A snapshot guide for expectant mothers
Posted: 20 May, 2016
By: Annabella Sequeira
Section: Education, Parenting
Congratulations! If this is your first baby, read carefully; if you have been through this before, just keep on reading to remind yourself of that crazy time and tap yourself on the back for surviving it without becoming an alcoholic, spending time in jail for misconduct or constant hysteria. Being a parent and especially a new mother is a beautiful, incredible, miraculous and marvellous experience. You cannot believe that you can love one being so much and your heart and soul will burst with emotion.
However there is another part to being a new mother which is unlikely to reach your ears. Maybe your mother will feel sorry for you and give you some of the real stuff and true realities (which will just make you feel guilty for having done this to her and then think she is anyway lying)…it is hard adapting to a new baby, especially the first one. I have two boys, age 9 and 5, I will kill for them and they are my whole life but they were, and still are, hard to raise. And babies do not come with a manual. You have to rely on mother’s instinct, common sense, a good support structure, your mother’s advice and the millions of books and resources out there.
A new baby (and especially the first one) is a sensory nightmare and a total sensory overload experience. There is suddenly a surge in noise, smells, touch, movement, visual info and usually all together. You range between total quiet (sshh the baby must sleep) and crying spells. This means switching gears and attending to needs that you can only guess is identified correctly. It does get easier and better with the subsequent births, our brains are wonderful things, they help us to adapt. As new mothers we have different responses to this new role but one rarely considers the sensory threshold of the mother. Mothers with high sensory thresholds can usually tolerate and withstand more intense and frequent sensory information. They potentially can manage to “switch off” for brief moments to get some sanity and are less worried about everything that can go wrong. Mothers with low sensory thresholds however will pick up sensory cues/stimuli much faster and intensely. They tend to be more stressed, might have difficulty breastfeeding and find the experience far more intense and sensory overloading.
You are sensory-connected with your baby. We are so tuned into these miraculous little creatures that we forget about ourselves. For this reason I would like to give YOU some simple, yet powerful strategies to make this time as special as possible.
- Touch: Touch is the primary language of babies and a vital bonding process. By touching, holding, cuddling your baby you will connect with him/her and help him/her feel nurtured and safe. We also use touch to dress and bath our babies and when they suck on your breast or bottle, they use the touch receptors in the mouth to help identify the source of food. Get hubby to give you a massage or deep hug (deep touch is calming for the brain) when you are stressed and overloaded. If necessary get him to lie on top of you (it has proven to be amazing for some of my clients)…it might lead to other stuff and you might not be ready yet. So decide on this one beforehand. If you can go out for a massage, you deserve a special prize! Take a long, hot bath and relax. Cover yourself with a heavy comforter or use a “happy hugger”/heavy bean bag on your lap or shoulders.
- Smell: Babies will identify you primarily based on smell as their eye sight is still poorly developed. While babies rely heavily on the sense of smell for food and comfort, you will be bombarded with it in another way: poo, possets and more poo and more possets. Luckily as mothers we tend to get used to this quickly. Dispose of dirty nappies fast and effectively. Nowadays you get really cool and fancy nappy bins to use for disposal which contain smells well. Don’t forget the old spit towel. Have it handy so that you don’t need to change your clothes continuously. Don’t wear perfume as it is prone to overload your baby‘s sensitive smell system.
- Noise: Oh boy, this is the major culprit. Babies communicate with you through crying. That is the only way for them to tell you that they are wet, dirty, hungry or uncomfortable. But then some babies are fussier, have colic, etc. And you will sometimes feel that your brain is being pierced by 100 screwdrivers (the electric ones). Get your baby in a routine! It really works and you will be able to predict your baby’s needs faster and noise overload will be reduced. Use your support system; give baby to a nanny, daddy, grandma and walk away. You are normal and it is OK to do this. You cannot vanish for days…an hour or two however will do you the world of good. Play some calming Mozart, it is good for baby’s brains to develop but will calm you both.
- Smell & taste: Babies explore and identify their food sources through smell and taste. Luckily the taste are usually the easy one, we know babies need milk. Breast or bottle – don’t feel guilty if you cannot/won’t breastfeed. At least babies don’t need 3 course meals. Wait for the toddler years to get them fed on healthy food. Another challenge awaits you. Eat healthy and regularly and take care of yourself. You will really find this a challenge as all possible time will go into caring for your baby. Remember only when you do good self-care, can you take care of your baby. Consider food types when breastfeeding as some foods can hamper breastfeeding.
- Movement: Gently rocking your baby or walking with them will be calming and an enjoyable experience. You cannot spoil your newborn baby, so go ahead and do that. Using a sling or baby carrier to move around, while allowing you more freedom, it will calm baby. If you exercised regularly continue to do so. You HAVE to move as movement is your best and most optimal self-regulator. If you cannot spare gym time, or running effort, go for a walk. Use a treadmill, stationary bike, whatever, as long as you move. It also helps to get rid of the extra kilograms gained during the pregnancy. The older we get the harder it is to get rid of them!
- Visual: Your baby’s visual system is most poorly developed at birth. Your baby will however recognise your face first, but it is a bit blurry at the beginning. That is why basic contrasts in colour are often used to stimulate a baby’s vision. Just remember the golden rule: “less is more”. Read or watch TV as it can be a great calmer for you. Surround yourself with less clutter, stay organised, it helps to reduce sensory overload. If you have a fussy baby; wear milder/calmer colours as red/white/black contrasts can potentially overload your baby.
The bottom line is; be easy on yourself and lower your standards. If your kitchen is filthy and your hair dirty – go sit outside in the garden, read a book and drink a cup of tea. And sleep when baby sleeps! It will do you the world of good. Get someone else to wash the dishes and go to the hairdresser. Start practising now for “Mommy-time” as you will find this your on-going struggle for years to come…