When I arrived at ‘Melanie’s’ house (not her real name), she and two week old baby Liam were crying. Melanie was exhausted and stressed about her low milk supply. She had been up three hourly during the night to feed then settle Liam so she could express around the clock. Since 6am she and her partner had been taking turns walking the floor with Liam. It was now midday and, guess what, Melanie hadn’t eaten a thing herself.
‘Melanie’ could be almost any mum that I have visited: I see many women ( both new and experienced mothers) who set themselves extreme standards of nurturing and housework yet completely neglect their own well-being. It seems to be a reflection of the pressure (either external or self-imposed) that now you have a child, you don’t matter. Of course a helpless baby needs to have his needs met but a hungry mum, affected by low blood sugar and exhaustion isn’t up to making good decisions or meeting her baby’s needs.
After asking Melanie, “when did you last eat?” I sent her to the kitchen to find something healthy. While she made herself a toasted sandwich, I suggested Melanie’s partner rocked little Liam to sleep in a sling. Dad was then able to eat and browse the weekend paper before walking to the shops (with Liam) to stock up on staples like bread and toilet paper, while Melanie went off to bed for some much needed rest.
After eating, Melanie’s tears subsided and she was able to think straight as together we made a simple plan of feed baby; feed mum; and rest while baby sleeps. We also discussed what support was available as her partner had to return to work in a couple of days.
Although asking for help is difficult for most of us, friends and family are usually very excited to be able to share the joy of a new baby, either by bringing food, hanging out (the endless) washing or simply holding a baby while you rest. One forward thinking mum I met had asked baby shower guests to pledge help instead of baby gifts. She said this helped her feel very supported and eliminated the awkwardness of having to ask for help when she was feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed.
Of course, many new mums don’t live near their own parents and have a very small (if any) community of potential helpers. In these cases it is worth prioritising a portion of your baby bonus to hiring extra help – a cleaner, a doula (a Greek word for ‘mother’s servant’, and this is exactly her role), a gardener or even dog walker – whatever will be useful to help lighten your load.
Taking care of you
- If you want help from your partner, say so and be specific about what you need. Being a parent won’t suddenly bless him with mind reading powers and simmering with resentment won’t get the washing out.
- Have a shower early – pop baby in a rocker in the bathroom if she is likely to yell. If you are dressed, you feel more in control if things go ‘pear shaped’ later. Also if you are dressed you can go for a walk -exercise will boost endorphins (feel good hormones) and getting out can help alleviate that ‘trapped’ feeling.
- Stock up on nutritious foods that are easily prepared and eaten with one hand – bananas, boiled eggs, cans of tuna, yoghurt, wholegrain bread, cereals – and Boobie Bikkies! Use cooking appliances that make life easy (a slow cooker, a sandwich toaster and a blender for smoothies).
- Accept all offers of help. If you are expecting visitors (or hear them pull up unexpectedly) leave vegetables and chopping board on the bench. You may need to mention, “I was just starting dinner when the baby woke.” Only the most unhelpful person wouldn’t feel obliged to prepare your vegetables for you.
- Make feeding time a ‘rest break’ for you. Fill a ‘feeding basket’ with healthy snacks, water bottle, book, phone and remote control and while baby feeds, put your feet up and RELAX.