd week. I did and I became engorged a few days after. It also didn’t help that there were people sending me lactation treats that looked to good to ignore so I started eating those too around the same time. Bad decision - when you’re pregnant, particularly when you are considered high-risk like me, you should avoid everything that can stimulate uterine contraction, nipple creams and lactation treats included. When I asked my OB when to start malunggay supplements, she actually shook her head in dismay (she thinks they are unnecessary). She told me to start taking them after I gave birth and that’s what I did.
STAY AWAY FROM THE BREAST PUMP UNTIL AFTER THE SIXTH WEEK (UNLESS YOU ARE GOING BACK TO WORK AND NEED TO BUILD YOUR STASH OR YOUR BABY WAS BORN EARLY)
Ideally, breastfeeding your baby should be the perfect economy - your body supplies only what your baby demands in terms of quality and quantity. But a lot of unknowable factors come into the equation that mess this relationship up - some mothers have low supply while others hyperlactate. It isn’t even clear when one’s milk supply will truly normalise - others say six weeks, some between the eighth and tenth week, while others say between three and four months. Introducing the pump early has a tendency to truly confuse your supply.
I had/have oversupply. On my fifth week I ignorantly developed mastitis (I thought I was just engorged), got hospitalized, and had to pump milk from my infected left breast while latching Lilibubs on my right (This was what my doctor ordered; others say the solution to mastitis is to pump and latch on the infected breast). Prior to that I think I’ve been overly producing already as my milk flow is extremely fast, letdowns painful, with my baby choking at every feed. Enter the pump and my supply got even more messed up. Now, I’m on my 11th week of nursing and staying away from the pump as much as I can (even the Haakaa) and hoping that my supply would normalise soon. LEARN HOW TO HAND EXPRESS. It is a life skill for every breastfeeding momma.
CHECK FOR A LIP/TONGUE TIE AND HAVE IT RELEASED AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE
This was our latest hurdle. As the lactation consultant I asked help from watched me feed Lilibubs, she mentioned that my baby probably has lip tie because of the way the milk was all over her upper lip after feeding. We took a good look and it was confirmed - a lip tie attached right at the edge of her gums. We consequently went to a dental clinic to have it checked and to ask for advice if it was necessary. The doctor said it was, and we scheduled to have it released Tuesday last week. The week that followed was truly challenging - Lilibubs would cry for hours (she eventually got hoarse), she lost her appetite but thankfully she did not turn completely away from my boob. Now she is a lot better, relearning how to use her new oral machinery. Also, her full upper lip can now be seen (we hadn’t realised that part of it was hidden because of her tie) and she cries a lot louder now and we think that’s because her tongue tie was released. At the same time, now that she can properly latch with both lips flayed out, she can empty my breast at feedings which I’ve never experienced before. Her tongue tie release can also rule out a possible speech problem in the future.
START EACH DAY WITH A PRAYER. PRAY ABOUT EVERY SINGLE LITTLE THING.
Mothering is hard. Each day presents its own challenges. And just when you think you’ve got your baby down pat, the following week comes and it’s a seemingly whole new baby you have to get reacquainted with. I find that if I proceed with the day’s activities without starting with a prayer, I get impatient more easily. Cover your little one with prayer, cover yourself with prayer, cover every activity with prayer.
DELEGATE. ASSIGN A ROLE TO YOUR PARTNER SO HE WOULDN’T FEEL LEFT OUT. INVITE YOUR RELATIVES AND FRIENDS OVER AND HAVE THEM TAKE CARE OF BABY SO YOU CAN GET A FEW BREAKS.
Contrary to what you may think or aspire to be, you are not superwoman. Your body and energy and spirit can only do so much. Besides, when you see your partner taking on caring responsibilities, you’ll love him all the more. You may not even need to “assign”. In our case, Joey volunteered to do the burping after I fed Lilibubs para daw hindi ko siya malamangan. Said in jest but he’s got a point - both of us get in quality time with the baby. What a blessing to have a husband who’s really involved in parenting.
I downloaded a very useful app called MammaBaby where I can input Lilibubs’ sleeping, feeding, pooping times and growth chart. Admittedly, I’ve long since ended taking note of Lilibubs’ poops, confident that she is turning out the usual number, but I’m very disciplined in recording her feed times. It helps that Joey checks the app too, that way, both of us know when we can expect Lilibubs to be hungry, thereby anticipating to feed her before she fusses.
