Unfortunately, much of the advice new parents get about taking care of their baby pits the mother’s well-being against that of her baby.
Breaking the baby bond
One obvious example is being told to put your baby to sleep in a separate room and ‘training’ them to sleep on their own. To me, it’s pretty obvious that while the mum will get some much needed sleep, the baby’s needs are being undermined:
- It ‘feels’ bad to do this. You will hear mothers say how ‘hard’ it was to listen to their babies cry and that they had to go for a walk rather than stay home and hear their baby’s screams.If you need to switch ‘off’ your maternal instincts, that is a very good sign that what you’re doing isn’t what your baby needs. Your instincts are there for a reason. I would even go so far as to say that perhaps this advice in training parents to ignore their baby’s needs in the interest of economic development. Once you disconnect from hearing your baby, it’s much easier to put them in daycare and return back to work to keep the economic wheels turning.
- There are scientific studies showing that letting your baby cry for you and not attending to them is damaging for their mental (and physical) development due to elevated stress hormones.
- There are amazing benefits of co-sleeping. The fact that these benefits exist proves that sleeping with your baby is the right (and to me, the only) option. For more info about this, have a look here https://cosleeping.nd.edu
How did we get here?
Economic development has meant that parents need to go to work. Usually this leaves mum to parent on her own while her husband is working, and increasingly, many babies are being looked after by paid child carers while both parents are working.
However, work isn’t really the problem, as parents have always had to work in some form or other – catching fish/making homes/preparing meals etc. The major difference is that our economic growth has also meant the elimination of the extended family network and community support. We’ve been sold the story that we need to be independent. That our ‘privacy’ is extremely important and desirable. We also believe that our success and worth a measured by the size of our homes, the make of our cars and the brand of our clothes. These beliefs are great for economic development (we need to buy, buy, buy and work, work, work!) but not so good on the social front. It’s pretty much just mum and baby… with no grandma’s, aunt’s or sisters around to take care of the baby when mum need to work, have a rest or nap, go out for some fun or just tune out and watch the grass grow or kettle boil.
So instead of changing the way we live (heavens no!) we’ve decided to set aside the baby’s needs (they can’t really complain, being pre-verbal and immobile, and if they cry we can turn the TV up really loud) to accommodate our unnatural and unsupportive lifestyles.
Being a modern economic mum can be dangerous
Mums who are stuck at home on their own with new babies are at high risk of post-natal depression. When you have your baby, you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire assessing your risk of developing depression. You will also be told to teach your baby to sleep on their own and not to breastfeed them too much. This is to protect you from becoming excessively tired, which can start a downward spiral into post-natal depression, with serious consequences for mother and baby.
Whatever your beliefs about parenting, taking care of mum should be the number one priority for everyone.
A happy, thriving mum means a happy, thriving baby. These two people’s well-being doesn’t have to be at the expense of the other’s. Both mum and baby can make some lifestyle changes so they can BOTH have their needs met.
Four tips to avoid letting your baby become a victim of modern economics
Don’t let yourself feel like a ‘guilty’ mum.
It’s common for mothers to feel like they’re not doing well enough. They look to what other parents are (apparently!) doing and think they can’t match it. When I was a new mum my friend confided in me that she felt like she was failing. I listened her out, but my view on the subject was, ‘my baby doesn’t know what I am ‘supposed’ to be doing. All he knows is that mum is there to cuddle and feed him, and if he’s happy and growing, then I’m doing a good job!’
Ask for help
It’s a little embarrassing and shameful in our modern, independent, economy to ask for help. Everyone is so busy getting ahead that we don’t feel like we can ask anyone to help us out. Maybe you need someone to look after the baby while you nap, or clean, or cook, or a million other things (generally, I’d prefer someone to look after the baby while I did these things, rather than asking people to do these things, because it’s always nice to have a break from the baby and do something else for a while!).
But if you can, break free and ask! I’m saying ‘if’ here because to be honest, I am very scared of asking for help and only really ask my partner to help me. I’d feel dishonest if I made out that this is easy to do.
Just because people don’t usually offer to help, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love to do it for you if you asked.
Get out and be social
If most mums are honest, they’ll tell you that being a mum at home with just your baby can be boring and lonely. I even found it a little ‘scary’.
As a first time mum, when my baby woke up I would panic, wondering how I would entertain him for two or three hours until his next nap!
I ended up going out a LOT. Luckily I lived in a thriving community with amazing playgroups, parks and cafes and I soon worked out a routine that kept me out and about and sane.
Even just having another person over, just their presence, made the world of difference to me.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, lonely or bored, get out, call a friend and ask them to come over or visit their house, or just go for a walk.
It really can make the world of difference to have support as a parent – watch this video http://vimeo.com/89070320
Make sure you’re not tired – and if you are – sleep!
Being tired is the beginning of a downward spiral and most modern parenting advice aims to prevent mums from being tired, as it’s a major cause of post-natal depression. But you don’t have to banish your baby to another room or limit their breastfeeds or any other awful thing that you’re told you ‘have’ to do.
Just make your rest a priority. I’ve already written about how I managed to get really great sleep with a baby. But if your baby insists on waking up a lot at night, or starting their day at 5am, or any other crazy sleep related thing that some babies do, then make your rest the goal each day. Take naps, go to bed early and have a microwave dinner in your pyjamas. Whatever gets you through!