Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this? That was the thought that flashed through my mind the morning we brought our newborn, Addyson, home to our three-storey townhouse. I had only climbed three steps before I doubled over in pain, my arms gripping my stomach, protecting my fresh C-section incision. I started to cry and muttered (well, yelled) a few choice words I’m glad Addyson didn’t understand.
There are lots of things they don’t tell you about your first year of parenthood, probably because in so many ways before you have a baby, ignorance truly is bliss. (Do you really want to know every last detail of labour before your water breaks? I didn’t either.) While some things are better left unsaid, there are nuggets of information that can really help prepare you. Here are things moms who’ve been there wish they’d known.
Breastfeeding can be work
For many moms, nursing isn’t as easy as those posters in the doctor’s office make it seem. “Although breastfeeding is natural, there tends to be about a six-week learning curve where mom and baby are getting comfortable with nursing,” says Britt Pegan, a La Leche League leader in Ottawa. In her experience, the most common obstacle to a successful nursing relationship (and the number one reason for ending breastfeeding early) is misinformation. “New mothers don’t know that it’s totally normal for a baby to nurse 14 times in 24 hours. Instead, they worry that they don’t have enough milk. When a new mom gets plugged ducts, some doctors don’t know that she should be nursing as much as possible on that breast to unplug the duct; instead they tell women to wean.”
If you (or baby) can’t seem to get the hang of it, your best bet is to seek help from a lactation consultant or a public health nurse, or check out a breastfeeding clinic at your local hospital. Lisa Naccarato of Thornhill, Ont., had nursing problems early on and called in a lactation consultant for help. “She was my best friend for the first two months and saved my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter.”
Pegan recommends that expectant moms read up on the subject, figure out if they have any issues that might make nursing difficult (inverted nipples or previous breast surgery, for example), attend local La Leche League meetings for mother-to-mother support and take a breastfeeding class.
Not everyone loves breastfeeding
Liz Bruckner breastfed her son for three months before she decided to switch to formula. “I know there are moms out there who enjoy it, but as much as I tried to be one of them, from the start I knew it wasn’t for me,” says the Peterborough, Ont., mother. Bruckner found it hard to constantly be on call for feedings — she’d feed Oliver for 45 minutes and, an hour later, he’d want to eat again. “The process was exhausting and definitely factored into my being mentally and physically rundown,” she says. “Ultimately, I realized it was OK that I didn’t like it. The last thing I wanted was to equate feeding my son with feelings of unhappiness.”
Although he believes breastmilk provides the best possible nutrition for infants and recommends it to all new mothers, Montreal paediatrician Denis Leduc says that for women who have difficulty breastfeeding or have chosen not to breastfeed, formula is a safe option. “We’ve come a long way in perfecting formulas to approximate the nutritional benefits of breastmilk,” he says.
You will get angry at your baby
London, Ont., mom Kristine Guenther’s son bawled his little eyes out every day from 4 p.m. until bedtime. Exhausted and aggravated, she tried everything she could think of to console him: feeding, burping, bouncing, white noise machines and colic medications. “When I asked my midwife for advice, she said, ‘Sometimes babies just cry.’ I felt like climbing through the phone at her.” Guenther was told her son had colic and it would last about three months. “To a stressed-out, sleep-deprived, hormonal mom who feels she must be doing something wrong, and alternates between feeling sorry for her baby and being angry at him, that was no consolation.”
“It’s normal at times to feel frustrated at these demanding little beings who aren’t giving you any love back yet,” says Winnipeg paediatrician Janet Grabowski. If you feel yourself getting overcome with anger, put your baby down in a safe place and take a break. Never shake or slam a baby down in his crib. “It won’t hurt the baby to be in his crib crying until you have calmed down, but it could hurt baby if you are angry and trying to deal with him,” says Grabowski.
Once you start understanding your newborn’s cries, you’ll be more confident in your ability to comfort him. And it might not be what you want to hear, but it’s good advice nonetheless: Sometimes babies just cry. Talk to your paediatrician if you’re concerned about baby’s behaviour, or about how you feel when baby gets upset.
Brace yourself for the early weeks
Remember those hormones you dealt with during pregnancy? They don’t actually level off the minute junior is born. “Your body has gone through a life-changing experience. Your hormone levels changed when you were pregnant, and it takes time to return to normal,” says Amanda Ashe, a midwife in Antigonish, NS.
Naccarato remembers being overwhelmed during the first six weeks of her baby’s life: “Caring for a baby 24/7, phones ringing, people visiting, raging hormones, breastfeeding challenges, doctors’ appointments and the lack of sleep are a shock to the system.”
If you’re up to it, go to a support group where you’ll talk to other women who are in the same boat as you. If the thought of a revolving door of visitors is overwhelming, explain to acquaintances and co-workers that you’ve limited visitors to family for the first month and you’ll get in touch after. Other tips include wearing your pyjamas to show you’re not up for entertaining and not offering anything to eat or drink when people stop by. When your brother-in-law and his family have overstayed their welcome, politely excuse yourself and the baby, and let them know you’ve had a nice visit and will see them soon.
