Clingy babies, bad habits, and the burden of expectation on new mothers

You want to start as you mean to go on. If you don’t put them down now, they’ll want to be held all the time. Pass him here, I’ll settle him for you. Let mummy have a break. You want him to take a bottle so you don’t have to do the feeds. It’s not fair on daddy/ nanna/ your next door neighbour if they can’t do a feed. Let me get a picture of my toddler holding her. Yeah I’ll have a tea please.

Last night’s topic for my relaxation group mamas was The Fourth Trimester. Not sure what it’s all about?

Sarah Ockwell-Smith explains it brilliantly here, totally enlightening if it’s something you’ve not considered before.

The bottom line, for me, is that our cultural norms are so dismissive of the needs, not just of the newborn baby, but the newly born mother too. Birth, however we achieve it, is in some ways our greatest moment of vulnerability (although of course it can be incredibly empowering too). We are opening our bodies up to birth these babies, pushing ourselves to our very limits, discovering levels of emotions, sensations, strength, love, joy, transformative moments we couldn’t have anticipated and that will never be replicated in any other circumstance.

Recent years have seen a move towards mainstream recognition of the intricacies of mother-newborn bonding in the early moments following birth. Michel Odent, world renowned obstetrician, repeatedly tells us “do not wake the mother” in reference to that first hour following birth, for important reasons explained here.

But when the clock ticks past that first hour, it’s as if this physiological dance is generally considered complete. 9 months on the inside, and just one hour on the outside to acclimatise. Seems a bit tight.

Where is the recognition that’s found in other cultures that this magical interaction remains important for much longer, and ought to be protected. One of my well informed mamas mentioned last night some reading she’d done highlighting the vulnerability of human babies vs other mammals. You know, those who pretty much stand up and walk within hours of birth. Humans have evolved to have shorter gestations to facilitate birth through our ‘stand up straight’ pelvises, the result being a less developed infant.

And yet our expectations of independence from these tiny new people, with emotions and needs of their own, are astonishing. And of the mother too. Ignore your instincts, we tell her. Learn from our ‘mistakes’. You don’t want a clingy, fussy baby. Show them who is boss. Ugh.

Put yourself in your baby’s booties- do you fancy being project managed? By an ever changing line of strangers? Or would you rather be kept close to the only one you know? Her heartbeat, voice, scent. When all your instincts are telling you she’s the key to your survival. May sound melodramatic, and their responses to being separated from the mother may appear so, but this is their truth.

I’m certainly not suggesting you quarantine yourself for 13 weeks and deny baby access to even your parents. Welcoming a baby is a family celebration, and it’s natural for us all to be drawn to new life. But I am advocating ground rules that set your boundaries, and suggestions to support a smooth early postnatal period. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Visitors by invitation only. At an appointed time. And you can cancel at the last minute with no hard feelings. You will want to manage numbers. Your baby may fall asleep 10 mins before visitors are due after a testing night, and you may choose to sleep too. You may be in the midst of a feeding marathon, or working through getting it established, and prefer to avoid an audience for your attempts to nail it.
  2. All visits to be a maximum of 30 minutes. Set a timer. Company can be exhausting in the early days.
  3. Don’t expect to hold the baby. If you’re invited to, be grateful, don’t come drenched in perfume, and look for early signs that mama and baby have had enough.
  4. Entry fee- to qualify for a peek at the baby, guests must either bring food, or complete a helpful task- ironing, walking the dog, emptying the dishwasher, pegging the washing out. Not hold your baby while you rush around doing these things.
  5. SLEEP WHEN THE BABY SLEEPS. Everyone tells you, hardly anyone does it. It was a key theme from the mamas in last nights group expecting number 2 or 3, hoping the first time mamas would take heed. Bank those hours where you can. For your postnatal recovery, for your sanity.
  6. Make the most of the previous time that your partner is home with you. For most of us, this is a couple of weeks. This tiny portion of time is so special. Keep the visitors back until he’s back at work and you’re craving adult interaction/ someone to make you lunch. Daddies need time to adjust and bond too, it’s a huge transition for your family unit. Let him find his feet in peace.
  7. Get yourself a postnatal treat booked in- ideally someone who will come to you. Reflexology in my home when Louis was about 6 days old was so healing and soothing- birth is hard work. So is breastfeeding. And night waking. And bleeding. Yep. We’ve got a lot on. We deserve to be nurtured.

There’s plenty more that could be said on all this, and luckily there’s plenty written about it. Give it a Google. Realise it makes sense. Follow your instincts. Commit to putting yourselves and your baby first.

And for the mamas who have been there, I would love to hear your best tips.





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