Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Seven survival tips for soon-to-be or new mums.

I became a mum almost five months ago, after around eight straight hours of what felt to me to be ridiculously intense discomfort more than pain, absolute abandonment of any modesty I once had, and unprecedented screaming (try calm birthing, they said… breathe your baby out, they said…). This was quickly followed by complete awe and shock at the gorgeous blob of a human that we’d made, who emerged from my vagina in what my boy said looked like a gush of vomit. She poohed a thick black tar substance all over my arm and belly, and stared at me with perfect brown eyes from below my boobs. She quickly latched onto my nipple, and pretty much hasn’t let go since.

I’m lucky that I haven’t received an influx of information from my family and friends about conception, pregnancy, labour and parenthood. Even my mum (an ex army nurse and mother of four), mother-in-law (mother of three) and sister-in-law (a midwife and mother of one and a bump) have respected my right to their silence unless I asked them something – which I frequently do because they are a lot more clued into this baby business than I am. I have read (and am reading) baby books and pregnancy/baby/mummy blogs. They all have tips on coping with pregnancy and parenthood. So I thought I’d share some of the key things that have worked, and are still working, for me.

But please remember that these are just things that worked for me. Everyone is different. Our bodies, babies, experiences and needs are different. For example, you might LOVE daytime TV (in which case, we probably can’t be friends).

The main thing is to do whatever works for you and your family. It might be breast or bottle feeding or both. It might be cloth or disposable nappies or both. It might be working up to your due date or going on maternity leave two months before D Day. Or it might be ‘play, feed, sleep’ instead of ‘feed, play, sleep’. Do whatever you think is right for you and gives you peace (as long as it’s safe, of course). Trust your instinct. No one knows you (or your baby) better than you.

And if you make a decision to do something one way, remember that you don’t have to do it that way forever. You can change your mind. It’s a woman’s prerogative to do so, after all!

1. Get thee a fit ball.

Fit balls were a God send during my pregnancy, and continue to be in parenthood.  They saved my mobility, sanity and possibly marriage. They would make a great baby shower gift.

At my chiropractor’s advice, I picked up two fit balls for me to sit and move on at work and home. They helped relieve the pain in my wobbly pelvis and improved its movement. Apparently sitting on couches and slouching (as I do) can reduce the flexibility, and affect the alignment, of your coccyx and pelvis. Fit balls do the opposite. My labour was pretty uneventful, so maybe sitting on one helped.

My pregnancy yoga teacher and midwife also recommended I use a fit ball to move about and lean forward on in the weeks leading up to labour to get the baby in an optimal position. And they recommended I use one during labour to ease pain and aid movement during contractions. Little Red was in a good position, and leaning on one right at the start of labour seemed to ease Little Red into place and help relieve pain, so maybe the fit ball worked here too.

When Little Red hit three weeks, all she would do from 6–11pm each night was eat or cry. It was heartbreaking and frustrating, and led us (me) to tears and snappiness. I read every website, blog and book I could find for tips on how to settle babies and not lose my mind. I also asked everyone I knew what tricks they’d tried in the same situation. What ended up working for us? Holding her upright against us, snuggling her into our shoulder and neck, and sitting on the fit ball and bouncing. And bouncing. And bouncing. And bouncing. After anywhere from five to 60 minutes, she’d go to sleep and we’d sigh in relief. (Until she woke up when we tried to put her in her bassinette and we had to start all over again.)

Thankfully Little Red outgrew the witching hour at around eight weeks of age, but bouncing is still the only thing that works when she’s having a crying fit. And rightly or wrongly, we still use it daily to help her fall asleep. That and my boobs.

2. Swim.

My dodgy pelvis brought my gym and running days to an unceremonious halt around 20 weeks into my pregnancy. When this happened, I cried a little inside.