PROTECT YOUR POSTURE.
Joey and I found ourselves stooping low every single time we held Lilibubs that there seems to be a permanent ache on our backs. So learn from us and protect your posture even as you hold your child. When you breastfeed, find a comfortable position for you first before you start the feed.
IF YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF LOSING PATIENCE OR GETTING IRKED AT BABY..
Step away for a few minutes. Even if she’s crying, lay her down on the bed and walk away. If there are other people in your house, give baby to them for a while. Then close your eyes and take deep calming breaths. You will find that those little pockets of breaks can wonderfully refresh you, your patience restored anew.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR WELL-BEING - PARTICIPATE IN A COMMUNITY.
We weren’t meant to raise our children on our own. We need the support of others, whether in the physical sense as to the involvement of family, relatives and friends, or in this electronic age, via social media. Join and participate in online communities. I find that seasoned mothers all over are always ready to give a helping hand or a listening ear, perhaps because they understand, having gone through what we are going through now. Bottomline is: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Do not hesitate to ask other mothers for advice. The motherhood universe will welcome you with open arms.
DO NOT LOSE YOURSELF.
You were whole before you got married, a distinct individual with a specific set of likes and dislikes. You were you after you got married, embracing and celebrating your better half, his wholeness adding to yours and vice versa. And now that you have a child, do not forget that you are still you. Find time to spend alone without your husband and child. Keep in touch with your inner self. It’s easy to get lost in this whirlwind world of diapers and sleepless nights, but take care never to lose you. As they always say, HAPPY MOMMY, HAPPY BABY.
IT WILL GET BETTER.
Last week, in the aftermath of Lilibubs’ post lip and tongue tie surgery, when she seemed so inconsolable no matter what we did, when she cried so hard and so often she got hoarse, I kept praying that may tomorrow be better, may she eat better, may she feel better and heal faster. And you know what, she did. She got better day after day. A week after the surgery, she is back to her usual self. So no matter how tough a time you may be experiencing now as you parent your child, take heart in the fact that tomorrow will definitely be better. You’ll have learned and adjusted, your baby the same. Your mind, body and heart will have recuperated, ready for the next challenge. That’s essentially how my cousin described motherhood: as one long series of hurdle after hurdle, but you will find that you will become stronger, more patient, and better equipped emotionally for whatever the next challenge will be.
THINK IN SEASONS, NOT IN TIMELINES.
Life is pretty much composed of seasons. When you were young, it was the season of equipping and establishing your identity in this world. As you started to earn and enjoy singlehood, it was the season of hiking mountains or partying anytime with your friends. When you got married, it was the season of loving your spouse and adjusting to living with another person. And now that there is a baby, it’s the season of caring and securing a loving environment for her. You will always be you, you will always have your passions, you will always get to live your life. If you think you hadn’t lived it as best as you could, try to let go and instead, look forward to what lies ahead. Regrets can only lead to sadness and a feeling that you were robbed of an alternate existence.
Our babies are only this young and tiny once. They will shower us with the purest love and affection only this once. They will never need us as much as they need us now.. and they grow up so incredibly fast it makes me want to freeze time and just look at Lilibubs peacefully sleeping for as long as I could. So even if my husband and I lack sleep, even if I could sometimes feel my knees get wobbly, even if my time is so tied up to Lilibubs and I miss some opportunities because I can’t leave her, I will still choose to maximise this season that I have with her and enjoy it, because I know it will never happen the same way again.
There was a video by Motherly that resonated with me at the beginning of the year. Adapted from the words of Eliza Morrill, it said:
“This year, my only goal is to ‘survive’.
This is not my year to train for a marathon
or to make a home-cooked meal every night
This is not my year to cut out caffeine
or to reorganize the entire house.
Because the truth is - I’m in the thick of it.
My kids are little, and their needs are big.
So, this is my year to give myself grace.
This is my year to sleep when I can,
to let go of the things that are out of my control
and embrace the mess.
I’m putting less pressure on myself
because the reality is this:
My kids don’t need a perfect mom.
They need a mom who does her best.
They need a mom who is surviving.
They need a mom who loves them unconditionally
(imperfections and all).
You’ve got this.”
You got this, momma! God wouldn’t have made you a mother if He didn’t trust you enough to take care of one of his finest creations. Trust in Him, trust in you.
Thank you for reading! I hope I helped even in a small way. :)