Giving birth is a beautiful experience, but becoming a mom for the very first time can be overwhelming. Moms-to-be and new moms have a lot of questions about bonding and caring for your baby. If you’re one of these moms, we’re here to help! We asked Liana, a mom of a three-year-old little girl, about the things she wished she knew as a new mom. Here’s what she has to say.
I remember the day that I found out I was pregnant as if it was just yesterday. My husband and I had just finished buying groceries, and we decided to pop by my mom for a quick coffee.
As we got there, I quickly excused myself to use the bathroom. I knew it was probably too early to check, but if you know me, you would know that patience is not one of my strong points.
So I took out the pregnancy test from my handbag, peed, and started to wait.
And there it was, written in perfect little black letters – PREGNANT.
Naturally, I freaked out and screamed for my husband at the top of my lungs. Both he and my mother came running to the bathroom, only to find me beside myself with a mix of hysteria and joy. (I’ve always been a slight drama queen.)
And that is how my journey to motherhood began. Nothing like what I thought it would be. You see these women on the internet sharing the news with their husbands over a candlelight dinner, but no, not me. I stood there in the bathroom half-naked, shouting and screaming, with my mother in the background starting to share the news with the rest of the family. I expected bliss, but I got chaotic madness.
Motherhood turned out to be nothing like what I expected. That day was the first of many similar unexpected days. As a new mom, you dive into all these pregnancy books and magazines, trying to get as much information as possible into your head before your baby is due. And sure, you might learn one or two things from the books, but no amount of information ever really prepares you for what is about to happen. They also don’t tell you that every child is unique and that every new mom experiences things differently to the next mom. As I tried to gain as much information as possible, I soon felt utterly overwhelmed and decided to instead focus my attention on designing a nursery. Probably not one of my best moves. If you thought the day I found out I was pregnant was fun, you should have seen the day I gave birth.
So what are the things that I wish I had known before giving birth to my little girl?
Those motherly instincts don’t kick in at the moment that you give birth
I was under the impression that the moment I held my baby, I would automatically know what to do. All the women in my life had told me that I should stay calm and rely on my motherly instincts. Moms, I don’t want to burst your happy bubble, but those “instincts” only really set in about a month or two after you gave birth. As a first-time mom, you have no clue what you are doing at first. No magical feeling sets in and you are all of a sudden a trained professional. You will feel overwhelmed, it is unavoidable. Which brings me to my second point.
Approximately 70-80% of all new mothers experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of their child. I remember an old nurse walking into my hospital room and at the sight of me crying almost worse than my baby, calmly noted: “Oh, it’s day three already. Time for the baby blues.”
At that time I wanted to throw her with a bedpan, but later on, I did some research and found that “baby blues” are the least severe form of postpartum depression and that the symptoms usually start within four to five days after the birth of your baby. But it typically only lasts about two weeks. My husband was a tremendous help during this time. Sure, we just ate takeout, but at least I didn’t have to try and cook while I was feeling so overwhelmed. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself as a new mom. Do not expect perfection. Focus on getting to know your baby and adjusting to your new routine. Take it one day at a time.
Postpartum bleeding and discharge
Thirty-two weeks into my pregnancy, my sister-in-law in a matter-of-fact way told me how she had heavy bleeding after giving birth to her son. Of course, I did not know that this was going to happen. I was so relieved not to have had my period for the last eight months, only to hear that it was soon to be back in full force. So naturally, I stocked up on an insane amount of maternity pads. The result? After my C-Section, I hardly had any discharge, and the maternity pads are still in my cupboard today.
So here are the facts on Postpartum bleeding and discharge, taken from TheLeakyBoob.com:
After having a baby, most women will experience some blood loss from their uterus (womb) until the lining is renewed. Vaginal bleeding after birth usually lasts between two to six weeks and can vary in color throughout that time.
Lochia is the discharge consisting of blood from the area on the uterine wall to which the placenta was attached during pregnancy; the sloughed off endometrium (uterine lining which makes a bed for the fetus) which gets considerably thickened during pregnancy, blood and mucus from the healing cervix, and dead (necrotic) tissue. Your blood volume increases by approximately 50% in pregnancy; all that extra blood also has to go somewhere after birth. Most women will experience blood and lochia discharge for 3-6 weeks though that time span can vary from pregnancy to pregnancy and can be directly influenced by a healing mother’s activity level.
