I was hugely unprepared to look after my newborn (a surprise pregnancy will do that for you). I made the classic error of spending most of my time researching and planning for the birth (one-time affair) rather than preparing myself to become the mother of a tiny human (forever and ever). In the craziness of becoming a mother, I googled my sleepless nights away. I was desperate for wisdom, experts and resources that would make this journey even the tiniest bit easier.
Here, I would like to share three things I struggled with and the resources I used to help myself, so that you can help yourself. The advice may be exactly what you expect or totally unconventional. However, every family is different, so use what resonates with you and discard what doesn’t.
What to do when you feel like crap
In the first 24 to 48 hours after giving birth, you’ll probably experience a huge high! This is the signal that your hormones are shifting and it’s totally normal. After 48 hours, you’ll begin to experience fluctuations in moods and emotions. This is what is called the ‘baby blues,’ and is not postpartum depression (PPD). It’s totally normal and should normalise in two to three weeks. (Source: The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson)
In the weeks and months following, according to the book This Isn’t What I Expected by Karen Kleiman and Valerie Raskin, if you experience four or more of the statements on the list below, you may have postpartum depression (PPD):
- I cry at least once a day
- I feel sad most of the time
- Can’t concentrate
- I don’t enjoy the things I used to enjoy
- I can’t sleep, even when my baby sleeps
- Feeling like a failure all of the time
- I have no energy, am tired all the time
- I can’t remember the last time I laughed
- It seems like I will feel like way forever
- Every little thing gets on my nerves. Sometimes, I am even furious with my baby. Often, I am angry with my husband
- I can’t shake feeling depressed no matter what I do
- I have no appetite or enjoyment of food or I’m compulsively eating and crave sugar and carbs all the time.
So, what should you do if this is you, or if you’re afraid of getting PPD?
The first thing you need to do is to get more physical help. This is so that you can rest and look after yourself. Talk to your husband about how you’re feeling and use some of the guidance in this book (it was a lifesaver for me) to help him help you!
Second, don’t spend too much time alone. Ask friends to come round, but only if they’re the kind of friend that will listen with empathy and won’t dismiss your feelings. If you can manage to leave the house, reach out to support groups like La Leche League, The Mother Circle or ibu’s Support Groups. Going to a peer support group can help you get the advice and support you need.
If you have the budget, get help from a professional psychologist trained specifically in PPD. If you can’t, get this book. What matters is that you reach out to get help.
- Community Support Groups: La Leche League, The Mother Circle or ibu’s Support Groups. (For contact details for these support groups and a recommended professional psychologist, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Books: The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson and This Isn’t What I Expected by Karen Kleiman and Valerie Raskin.
How to handle a crying baby
There are three things you need to know about a crying baby:
1. A crying baby means you’ve got to figure out what they need. If you can identify what their cues mean you’ll significantly reduce how much they cry. I always recommend the Dunstan Baby Language for new parents. Although it isn’t scientifically tested, I found it really helpful to understand what my baby needed. Dunstan’s theory is that all babies have 5 distinct sounds for their needs and if these aren’t met, they stop making them. If you keep responding to their cues and meeting their needs, the cues get stronger and much more obvious. I did my best with this as I had learned about it before giving birth.
After six months, it was like I had created a mother-baby language with my son. This was a game-changer for me. I would’ve been lost without this advice. It is also worth looking up early physical signs of hunger and tiredness in case you find it hard to distinguish between cries. I often mistook tiredness for hunger.
2. Babies don’t know how to calm themselves down, so you’ll have to try a few different things to see what works. Don’t leave a baby to cry for longer than a minute. And don’t listen to anyone who says you shouldn’t pick up a baby every time they cry, there’s no way you can spoil a baby.
3. Sometimes babies just cry and there’s actually very little you can do about it except be present with them and stay calm, which is the hardest thing to do. It is known as colic or purple crying, which describes intense crying that starts out of the blue, can’t be calmed and goes on for a long time. It can be very stressful.
I found a video (much later, unfortunately) by a chiropractor who says the way you change a baby’s diaper can reduce colic – please let me know if you try it and it works! I also read an article that helped to give me a different perspective on this kind of crying. It helped me feel less anxious and more patient. However, I must stress that you should only practice this approach when all other needs have been met.
- Dunstan Baby Language (or watch this video)
- Physical signs of hunger and tiredness
- The 5S for soothing babies
- Aware Parenting – Crying in arms approach
- Best diaper changing techniques
- Purple crying
Being mobile with your baby
If you don’t have a great deal of help, are healing well from birth, and want to move around freely whilst keeping your baby happy, babywearing is the thing for you. Babies love being worn because they can smell your scent, hear your heartbeat and they’re wrapped securely. As you move around they may fall asleep, and with some adjustments, you’ll be able to breastfeed discreetly.
There are lots of types, materials and styles to choose from and some can be expensive. To cut down on the learning curve, I’ve got two recommendations for you.
- KL Sling Library by ibu Family Resource Group: Go to a meetup and you can rent one for RM50 per month before you decide which one to buy. They also have babywearing consultants on hand to answer any questions you have and will show you how to use a wrap sling or carrier.
- Check out Baby wearing by BabyUltra. It is a local brand with the stretchy wrap that I wish I had bought for my newborn! I also highly recommend talking to Izam Suziani, she’s a doctor and babywearing consultant so she can give you the best advice.
For more resources and tips to make motherhood easier, mothers can also join Holding Tiny Hearts, a monthly email on parenting and children’s development curated by Abigail Lo.
Abigail Lo can sum up single motherhood to a toddler in one word: unexpected. She now spends her time learning how to take life as it comes, and playing as fiercely and curiously as her little one.