I used to hate exercising when I was younger (I may hold the record for the number of times in a row that I forgot my school sports uniform in year 8), but the Heathrow Injection in my 20s, and ageing overall, instilled in me a new love for exercise and health. I started exercising. A lot. I still try to. It makes me feel free, happy, independent and in control. It gives me space to breathe and think (or not think). I’m also one of those annoying people who read on the cross trainer, treadmill, step machine and bike. I love reading.

So when I could no longer visit the gym or run, I needed a new outlet for stress and way to manage my weight without having to give up chocolate entirely. We were also in the middle of summer and it was more than 40 degrees outside for days on end. Awesome when you’re the size of a mini whale. Swimming is low impact and supportive, and enabled me to move relatively pain free. Swimming, or just floating, in the water belly down also helps babies get into the optimal position for birth.

For all of these reasons, me swimming was a no brainer. In fact, along with the fit ball, swimming probably saved my mobility, sanity and marriage.

With my pelvic floor and body still recovering, low-impact exercise – like swimming – remains the best option for me.

Swimming is proper me time. It is the only time I get to myself where I can’t be immediately interrupted by someone wanting or needing me. It is relaxing and soothing on all levels, and lifts my spirits and clears my head like meditation does. We also get hours of entertainment from watching Indi get high from sniffing and licking the chlorine smell from my hair, arms and legs.

Disclaimer: be smart and ask your health professional if it’s safe for you to swim. It probably will be if you don’t do frog leg kicking, but I don’t want to be held responsible for any health problems.

3. Invest in eye make up.

I know some people don’t dig make up, and that’s a-ok, but it works for me.

My family has a predisposition to dark circles around their eyes. When I changed my diet to remove many allergens, my dark eye circles diminished. But sleep also significantly contributes to these circles, and sadly, sleep is something you have to get used to not having a huge amount of as a mum.

Before I was pregnant, I rarely used make up to hide dark eye circles. But in the final weeks of my pregnancy, when sleep and I weren’t entirely on speaking terms and my diet went out the window (see point 4), I embraced eye make up, especially concealers like this one.

My diet is now much the same as it was pre-pregnancy, but good sleep often still eludes me thanks to Little Red. So when I’m out and about, or just feeling a little flat at home, I’ll slip into something a little less comfortable, brush my hair, and trowel on some war paint. I immediately feel more confident, capable and human.

4. Embrace your vice (in moderation).

There’s an old saying that a little bit of what you fancy does you good. I am not known for my self control when faced with treats, so find this one a little tricky. But the point is that, within reason, it’s ok to indulge yourself.

You carry and create another human being for nearly 10 months (all going well). Then you are at the beck and call of said human being, who needs you to protect and care for them, to help them survive. You might be producing their sustenance too. Your life and time is no longer your own, but you still need to fit in every day life stuff, like showering and feeding yourself. You also need to rest and recover from what is essentially a marathon – no matter what path your birth took.

With this in mind, I think it’s ok for you to eat that cake, brownie, chocolate, ice cream or cheese if you feel like it. Sit down with a nice cup of tea and enjoy every bite without guilt or regret. You deserve it. Plus there might be something in it that you need – like extra calcium or magnesium – which is making you crave it. Nature is pretty amazing in directing you to what you need (albeit not always in the best form!).

The caveat here (sorry!) is to remember that to help you be as healthy and energetic as possible, to help you grow a healthy baby, and to help you recover and best care for your new baby and yourself, you need to eat mainly healthy, natural foods and drink mainly water. Unfortunately, we cannot survive on brownies alone (although there are some great recipes for delicious wholefood brownies out there). If you’re not sure what foods are best for you – because everyone has different needs – ask a qualified nutritionist or naturopath for advice.

