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Preparing your Child for a New Baby

Some of the most helpful books on parenting I’ve ever read are those by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I felt so much more equipped to deal with my children’s negative emotions and behaviour after reading books like How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk and How to Talk so Kids will Learn. When I found out that I was expecting my second child, I bought their Siblings Without Rivalry. I wasn’t disappointed.

In the second chapter, the authors have an exercise in which you need to rate your emotional response to the following scenario:

Imagine that your spouse puts an arm around you and  says, “Honey, I love you so much, and you’re so wonderful that I’ve decided to have another wife just like you.

Ugh, puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it?

When the new wife finally arrives, you see that she’s very young and kind of cute. When the three of you are out together, people say hello to you politely, but exclaim ecstatically over the newcomer. “Isn’t she adorable? Hello, sweetheart … You are precious!” Then they turn to you and ask, “How do you like the new wife?”

Ouch!

The new wife needs clothing. Your husband goes into your closet, takes some of your sweaters and pants and gives them to her. When you protest, he points out that since you’ve put on a little weight, your clothes are too tight on you and they’ll fit her perfectly.

Don’t you just hate her sometimes?

The new wife is maturing rapidly. Every day she seems smarter and more competent. One afternoon as you’re struggling to figure out the directions on the new computer your husband bought you, she bursts into the room and says, “Ooh, can I use it? I know how?

One just feels your fists clench right along with your teeth, don’t you?

When you tell her she can’t use it, she runs crying to your husband. Moments later she returns with him. Her face is tear-stained and he has his arm around her. He says to you, “What would be the harm in letting her have a turn? Why can’t you share?”

I think you get the picture. Of course I’m not suggesting that you should have only one child (not at all, I have five!). Please don’t feel guilty about wanting more children – or about either your older child or the new baby. As I said to a newly delivered second-time mom just this morning, motherhood is a guilt-ridden occupation. We feel sad for the older child that he’ll no longer have our undivided attention and we feel equally guilty about not devoting enough attention to the little one either. Siblings truly are gifts to one another if the relationships are handled lovingly and there are many benefits as well as drawbacks to each and every position in the family, whether you’re the oldest, the youngest or the middle child. Guilt doesn’t help you or your kids. It doesn’t improve the quality of your lives at all. It’s such an unproductive emotion – such a waste of valuable energy. Don’t indulge in it. Every time you feel guilty, see if the guilt has something to teach you – if it comes with a lesson, with a way in which you can improve what you are doing. If it does, change your behaviour or attitude. If it doesn’t, don’t allow the guilt another second of rent-free space in your already overburdened mind. Your kids will cope, as long as you love them and show it to them as often as possible. They’ll probably even like each other – at least some of the time!

So, what can you do to make the birth of a new baby less traumatic for your older child? Here are some tips:

  1. Many parents ask what the ideal age gap is. Experts have different opinions about this, but I generally just tell the parents that the age gap between their kids is the perfect one. After all, that’s their reality. In my opinion, there are pros and cons to all age gaps. If you have your kids close together, it might be tough on you in the beginning and the older child may not have as much time to be a baby and the sole focus of your attention. On the other hand, you’ll have kids so close in age that they’ll be interested in the same games and you’ll be able to read them the same book at bedtime. Having them further apart may make that first year easier on all of you, but your kids might not have as much in common at first.
  2. Expect your older child to be excited about the baby and adapt to the changes well. If you expect a smooth transition, that’s what you’ll get. If you expect jealousy and tantrums, ditto. This is what psychologists call a self-fulfilling prophesy, and I promise you it’s very real. Your child picks up on your fears and expectations, and act accordingly.
  3. Prepare your child during pregnancy. Read books together with stories about new babies, show your child pictures of babies, take him along to your scans and let him feel the baby kick. Look through his own baby pictures and tell him stories about when he was little. Make a big song and dance about how much your older child can do that baby isn’t able to. Take breastfeeding: talk to your older child about everything he can eat and drink, while Baby is so small that he can only have breastmilk.
  4. Get your child a gift from the baby. A great idea is a doll of his/her own that to take care of while Mom is busy with Baby. Place this gift next to Baby when he sees her for the first time. You might also want to make sure that the new baby is lying somewhere else than in Mom/Dad’s arms for that first meeting. Of course this isn’t possible at a home birth – especially when the older child is very involved in the birth – but in hospital (which is already a strange, somewhat scary environment) putting Baby in a bassinet for the first meeting might be wise.
  5. Let your child be Mommy’s little helper as often as he likes. This makes him feel important, like he is making a contribution. But don’t burden him with so much childcare responsibilities that he feels resentful.
  6. Have a special stash of new toys and books that are only taken out when the baby is breastfeeding. This way, your child will look forward to feeding times and you can even give him special attention by reading to him while Baby is drinking.
  7. Spend special alone-time with your older child when Baby is asleep.
  8. Accept the fact that your older child will have more of Dad for a while. Don’t fall into the trap of always caring for the baby while Dad looks after the older one, but don’t feel guilty about the fact that they will bond on a deeper level than before either.
  9. Accept that your older child may very well regress a bit in certain areas. Take it in your stride and don’t make a big deal out of it. Also try not to attribute all challenging behaviour to the new baby. With my youngest child, Dominic, I realised that 3-year olds often pretend to be babies, for instance. Had he just gained a new brother or sister, I’d assume that he was having trouble coping. Because he was my last, though, I realised that his ‘regression’ was simply make-believe. It wasn’t an indication of sibling rivalry. Even Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!
  10. No matter how young your child is, reflect his feelings and teach him feeling words. If he says he wishes the baby would go away, don’t deny his feelings and tell him he doesn’t really mean that. Of course he does. Instead, teach him to put his feelings into words. “You feel sad that the baby is taking up a lot of Mommy’s time.” Then give him a way to cope with his feelings, for instance, “Would you like to draw a sad picture?” Or, “Would you like to jump on the trampoline until you feel better?”

