As a new mum, I felt like I was constantly floundering, struggling to meet the needs of my young son while following all the advice I was receiving from midwives, doctors and well-meaning friends and family. It’s only now, 15 months into my parenthood journey, that I can look back with a degree of perspective.
Here’s what I’ve learned: there is A LOT of advice out there, and not all of it will apply to you and your child.
For every little stumbling block you may hit along the way – whether it’s to do with feeding, settling, wind, reflux, rashes, developmental delays (the list goes on) – there will be a plethora of solutions available to you. And while it would be nice to just be given the magical answer, you really do have to go through a process of trial and error until you find the right option for you… and then two weeks later it won’t work any more, and you’ll have to start all over again. Oh, the joys of parenting!
I’m hoping with my next child, things will come a lot more easily to me (well, it sounds good in theory). And having learned some valuable lessons the first time around, there’s already a few things that I know I definitely WON’T be doing again.
7 things I’ll do differently with my next baby
1. I will not be scared of the bottle
It sounds daft, right? What’s so scary about a bottle? Well, let me explain. As a new mum, I found there was a big emphasis on breastfeeding. Breast milk is full of nutrients essential to baby’s growth and development, the World Health Organisation recommends it for the first six months of a child’s life, it’s free, you can do it anywhere. I understood the benefits and was lucky enough that my milk came through on schedule and there were no big hurdles.
At a breastfeeding class run by my local hospital, we were warned about ‘nipple confusion‘ – where if you give your baby a bottle too soon, they may get confused between your nipples and the bottle teats, and end up preferring the teat, as the milk tends to flow faster. I took this to mean that I should delay introducing a bottle for as long as possible, so my son had time to learn the difference.
Big mistake. I waited around nine weeks and ended up missing the bottle boat completely. We tried techniques like giving Mitchell the bottle while he was half asleep or while I was in another room, and we spent a fortune on different brands, hoping we’d find one that he liked. He flat out refused. And while I was happy to continue breastfeeding until he was old enough to do without, I found it quite limiting. I couldn’t go out for long periods of time without the baby in tow. On a night out with my mother’s group, I nursed a soft drink while the other girls got stuck into the wine, and I felt sad that my partner wasn’t able to get involved with the milk feeds.
So with my next child, the plan is to express one milk feed a day and give it to him or her in a bottle (or my husband can do it) from day one! It might not work; they may share their brother’s aversion to the bottle. But having seen numerous friends successfully give their children bottles while still breastfeeding, I know it can be done and I’m determined to make it work.
2. I will stop being a martyr and just try the dummy
Once again, I allowed myself to be swayed by the experts on this one. I understand that dummies can be problematic – they have a tendency of falling out, you have to sterilise them, children can become dependent on them.
I never really had any strong thoughts on whether or not we would use dummies in our household, until a family member told me it was ‘only a matter of time’ before I caved and resorted to the dummy. Of course, I took that as a challenge and did my darnedest to prove them wrong, putting away all the dummies we’d been given, only to be used in an emergency. There were definitely some nights when I held a screaming, wriggling baby in my arms and wished for the soothing properties of a dummy. But as with the bottle, there came a point when there was no going back – any dummies that came near my son’s mouth were spat unceremoniously on the floor.
So here’s my revised plan for baby number two: cut myself some slack and have some sterilised dummies on hand for those moments when nothing else works. I will be wary of relying on one completely, but I will keep that option open. I figure with two children, I won’t have the same patience levels and a quick fix will certainly be preferable to a night of zero sleep.
3. I will use the carrier that I paid good money for
For reasons I will never entirely understand, I purchased a Baby Bjorn carrier before my baby was born and ended up hanging it on a hook to gather dust. It could have something to do with my pram, which I loved with every fibre of my being. It may have also been the fear of the unknown – I knew my son was comfortable in the pram and would SLEEP in the pram. Why run the risk of ruining that by switching him to a carrier, which he might hate? Now I have passed it onto a better home, where it gets daily usage and gathers dust no more.
But in the event of a second child joining our nest, I will definitely give it another crack. I hear you can get housework done with a sleeping babe strapped to your chest! My inner multitasker loves the sound of that.
4. I will not buy 50 cute and tiny outfits that they’ll only wear once
Babies grow quickly – I knew this going in and yet I succumbed to the irresistible forces of cuteness that drew me into every baby clothing store within a 20km radius. I have some adorable photos of my bubba wearing animal themed suits, slogan onesies and miniature overalls. But more often than not, those outfits were for special occasions only, and a plain blue onesie was my favoured outfit of choice.
I didn’t realise I had a problem until my dad remarked one day that he didn’t think he’d seen my little boy in the same outfit twice. Meanwhile, I was donning the same vomit-stained jumper and jeans for at least three days straight. Who was I trying to impress with this bottomless wardrobe?
I have since learned to curb my spending. The speed at which Mitchell grows has also slowed down somewhat, so I manage to get good mileage out of the same few T-shirts and shorts. I promise to show more restraint next time. Unless it’s a girl…
5. I will avoid comparing my child to the other babies in mother’s group
Look, it’s easier than it sounds. Even after I made the conscious decision not to be a competitive mum and measure my own baby’s development against that of others, it was hard not to feel a little pang of envy (failure, even?) when someone else’s child crawled, walked or said ‘mama’ before mine. It would eat away at me and I wondered if it was a reflection on my abilities as a mum. Why did my son have less words than another little boy – should I be talking to him more? Little Johnny was three kilos heavier than Mitchell – was it something to do with my cooking? All the other children played happily on the mat while mine seemed permanently glued to my leg – had I encouraged this clinginess by spending too much time with him?
The only thing Mitch seemed to excel at was growing teeth – and I couldn’t take any credit for that!
But in the end, it all evened out. He did some things earlier than others, and sometimes he was the last in the group to master a new skill. But he did master them. It’s true that children develop in their own time, and while it’s good to be mindful of when they might be ready for certain milestones, sometimes you just need to chillax and let them work it out for themselves. That’s my plan for round two, anyway.
6. I will read less
There are plenty of resources available to new mums and it’s certainly worthwhile turning to them whenever you’re feeling a bit lost. God knows I did – the poor midwives at the early childhood centre were hearing from me on a daily basis at one point, and my copy of Robyn Barker’s Baby Love is now dog-eared from repeated use. But I’ve come to realise that the blogs, forums, baby guides and pamphlets can only tell you so much – at the end of the day, you are the expert when it comes to your child, and sometimes you just need to do what feels best.
I wasted a lot of time ‘trying things’ that I knew deep down wouldn’t work, or attempting to define the reasons behind my baby’s ‘challenging’ stages rather than just dealing with them. I hope that with experience comes some degree of knowledge, and I will be able to simplify things with my second child by just going with my gut.
7. I will ask for (and accept) help
I wouldn’t call myself a proud person, but despite numerous offers of assistance over the past 15 months, I have rarely accepted them. I think I just thought I was supposed to do everything myself, or maybe my perfectionist tendencies made me believe that no-one else would be able to take care of my child as well as I did. Regardless, it’s actually exhausting doing everything on your own, and I don’t believe Mitchell is any better off for it.
I’ve come to realise that new places and new faces are the best thing for a child, not to mention exposing him to different foods, new toys, getting him used to sleeping in a different room. Whenever I hear of a friend who drops the kids off at her mum’s place so she can get her hair cut or go for a run, I kick myself for not doing the same. Things will be different next time; “yes please” will be a regular part of my vocab.