Similar to other moms, I looked forward to the prospect of breastfeeding. I had read about the countless benefits of breastfeeding, including the bond that it creates between a mother and her child. I wanted to share such a relationship with my baby, so I had made up my mind that I was going to breastfeed. I remember laying in the hospital room waiting with eager anticipation for the nurse to hand me my baby so that I can nurse her and so that the two of us can share this unique and beautiful experience together. My little girl, however, refused to latch. The nurse would press my baby’s little mouth to my nipple with force, to no avail. We tried all the different positions, no success. My husband went and bought all the different types of nipple shields that he could find, in the hope that they will help my baby latch. Nothing. My little girl was going hungry, and in my mind, I was failing hopelessly as a new mom. Next, we decided to get hold of breast pumps and bottles. At least my baby would still be getting that much-needed breast milk into her system. I would sit on the side of the bed, my husband holding a manual breast pump to my right breast, and me pumping feverously with the manual breast pump on the left.
We would do this for an hour before each feed, but we soon realized that my milk wasn’t enough. After an hour of pumping we usually only got 20-30 milliliters out, not nearly enough to fill my growing baby’s needs. It would be an understatement to say that I felt miserable. I had all these hopes and dreams of motherhood, and the exact opposite was happening. I couldn’t even fulfill the most basic requirement, to feed my child. I spend the next few weeks maintaining the breast pump routine and crying every time at the results of my failure. I drank elixirs, mixes, pills and herbs, all to try and produce more milk. But the results remained the same, 20-30 milliliters
Finally, at four weeks I had had enough. I recall sitting on the couch with my baby snug in my arms, peering into her angelic face. The two of us already shared a bond, and it wasn’t because of our feeding routine, it was because I loved her with all of my heart and I was showing her every day how important she is to me. And I know in my heart that she loved me too. So, the following morning we went and bought even more bottles and sterilizers, and formula milk. I was not going to let my little girl go hungry just because I was trying to live some fantasy that I had read about. The two of us would create our very own blissful routine. Bottles and formula milk was not as evil as all the articles that I read had implied. They didn’t make my child feel emotionally insecure in any way. They did not affect her mental capabilities, and most importantly, the fact that I had bottle fed my baby with formula milk did not in any way affect our love for one another.
My little girl will be four years old soon, and the two of us are inseparable. So to all the new moms out there, I want to say this. What matters most is that you love and care for your child unconditionally. Whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed your child is up to you, as long as you do it in such a way that nourishes your child entirely and show him or her just how much their mom loves them.
Soon after we arrived home from the hospital, we began experiencing some difficulties. After every feed, my little girl would vomit. As I am a first-time mom, I had no idea what could be the cause, so naturally, I called my mom. She plainly told me not to worry, that it was normal for babies to vomit after they’ve been burped.
The vomiting, however, got worse, and my baby didn’t show any signs of weight gain, so at four weeks old we were back in the hospital. It turned out that my little girl struggled with severe infant reflux. The pediatrician performed some tests, gave her antibiotics and we changed her formula milk.
I learned a vital lesson, during all of this. Always trust your motherly instincts (they will eventually kick in). After speaking to my mom that first time, I remember how I still felt uneasy about the matter. Finally, I firmly told my husband that we need to get my baby to the hospital as something is not right. It turned out that my intuition was right, my little girl was suffering, and if I had left it, it would only have gotten worse. Other people may have pure intentions when they give you advice, but it is still up to you to decide the best course of action.
Here are a few quick facts on Infant reflux and how to deal with it.
When we eat and swallow, the esophagus (food pipe) automatically contracts to push food down into the stomach. At the same time, a valve, known as the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES), relaxes to allow the food to pass through. Typically, the LES closes to prevent food and stomach acids from flowing back up into the esophagus. With reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux (GOR), the ring doesn’t close properly, or remains open, causing a backflow of acids from the stomach into the esophagus. The results are heartburn and discomfort.
In babies, reflux is relatively common as the LES valve is still weak and may not close properly. That is why babies typically spit up or burp after eating. In some instances, this isn’t painful. In other cases, the ingested milk mixes with stomach acids and irritates the inner lining of the esophagus when it travels back up, resulting in pain and inflammation.
