Posts Tagged ‘breastfeeding’

A couple of months after DD’s birth I wrote a post called Things they don’t tell you before or during a pregnancy which has been far and away my most viewed post. I still like it because I still think the things I wrote about aren’t talked about enough, and I still think knowledge is empowering! With that in mind, I thought I might write a follow up. For my second baby, I had some definite ideas about what to expect and also about what would be acceptable to me during pregnancy and birth, so this one feels a bit more serious. Here goes.

1. The professionals have your best interests at heart, but they also have their own best interests at heart. And your best interests, in the opinion of most midwives and consultants I’ve spoken to, are to have a healthy baby and be a healthy mother. Of course! You wouldn’t expect anything less. So their priority list goes: healthy baby, healthy mother, don’t get sued. Which is completely fine, but your own priority list might go: healthy baby, establish breastfeeding, look after mental health, be at home, etc etc. Or: healthy baby, be left alone. Or: healthy baby, don’t be left alone. Or whatever. Whichever way you look at it, your list of your own best interests is going to be longer and more complicated than the list your caregivers have, and sometimes that means there’s a clash of priorities, because their ‘don’t get sued’ is fighting for space with your ‘have a water birth despite being advised against it due to factors x, y and z.’ And of course, they’re professionals, and if they advise you to do something or not do something then you’d be stupid not to listen to them – but, and here’s the bit that makes me and other similarly-thinking mothers like me a giant pain in the midwife’s arse, you don’t have to take their advice. How you give birth is up to you. That means if you want an elective caesarean they cannot say no. And if you want to have a home birth, they cannot refuse to attend you. These, and any number of other things, are up to you.

Listen to the advice from your midwife and/or consultant, take it seriously, do your own research, talk to independent midwives, talk to a doula, talk to people you trust, make lists of pros and cons, decide on your own level of risk that you’re comfortable with or not, and make your own decision based on being informed and knowledgable, not scared. I was dead set on a home birth this time around. I saw a terrifying consultant who refused to go through DD’s birth notes with me but simply said no, and couldn’t or wouldn’t give me a reason other than ‘it would be dangerous’ while quoting anecdotes at me about babies that had died. I did masses of my own research and eventually my lovely community midwife got my notes from DD’s birth and went through them in her own time and explained them to me. My doula sat with me in the meeting because, frankly, I was an emotional wreck, and asked pertinent questions that I hadn’t thought of, and I asked more questions of my own. There was no pressure either way and eventually I decided, based on the facts that I wanted to go to hospital. So I came to the same conclusion as the terrifying consultant, and in terms of NHS time I’m sure she would have said I wasted it, but I felt a hell of a lot more confident in knowing that I had made an informed choice, and when I gave birth I was comfortable birthing in the place I’d chosen to be. So here’s a middle finger for Ms M the consultant. You were a cow.

2. A doula could change your life. Truly, madly, deeply. Our doula gave me confidence in my body, managed the birthing space, ensured I had the things I needed to feel comfortable, gave DH the space to do nothing but exactly what he and I wanted rather than having to worry about anything, and generally made me feel like an incredible goddess, doing a normal but wonderful, magical thing. She held my hand and said encouraging things and cried when our son swam into the world, and then she left us to our new bliss at the right time and came back a couple of days later to debrief, feed me homemade granola bars, kindly and gently support me and not judge me about how difficult I was finding breastfeeding (again), give our baby a bottle while I had a little cry and give me many hugs. I still see her occasionally and I am amazed every time at how good she makes me feel. I am convinced that my positive mental health and bonding with DS are in no small part down to how much compassion she showed me before, during and after labour. Not everyone wants a doula with them in labour and some people are horrified at the thought of a non-medical professional seeing them in such an intimate way, but if it’s something that interests you, do some research and find someone you click with. If finances are an issue then look into hiring a trainee (as we did) or apply for funding. Lots of information can be found at Doula UK.

3. Your body is strong but it is also delicate and needs to be taken care of. If you think you have any kind of prolapse, hernia or other pregnancy/birth related injury, don’t suffer in silence. There is a whole community of professionals out there who know how to help, but these are issues that people feel uncomfortable talking about and so many women are in pain as a result. Start with your GP and if they’re not helpful for any reason, look into physio, post-natal fitness specialists etc. There is so much help available. MuTu, which I’ve already written about, is one option for post-natal fitness, or a specialist personal trainer like Vanessa Barker (who is a friend of mine – there are many people like her though so look for someone local to you if she isn’t!). You would be surprised how many people have incontinence issues, pain during sex, spasms, tears that don’t heal etc etc. They’re not so common that pregnant women need to worry about them excessively, but they do happen, and if they’ve happened to you, you are not alone. I’ve been lucky with both pregnancies and births in physical terms, having a second degree tear with both that healed easily. I know several people who weren’t so lucky and getting help as early as possible is key to a swift recovery!