Your relationship will change
“New parents are so attuned to their baby that they’re suddenly not attuned to each other anymore; their main priority changes,” says Toronto psychotherapist Susan Stephenson.
Edmonton mom Allison Kleine hadn’t considered how adding a baby to her family would affect her relationship with her husband, Grant. “I have to admit that I sometimes envied my husband’s ability to just leave the house alone with no worries about the baby,” she says. “That first year led us through some uncharted emotional territory.” Kleine says she felt completely financially dependent on Grant, while he suddenly felt extra pressure as the primary breadwinner. “Our lack of time together to talk led to increased stress that wasn’t there pre-baby,” she says.
The key to minimizing the negative effects on a relationship is to talk about how you think the baby will change your routine and relationship well before your due date. After baby arrives, carve out time to communicate, even if it means texting during the day or establishing a regular coffee date at the kitchen table.
While parenthood definitely stirs up a relationship, you might also learn something new about your partner. “I saw a new side of my husband that I didn’t know he had. Seeing him barrel around the house as the Daddy Train or hearing him sing ‘Old MacDonald Had a Poopy Farm’ makes me love him in a whole new way,” says Bruckner.
You don’t have to do it alone
There’s an old African saying you’ve probably heard a million times: It takes a village to raise a child. When it comes to those first few months, you’ll need a few extra sets of hands to take care of baby and keep up with household chores. Michelle Calder’s parents live about two hours from her Kanata, Ont., home, and her in-laws are six hours away, so she often relied on friends for help when her two kids were babies. “If a friend comes by and offers to watch the baby so you can nap, go and nap. You can chat and have coffee later,” she says.
Accept help when it’s offered and ask when you need it. Don’t worry — you won’t lose your Mother of the Year title for calling in reinforcements.
You become poop-obsessed
“No one tells you just how much and how often you will talk about your child’s bowel movements with your friends,” says Calder. “When you have a baby, poop is an everyday topic; it’s like talking about the weather.”
Grabowski thinks that our fixation stems from those early days in the hospital when nurses watch for and record baby’s first few urine and bowel movements.
Don’t be alarmed when you see your little one’s first messy diaper — meconium is the black, tar-like stool that builds up in the bowel while baby is in utero. Keeping an eye on baby’s output is a good idea since newborns have very few ways of communicating. For example, if your little one hasn’t had a bowel movement, he might be constipated, which might explain his irritability and crying.
It’s normal to feel blue
When Newmarket, Ont., mom Sigal Koshokaro came home with her daughter, she found herself in a slump. “I would think about something and start crying, and when my husband asked what was wrong, I wouldn’t know to say,” she says.
Feeling overwhelmed is typical, but most new moms don’t anticipate the sad and sometimes scary feelings associated with baby blues. Usually linked to changing hormones, the blues are pretty common; about 80 percent of new moms in Canada suffer from them in the days and sometimes weeks following childbirth. About 10 percent of those moms develop postpartum depression (see Seek help).
Koshokaro’s blues passed after about a month, she says. “My mother-in-law came to visit and helped me for a few nights by taking Abigail’s monitor, so I could sleep. After that I started feeling like myself again.”
The bond can take time
After enduring a 48-hour labour, Toronto mom Kate Lamonica didn’t feel much of a spark when she met her son. “I felt so violated by the labour process, and so tired after many hours of pushing, that when Gabe finally came out, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the bliss and happiness everyone said I would feel. It was a real shock to not feel that glow,” she says. “I didn’t tell anyone, but my first thought when he was handed to me was ‘This is it?’”
“You can’t put a time frame on when a mother will bond with her baby,” Ashe explains. It might take longer for you to feel overcome with joy if you’ve experienced problems during labour or had postpartum issues, such as infections or hemorrhaging.
Some new moms just need time to feel a connection with their child. “Every woman is different,” says Ashe. As for Lamonica, she says she wasn’t prepared for her feelings of ambivalence, but they passed as she recovered from labour and spent time with Gabe.
The love can be overwhelming — in a good way
Whether or not it takes some time to bond with your little babe, you’ll love her so much that it’ll be hard to remember what life was like before she arrived. You’ll watch her when she sleeps (and secretly hope she wakes up so you can cuddle her), marvel at her every “first,” and miss her terribly when you’re not with her. Recalls Kristi Warren of St. John’s: “Before my son was 24 hours old, he was moved to the neonatal intensive care unit and stayed there for five days. Many times I’d just sit and hold him in my arms for three or four hours at a time, just because I wanted to look at him.”
Yup, the first year is an adventure — no doubt about it. But it’s all worth it: Despite my early struggles and knowing what I now know, I’m expecting baby number two in September.
If baby blues last longer than a few weeks or you start feeling more depressed or sad, you might have postpartum depression. If you have panic attacks, insomnia or suicidal feelings, talk to your doctor, midwife or nurse, or tell your partner or a friend that you need medical help. “Any mother can develop postpartum depression, but mothers who have a history of depression or don’t have support have an increased risk,” says Winnipeg paediatrician Janet Grabowski. “It’s very important that if Mom is feeling depressed or feels she might harm herself or baby, she needs to seek help. Postpartum depression is a very real and potentially dangerous problem, and there is help for it.”