Sometimes I feel motherhood is grossly over-rated. At other times, I feel that mothers don’t get enough credit for all that they do. Most of the time, though, I just feel that the idea of motherhood that has been handed down through the generations in our culture is an impossible-to-achieve, elusive target that causes tremendous anxiety, particularly in first-time mothers. Here are some common new-mom fears that I deal with in my line of work:
1. Will I be able to breastfeed?
Pregnancy hormones often make the breasts tender and the nipples hyper-sensitive to touch. This can cause a great deal of anxiety and many moms-to-be end up wondering how they are ever going to manage breastfeeding with so much of pain to endure. My suggestion is to talk to a lactation expert or to the gynaecologist about methods to relieve pain and enhance the experience of feeding and bonding with the baby.
2. What if I drop the baby?
I remember having this fear myself, and I used to be terrified of carrying my newborn son. Over time, I learnt that nature prepares us in ways we cannot comprehend, and we will not drop the baby, no matter how much we fear we might. I tell new mothers to alter their perspective a little, especially when they say they are clumsy or that they have ‘butter fingers’, which is where their fear stems from. A simple way to do this is to know that babies come into the world with no expectations. The way a mother handles her infant becomes that child’s template for being held and handled. In the long run, being a little clumsy can actually be a good thing. It might help your baby develop resilience against life’s blows and falls.
3. Why is my baby crying all the time?
Mothers of colicky babies report feeling anxious about the baby’s well-being. It can be frightening to have a wailing infant who cries well into the wee hours of the morning night after night. Speaking to the paediatrician and getting medication to help with the colic can alleviate these crying bouts. Most of the time, babies grow out of their colic on their own. Nevertheless, talking about your fears and sharing your concerns with other new mothers can also be helpful in overcoming this fear.
4. What about the level of hygiene I should maintain? How often should I sterilise my home?
Fears around health and hygiene are very common among new mothers. My recommendation to mothers is that a little bit of exposure to germs is actually good, because over-protecting the baby by sterilising the entire house is only going to make him highly susceptible to infections the moment he steps out of the house.
5. Am I feeding my baby enough?
How much is enough? In our culture, people believe that fat, chubby babies are healthy. However, this is not true. Force-feeding is counter-productive and feeding a baby by the clock rarely works. I believe that babies regulate themselves naturally. When a baby is full, she will stop nursing. As mothers, it is better to learn to respect the baby’s signals and stop forcing her to consume more than what is necessary.
6. How am I going to cope?
The endless nappy-changes and repetitive feeding routines can get to the best of us. The first three months after childbirth are perhaps the most stressful ones. During this time, many new mothers panic that they may not be able to cope with the pressures of motherhood. I have just one phrase to say: ‘It gets better with time’.
7. Am I a bad mother?
New mothers are made to believe that they must be at their baby’s beck and call 24 / 7, and that they must give up their needs and identity once they embrace motherhood. This is a strong cultural conditioning that many mothers struggle with, and gives rise to fears around being a good mother. Remember, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ mother. You are human; you deserve to take a break from the baby without feeling guilty.
8. Will my body ever be the same again? Am I going to feel this exhausted all my life?
While it is true that some changes in your body cannot be reversed after childbirth, you can certainly work on staying fit and regaining your glow. The most important ingredient for this is a healthy, stress-free lifestyle.
Mothering a newborn is like running a marathon. The exhaustion goes with the territory. However, I would like to reassure all new moms out there that it does get better eventually. If you learn to incorporate a good self-care routine into your daily schedule, you will soon have your energy levels back.
9. Can I ever trust someone else with my baby?
Separation anxiety in new mothers is becoming increasingly common. I call this ‘keeping the virtual cord intact’. The sooner you cut this virtual cord, and learn to trust those around you to take care of your baby, the faster you can bounce from your baby blues.
10. What if my child chokes suddenly?
Infants and babies have a tendency to put things into their mouths as they explore the world around them. This is quite natural. However, small objects like buttons or nuts are risky because they are just the right size to get stuck in your child's throat and cause her to choke. I believe that prevention is always better than cure, so it is best to keep such small objects and other potential choking hazards away from your baby. However, in the event of your child popping something into her mouth accidentally, here are some suggestions on how you can handle such a situation:
(1). If your baby starts to cough immediately after swallowing an object, encourage her to continue coughing and stay with her. Forceful coughing or crying often helps to dislodge the object and clear the airway.
(2). You can even try back-blows. Here is how to do it.
- Sit down on a chair
- Lay your baby face down on your lap, supporting her head with your hand
- Give up to five sharp back blows with the heel of your hand in the middle of her back between her shoulder blades
If nothing works, rush your child to the hospital immediately. And, remember, do NOT attempt to thrust your fingers into your child’s throat in an attempt to retrieve the object, unless it is large enough for you to have a firm grip on it. Otherwise, you may end up pushing the object further down and causing greater harm.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that it does get better and easier with time. However, to make sure that you don’t burn out and get over-stressed, it is essential that you keep things in perspective. Take breaks from your baby and carve out some precious me-time for yourself every day, even if it is just 10 minutes of do-nothingness. Happy parenting!
Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK)