Whether your baby is newborn or a few weeks old, your life is probably a confusing mixture of extreme highs and lows, with very welcome (but sometimes infrequent) oases of contented calm in between.
Whilst I certainly would not wish to diminish the highs or the calms, I would definitely like to help reduce the lows and it can be done, but it will require you to think honestly and clearly about every aspect of your life with baby. It also requires you to be as compassionate towards yourself as you should be towards your baby.
I know that, from the moment someone discovers they are pregnant, people start hoping, dreaming and planning, which is great. However, at some point, whilst keeping your head in the clouds, you need to plant your feet firmly in the dirt and stay grounded.
Common sense is everything.
You may have everything mapped out as to parenting methods, feeding methods, routines etc. but babies rarely follow your rules. They much prefer to make up their own….and then change them without warning !
If your baby is not feeding well, not sleeping much, crying a lot, not gaining weight, then something is going wrong.
If you are exhausted, worried, stressed, in pain, unhappy and not enjoying your baby, then something is going wrong.
Everything about your baby’s health and happiness is down to a combination of physical, emotional and environmental factors, and to try and figure out what is going wrong, you have to be willing to examine every factor and not just some of them.
You need to be open minded and honest enough to accept that, just maybe, your chosen method of feeding isn’t working. If baby is not putting on weight or you are in pain or struggling to produce enough milk then maybe you have to use expressed breast milk, or top up with formula. This can be very hard to swallow if you really wanted to breastfeed exclusively but in the end what matters is that you and baby are healthy and happy.
You may feel certain that a strict routine is what you need to stay sane, but if baby is unhappy then maybe the routine is too strict and needs to be more flexible. Likewise, if you are against routine but find yourself getting lost in a confusion of never ending feeds and sleeplessness, then maybe you need to rethink and introduce some structure.
I know that the choices you make as parents come from a great deal of thought and personal conviction and are very personal, and it can be very painful to have to face changing them.
People, especially Mums, can feel like they are ‘failing’ or ‘admitting defeat’ or ‘giving in’ or ‘wimping out’ but this is a very harsh way to treat yourselves.
Actually, once you admit that there is a problem you have the chance to learn and grow as a parent by researching the problem, asking for help, and figuring out a solution, and it may not be as drastic as you first thought. You may find all that is needed is a slight adjustment to your routine, or to use routine for parts of the day and not for others. You might decide to use combination feeding, or change bottles, or use nipple shields, or to step up breast feeding instead of cutting back, or to switch to formula.
The simple truth about babies is that once you meet all their needs for security, sleep, food and comfort everything else just falls in to place and life becomes a lot easier and happier for all concerned leaving you free to enjoy your time as a parent.
Don’t be afraid to challenge your beliefs and decisions, look honestly at what is in front of you, trust your instincts and if something isn’t working, then get imaginative and try something else. It doesn’t mean you have failed, just that you haven’t found the right way yet.
Keep trying and you will get there !
Sarah Norris is one of the UK’s most accomplished maternity nurses, with over 25 years experience caring for hundreds of babies and families in the UK and internationally.
She treats all babies and families as individuals, and respects all forms of parenting and feeding, aiming to help and empower new parents with sensible, practical tips and advice that is always non judgemental and non biased.
She is the author of ‘The Baby Detective’ with Orion Books, out now.