4. In many parts of the world the post-natal woman is positively tended to hand and foot for a significant chunk of time – up to three months in places. After DD’s birth as soon as I was released from hospital I was UP, entertaining, making cups of tea for visitors, keeping busy, keeping in charge, keeping in control. This was all despite my husband and mother both being there – I had no need to be out of bed, but I felt that somehow I must. In retrospect, this made my physical healing harder and it made my mental state more shaky. This time around one of the women leading our ante-natal Mindful Breath Birthing course said something that really resonated with me – that post-natal women who have had straightforward births need to try to spend roughly five days in bed, five days on the bed and five days near the bed. I did. It was bliss. I stretched, I did my pelvic floor exercises, I pottered a very little around the house (to the bathroom and back mostly!), but mostly I – and the baby – were in bed. If anyone wanted to see us, they came to us. I didn’t make a single cup of tea or a single meal. I just recovered, stayed mostly naked with my mostly naked baby and, as far as possible with a tiny, fragile, up all night newborn, relaxed!

5. Babies are different to each other, including to their siblings. DD arrived after an awful labour experience, screamed a LOT as a newborn and then slept through the night and self settled from 3 months. DS arrived after an amazing labour experience, doesn’t cry very much but also doesn’t sleep for longer than a couple of hours or self settle, and he’s 6 months now. If you’ve got one and you think you’ve got parenting nailed, you may be in for a shock when the next arrives! But they’re different in wonderful ways too. They have their own personalities and their own wondrous gazes and their own amazing ability to poo at 40mph. Even when you’re at the end of your tether and just. want. to. go. the. fuck. to. sleep. they will surprise you and make you laugh through your gritted teeth. Babies are hilarious, tiny dictators. And even if you’re sure you never want to go through it again and you’ve decided you’re definitely done with having children, the sight of a tiny new one will make you ache.

That’s it really. If I ever have a no. 3 I’ll write another list!

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Inspired by a previous post I thought I’d take the opportunity to get down the many things about pregnancy, birth and early parenthood that noone tells you while you’re trying to conceive.  Not that they would necessarily put you off, but they can be a bit of a shock, and people deserve to know!

Pregnancy:

1.  It might take you a lot longer to get pregnant than you expected.  Years of teachers, health care professionals and magazines telling you that it only takes one ‘accident’ to get up-duffed mean that it can be a bit of a surprise when you work out that you’re actually only fertile for a couple of days a month, and you could quite easily do the deed every other day for six months and not get pregnant.  The chances are there’s nothing wrong with you: don’t panic.  If you’ve got to a year with no joy, go and see your GP.  But before you do that, read Toni Weschler’s ‘Taking Charge Of Your Fertility’ which will teach you more than you ever thought there was to know about cervical mucus and basal body temperatures.

2.  Skin tags will grow in the most unexpected places.  I got two on my neck and one right in the middle of my tummy button – it appeared when my tummy button popped out.  They might fall off after you’ve had the baby, which is pretty gross in itself, or they might not.  A GP can take them off for you.  Don’t accidentally scratch one off because it will hurt like hell.  (Bitter experience.)

3.  Your tummy button is likely to pop out.  If you’ve always had an inny, this is a bit weird.  It’ll probably go back in afterwards though.

4.  Stretchmarks affect different people differently.  I’ve read that how your body was affected as a teenager can suggest how you’ll be affected during pregnancy but I’m not sure how true this is.  I did get some as a teenager on my boobs and hips, but not particularly badly.  I was discussing pregnancy stretchmarks with a friend who’d recently had a baby and she said, ‘Oh they’re dreadful aren’t they?  Look at this!’  and revealed ONE stretchmark on ONE boob.  Well, my stomach looks like multiple traintracks going round a roundabout.  They start just by my tummy button and go round in circles all the way to my sides.  I mean my WHOLE stomach.  Also covered are my inner thighs right down to my knees, my hips right up my sides to about 6 inches under my arms, and my whole lower back.  I look like some kind of alien life form when naked.  I don’t love them, but as the weeks have passed I’ve come to hate them less.  They’re sort of battle scars.  Oh, and the Bio-oil/Cocoa Butter/blah blah blah crap that pregnancy magazines tell you to slather on are all rubbish.  (As are all pregnancy magazines.)  The only thing that worked for me at all was Neal’s Yard Mothers Balm (the lack of apostrophe is theirs – it drives me nuts), and all that did was make them slightly less angry.  If you’re going to get them, you’re going to get them.  (Your mother’s experience isn’t necessarily anything to go on either – my Mum remarked in surprise when she saw my stomach, ‘Oh gosh, I didn’t get ANY stretchmarks…’  Thanks, Mum.)

