By Nicole Philips-Kemenanabo
From the moment of confirmation, through a home pregnancy test or a blood test at the doctor’s, to the nine-month long roller-coaster ride that is pregnancy, and finally, to the actual birth of a child, becoming a mother can easily be described as the most exciting, yet daunting experience of a woman’s life. The responsibility of caring for a new and precious but terrifyingly vulnerable life can be intimidating to say the least, and many new mothers will admit that, even though it is one of the most rewarding roles a person can take on, it is also an incredibly difficult time.
Many times, during this experience, new mums find themselves feeling inadequate. And while some seek reassurance from other women, there are those who might be hesitant to share what they perceive to be their failings. Therefore, it is important to impart certain knowledge gained from experience and research, so that first-time mums know what to expect and what to do when they are feeling at a loss during those first few months of sleepless nights and stinky diapers.
Here is a list of essential things new mums ought to be told as they venture into this chaotic but worthwhile journey that is motherhood.
You don’t have to listen to or take every advice
It is common with the older generation to impart “words of wisdom,” solicited or not. While this is often done from a place of love and empathy, you mustn’t adhere to every suggestion, be it from your own mother or an aunty who has raised seven children, or perhaps even a friend who has recently had a baby. Remember, all babies are different, and every woman has a unique journey. It is important that you choose to do only what works for you and your baby.
“Breast is best,” but you cannot come and kill yourself
Pro-breastfeeding organisations and campaigns often use the slogan “breast is best” while promoting the countless benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. And while breastmilk is indeed important in the healthy development of your baby, realistically not all mothers are able to breastfeed exclusively for the recommended six-month period. There are various reasons a woman may not be able to exclusively breastfeed, including not being a able to produce enough milk, having to return to work or even school soon after baby is born, not having enough support and guidance to establish breastfeeding, etc. Some mothers may even elect to not breastfeed at all. And the fact remains that there are many ways to feed a baby. If you are amongst the numerous women who are unable to exclusively breastfeed, try to not feel guilty or inadequate. Combination feeding is always a great option, as well as the pump and feed method, and of course, exclusive formula feeding. Either way, your baby will get all the nutrients they require and grow to be happy and healthy. Do not beat yourself up for something you have no control over. Remember, “happy mum, happy baby.”
Your child doesn’t need water
Plain water is not a requirement in the diet of an infant below six months. The stomach of a baby is awfully small and it is important that during feeding times, it is filled with breastmilk or formula which provide all the nutrients needed for healthy development at that stage. Introducing water to your infant’s diet will only fill up their belly, providing nothing in return — as you know, water has no calories essential for growth. Furthermore, water intoxication is a risk that comes with giving infants water before their bodies are ready to be introduced to the substance. Baby kidneys, like their stomachs, are small and underdeveloped, and as a result, cannot process a lot of water at a time. According to Jessica Jondle, in an article medically reviewed by Karen Gill, M.D., “even a moderate amount of water in a short period of time can lead to hyponatremia, which at its most dangerous can cause brain swelling and even death.”
Thus, you do not want to listen to those people, or even that voice in your head, that might say, “it’s just small water.” No water at all is best.
Warmth is great, but look out for signs of overheating
Keeping your baby warm at all times is important as it helps them with the conservation of energy and building up of reserves. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, babies lose heat fast and may not be able to maintain their body temperature in very cold environments. Thus, swaddling and swathing babies in lightweight cotton wraps are beneficial. Mothers have claimed that swaddling has afforded them more hours of nighttime sleep by helping keep their babies calm and making the babies sleep for longer. Babies are said to enjoy being swaddled as it helps them feel comfortable and warm, similar to how they felt in the womb. Nevertheless, new mums must be reminded to look out for signs of overheating which can lead to fussiness, heat rash at the very least, heat exhaustion, dehydration or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) at the worst.
Colic is common, it’s not just your baby
Colic can be described as when a healthy baby cries for a prolonged period of time for no apparent reason. It is most common in infants below the age of three months, but does not mean that a baby is unhealthy. New mums often feel overwhelmed when their babies have colic; riddled with negative emotions of guilt, shame and anxiety. Some have even admitted to thinking themselves terrible mothers or failures, especially when they know of a baby who does not cry for long periods of time and sleeps well through the night. Which is why it is important to remind first-time mothers that colic is more common than they know. Because there is no known cause and treatment for colic, new mums should simply be advised on the ways colic can be helped.
Ensure your baby sleeps on their back
First-time mums are not often apprised of the dangers of stomach and side sleeping. Surprisingly, new mums are sometimes advised to place their babies on their stomachs or on their sides during daytime naps or overnight as this has been found to prolong sleep in babies. “They are more comfortable this way,” well-meaning aunts and mothers have said. “You were put to sleep on your belly and you’re still here, aren’t you?” But there are babies who did not survive for this exact reason.
Though researchers have been unable to discover a precise cause of SIDS, it has become general knowledge that the risk of it happening can be greatly reduced by creating safe sleep conditions, which include placing babies on their backs to sleep during naps and overnight for the first year.
Do not be afraid to offer a pacifier
There is no shortage of suggestions from well-meaning relatives and friends, some of which might include the banishment of pacifiers from your baby registry. Pacifiers have been known to impede the success of breastfeeding — but only when offered before breastfeeding is established. Another popular drawback is that pacifiers may cause inner ear infections and perhaps even dental problems if used after the age of two. They may also have germs on them, which can make your baby sick if not washed properly. Nevertheless, the benefits of giving your baby a pacifier arguably outweighs the disadvantages. For instance, researchers have found that sucking on a pacifier when sleeping may reduce the risk of SIDS since babies sleep lighter while sucking. Furthermore, pacifiers help to soothe a fussy baby and even calm one who has colic. Pacifiers have also been found to be tremendously helpful during medical procedures like vaccinations or blood tests, and parents have claimed that pacifiers are helpful during nighttime. So, new mum, do not be reluctant to offer a pacifier to your little one.
Nicole Philips-Kemenanabo is a writer, poet, lawyer and an artist located in Abuja, Nigeria. In 2020, she was amongst the top 20 finalists in the National Art Competition hosted by UNESCO under the theme of “Sheroes.” You can find some of her work on Instagram @NicolePhilipsArt