I'm sometimes blown away by the sheer volume of products and practices marketed to new and expectant mothers. I'm sort of the eye-rolling type, so I get a little cross when I see lists to the effect of "THE Top 100 Lifesaving Inventions Every New Mom Needs to Not Go Crazy and Take Us All with Her" go viral on Facebook and Pinterest. When did mothering get so complicated? Probably about the time we started being convinced that being a mother wasn't enough; that we had to get back to our pre-motherhood "normal" as soon as possible after birth, and that a baby is an inconvenience to manage vs. a blessed gift, but I digress.
Truth is, mothering is tough cookies, ladies. However, with a little help from some old tried-and-true (I'm talking ancient) mothering basics, it can be a little easier, a little simpler, a little less maddening. We can even do this while building and deepening our bond with our child(ren). Here are the magic three basics that I wish every mother knew, especially young mothers, whether or not every mother can take advantage of them. I still use all three with my two-year-old daughter.
The 3 Basics That Make Mothering Easier
While there is plenty of info out there about the physical and emotional health benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby, it's not number 1 on this particular list for these reasons. This is a list about making things easier on you. Breastfeeding is not easy, mind you. Nipples get sore, some babies need extra help to nurse properly, there's some social stigma to override if you want to do it in public, and a few other challenges that some moms face. Not every mother can breastfeed, either. If you can, why not?
My advice? Get a lactation consultant before birth, get educated on the subject forwards and backwards, and surround yourself with supportive people who'll cheer you on in this arena.
Support is all around you.
- Kellymom.com (especially Breastfeeding Your Newborn)
- Breastfeeding Inc. and Dr. Jack Newman (especially these videos of breastfeeding techniques)
- The Leaky Boob (especially the Facebook community)
- La Leche League (especially their Breastfeeding Answers page with LLL group locator)
- International Lactation Consultant Association (especially their Find a Lactation Consultant search)
When it comes to nighttime waking (and all healthy babies will wake throughout the night for quite some time), we basically have these two choices:
- Hear a baby crying down the hall or over a baby monitor, wake up fully, get out of bed, walk to the other room where the baby is, pick up baby and move to a feeding location, and feed and rock that precious love back to sleep. Then get up, put baby back in this far-away crib, hopefully not waking her (requiring a repeat of the rocking or even feeding), walking back to your bed tired as all get out but now awake, and getting back to sleep before the next wake up. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat... for how many months? Not to mention the trouble we may have getting ourselves to sleep in between these wake ups wondering if our baby is okay, breathing well, warm enough, not too warm, still covered, etc. etc. Wowzer. The alternative, as practiced by mammals over millions (or is it billions?) of years, backed by science, and recommended by conscientious pediatricians like Dr. Sears, is...
- Snoozing soundly side-by-side with or at arm's reach of your baby, you sense her breathing change, feel her move a little, or hear a tiny pre-cry grunt. You free a breast and pull babe to it laying side by side. Your deep mothering instinct keeps you slightly aware of your baby at all times (making it basically impossible to roll over on top of her) while you both doze back to sleep mid-nurse. You may rouse again to scoot your baby back to her co-sleeping side bed, or just prefer to will yourself awake until after you've moved her back. You may even stay in this position together the rest of the night. Some co-sleeping moms prefer to sit up in bed leaning against pillows and holding baby. Dozing can ensue there, too. Even if you want to move to a rocker next the bed, you're still way ahead of the nursery set in the sleep department. Studies show that co-sleeping mothers and babies get more quality sleep at night. Contrary to wayward popular belief, safe co-sleeping also reduces the risk of SIDS, which makes those early months a lot easier emotionally, too (making it even easier to sleep at night, mama).
Myth debunkers and support abound. There have been some outlandish marketing campaigns in recent years in some parts of the U.S. labeling all co-sleeping as dangerous. This just is not the truth. Sometimes bringing a baby to bed can be dangerous. It is dangerous for a mother to sleep with or very near her baby when the mom is on mind-numbing drugs or alcohol, or so unwell that she doesn't have the natural capacity to stay aware of her baby. It is also dangerous to have a young baby in a bed next to someone that isn't his mother (even sleeping next to dad or a sibling is dangerous). There's more, but it's kind of obvious (no covers that could fall over the baby's face, prevention from falling, etc.). Here's a helpful list of safe co-sleeping habits to use if you're taking this easier sleep path.