5.  While you’re pregnant perfect strangers will come up to you and touch your stomach without you asking, and they will probably make a comment about how huge/tiny you are.  It is perfectly ok to grope their boobs/other socially-unacceptable-to-touch-in-public places and make an offensive remark in return.

6.  The same strangers, plus your colleagues, friends of friends, etc, will tell you their birth horror story with utter glee, repeatedly.  It’s like they forget they’ve already scared you half to death, and need to repeat themselves over and over again for maximum enjoyment.  The best I had ended with the priceless line, ‘…and then I broke the stirrups!’  IGNORE them.  Yes, you need to be prepared, but you will be better off reading ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting,’ going to a friendly ante-natal class and talking to a couple of close friends you trust (and your Mum).

7.  Your hair gets gorgeously glossy and thick while you’re pregnant.  Then it all falls out.  Well, not all of it, but the excess you didn’t shed while pregnant.  Enjoy your glorious barnet while you can.

8.  Pregnancy makes you very emotional.  You will cry at any charity advert that shows hungry or ill children, any story anyone tells you about babies, any celebrity who has a baby, any particularly manipulative advert such as the gorgeous John Lewis one, plus pretty much anything else to do with babies or children.  You will also cry at the news, because you can’t believe the world’s such a terrible place and you’re bringing a child into it.

9.  There will come a point where you can’t see your own legs to shave them, much less your toe nails to cut.  Make sure you’ve picked a good man to have a baby with because he’s going to get better acquainted with these areas than he might have been before.

Birth:

10.  In the actual moment of having your baby you will feel like you need to have a very big poo.  You don’t.  That’s your body wanting you to push (or doing it by itself in some cases).  And if you do poo on the table, which you might, you won’t notice, nobody will comment, and the midwife will have it whisked away in seconds.  Everybody panics about this but while you’re pushing out a 7 or 8 lb baby, you won’t care.  Honestly.

11.  Giving birth is an absolutely extraordinary feeling that you can’t possibly describe to someone who hasn’t done it.  It also hurts.  If you want to have pain relief, for God’s sake have it and don’t feel guilty.  If you don’t want it, don’t have it and don’t be bullied into having it.  If you don’t want it and then you change your mind and you do want it, don’t feel bad.  Your body, your choice.  There are no medals.

12.  Giving birth is also immensely personal.  Some people want their Mums plus partners plus second cousins there, some people want to be left alone with the midwife, some people want to be at home, in a pool, on top of a mountain, doing Hypnobirthing, having a c-section, whatever, wherever.  Do your research, make sure your choices are safe, and then stick with them and ignore the crap everyone gives you.

13.  In your hospital bag make sure that you have moist toilet tissue or, at the very least, a small jug to pour water over your bits while you wee.  Going to the loo after giving birth is not pleasant.  Going in the bath can help, if you can get over the grossness.  And for God’s sake eat a lot of fibre because you will think you’re going to die from constipation.

14.  Take a lot of food into the hospital with you.  The food in the post-natal ward will be hideous and you might not be up to going and foraging in a vending machine in the middle of the night.  However, as a back up, take a lot of change, well hidden.  You can always send your DH to the vending machine when you run out of nutri-grain bars.  You’ll probably also need it for parking, which is ludicrously expensive.

15.  Take a water bottle and a straw.  This will be useful during labour when you don’t have the energy to drink from a cup and later on the ward when you’re holding your baby and can’t reach the bedside table.

16.  Lochia can go on for up to about 6 weeks after you’ve given birth.  It’s far heavier than your heaviest ever period.  Sanitary pads are useless and you won’t be able to wear anything other than pyjama bottoms to cover up the fact that you’re using giant maternity pads.  Also, there will be clots.  You had a baby, so these aren’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but be prepared.  They will be gross.

17.  Tampons are likely to hurt for a long time.  Don’t try.  Don’t let your DH fixate on the magical ‘six week’ mark either.  Have sex when you’re ready, not before.  Be prepared for it to hurt – a lot – if your body’s not ready.  Be sensible.  (Edit:  DH would like a disclaimer in here that he didn’t ‘fixate’ on the six week mark!)

18.  You will still look six months pregnant for at least a week after giving birth, and for some people, considerably longer.  Don’t hit the man in the coffee shop who asks you when the baby’s due while you’re very obviously holding your newborn.  Smile sweetly and say, ‘I’ve already had her.’  Then walk away and try not to cry in public.