Try and keep your baby upright after a feed. Avoid vigorous winding.
Don’t worry if you have to hold your baby in the upright position to sleep; you can’t spoil a baby when they are that young. Do your best to assist your baby in any way to achieve sleep – even if it means holding him/her while they sleep. (My little girl slept upright on my chest for about three months.)
Despite the fact that reflux can be hard to manage, take comfort in knowing that it will improve with time.
Sleepless nights are inevitable
My husband came home one night from work, to find me jogging up and down the corridor with our baby in my arms. “And now?” He probably thought that I had finally lost my mind. “It’s the only way I can get her to fall asleep!” My baby wanted to be rocked or ran to sleep. So this is what I did. I remember reading about parents who would put the car seat with the baby securely strapped inside on top of the tumble dryer to get the baby to fall asleep. I had officially joined this wacky group of parents.
You see as a new mom; sleep becomes a luxury. My baby slept better during the day than at night; it was almost as if she had switched her days and nights. Instead of sleeping with my baby during the day when she slept, I would spend that time preparing meals and other household chores. As a result, I would be exhausted at the end of the day, only to spend the rest of the night struggling to get my baby to go to sleep. Hence the jogging. The motion of the running would send her off to dreamland after about thirty minutes. This wacky routine carried on for a few weeks until I came to my senses and decided to take a nap when my baby took a nap. I would advise all new moms to do the same. Use the opportunities you get to sleep with your little one. You are no superhero with the ability to stay awake for days on end. You need your rest so that you can be the best possible mom to your baby. If your house looks like a hurricane swept through it for the first few months, so be it. When you feel rested, you will be able to perform at your best.
Another word of advice, don’t feel ashamed to ask for help. I remember refusing to heed this advice at first. In my mind, I reasoned that if I were to ask one of the grandmothers to take care of my little girl for a while, that I would have somehow failed as a mom. This way of thinking was silly to say the very least. Thankfully my husband maintained some form of sanity through the whole process, and I eventually asked my mom to babysit for an hour while I slept. I ended up sleeping for two hours and woke up feeling like a million dollars. So go on, ask a trusted family member, whether it’s a grandmother or aunty to take care of your baby for an hour or two, and go to bed! You will feel refreshed when you wake up ready to tackle motherhood again.
Stop making comparisons
One of the first lessons that I quickly learned as a new mom was that I had to stop comparing my experience with that of other moms. I would read countless articles of milestones that my baby had to reach at a certain age, or about mothers and their experiences. And then if my little girl did not reach that milestone at that particular age, or I did not share the same experience as other moms, I would resent myself and try to think what I was doing wrong. This action was pointless, and it only did my self-image, and that of my baby wrong. So to all new moms out there, do not make comparisons! You and your baby are unique in every possible way. Instead of comparing your experience to that of other moms, instead just enjoy your unique experience with your little one. Stop fretting about whether or not your baby will reach that milestone. Love your child unconditionally and stimulate them the best way YOU can. I once read that children are like butterflies in the wind. Some fly higher than others, and yet they are all beautiful in their way. You are not running a race to see how quickly your child will develop different skills; you are raising a human being. Always accept and love your child for who he/she is. They are one of a kind, and you have been blessed with this incredible privilege of raising them.
I wish I had taken more time to savor every precious moment
Thinking back to how I struggled at the beginning with baby blues, breastfeeding, not knowing what I should do, running my child to sleep, and worrying about when she would start to crawl and walk, I wish I had taken a step back and realised that these weren’t struggles, they were mere pages in me and my little girls’ story. No matter what I do, I will never be able to have those experiences again. So finally, to all you new moms out there, I want to say this. Take your time and enjoy every single day that you have with your new bundle of joy. Whatever your journey holds in store for you, it is a unique journey that only you and your baby can share. Enjoy the ups and downs, and treasure them. When you look back at all of this, you will realize that the ‘downs’ don’t nearly add up to the number of good times that you’ve had together. They do go by too fast. And then, before you know it, your child would have grown up, ready to embark on his or her life’s journey, knowing that their mom will always be there for them, no matter what.