The first weeks with a new baby in the house can be hard – on you and on your older child. Do you have any other tips you’d like to share on making the transition smooter? Please post a comment so other parents can benefit from your wisdom.

 

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The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Part 3

Whether you are suffering from motherhood stress, depression or burnout, the following steps may help:

  • If you’re breastfeeding, keep doing it! Don’t let anyone convince you that you’ll feel better if you wean. Breastfeeding hormones have a protective effect against stress and depression. Breastfeeding moms also get more rest (after the first two weeks). Most importantly, breastfeeding your baby keeps his emotional tank full and protects him against harmful effects. Studies proved that the breastfed babies of depressed moms had normal EEG’s due to the fact that their mothers held and touched them more.
  • If you have breastfeeding problems, get professional help. Sore nipples can cause all the symptoms of depression, so treat it promptly with the help of an IBCLC.
  • Get some exercise. Research has shown that exercise is JUST as effective in treating postpartum depression as the antidepressant Zoloft (which, by the way, is considered the safest medication to use during breastfeeding). The amazing fact about this research (for lazy old me, anyway), is that you don’t have to run a marathon every week. You only need twenty minutes of brisk walking two to three times per week! A few moms I know used to meet in the park three times per week with their babies in prams, taking care of their social needs as well. By the way, researchers found that exercise is better at preventing relapses than medication.
  • Make sure you are eating well. Omega 3 oil, zinc and B-vitamins have all been proven to lessen stress and depression. Kendall-Tackett recommends taking 45 grams of carbs on its own once a day. You need to wait at least an hour before having protein or fat.
  • Make time to relax. Let Dad take Baby for a walk while you have a long, luxurious bath or a chat with a friend. Treat yourself to a massage and assuage your guilt with the fact that you’re saving lots of money breastfeeding.
  • Prevent mental boredom by reading interesting books and articles while you are breastfeeding.
  • Find support. Connect or reconnect with the people you love that can fill your emotional tank while you fill your baby’s.
  • Stay away from negative people in your life and watch your own self-talk.
  • Cultivate gratitude.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Find a creative outlet.
  • Get more sleep. Nap when the baby naps, go to bed earlier (babies sleep best before midnight) and let the baby sleep where he lets you get the most rest.
  • Get a thorough check-up to rule out conditions like anaemia and hypothyroidism.
  • Natural remedies like Stressless Tonic (by Natura), Rescue Remedy and Valerian can improve mild depression.
  • For extreme depression, make a visit with your GP or gynaecologist and GET HELP. Anti-depressants and therapy have both been proven very effective. Most antidepressants are compatible with breastfeeding. You can measure your level of depression by completing the Edinburgh Scale for Postpartum Depression. See: http://www.womensmentalhealth.org/quiz-are-you-suffering-from-postpartum-depression/
  • Some useful books are: The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, When your Blessings Don’t Count by Linda Lewis, and Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields.
 
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Articles, Motherhood, Postnatal Depression

 

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The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Part 2

In her wonderful book, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett discusses three hidden emotional states connected to motherhood: stress, depression and burn-out. These conditions overlap, but they are not exactly the same. It is important to realise that stress is caused by any change – happy or unhappy. Research has shown that the birth of a baby – even though it is such a miraculous, joyous occasion – is one of the most stressful life events. It’s important that we are aware of this and take steps to minimise our stress levels.