19.  It will hurt to sit down for a good week, if not two.  Longer if they’ve bodged your stitches.  Have a lot of baths, with salt if you can stand it.  It will hurt to walk too – don’t overdo it.

20.  If you tear or have an episiotomy you will have to have the stitches that will make it hard to sit down.  One friend asked me, ‘Did you have stitches?  Where?  Wait, I don’t want to know…’  Well, firstly, they’re not that big a deal at the time.  You’ll have anaesthetic and you’ll probably be holding your snuggly newborn which is quite a distraction.  If you’re lucky they’ll do them in the delivery room and you won’t have to go to theatre.  If you’ve torn you’ll have one of the following: 1st degree tear, which is just a little tear to the edge of your ‘where the baby comes out’.  2nd degree tear which is from there almost to ‘where your poo comes out’.  3rd degree tear which joins the two.  (Yes, really.)  Just be glad you’re not a poor African lady giving birth by herself in the bush – no medical care = no stitches = fecal incontinence = social exclusion and possible death.  Seriously, you’re lucky to have the NHS, no matter how much they may piss you off at other times.  Please excuse my coyness with language – I’m already getting spam comments and I imagine they’d get worse if I used anatomically correct vocab!

21.  Breastfeeding is natural, normal, lovely and best for your baby.  It may be easy, with baby latching on immediately after birth and feeding well.  It may also be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and I’m including pushing out a baby in that.  If it’s agony or not happening, get help.  And if you use formula, don’t feel guilty.  As my DH put it after two weeks of me crying every time I tried (and failed) to feed DD, ‘it’s called parenting, not breastfeeding’.  Try and keep some perspective.  You are a mum no matter how you feed your baby.  And she won’t remember anyway.

Early parenthood:

22.  The touchy-feely-ness from the general public will carry on once you’ve had your baby, but people will want to touch the baby.  Again, feel free to tell them to fuck off in no uncertain terms.

23.  They will also tell you – constantly – what you’re doing wrong.  So far I’ve heard from passers by, ‘That baby needs a hat,’ ‘She’ll spoil that baby carrying it around all day,’ ‘Ooh, that’s a hungry cry,’ and many more.  They are not right.  You’re right.  It’s your baby.  Fuck em.

24.  You will get fed up with your family telling you how to raise your child.  Listen politely, thank them, take on board the bits that sound sensible, and then do what you want.

25.  Don’t be too proud to accept hand-me-down clothes, toys and baby equipment.  The baby market is as bad as the wedding market – there are a lot of vultures out there ready to tell you that your baby will DIE if you don’t spend £200 on the latest, snazziest, ugliest contraption they’re selling.  Your baby will probably decide her favourite toy is an old shoe and never look at said contraption.

26.  Babies grow FAST.  Newborn clothes are adorable and almost entirely a waste of time and money (unless you have a very little one).  I’d say at a push you need 6 newborn vests, 6 newborn sleepsuits with integrated scratchmitts (try Mothercare or Next), a cardigan, a hat and something warm for the pram.  They’ll be out of them within a few weeks and into 0-3 clothes, which will then last much longer.  Scratchmitts were designed to infuriate parents and invoke domestics.  They will fall off.  Instantly and repeatedly.  Similarly, sleepsuits without them built in are the devil’s work because they mean you need the bloody things.  Without them your baby will scratch her little face and probably yours too.  Throw them all out and get sleepsuits with them integrated.

27.  Slings are awesome.  The Moby wrap (try Amazon) was the only thing that sent DD to sleep for weeks.  They’re cheap (much, much cheaper than a pram), easy, don’t hurt your back and are an absolute godsend as they mean you have both hands free.  Don’t bother with papooses, babaslings and other rubbish on the market.  Just get a simple, stretchy fabric wrap and breathe a sigh of relief.  Lots of cities have sling libraries – go and try one out first if you’re not sure.

28.  You can survive on far, far less sleep than you thought you could.

29.  Sometimes you’ll be exhausted, furious, upset and terrified all at the same time.  You’ll shout at your partner, convince yourself you’re doing everything wrong, worry terribly and cry buckets.  (Baby blues are horrible but if you feel that it’s worse than feeling ‘blue’ then you should go to see your GP about potential post-natal depression.  Noone will take your baby away from you, they will just help you feel better.)  All parents struggle though, and if it’s not pnd but just (just!) sheer exhaustion you should try to tell yourself that this moment too will pass.

30.  The moment of looking at your teeny, beautiful, extraordinary baby and falling in love happens again and again.

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