Real moms talk about advice
When it’s good, it’s very good. And when it’s bad... it’s terrible, writes Margot Bertelsmann
RAISING A NEWBORN: You’ve probably never wanted to perform better at a job, yet been less trained for it. The first weeks with your tiny human can be like appearing on a sadistic Survivorstyle game show: panicked, leaking breastmilk, and shedding hormones, you must drag your battered, aching body through a series of tasks designed to keep a newborn baby happy, and you must do it on two hours’ sleep under the watchful and often critical eyes of family, friends and healthcare professionals – who all have different opinions on how well you are doing.
If this sounds horrific, it’s because it can be, depending on the quality of the support you are getting. Bad advice can be devastating, good advice can save your sanity. As you read through these “best and worst” nuggets of advice real readers have received, bear the following saying in mind: Advice is often given away for free, because the giver has no use for it herself.
So always interrogate the source of the advice: what motivates the advice-giver? Is she telling you to do something she wishes she had managed with her own baby, but didn’t?
Is her advice practical for your situation, or are your circumstances too different for her way to fit yours? If the advice is from a fellow new mom or relative, what are their motives, and do they genuinely want to help? And if it’s from a healthcare professional, are they respected in their field and is their advice peer-reviewed (in other words, do academics agree on the course of action)?
FOLLOW YOUR MOTHERLY INSTINCT
Good advice makes something in your brain go: “click!”, like a lightbulb has been switched on, like the answer has been right there, but you just couldn’t see it in your confusion or exhaustion.
It does not conflict with your morals or your instincts – and yes, you do have a mothering instinct, even if you think right now that you know very little. If something feels wrong to you (and especially if it’s also making your baby unhappy), it probably is.
So, in short, choose the sources of your advice wisely. It may work to pick one or two people whose opinions you trust and decide beforehand that these will be your go-to people when you need help. Disregard the noise around you. Because
the truth is, noise there will be! Read on…
Your Baby reader Tanya van Niekerk, from Newcastle, says the best advice she received was being told to babywear, breastfeed on demand and practise babyled weaning after six months. “Sadly, I was also misled to start solids too early. People say if your baby doesn’t sleep through it means your breastmilk is not ‘strong’ enough. Luckily, this has shown up for the nonsense it is,” says the mother of two.
Frances Correia, a Jozi mother of three, says the worst advice she received by far was by people who insisted on knowing how to make your baby sleep.
“My first child slept on a two-hourson, two-hours-off rhythm and nothing could change that. If I had accepted this earlier, I would have been happier, and gotten more sleep myself,” she says.
Gezell Andrea Johannes, a mom of three from Cape Town, says the worst advice she received was to alternate formula bottles with breastmilk.
“It can upset a baby’s digestion, apparently. Luckily, I was also told to allow my baby to self-wean,” she adds.
Gezell adds that mothers should stop being judgmental and shaming especially of parents’ feeding choices. “Breastmilk is best but if you are unable to, formula will do the trick,” she says.
YOUR BABY IS AN INDIVIDUAL Reader Mazzie Sakhile Mthunzie, who has one child and is expecting another, says she was advised to cook porridge for her three-day-old baby. “This advice is still dished out by the older generation – don’t take it! I didn’t. I waited until my baby was five months old and I’m glad I did,” she adds.
Wilma Taljaard from Bethlehem, who has three boys, says the best advice she received was that she must breastfeed on demand and ignore the clock.
Frances Correia says her most treasured nugget of advice was when a midwife and an occupational therapist told her, independently, that she should “respond to the needs of my child and allow my child to develop at their own pace, not according to a textbook or in comparison to my neighbour’s child”.
“It is possible to become so blinded by milestones that we start to treat our children as athletes on a track instead of beautifully unfolding human beings, who are on their own journey,” she adds.
On that note, says Jozi mom-of-one Faeza Ismail, the most annoying thing people say to new mothers, in her opinion, is, “Enjoy every moment.” What? “Find me a sleep-deprived mother whose child is battling colic at 5pm and tell her to ‘Enjoy every moment’, I dare you!” she says. “It’s all very well to remind parents that the minutes can drag while the years speed past, but try to do so tactfully…”
The best thing you can do for a parent of a newborn, says Faeza, is teach them about the so-called “fourth trimester”.
This is a concept that has come about from the awareness that, due to human beings’ large brains and small pelvises, our babies are born after nine months’ gestation, and are relatively helpless and immature when they are born, compared to other mammals, such as lambs or calves, for instance, who can walk from the day of birth.
The idea of the “fourth trimester” acknowledges that babies actually need nothing more than a safe pair of arms to cuddle in, warmth, milk and love, and loads and loads of sleep, for at least the first few months of their lives.
“They don’t need to be taught and stimulated. They just need to adjust to life outside the womb. So turn down the pressure to be a perfect parent to a new child prodigy,” says Faeza.
“And it is impossible to ‘spoil’ a newborn!” adds Yolandi Jordaan, a mother of two from Johannesburg, who is pregnant with her third. “I hated being told that. Hold your baby all you want. I also can’t stand being asked if my baby was ‘good’. They are all ‘good’. They can’t be naughty or manipulative at this age!”
“I’ll always remember many aunties coming to visit me and my newborn at home,” remembers Capetonian Lizelle February, who has one child. “They watched me being anxious and scared, and every time my baby cried, I just wanted them to leave and be alone and try to make my baby feel better. And then one of the aunties said, ‘Whoa, he’s got Mommy wrapped around his little finger, hey?’ I’ve never hated a woman as much as I hated that auntie that minute. Luckily, my mom-in-law could see I was at breaking point. She rushed them all out and she just loved and supported me through those first few weeks until I gained my confidence.”
Pretoria reader Arlene Meyer was supposed to visit her family with her new baby when the baby was four days old. “But I woke up with tears streaming down my face,” she recalls. “My husband said we should cancel, but I insisted we go, because I had never had the baby blues before and I had no idea what was happening to me. I should have listened to him and allowed him to look after and nurture me, because that’s what I needed that day. We could always have visited the next weekend.”
Feeling overwhelmed by barrages of advice? Worried if you are getting it right? Constantly second-guessing yourself? Then let us leave you with this last bit of advice from Nicole Cader: “Don’t worry too much. Babies are more resilient than you think.”
Nicole says knowing that helped her through the first few months – “Well, that and finding out that Maizena is excellent for nappy rash!” YB
IS HER ADVICE PRACTICAL FOR YOUR SITUATION, OR ARE YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES TOO DIFFERENT FOR HER WAY TO FIT YOURS?