Postnatal depression is a more serious condition. Some risk factors are sleep-deprivation, a history of depression, lack of support or loneliness, financial problems, a traumatic birth, a conflicted relationship with your own mother or partner, and a history of abuse (physical, emotional and/or verbal). Another significant risk factor is perfectionism and unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

Long-term stress and depression cause psychological as well as biological problems. Increased cortisol production leads to many negative effects, like depressing the immune system and causing inflammation and pain. It places us at higher risk of cardio-vascular disease and actually atrophies the hippocampus, affecting memory and learning. Ever wondered why your memory is so poor when you are stressed? Kendall-Tackett warns that we need to realise that stress can be fatal. We need to take care of ourselves, for the sake of our babies, our partners and ourselves.

It’s a sad fact that postnatal depression also affects our babies. Research has found that depressed moms tend to interact with their kids in one of two styles, either avoidant or angry-intrusive. In both cases, kids produce excessive stress hormones themselves, leading to long-term neurological changes and, in turn, to a higher vulnerability to depression. But PLEASE don’t feel guilty if you are depressed. Instead, arm yourself with knowledge and get the support you need to get you out of that deep, dark abyss. I’ll make some suggestions in my next post.

Burnout may not be as acute a crisis as depression, but it can certainly make your life one of quiet desperation. Kendall-Tackett describes it as an existential crisis. You begin to doubt the reason for your existence. You wonder if anything you do makes a difference. You end up dragging yourself through each day and you withdraw from those around you, even your children. This becomes a vicious cycle. Women find meaning in relationships. When they cut themselves off from the people they love, life becomes increasingly bleak. Remember that it is not couldn’t-care-less moms who burn out. It is the ultra-committed moms. As William Sears puts it: you have to be on fire in order to burn out.

But how do you rekindle the flame? How do you deal with these negative feelings of motherhood in order to be the best and happiest mom possible? Any suggestions?

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in Articles, books, Postnatal Depression

 

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The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Part 1

A few years ago, I read a wonderful book by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, a psychological researcher and IBCLC. The title of this book is The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood. You can order it from http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Feelings-Motherhood-Second/dp/097295838X.

Soon after finishing it, I started a moms’ group in my house. Our first topic was ‘Motherhood Stress’ and I was overwhelmed by the response to this discussion. The women who attended were all so honest and open – even though they did not know each other all that well. I was just as surprised by the deep emotional response these topics stirred within me. I realised that I was pretty burned out myself and I subsequently took steps to feel better. This is a topic close to my heart and I’m hoping some of you will be interested in discussing and sharing here.

Flip through the pages of any mothering magazine and you’ll know what I mean: Our culture paints an unrealistic picture of motherhood. We see slim and impeccably dressed moms pushing designer prams – smiling contentedly, just like their babies. These moms always cope – they are always in control. Their designer suits never bear spit-up milk or pureed butternut stains; their babies never have snotty noses or grumpy days or growth spurts. They seem to have it all: money, success, poise, fulfilment and self-actualization.

But our culture also paints another picture – another ideal – one that is probably just as inaccurate. In this picture there are no smiling babies. They are all at day-care, their moms happily engrossed in their fulfilling careers. Stay-at-home moms are considered dull and uninteresting. Kids are considered little ‘monsters’ who will suck you dry if you don’t get away for some me-time at every possible opportunity. The sooner you ‘teach’ them independence, the sooner you can ‘get back your life’.

Of course, the reality is much more complex and multi-layered. Early motherhood was an incredibly hard and lonely time for me, even though it was also one of the best times of my life – a time that I remember with great fondness and nostalgia. I think we should break the silence about what motherhood is really like. We should talk frankly about all those secret feelings of motherhood – the ones we’re too scared to share because others might think we don’t love our kids or aren’t worthy of raising them. Few mothers seem willing to talk about these difficult feelings, but I think any mother of young children should know that she is not the only one struggling with stress, depression or burnout.

Having been both a stay-at-home and a working mother myself, I find it incredibly sad that women criticise instead of support each other. I can honestly tell you that both lifestyles are stressful and taxing. If you choose to stay at home, you are economically disempowered – even within your own household. You are often isolated and starved for adult company. You may feel that you don’t get enough mental stimulation and that you have very little sense of accomplishment – of completing tasks. After all, you change a nappy now, but in two hours time you’ll change another …

When you work outside the home – whether through choice or necessity – you are constantly pressed for time. You always seem to be torn: when you are at work, you feel guilty about your children. When you are with them, you worry about the work that still needs to be done. To add insult to injury, research shows that working women still bear the brunt of responsibilities for childcare and housework.

The point I’m making is that motherhood – by its very definition – is a guilt-ridden role. The sooner we learn to let go of guilt, the better. The sooner we understand that self-care is not selfish, the less stressed we’ll be. And I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: if Mama ain’t happy, nobody ain’t happy!

Over the next few days, I’ll write a few posts about motherhood stress. What causes it? When is it serious? What can you do to feel better? In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What aspects of motherhood is going really well for you? What isn’t? Which motherhood feelings did you not expect and do you feel you should keep hidden?