I'll share a little story that illustrates creative sleep sharing and following mothering instincts. I have a friend who is a brand spanking new mom. Her newborn daughter doesn't like to sleep away from her. In fact, she sleeps best right on top of mom. She sleeps so well there, that by following her baby's lead, my mom friend often gets a full six hours of un-interrupted sleep at night. Now, what new mom do you know that gets that kind of sleep at night? Is it unusual to let your baby sleep on you? We think so, but she's not the first person I've heard recount this advantageous arrangement. My own daughter spent her first weeks nestled right atop my chest. It was restful to say nothing of blissful and oh-so-connected. Food for thought.
Have you heard of the "second nine months", aka human exterogestation? Babies come out needing to be held, and develop more fully, more healthfully, when held a lot, especially by their mothers. There's a good reason why babies can often fuss and cry when we put them down, why we hear moms complaining at times, "He only wants to be in my arms! I can't get anything done." Here's another scenario where we have a few options. Instead of listing them out, I'll just cut to my strategy of choice: babywearing. "Babywearing" is a phrase coined to mean carrying baby with the help of a baby carrier (be it baby wrap, soft-structured carrier, ringsling, mai tei, what have you). Babywearing is an ancient practice and lucky for us, it is experiencing a stylish renaissance. Here are the top four ways babywearing makes mothering easier:
- Hands free cuddling
Using a healthy baby carrier frees up our hands to complete all sorts of tasks like shopping, doing dishes, cooking, typing, holding our other children's hands, etc. while giving baby lots of extra holding and body contact they need in the exterogestation period.
- On-the-go nursing
Nursing in a stretchy baby wrap or a soft-structured baby carrier is easy with a little practice, and you'd be surprised how many people will have no idea you're breastfeeding the little guy in there. No need to stop what you're doing if you don't want to. (The wrap and carrier links here go to the Boba online store where there are also a bunch of how-to videos, including nursing in these carriers.)
- Easy deep napping
Hug your baby close enough for them to be enveloped in your scent, feel your warmth, be lulled by your breath and heartbeat, and rocked rhythmically by your movement, and they'll sleep pretty much forever. My daughter is almost two and she stills sleeps incredibly long when she's napping in the carrier.
- Getting out and going
There are lots of fun places that are just a pain in the neck to lug and maneuver a stroller. Hiking trails? Forget about it. Crowded grocery stores? No thanks. City streets and subways and stairwells? What a nightmare. Airport security and boarding? Headache city. Sometimes I feel like my baby carrier functions for me like a kind of super hero cape. Babe and I can get in and out of all sorts of places, having fun, struggling none, sort of footloose and fancy-free. She sees the world all around while we share knowing smiles and chat, and I can respond to her needs easily.
Ease Bonus: More connection = easier times now and ahead
There's a little secret that parents who follow this "keep them close" instinct have. Well, it's more of a personal super power than a secret, and maybe even more of a math equation than super power. It's that being more connected to your child (something that happens naturally with more nursing, more holding, more up-close observation and response), you get to know all sorts of things about them that separation may reduce awareness of. For one, a deeper bond and familiarity helps you learn the precursors to all sorts of problematic moments and to know how best to head them off at the pass or at least reduce their severity. I'm talking about the little indicators that baby is about to be too tired (i.e. headed for a melt down), or nearly hungry enough to cry, or probably getting a cold, maybe having an allergic reaction, nervous about a stranger in the room, etc. etc. Being more connected to your child will make discipline easier, too.
Remember: It's not all or nothing.
It's not about being a certain type of parent (these three basics are in fact the core of the "Attachment Parenting" aka "Natural Parenting" aka "Gentle Parenting" style). Neither is it that these three basics give you and other moms who practice them a monopoly on connection. It's that they help to stay more connected, increasing the benefits of a well-bonded relationship.
We all have big beautiful full lives to live. Hopefully, if you're new to or approaching mommyland, considering how nature set it up to be easier than the media has led us to believe will lead you to some blissfully connected relief. Enjoy the ride. It's bumpy, but it's pretty awesome.