5. Avoid daytime TV.

Oh. My. Lord. Have you actually watched daytime TV? And I’m not just talking about D-grade movies from the 1980s, which take mullets and shoulder pads to new heights (geddit?). I’m talking about the morning shows that are hours-long onslaughts of ads for weight loss and beauty products; health, pet, life and funeral insurances; household equipment – mops, vacuums, blenders, frying pans, pots and knives; and suck-me-in pants, leggings, bras, tops and other clothing. If you’re feeling even the slightest bit self conscious or hormonal (which you probably are if you are pregnant or a new mum), these ads may leave you feeling inadequate, insecure and unattractive. (Here’s a quick tip: any well-fitted bra won’t leave unsightly back fat ridges. Or just don’t wear a bra for a while – problem solved!)

And let’s not forget the entertainment news clips and celebrity interviews. The endless, repetitive news programmes detailing the latest shootings, stabbings and bashings – with the odd good news cat or kiddy cancer recovery story thrown in. The sensationalist talk shows featuring adulterers, kiddy fiddlers, domestic violence victims and perpetrators, shoddy salesmen, and health and fitness gurus.

Anytime I watch even a few minutes of daytime TV, I feel my intelligence depleting, my self confidence fading, and a sense of hopelessness creeping in.

Switch it off. Now. No matter how much you think you need a Nutribullet or a Shark mop or the miracle eye gel. If you can, go for a walk outside instead. You’ll feel better inside and out (and will start reducing any need for suck-me-in garments and must-have gym equipment).

6. Watch good TV series or films.

Interesting TV series or films will help you pass the hours you’ll spend feeding your baby, bouncing him/her to sleep, resting and just hanging out feeling knackered. And there will be a lot of time doing that, especially at the start.

Ideally, choose something that doesn’t involve too much brain power and lifts your spirits. For me, it was Downton Abbey, some Jane Austin classics and Spooks (OK, the latter involves thinking and isn’t really that feel good, but I’d seen a lot of the episodes before and always fancied myself as a spy-in-the-making). I’m currently obsessed with Friends reruns, and am looking for another series to stop me buying said Nutribullet, Shark mop or miracle eye gel at a weak moment.

Good books and magazines may be substituted here. Although, honestly, I’m usually too tired to read much these days – it’s easier to watch a good TV show than read. I’m hoping this changes soon though, because my reading pile is ginormous.

7. Relax.

As beautiful and beneficial as meditation can be, I won’t title this ‘Meditate’, because some people get freaked out by the thought of meditating. The whole emptying your mind, focusing on your breath, chanting or enlightenment seems too hard and unattainable.

You don’t need to meditate to relax. But meditation is a great way to do it, and can be as easy as just sitting quietly and focusing on breathing in and out slowly 10 times. There are loads of aps and online videos that can teach you meditations. I prefer guided meditations and use Meditation Oasis and Deepak Chopra’s recordings. I’ve also heard Smiling Mind and UCLA are great.

If meditation isn’t your favourite way to relax, try to spend a few minutes most days doing something that reenergizes you and helps to calm your breath, mind and spirit. Relaxing for you might mean simply sitting on the couch for five minutes and enjoying a cup of tea that is still warm, a bath, a walk or run (once your pelvic floor is up to it), pottering in the garden, a nap, a DVD of your choice, a coffee and conversation with a good friend, cooking, knitting, journaling, painting, reading a book or trashy magazine, a trip to the shop, spending time in nature, expressing gratitude, or listening to music. Everyone has their own release. Find and use yours.

Being a soon-to-be or new mum, you’ll probably be pretty tired and craving a time when you still had some semblance of independence. So it’s important to take some time out to rest and reenergize yourself in whatever way works for you. If, like me, this is a new concept to you, stick with it. Trust me. You need it. And it may help to stop you losing your mind.

If music is your thing, here’s a song to get you started.

Bonus tip: Onesies with zippers, and only zippers.

From now on, I am only ever going to give a soon-to-be mum and dad a onesie that zips up. They are quick and easy to assemble. Especially on a screaming, kicking infant at 2am.

Plus, each time I zip one up on Little Red, I get to sing this song to her and she laughs.

Need I say more?

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