First time mother: the theory and the reality

It’s been more than 6 months that I brought my baby home. All this time I felt a massive mix of feelings, mainly frustration and happiness. I’ve got a healthy, smiley baby. He’s gorgeous and other than for a strong aversion to sleeping (I guess the world is just too amazing to waste time sleeping), he’s easy to look after. My frustration comes from what I was told caring for a baby should be. I explain.

I never wanted to be a mother and when I decided, with my husband, that it was time to change that, I was too busy to actually prepare for it. I never observed other babies, never even liked children (not sure if I do yet…) so obviously I knew nothing about little monsters.During pregnancy I was studying, working, doing my NVQ, moving house, getting married… I didn’t have time to enjoy pregnancy (which I regret a little) or to learn what babies are like. So at the end of the 9 months we went to a 3 session ante-natal course, offered locally. It was really good and we received lots of advice. And I want to say ‘good advice’, but I’m not sure about the good. The midwives running the course had good intentions and the NHS care where we live is amazing when it comes to pregnancy and child care. The problem is that reality and theory couldn’t be more different, at least in our case.

We were told all about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), or cot death, as we know it. We learned about room temperature, the approximate tog for each item of clothing, how to put the baby to sleep on his back in a cot or basket, the importance of keeping him in the room with us at all times. All very well. Apart from the detail that his room is rarely under the ideal temperature. And that we opted for cloth nappies and the tog information was for disposables (as new parents EVERY detail count). And that our baby simple refused to sleep in his basket, and still does. so imagine my desperation when I was massively sleep deprived and baby would sleep only if I held him. Because, obviously, in my mind, if I put him on his side or front to sleep, or in bed with me, he would die. Obviously.

Then there was breastfeeding. Oh God! That was even worse, because now it was all on me, I couldn’t share this one with Rob. The emphasis on breastfeeding is so strong that formula feeding is not even discussed (one of the midwives even apologised for that) and we were told that the mother will produce as much milk as the baby needs, never less or of lesser quality. Well, I tell you, it didn’t make me feel particularly happy or proud to be a mother when my baby was crying because he was hungry and my breasts were empty. And since formula feeding wasn’t even discussed, we didn’t know what to do, how to choose something suitable. I cried many, many times because I was letting my baby go hungry, which made me feel like the worse person in the world. Add that to hormonal changes after pregnancy, lack of sleep and general baby blues and bang! a perfect recipe for post natal depression. Which thankfully I didn’t get to have yet, but I’m under watch.

I know that health and social services have to give us all the best advice and that the NHS works based on evidence and statistics. I know breastfeeding gives babies a tailored recipe full of exactly what they need and formula can’t do that. But I also know that there’s not one size fits all method and I think we were led to believe that there is. OK, we were naive to think that everything will follow the perfect plan, and maybe even in trusting the advice received so blindly. But when you’re talking about cot death, how do you choose which risk to take? Do I risk crushing my baby by putting him to sleep with us or do I risk letting him suffocate in his own vomit by putting him to sleep on his front? I mean, my mum put all 3 of us to sleep on our bellies and we’re all alive. In fact she almost freaked out when I said I was going to put my baby to sleep on his back, because that’s the way she learned and she did with her children and it worked fine and if the baby throws up the vomit won’t suffocate him, right? Right?

So there it is. We learned the hard way that all advice, even official NHS and WHO advice have to be taken with a pinch of salt.  Now we’re weaning Henry and we’re more relaxed. We still follow the advice we receive, but not to the letter. It’s making everything so much easier.I’m still a bit frustrated that I can’t carry on breastfeeding him a little longer, but he’s healthy and chubbier now, so I guess we’re doing the right thing by using formula in most milk feeds and using expressed breast milk to prepare food for him. I hope one day I can help other women to feel the confidence I didn’t (and still don’t) have. After all, a relaxed, confident mother does a much better job.

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