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Articles, Postnatal Depression

 

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What a Professional Doula Can Do for You

“I was pregnant and totally overwhelmed – delighted of course – but overwhelmed none the less. There were so many choices and responsibilities. It was bad enough choosing a pram, and picking out a name, let alone important stuff such as choosing a caregiver, birth facility, type of birth and pain relief. Having a doula helped us to make sense of it all, and to make the birth of our first baby a very special and memorable event. I especially appreciated the level of care from our doula, Marie-Louise, and our midwives at the Active Birth Unit at Femina. During the birth, Marie-Louise was the very much needed extra pair of hands, and with a bag full of remedies, heat pads and good advice, she never left my side. This left my husband free to also experience the birth, and having someone around that we came to know and trust, took a lot of stress and responsibility away from him. Not only did we have the perfect birth, we have the most perfect baby to show for it, and pictures of our first moments together, to always remember this special day” (Corrie Swanepoel, Pretoria).

The Role of the Doula                                        

The word doula comes from a Greek word meaning ‘woman caregiver’ or ‘one who serves women’. It is a new term – a modern profession – for an age-old practice. Throughout history, birthing women have been supported by experienced mothers from their community. The role of the doula is based on an ancient pearl of childbearing wisdom: a woman who is loved and supported throughout her labour experiences more pleasure and less pain.

Numerous research studies on the benefits of doulas have confirmed this. Research has found that women with doulas:

  • Have shorter labours;
  • Report less pain and require less pain relief;
  • Need less intervention like instrument births and cesarean sections;
  • Are happier with their birth experiences and their babies;
  • Breastfeed more successfully, and
  • Adapt better to life with a baby.

But what about Dad?                  

The doula does not take the place of the father. Instead, she supports both mother and father during and after labour. Often, pregnant couples are afraid that a doula might come between them, that she might intrude on an intimate experience and rob the dad of the chance to deepen his bond with his partner and baby. Some dads feel threatened by their partners’ wish to employ a doula – as if their partners do not trust them to provide the necessary emotional and physical support.

However, in reality most dads need support, too. Labour is an intense experience and many dads feel helpless and ill-prepared when seeing their partners in pain. To quote the authors of The Doula Book: “In asking fathers to be the main support, our society may have created a very difficult expectation for them to meet. This is like asking fathers to play a professional football game after several lectures but without any training or practice games.”[i]

When I hear a mom say that her partner is going to be her doula, I feel sad for the both of them. Sad because they are robbing themselves of valuable support and because they are adding even more stress to the birth for the both of them. Pam England, author of Birthing from Within, compares a mom who wants her partner to act as doula to a woman who wants to climb Mount Everest with her inexperienced partner as her Sherpa. Birth is foreign territory to dads, too, and the intensity of it becomes much easier for them to handle with the presence of a knowledgeable birth partner. It comes as no surprise that research has found that doula support leads to a better relationship between parents after the birth compared to couples who birthed without a doula.

Helena McLeod writes: “A doula was fundamental in assisting me and my husband in my swift, sacred, drug free labour. Marie-Louise came to visit us at our house twice before the birth to help us think through our perfect labour and how to prepare ourselves mentally and physically. She came to the house once I was in active labour and used pressure and massage to help relieve pain during the contractions. She continued to help me control the pain throughout the labour, coming with us to the birthing centre. My little boy Tariq arrived after 4-6 hours of active labour. I didn’t once consider requesting painkillers and I’m sure our doula’s pain relieving help played an important role in this. After the birth Marie-Louise came to our house and helped us through the initial challenge of breastfeeding. Having a doula provided us with enormous emotional support, wisdom and confidence in our birth and breastfeeding experience.”


[i] Klaus, Marshall H., Kennell, John H., and Klaus, Phyllis H. The Doula Book. 2nd edition. Da Capo: 2002.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Articles, doulas

 

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Breastfeeding: When to Get Help

Although breastfeeding is natural, it is still a learned skill and even a bit of an art. Breastfeeding goes smoothly for many mother-baby couples, but for others it requires perserverance and sometimes even some professional help. So how do you know if you need to call in a lactation consultant?

Get professional breastfeeding help when you:

1. Have extreme nipple pain at any stage of the breastfeeding relationship – especially when your nipples are cracked or bleeding;

2. Have a red, tender and swollen area in your breast;

3. When your breasts are so engorged that your baby cannot latch on properly.

You also need professional assistance when your baby:

1.   Has fewer than 5 wet nappies and 2 bowel movements in 24 hours (once your milk has ‘come in’);

2.   Wants to feed every hour for longer than 24 hours;

3.   Feeds for more than an hour at a time;

4.   Sleeps for more than 4-5 hours more than once each

24 hours;

5.   Feeds fewer than 8 times in 24 hours.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Articles, Breastfeeding

 

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